Secrets from Successful Pilots

Let’s face it, paying for flight training is very expensive. Airplane flight school is going to cost $35K to $70K for fixed wing training, and $90K to $150K for helicopter training. Unless you have a trust fund from your rich dad, the costs to become commercial pilots can seem to be an impassable mountain. But is it? Learn how people with dreams found a way to pay for flight school.

5. Get a job with a big flight school: The top flight schools hire people for all kinds of jobs. Start at the bottom if you have to, but have the ambition to move up the ladder to the higher paying jobs. Some flight schools offer their employees discounts when paying for flight training.

If you are an exceptional employee (highly valued) you might be able to negotiate a good trade with your employer. There are no guarantees, but employers look for ways to reward the top contributors.

4. Become a “hanger rat” and get a job with a small flight training school: I have known people who were known as “hangar rats”. These hangar rats are alway hanging around the hangar – willing to do anything and everything to help out. Hangar rats are sponges, always willing and wanting to learn.

Even if you have to sweep the floors, or take the trash out – whatever it takes. If you can find some way to impress a owner of the flight school (and flight instructor), you might be able to get a discount when it comes to paying for flight training.

Professional pilots love people who have total passion for flying – willing to do whatever it takes to get flight time. I have heard stories where student pilots paid for gas and the instructor discounted their fees. Its rare, but it does happen.

3. Become a Cadet with Civil Air Patrol (CAP): CAP does not advertise that they will provide flight training to their members. However many CAP members (CFI’s) have been known to discount their rates to members who have the drive, passion, and desire to become pilots.

If you have the right attitude, and are willing to “give back”, there maybe someone in the ranks that will match your desire and help you get your Private Pilot’s license. In the end, people without funding, need to network with as many aviation people as they can. And remember, once you become a commercial pilot, be willing to give back to the CAP – pay it forward!

2. Apply for every Scholarship Available: Make yourself exceptional. You have to take this seriously. Organizations are more than willing to choose exceptional people with scholarships. There are many aviation scholarships, but only the most exceptional people receive the awards. Research the foundations that offer scholarships and interview their people. Find out exactly what they are looking for, and position yourself to be the recipient of the awards.

1. Save Money and Earn a Perfect Credit Score: This is going to take some time to achieve, but you should do it even if you are not going to become a commercial pilot. If you are willing to live a certain low-cost lifestyle, one that will allow you to save a good chunk of money, you might be able to get a student/private loan to cover the remaining financial needs. This route will take longer, and your schedule will be full for several years, but many have take this route and succeeded. Of course you will have debt too! However, if it leads to landing the job of your dreams, it will be worth it.

Always keep in mind that thousands of aspiring pilots have found a way.

I know of a husband and wife team that where the pilot’s wife finished college and nursing school, and got a really good job as an Registered Nurse. Both the husband and wife worked and saved as much money as they could. The plan was for the husband (propsective pilot) to keep his job as long as he could after the couple saved enough money to pay for the Private Pilot certificate. Once the husband got the Private Pilot rating, he planned to continue to move forward to earn his Instrument, Commercial, and CFI as time and money allowed. Improving their credit score was also a part of the plan.

This couple chose to start the flight training process while keeping both of their jobs as long as they could, and continued to save money. They lived off the wife’s salary and saved the rest. They suffered a bit, but they were committed.

I also know of folks who have joined the Reserves (Army, Marines, Air Force, etc.) to help fund flight school. Their goal was to stay in college or keep working, save money, and earn partial VA Educational Benefits to be used later. Unfortunately, a few were called up for active duty and had to do tours in Afghanistan (this is the obvious risk). However, when they finished their duty they had earned partial funding for flight school (one particular gentlemen I know earned 60% funding). Once out of the military the got the best job they could (earning the highest income possible) and utilized student loans and scholarships to finance the shortfall that the VA educational benefits did not cover.

There are countless prospective pilots that have taken two and three jobs to save enough money to start paying for flight training. There are some that have bought fixer upper homes, fixed them up (working evenings and weekends) and flipped the homes for a profit (to be used paying for flight training). There are some pilots who have started a side business, such as an eCommerce website, to make extra cash. It is truly amazing to hear of all the ways people have found of paying for flight training. Each of these pilots had a dream, they developed a plan, and persevered until their dream was realized.

Start Your Training With or Without Funding

Start your journey with or without funding – take the steps you can afford, steps that you will have to do anyway. In doing so, you will be making progress toward your goal, giving you a better chance to realize your dream.

A. Get your Medical: Find an FAA approved Aviation Medical Examiner. The FAA has a “doctor locator” function on their website. Go to https://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/ and find the nearest AME. Get your medical done. At the very least, you will know whether or not you can pass a medical (peace of mind). Without the medical you can’t become a commercial pilot.

B. Enroll into Ground School Courses: At the very least you can watch Youtube videos online. Or, purchase flight manuals, DVD’s, or other related resource manuals. From there you can be brave and enroll into an affordable online ground school.

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You won’t be able to fly without completing ground school, AND you will learn everything you will need to know to pass future FAA exams. You’ll eventually have to do ground school anyway. However, by completing ground school courses you will know a whole lot more about flying – and by doing so you will know for sure that being a pilot is truly in your blood.

Essentially, we are recommending that you invest into the process; learn, study, and get involved with the information that you will eventually have to master to become a commercial pilot.

Ground school will teach you all about flight and aircraft operation, and aeronautical knowledge (weather, sectionals, cross country). Ground school will also help you to prepare to answer the FAA exam questions (“knowledge tests”).

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C. Find a Mentor(s): Find a pilot who has gone before you, an experienced commercial pilot who can guide you through the process acting as your coach. Find someone who has been in your shoes and understands your passion. Perhaps they can help you to discover options to overcome the financial obstacles. Your mentor (or mentors) needs to be someone who will inspire you when the going gets tough.

D. Get the best paying job you can and earn the best credit score you possibly can: Many of today’s commercial pilots found a good paying job and then saved a bunch of money. This is the long-term plan, but for those that took this route will tell you that they are glad they did.

Earn as much money as you can, live frugally, and save. Save enough to pay at least for your private pilot’s license. You can earn a private pilot’s license in 6 months easy (training early mornings, late afternoons, and weekends). And, keep your job while getting your private pilots license (you will need a good job to get a private loan, or to pay for the advanced courses).

Find a way to continue to work while knocking your private license certificate out of the way. Keep your job as long as you can. There will be a time when you need to leave your job and jump into flying with both feet. But the income from your job will help you to make the transition.

Once you have earned your private pilot’s license, you will know whether or not you continue to seek a commercial license (the BIG commitment). To become a commercial pilot you will have to get your Instrument, and Commercial Ratings done (helicopter pilots will need their CFI and maybe even their CFII as well). This requires a tremendous commitment.

But let’s say that you’re having second thoughts after getting your private pilot’s license? Let’s say you discover that flying is not what you wanted? As a licensed private pilot you have not wasted anything, because you can always fly recreationally. You’re a pilot, and you can enjoy flying. You just can’t get paid to fly. You can stop the journey right now without hindering your future financial situation.

E. Earn a Good Credit Score: Supplement your savings with good credit score you can supplement their savings with personal loans or even a student loan. Keep your job while getting your private pilots license. Find a way to continue to work while knocking your private license certificate out of the way.

F. Earn a Degree: There are several powerful reasons you should seek your degree through while getting your commercial pilot ratings. One, the flight hours you need to become a commercial pilot (paid pilot) will be less (especially for airplane pilots).

Two, you might be able to supplement your funds with FASFA or Pell Grants. You might be eligible for cheaper student loans as well. And, you might qualify for one or more scholarships. Any amount of money you can get will help lower the overall “out of pocket costs” of flight training.

The third powerful reason you should get a college degree while earning your flight certificates is to position yourself for the best jobs. Aviation employers will cherish your degree, and possibly put your resume on the top of the stack. Moreover, in the aviation world, there are more non-pilot jobs for professional people (good paying jobs) than there are pilot jobs.

The college degree is your back up plan. What if something goes wrong with your body, eyes, or hearing? Every year pilots have to pass a physical exam. If you fail, you can’t earn a living. So, the college degree is your insurance policy.

Furthermore, many pilots with 10 to 15 years of flying choose to transition into good paying aviation jobs in administration, sales, and marketing. Moreover, most aviation companies have been started by pilots. You never know what awesome opportunities will come way 10 to 20 years down the line, but you want to position yourself for the best opportunities from day one – get your degree.

Important Links to Follow:

Tier 1 Helicopter Pilot Jobs – Your Career Path to becoming a successful Commercial Pilot

Landing a Tier 2 Helicopter Pilot Job – Career Development

The Top Jobs on the Planet – Types of Tier 3 Helicopter Pilot Jobs

Partial List of Available Aviation Scholarships

University Aviation Association (UAA) Aviation Scholarship Guide

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Flight Training Scholarship Program

Experimental Aircraft Association Scholarships

National Air Transportation Foundation Scholarships

National Business Aviation Association Scholarships

The Ninety-Nines Section and Chapter Scholarships

The Ninety-Nines Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarships & Awards

AeroClub of New England’s Scholarship Program

Aircraft Electronics Association Scholarships

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Boeing Scholarships

Girls With Wings Scholarship

LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Scholarship

National Coalition for Aviation and Space Education (NCASE)

Women in Aviation International Scholarships

Whirly-Girls Scholarships

The Alaska Airmen’s Association Scholarships

Montana Aviation Scholarships

Minnesota Aviation Trades Association Grants/Scholarships

The Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund

Fred Kacena Flight Training Scholarship (Tri-State Area)

AeroClub of New England (ACONE) Scholarships

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) Scholarships

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Scholarships

National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) Scholarships

Aviation Distributors and Manufacturers Association (ADMA) Scholarships

Upwind Summer Scholarship Program

Sennheiser’s “Live Your Dream” Scholarships

Lightspeed Aviation Foundation Scholarships

Helicentre Aviation’s Professional Pilot scholarships

Idaho Aviation Association scholarships

Flight training and aviation maintenance scholarships

NAAA/BASF Agricultural Aviation Scholarship

The Vicki Cruse Memorial Scholarship

Greg Koontz Aerobatic Instructor Scholarship

The Douglas Youst Memorial Aerobatic Scholarship

Southern California Aviation Association

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2 comments

  1. July 22, 2019 at 10:51 am
    Derek McDoogle

    I found it interesting when you said that there are many aviation scholarships. My nephew would like to become a pilot but he hasn’t decided yet whether or not to start taking lessons. I will definitely share this article with him to help him make up his mind.

  2. July 22, 2019 at 1:25 pm
    Taylor Bishop

    I actually didn’t know that there were different ways to pay for flight training. That said, it’s good to know that you should get your medical done first before you worry about funding. I’m interested to learn if there’s an ideal time to get your medical or if it should be done really early because it takes time to process.

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