Advanced flight training and the pursuit of advanced pilot certificates and ratings is not only beneficial to your career, it also gets much more interesting.
True story. Rick was a lawyer. He’d been practicing law for 15 years and found himself in the state’s attorney’s office. The lawyer who occupied the office next door had been a private pilot for some years and talked incessantly about his flying hobby. At first, it bored Rick. Then one day the two men needed to travel to a city several hundred miles away to obtain some depositions. Rick’s partner proposed they fly and save the six hours it would take to go by car. Rick acquiesced and off they went. The bumpy flight did not assuage Rick’s apprehensions but he did enjoy the view especially when flying over a tollway construction zone and observing a single lane of traffic backed up for ten miles. Rick and his partner would be sitting in that traffic if they had went by car. On the way home they flew over Rick’s house and, although knew every crack in its walls and missing shingle, he had never seen it in such a fascinating way. After landing, Rick was glad to be back on Earth.
For several months, he followed his usual routine but memories of that flight dogged him. He just couldn’t get that experience out of his mind. You can anticipate where this story goes from here: Rick ends up getting his Private license; end of story. Or was it? What may surprise you is that Rick decided flying was a lot more interesting than being a lawyer so he abandoned law and is now a captain flying a corporate Gulfstream. But Rick is not the first person to give up a profession that he worked hard to achieve after finding he would rather be flying airplanes. Family, friends and colleagues might not understand; but ardent pilots do.
Flying is fun. It is pretty amazing how all of its parts come together. It is truly art melded with science. As you advance past primary training (which, in official parlance is what Private pilot training is called) you will find that it gets more interesting…a lot for interesting. Every certificate and rating you get adds new things to your bank of knowledge. You see the nuances of how things interact and this understanding makes flying more intriguing.
In primary training, skills are somewhat mechanical and robotic. Maneuvers are procedural without as much response to tactile feel of the controls. You mathematically compute weight-and-balance and can look at graphs and numbers to make a GO / NO GO decision. But it’s more like reciting scripted lines than when speaking from your heart.
As you dig deeper and deeper in advanced flight training you will begin to feel and understand. You’ll begin developing “seat of the pants” senses and insights out of your perceptions. You will go beyond making simple GO / NO GO decisions and know how to manipulate loading or choose flap and trim settings to work for you. If you’re like me, you will look back at how much you knew when you got your Private and shudder.
You may have heard pilots refer to the Private pilot certificate as a “license to learn.” This is only partially accurate. Every pilot certificate or rating enables you to discover things you never knew; things that are probably not written anywhere. This only comes with exposure. The more you experience, the more you learn. As in the lyrics of the song “Nothing Succeeds Like Success”, “the lower you are, you see less.” When on your Private Pilot’s certificate you’ll practice stalls and hear about spins but probably not see or do any spins. The spin is one of those “unmentionables” that lurk in darkness and wait to leap out at an unsuspecting pilot, right? Wrong. As you advance beyond primary training and are working on a CFI certificate, you will become intimately familiar with spins.
Once this is done you will be immensely more confident. What was a scary bogeyman when you were a Private pilot, though always to be respected, will no longer be feared because you’ll be able to recognize and get out of a spin. Besides…you have to really, really abuse modern airplanes to convince them to spin. Although this might violate usage rules for prepositions, they’re designed and built NOT TO.
Acquiring additional ratings can open doors for you. We’re not just talking about after you get a multi-engine rating, and some guy wants you to fly along with him in his new Beech Baron because he’s a Nervous Norvus. If you walk into a corporate hangar holding only a commercial license, the chief pilot will courteously send you on your way even if he might know he could use a co-pilot. But if you show up with a commercial, instrument and multi-engine rating you are a viable candidate. Even if he operates an aircraft like a turboprop weighing over 12,500 pounds or a pure jet requiring a type rating, you can still be a candidate as a second-in-command (co-pilot). Under the FAA regulations you will need only training that the chief pilot himself could provide in a couple hours.1 With a commercial license (or higher) he can pay you, however, if you hold only a Private certificate you cannot legally accept compensation.2 With the well-publicized pilot shortage the aviation industry has exploded with full and part-time gigs, many of them actually preferring entry-level applicants to sit right-seat in turbine aircraft! What incredible experience accumulating flight time in such aircraft can provide to catapult your aviation career. But you will need to advance beyond a Private license to open this door.
Without a doubt there are good small flight schools and FBOs offering pilot training. These are usually quite satisfactory to prepare a student pilot for the Private pilot’s certificate. It’s when you move to the next level and want to obtain a commercial certificate, instrument rating or beyond that you see the differences. Small-time FBOs can be flight training’s equivalent to the shade-tree mechanic…OK for the simple stuff. For one thing, such schools don’t offer advanced flight training for that many pilots looking to earn advanced ratings. Their emphasis and instructors’ experience remain pretty limited.
When I got my Private certificate the FBO school was adequate so I continued with them to begin commercial pilot training. After blowing through a lot of money (supplied by my loan from a bank) I pressed the issue about how much more time it might take for me to be ready for the check-ride. Figuratively, it seemed like I was swimming in molasses. The FBOs designated examiner relented to fly with me and assess how close I was to being ready. The result was both disappointing and very disturbing.
Thankfully I had heard about a large Part 141 school specializing in advanced flight training that had a very good reputation. I went there and poured-out my tale of woe. They sent me flying with an instructor who, to this day, remains as the best instructor I have ever had. (That is really saying something about the man because, since then, I have probably worked under hundreds of other instructors throughout my career’s type ratings and airline training.) At the conclusion of this single flight he laid out a course of action to fix my deficiencies. It was the difference between night and day. His explanations of the maneuvers’ goals were NOTHING like I had ever heard before. The school and instructor were absolutely focused on my success.
According to my old logbooks I wasted 8 months with the first school, but in only 6 weeks the second school whipped me into shape and I got my commercial certificate. Their program was organized, logical and used the “crawl before you walk” methodology. Looking over my logbook entries from the first school, each flying lesson was aimless and disorderly. On one lesson I would work on slow flight and stalls. The next lesson we did ground reference maneuvers. What was their strategy? There was none.
You’re much better off with a large school that is organized, does A LOT of advanced flight training, is serious about its own curriculum development and the instructors are professional and not just building time until something better comes along. Oh yes, that FAA Part 141 certificate and accreditation is something to look for also. It’s a pain in the neck for the flight school but a blessing for its students.
1 Federal Aviation Regulations 14 CFR Part §61.55 Second-in-Command Qualifications
2 Federal Aviation Regulations 14 CFR Part §61.117 Private pilot privileges and limitations: Second in command of aircraft requiring more than one pilot.