These messages are mostly ones that I wrote to a new flying student as he was just getting started. Some of them are Bridgeport-specific but many will be useful to anyone who is thinking about learning to fly.
Choosing a flight instructor
Choosing a flight school
Estimating the cost of your rating and comparing costs between flight schools
How many hours will it take
Choosing a flight instructor
You're going to be spending 40 to 60 very expensive hours with this teacher in the world's smallest, noisiest classroom. You want someone who teaches the way you learn. So take one introductory flight with each of three flight instructors. Buy a log book first and log the time from each flight. Then continue with the one you like best. After spending an hour with each one, you'll probably have no trouble deciding.
Remember, a young flight instructor who just got his CFI certificate may not have too many hours (some may have as few as 300). But how long ago did they go through the process you are going through now? Maybe less than two years ago! That means the whole process is still fresh in their mind. As we have been flying for more years, and have spent more of our lives in the sky, it becomes harder to understand the student's confusion or difficulties. Another advantage to that recently-certified instructor: he just took the course on how to teach! What he lacks in experience he may make up for to some extent with the fact that the knowledge of teaching techniques is fresh in his mind.
Older, more experienced instructors are not necessarily better. In most cases it has been many years since they went through the trials and tribulations of learning how to fly, so some of them have forgotten just what it's like to be in the driver's seat with no license and an incomplete understanding of what's going on. On the other hand, fresh young instructors can be divided into two categories: those who are really good instructors; and those who don't like instructing, and are doing it just to build up the necessary hours to get a commuter airline job.
Things to keep in mind when trying to choose a flight school (at the time, our local airport had four different places where you could take lessons)
- Even though flight school B only has one plane, their schedule might be quite empty, so it might make up for any maintenance delays.
- If you find an instructor at one of these places who just seems much better than the others, or really "clicks" with you, it might be worth choosing that place in order to get him. When I got checked out in a Mooney at flight school C a year or two ago, the instructor at flight school B was also instructing at C.
- Flight school A has a nice facility, it's true. You may not need a classroom per se, but everyone needs a room where they can sit with their CFI before each lesson (for a briefing of what you'll be doing) and again afterwards (for a review of how well you did and what you should read before the next lesson). I suspect school B has such a room somewhere but it might be cruddy and not as good a learning environment. School C has just one room and you wouldn't be doing your briefing in there, at least not on the weekends, because the club regulars hang out there swapping flying stories.
- I don't imagine you would be using a simulator for your initial training. Ask at A and D if they use their simulators at all for primary training, or just for the instrument rating.
(The instrument rating is an additional line on your license that allows you to fly in clouds. It is a substantial extra effort, requiring about another 30-40 hours of instruction, that you can undertake after getting your license and getting some actual experience. It's not worth worrying about now, but you'd only want to do it someplace that has an approved simulator, e.g., A or D.)
- When you visit the FBOs, be sure to ask how much of a "block time" discount you'll get if you put down $2000 cash up front for your training. They should definitely offer at least 5% off. If the person you ask doesn't know of such a policy, ask higher up. (School D has a posted discount for "block time"; I don't know about the other locations.) These places LOVE to get cash early, particularly because people who pay in advance are much more likely to actually finish their training and not drop out. Obviously don't plunk down the $ until you're sure you want to train with them - maybe after you've finished your first 3 lessons. It's a good way to lower the cost of your flying.
When building a flight training price-comparison spreadsheet, here are some things to factor in:
- The price of instruction (CFI time) differs from club to club - Annual "club" dues (school D) or initiation fee and monthly "club" membership (school C)
- C's hourly prices don't include fuel, so add $1.97 per gallon x the gallons-per-hour (gph) rate of the Grumman
- You will have to buy a headset ($200) and about $150 worth of textbooks, aeronautical charts, and pilot supplies. (I can advise on brands and point you to the cheapest sources. Sporty's catalog is a good reference but their prices are not the best.)
- You will have to have a physical exam with an FAA-approved doctor (ranges from $40 to $100 depending on the doctor)
- You will have to take a knowledge test which is administered at a computer-testing center (the nearest one is in Darien, I think) for $70 - Figure on around 60 hours of flying before you're ready for your test; 45 of them with a CFI. - When you are finally ready, you'll take the flight test with an FAA-designated examiner. There are two or three that examine at our airport. Their fee is probably about $200.
If you don't have Sporty's catalog, it makes a great reference - call and ask them to send you one. 800-543-8633. You'll also want to get one from Aircraft Spruce 800-824-1930. And get one issue of Trade-A-Plane, a thick yellow newspaper, which is full of ads from all the discount supply houses.
You may not be aware that all transactions that occur at the airport are subject to a Town of Stratford 2% Airport Usage Assessment, aka AUA, aka tax. That's right - an additional 2% on top of your 6% Connecticut tax! That's the Town's way of letting us know how much they appreciate us bringing our business to Stratford. (This is in addition to the $250 per year airplane tax that each aircraft owner must pay to the town. Of course that won't affect you unless you were to buy an airplane.)
I changed my estimate of the amount of CFI time when I saw that the rules (Federal Aviation Regulations, or FARs) changed on August 4th of this year and no longer require 20 hours of solo time. Perhaps you should plan on 35 hours of dual and 10 or 15 hours of solo, I don't know. The more concentrated your training is, the less hours you'll need. If you were to do it full time, you'd probably be done in a month with the minimum requred flight time of 40 hours total. To get the latest requirements, visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/AFS/FARS/far_idx.htm and download FAR part 61. (Or just buy the FAR/AIM book published by ASA - you'll need it for your training anyway. You can get it from Sporty's or from the local pilot supply shop. Three Wing and PFT might also carry it. Make sure it's the edition effective 8/4/97.)
The requirements for getting a private pilot license are contained in 61.103, 61.105, 61.107(a), and 61.109.