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  • Jim Brannan

How to Choose a Flight School-Part I

I'm often asked, how can I choose the best flight school. Well it's a good question and one of critical importance--especially to a prospective career pilot. So based on my years of flight training experience, I wish to share my wisdom and experience and make suggestions in order of importance:

Flight Instructor Experience

#1 - Flight Instructor experience and teaching ability

Without any flying experience or basis for comparison determining an instructor's qualifications can be a daunting task for a prospective student. The truth is in many flight schools you will find both good and bad instruction. So it's always wise to checkout the school's instructors and that can be done easily by talking to an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner who has been conducting practical tests for the school. A DPE's recommendation is hard to beat.

There is much to consider in choosing an instructor. First, flying experience is important, but it does not necessarily make one a good teacher. Between flying and teaching experience, I would say teaching experience is more important. It is a fallacy to think that if one is an excellent pilot then they will be an excellent teacher. In fact, I find the opposite to be true in my experience. Often the more skilled or experienced the pilot the more out-of-touch they are with teaching the fundamentals of flying to a student pilot. Of course an instructor must be a good pilot, but that is a given--whereas teaching ability is not. So remember, an instructor's flying experience is of limited value if they cannot teach what they know.

It's true that some people are naturally good teachers, and that is usually made apparent by their love for teaching. But unfortunately--especially in aviation--you will find many more flight instructors in love with flying than in love with teaching. Thus Teaching is too often ha means to an end, a necessary stepping stone to the airlines or a charter job.

So how can you tell a good instructor from a poor one? Ask them what they like most about teaching flying. If the answer is all about the joy of flying an airplane rather than the joy of teaching a person to fly an airplane, then you have reason for concern. Few people like to do things they are not good at. So if flying is their first love then they will want to show you how good a pilot they are, but if teaching is their first love then they will want to show you how good a pilot they can make you. It's all about self interest--theirs or yours.

A good instructor understands how people learn and teaches accordingly. The best description of a good teacher that I've ever heard is: "A good teacher can make the complex sound simple; while a poor teacher can make even the simple sound complex." So the good flight instructor naturally understands the building block relationship between basic and advanced maneuvers and the importance of teaching from the simple to the complex and from the known to the unknown. Thus the instructor can take complex maneuvers apart into their elements and teach each element with understanding to a proficiency level which enables the student to perform complex pilot operations and maneuvers--like takeoffs and landings and inflight emergencies.

So bottom line, take time to interview a prospective instructor and find out how they teach and their motivation for teaching. No one likes to be a Ginny-pig or a stepping stone. You deserve more and you should demand more from your Instructor. So be patient and look for a good teacher who happens to fly airplanes rather than a good pilot who happens to teach flying and you will not be disappointed. and you will not be disappointed.

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