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Flight Training: Keeping up the Momentum - What are your thoughts?

Posted By:
Hal Bryan
#1 Posted: 3/16/2010 11:46:44

It's one thing to start learning to fly ... sometimes, unfortunately, it's quite another to actually finish.

An upcoming "Expert Panel" in EAA Sport Aviation magazine is going to tackle this particular issue, and we want your input as well.

If you're an instructor, what do you do to keep students on track and actually get them over the finish line? For all of you, when you were a student (and, yes, we're all still students, or should be ...), what was your secret? How did you stay motivated to actually push through and get it done?

We're looking for all sorts of things here, whether it's practical advice on scheduling and curriculum or thoughts about how you or your students used your passions to keep the "eye on the prize" as they say.

For me, there were three things that kept me moving when I first got my Private ... man, nearly 25 years ago:

1. My Dad was paying for it ... up to a point. I didn't want to let him down or feel like he'd wasted his money, nor did I want to have to pay any more out-of-pocket as a broke college freshman than I absolutely had to.

2. Being a college freshman meant chasing college girls. Flying to dinner made for a wonderful first date - enough said.

3. Finally, and most importantly, I'd wanted to be a pilot literally my entire life ... I'd waited nearly 18 years already, and I was just too determined to let anything slow me down for long.

In addition, I was lucky enough to have two fantastic instructors - first Kurt Selbert and then Doug de Bruyn (Kurt moved on to another flying job about 3/4 of the way through, if I remember right). These guys were not only good (and occasionally very patient) teachers, they were persistent as well. If I called to tell them I had to miss a lesson for some reason, they didn't let me off the phone until we'd scheduled the next one. If I ever started to stumble or show signs of hesitating, they'd be there with a pitch-perfect mix of coaching ... and haranguing.

So, there's my initial take, at least off-the-cuff ... now it's your turn!

Online Community Manager - EAA
Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
#2 Posted: 3/16/2010 12:47:00

For someone who took ten years from first lesson to checkride, I'm porbably not a good one to take advice from but here goes anyway.  The school I started with closed on me one day without notice and I just stopped lessons until I found out about Ultralights.  I bought a MiniMax 103 and started lessons again in an XAir.  I had so much fun alone that I wanted to share the experience and bought an Aeronca 65LA on eBay (I don't recommend that by the way).  I then returned to serious training and took my check ride a couple of months later.  After i completed the process, I cooperated with my flight instructor and taught a ground school to a number of students.  I followed some of them as a mentor with the AOPA program, which meant that I would check in with them, at least weekly, to see how they were doing, answer any questions, and provide encouragement.  All of them followed through, and I would like to think that my friendly contact helped to keep them with the program and to succeed in getting their tickets.

Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Grant Smith
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#3 Posted: 3/17/2010 07:22:36 Modified: 3/19/2010 06:52:50


Sorry to be negative, but you are asking the wrong question. It is not what keeps you going but what prevents one from continuing that is the issue. As Jerry pointed out when the flight school closes it puts a big road block in the path.

We all started out with the goal of becoming a pilot. We all hit roadblocks along the way, some big and some not so big. If the roadblocks are manageable we continue, If not we get stuck.

Yesterday I soloed a student that 15 days ago hadn't flown for a year. That is how long it took to get his medical. He owned his airplane and therefore had committed to get a pilot certificate but the aircraft sat for a year while the FAA turned its wheels. Yes, I encouraged him to fly in the interim but he is a busy person and the goal was out of site without a medical.

I my case, I was told that a commercial pilot was not a desired goal so I quit flying to get a college degree and a job that could support flying. When an airplane became affordable, I started flying again.

The answer to your question of what keeps a person flying is having access to an affordable airplane. That may be through ownership, rental, club, marriage, or friendship. There is not a one of us that has learned to fly without an airplane (except some who take up base jumping and they all started by jumping from an airplane).



Now for the positive answer. I was fortunate in training with a well-run flight school that was a good old ma and pa FBO. They paid their instructors well and had qualified people they employed and still managed to keep costs in line. My instructor was knowledgeable, patient and personable. My training went smoothly although it took slightly longer than I would have preferred  (my fault, not theirs).

Several years later I hit a big potential road block and did not  realize the magnitued of the problem when I had a broken airplane at an isolated airport. A local A&P offered to help on a Sunday afternoon. He fixed the aircraft at no charge and sent me on my way with only a minor delay. Without his help I would have been in a very difficult position of overnight stays and aircraft retrieval and may have sold the aircraft. I have to say that the friendly and knowledgeable people that are involved in aviation are a large part of the reason I have persisted in aviation. Besides, I like airplanes
happya lothappy


Grant Smith CFI
Scotty Pierce
#4 Posted: 3/18/2010 18:45:46

Way back in 2000 I had 3 lessons with Art in a cessna 152. Both of us are 3XL size boys so it was not comfy to say the least.

I quite untill 2007  and started over this time in a 1976 beech Sundowner. After only 5 hours in a Sundowner I realized I was awe struck by low wing airplanes. Mostly I loved the Sundowner so I went out and bought one of my very own. That allowed me to fly on my own Schedule and not wait for a slot on the rentals which always stay full and who knows next weeks weather or the next. Having my own plane gave me every reason to stick to it no matter what mood I was in or the moodyness of an instructor. Plus, I had pride of ownership on the ramp and in the air. Other students and some non owner private pilots envy a student with a plane of his own. So if you have the funds it makes alot of dollors and cents to own your own airplane. I am presently signed off to go on my check ride next week then I plan to begin instrument traiining . Best of luck to all !

Shannon Coleman
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#5 Posted: 3/18/2010 20:41:01


The majority of my students are interested in flying for recreation.  During training, I try to keep that in mind and keep the training fun.  Pre-solo, we may go to a turf airport or to a small local fly-in.  Post solo, I try to pick destinations that are interesting such as trips down to the beach or somewhere for lunch.  Flying also has to be a priority to them.  If its not, then there's little I can do to keep them coming back.

Curtis Carter
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or Craftsman
#6 Posted: 3/19/2010 13:26:58 Modified: 3/19/2010 13:27:53

My instructors would let me take my friends or family up with us with most of the air work  we did.  It was kind of exciting to be looking forward to sharing some of the fun of it with others while working towards a license.  Communication is key.


Murray Grant
#7 Posted: 5/23/2010 13:46:18


I had two training experiences, one in 1969 and the other in 2007.   Both at similarities even though almost forty years separated them and the first one was in a big flight school for the time and the other was at a small rural FBO with one full time and one part-time instructor.


In ’69, I was an 18-year-old air cadet on scholarship and nineteen of us were training at the same time. In this pseudo military situation, competition was the name of the game. We competed for airtime, marks, instructor opinion … everything. It was the motivator and worked in that situation.  It was who we were.  The instructors were under pressure to get us trained in the minimum time, as that was all that the school was going to be paid, which put the students under pressure to learn fast.   


I stopped flying in 1972, not only because renting was expensive, but I didn’t know what to do with an airplane other than joyride around the patch.  I knew I wasn’t going to be a commercial pilot or instructor.


In 2007, I got the bug to fly again and contacted a small flight school  a half hour from the house and started re-training.  This time it was the desire to be current that was the motivator that took me through the twenty hours of air-work to get signed off.  The training was fun for me because it was all flying whether with a CFI or not.  There was not any plan to make the flying fun, it was all an exercise in getting it done. I know from talking to the other students that this was universally the case.


I think this might be a dilemma for flight schools.  Do it as quick (meaning economically) as possible versus working in a bit of fun stuff, which might necessitate a few more hours of rental/ CFI. 


I think  you have to plan some fun stuff, it can be as simple as the instructor showing the students some manoeuvres, flying the plane while the instructor takes pictures  or landing at a tight grass strip to a cross country to a different airport. 


As well, accentuate the positive.  I had trouble with landings and we pounded them mostly in crosswinds that were strong (my choice, I figured that if I learned in difficult situations, all other landings would be a breeze). We probably should have varied it a bit with other manoeuvres that I was good at.  








Tony Johnstone
IAC MemberNAFI Member
#8 Posted: 5/23/2010 14:25:06

As an instructor, one of the most useful skills you need to develop is to get into your student's head.  Why are you here?

Do you want to be an airline pilot?  Military pilot?  Bush pilot?  Just fly for the fun of it, or learn aerobatics, or fly ragwing taildraggers off grass strips?  Maybe Dad was a pilot in the service and you want to relate to that.  Or, do you want to be able to use an airplane as a business tool?

Every one of these has a different goal and motivation.  I spend a significant amount of time with a new student (and now I mostly teach aerobatic and tailwheel, but still do some primary instruction) trying to grasp what they want to achieve with their training.  If they are non-committal to begin with, we're probably not going to finish no matter how hard I push.

On the other hand, the kid that has breathed airplanes all his/her life and couldn't wait to get to actually learn to fly, is usually going to be a no-brainer in terms of getting through to the checkride.  The successful businessman who wants to get a private/instrument ASAP so he can buy that SR22 and get where he wants to go is probably going to be well-motivated but hopefully you as the CFI can keep him/her on track as regards personal limitations.  (The old "Doctor-in-a-Bonanza" scenario, and I have, unfortunately, seen more than one bad outcome of that ilk).


So, there are obviously things beyond your control as a CFI, such as money, time, medical issues, or weather,  but  setting those aside, the most useful thing you can do to ensure the student gets where he needs to be is to be involved enough to be able to support his/her goals.  You don't have to be his best buddy, but there's nothing that will put a marginally-motivated student off than climbing into an airplane with an instructor who can't remember (and really doesn't care!) what happened during the last lesson.

Take a little time to find out what the motivation is, and feed off that.  There are few endeavors that involve as much one-on-one teaching time as flight instruction, if you want to be effective, you have to be involved.

Eric Marsh
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#9 Posted: 7/7/2010 22:58:41

I'm a student pilot and am commenting on this thread because I'm in a position where finances are forcing me to take a hiatus from my training.

I made a $2k deposit on flying lessons with the hope that would get me to soloing. Unfortunately the money ran out and I've not yet reached that milestone. Frankly, it's  discouraging. I've done 60+ landings and always manage to get the airplane down safely but I'm lacking consistently "elegant" landings.

 I don't want to take my lessons  now and then as money permits because I think that's part of what's slowed me down. It seems like there was always something preventing me from flying more than once a week (my schedule, my instructor's schedule or just the weather) and sometimes I might only manage one flight in two weeks or even longer. So my goal is to put together at least a couple thousand dollars and then on average fly at least twice a week.

I am thinking of talking to other instructors. Perhaps a different training style than that of my current instructor would work better for me. I think it's at least worth looking into.

It would probably be easy at this point to let my lessons slide. Money has been very tight and right now it's going to be tough to put together another two or three thousand dollars. But I've also got an added motivator. I'm building an RV-6 and there is simply no way that I'm not going get my certificate to fly that airplane. It may take a while but I intend to do  whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. So I'm committed even if only for that reason. But beyond that I do like to stretch myself and set challenging personal goals.

It would be neat if I could take lessons in my RV but I need to be certified and capable  with enough hours under my belt so that when it's done I'll be able to fly it safely, especially during that first forty hours.

So there you have the perspective of at least one student pilot.

Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
#10 Posted: 7/8/2010 14:40:38

Just one man's opinion - when you can afford it again, try a few lessons with a different instructor.....


Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Eric Marsh
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#11 Posted: 7/8/2010 18:19:50
Jerry Rosie wrote:


Just one man's opinion - when you can afford it again, try a few lessons with a different instructor.....


Yea, that's what I'm thinking. I just wrote another Blog Entry about it.

Guy Baker
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
#12 Posted: 7/8/2010 21:44:22


Do fly with a different instructor and don't "pre-pay" again. Make'm earn your money. The instructor makes a huge difference. I've had very good ones and one poor one. Unfortunately, the poor one was my first/pre-solo instructor. luckily, I was steered away from him by other pilots. Anyhow, don't stop flying, just reduce the frequency. You'll still learn and retain. If you don't have your ticket by the time your RV is done mabey you could get someone to fly the 40 for you. But shoot for finishing up. That RV will make a fine flier for you.

Gregory Lawrence
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
#13 Posted: 7/19/2010 15:15:58

I joined my airport family.  It was 1966 (the family went to Rockford not Oshkosh), South Dayton Airport - now known as Moraine Airpark.   I was financing my flying by flipping hamburgers after school, so it was sometimes a long time between lessons.  In those times I hung out, read all the magazines in the office, walked the lines - hangar, tie down, flight line and was soon adopted into the family.  Harold Johnson was the patriarch - would stop what he was doing and answer any question.  He was a Citabria dealer and a new Citabria was $9,995.  So, I who was in High School (not a qualified prospect), started quizzing him about the cost of operating an airplane because I was going to buy one when I graduated.  I never did buy a Citabria but I learned more about fixed cost, period cost and direct cost from Harold than I did in my CPA review course later.  Thelma Johnson was the matriarch.  As a teenager I talked to Thelma more than my own mother or probably any other adult.  She knew more about how I felt and what I thought than my own mother.  Bob Wagner was my instructor and in the role of "Big Brother".  I failed my first written test and Bob sat down with me in the kitchen of the old farmhouse on the airport and taught me ground school at a chrome and Formica table.  It is the personal relationships that tied me into aviation. 

That was a different world then.  It changed when they paved the runway - I just told a person who called me to ask about how to get started flying "Go to an airport and hang out, the best airports have grass runways".  She called me from California because Ron Wagner at EAA gave her my phone number when she called EAA.  She is Deaf and used the Video Relay Service to call EAA and called me directly on the Video Phone.  We have an "Airport Family" of Deaf people by Video Phone and Email that extends from Maine to Bogota Columbia and Vancouver WA to Miami.  It is the relationships EAA-Ron/me/Andrea that are going to get her flying.  We didn't have TSA/Homeland Security, $150/hr rental rates and $5 gas in the 60's to make it difficult.  But we didn't have the Internet and technology either to help.  Families care about each other and take a genuine interest in each other.  I spent a lot of money at South Dayton Airport but never felt once like it was a business transaction.  When I walk into the lobby of the local FBO it feels like walking into an automobile dealer show room - half of the people there are sizing me up to see how much money they can get out of me and the other half are profiling me to see what kind of security threat I am. 

It would be good to have a Forum here for students and prospective students.

Frank Giger
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#14 Posted: 7/28/2010 11:28:49

As a student, I'll tell you what helped a bunch (beyond my own motivation) in keeping the ball going: the right fit of an instructor and a realistic plan up front.

Owing to a bunch of factors, I changed instructors at the two hour mark - and while my first instructor was competent and fairly good "fit," my current one is a much better match to the kinds of feedback I'm looking for and need.

One of the first things we did before cracking open a checklist was to sit down and map out a plan and timeline based on my desires, time, and finances.

Going for a Sport Pilot license (which matches my goals just fine) and being able to comfortably afford (defined by the volume of the wife when looking at bank statements) two hours a week, we figured a realistic 30 hour training program, putting me with my license before Halloween.  If I get it in less time, great (and he thinks I will), but if not I'm prepared for it and will know why it's longer.  I'd of blinked pretty hard if he had said anything about the 20 hour minimum other than "pretty slim odds of ever doing it, and I want you to be able to do more than the minimums of a checkride."

Having a rough end time goal gives another measure of progress alongside the milestones of proficiency laid out up front, and it definately gives me extra incentive to ensure our schedules match.

I know it's old hat for y'all experienced CFI's, but taking half an hour to lay out the training program (with the flow of training tasks), but to the student it's all brand new.  i have a good idea based on the in-brief what's next; and I also know if I'm lacking in skills in something - if we "hang around" some maneuvers longer than others I know it's because I'm not really up to snuff or need to be much better at it for the next set of tasks.

Plus he let me know that even after I get my license it isn't such a bad thing to occassionally take him up for a refresher if I feel I need it, or as a spot check on skills to ensure I didn't pick up any bad habits.  That let me know that he wants me to be a good pilot, not just a good student.  A cynical man might say it's taking a second bite out of the money apple, but he was sincere, and I believe him.