Posts Tagged ‘flight training’

The best and worst of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Hard to believe an entire year has rolled by since I last posted a Best and Worst of Flight Training blog (you can read the 2012 one here). This is my fourth annual Best Of/Worst Of list, and while I fully expected to see some of the same names on the roster (Hello, City of Santa Monica!), this year’s tally brings some brand-new players to our flight training game.

On an uplifting note, it took some digging for me to find five “worst” candidates for 2013.  In previous years, it seems there was more bad than good.


  • Federal budget cutbacks prompted the U.S. Air Force to reduce flying time071014-N-5476H-721 for pilots, meaning fewer training hours. A Wall Street Journal article maintains they’re flying fewer hours than military pilots in some European allies, India, and China.
  • The same budget cutbacks kept the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds from making appearances at airshows across the nation. What does this have to do with flight training? Well, I may be grasping here, but we know military aircraft are a huge draw at airshows, and it’s likely that reduced attendance means fewer people (children in particular) got to forge bonds with aviation that could pay off down the road with the creation of new pilots.
  • Another “self-taught pilot” a la the Barefoot Bandit was accused of flying a stolen airplane that belonged to a soldier on deployment in Afghanistan. What makes this story doubly sad is that the 18-year-old who allegedly took the Cessna 150 was studying to be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The teen has pleaded guilty, and sentencing is set for Jan. 6.
  • Santa Monica Airport makes the list for the third year in a row. A fatal accident in which an airplane crashed into a hangar (but did not cause any fatalities among people on the ground) has added fuel to the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing campaign to close the airport, which is home to at least six active flight schools. The city is now involved in a lawsuit to gain control of the airport.
  • The FAA has decided that overweight pilots are a cause for concern, even though there apparently aren’t any safety statistics to back this up, and has issued a proposed rule that would require pilots with a neck size of greater than 17 inches or a body mass index greater than 40 to be screened for and possibly treated for sleep apnea. [UPDATE! The FAA announced it is putting the rule on hold—but that doesn’t mean the issue is going away.]


  • Thousands of student pilots told us the good, the bad, and the ugly aboutDisneys planes their flight training experiences, and helped us to find the Best Flight School and Best Flight Instructor in the Flight Training Initiative Awards. The winners—San Carlos Flight Center and Conor Dancy of Aviation Adventures—are profiled in the upcoming February issue. We’ll be doing it all again in 2014, so make sure you vote!
  • After the FAA stonewalled repeated requests from AOPA and EAA to consider a movement toward a driver’s license medical for private pilots, two members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow pilots of noncommercial VFR flights to use the driver’s license medical standard to fly aircraft of up to 6,000 pounds and no more than six seats.
  • The airlines are hiring. This means regional pilots will have an opportunity to move to the majors, and flight instructors will be moving on to the regionals, leaving flight instructor openings for new CFIs.
  • Disney’s Planes landed in theaters in August (and a real-life Dusty Crophopper visited EAA AirVenture). We’ll take any opportunity we can get to introduce children to aviation. A sequel is planned for release in 2014.
  • Shell Aviation has been working on a lead-free “performance drop-in” replacement for 100LL that could power any aircraft in the piston fleet. The new formula has passed preiminary tests on Lycoming engines on the ground.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add? How was your 2013, flying-wise? Please let me know in the Comments section. Thanks for reading the Flight Training blog, and I wish you blue skies and lots of flying in 2014.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.




Flight training when the weather is bad

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about five holiday gift suggestions for student pilots.—Ed.06-492  Learn to Fly

As I sit at home and watch the snow falling, I can’t help but think how much I’d rather be out taking a flight lesson in my Cessna 172 Skyhawk. But when the weather is bad, we student pilots are grounded. Just because the weather is bad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue your lessons. So here are some suggestions to move ahead in the flight training process.

If you’re like me and studying for the knowledge test, the pause you get in cold weather is an ideal time to get some cramming in. I’m using Sporty’s Study Buddy app, and I find the flash cards to be especially helpful. Speaking of flash cards, check out these great ones from the Air Safety Institute to help you learn your airspace types and runway signage and markings.

My original flight instructor recommended that I use Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice the basics.

For those of you who are still nervous, like me, when talking to air traffic control, then there are plenty of tools you can use to help break up the nerves, including: LiveATC; a free King Schools course on Non-Towered Airport Communications; and this free Air Safety Institute course, Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication.

I hope these help in the study process. Please feel free to pass your recommendations on to me ([email protected]) for a future blog post.—Benét J. Wilson

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

5 gifts to buy for your favorite flight training student

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last wrote about lessons learned from her aviation friends.—Ed.

5 gifts for the student pilot on your list

Beaded airplane ornament photo from

Now that we’ve all managed to survive Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, it’s time to get serious about how to show the holiday love to student pilots. My husband asked me for my Christmas list (but this is also good for Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Festivus), and everything on it was to help me with my flight training.  So below, please enjoy my picks for student pilot gifts. 


  1. Flight bag. For my first year of training, I carried m gear in an AOPA tote bag. It just looked bad. So at this year’s AOPA Summit, I bought the AOPA flight bag, which looks remarkably like this one offered by Sporty’s for $59.95.
  2. Headphones. I used an old pair from the AOPA Pilot magazine review cabinet. They were big, bulky, and uncomfortable. So when I had the chance to buy a slightly used Bose Aviation Headset X, I leapt at the chance. There are headsets out there with different features and prices, so use this handy headset finder created by to find the best ones for your student pilot.
  3. Kneeboard. I originally inherited a kneeboard that curved to my letg, But it was raised, so it was hard to use in that tight Cessna 172 Skyhawk cockpit I use. So I went over to Aircraft Spruce and bought this ASA IFR and VFR kneeboard for a bargain $14.95.
  4. Sporty’s Study Buddy iPad app. If your student pilot is studying for the FAA knowledge test, spend the $9.99 for this app. it fatures three modes— learning, simulated tests, and flashcards—and covers everything on the exam. You can even take practice tests in preparation for the real thing.
  5. Leatherman Wingman Multitool. I used to have trouble taking the oil cap off during my aircraft check. So now I have this handy tool, available for $39.95 in the AOPA Store, in my flight bag and I’m ready for any task.

So—what did I miss?—Benét Wilson

I get by with a little help from my (aviation) friends

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I’ m delighted to be the newest blogger for Flight Training. I’m Benét Wilson, and I’m the editor of the ePilot Flight Training eNewsletter and social media editor for AOPA. I’ve been an aviation journalist for more than 20 years, and—most imporantly—I am a student pilot.

Having been in the business for as long as I have, I’ve met some great people along the way, many of them pilots.  And as I continue to slog away at earning my certificate, I’ve used social media to ask my pilot friends for their tips and tricks of getting through the process. Their advice has been great, so I thought I’d share some of their pearls of wisdom with you.

Rob Mark is based in Evanston, Ill., and is an ATP, CFI-A, CFII and CFIM. He loves to talk about the time he flew an Airbus A380 in the captain’s seat (making us all jealous of him). He is publisher of the Jetwhine blog, co-host of the Airplane Geeks podcast, and a longtime friend. The one piece of advice he shares with everyone he meest who begins flight training is to suggest that they treat flight training like any other high-level classroom experience.

“The best way to receive the most value—as well as to feel like you really know how to handle the airplane—for your training dollar is to schedule training as often as possible. I expect students to commit to two lessons each week, knowing full well that most can’t make every lesson, of course,” he said. “But if students truly commit to arriving at the airport on time and prepared for the lesson—and that includes the homework I assign—I guarantee them they’ll see real progress in just the first month alone. That progression usually keeps them coming back.”

Mike Miller and I went to the same university, worked on the school newspaper together, and had many mutual friends. But we never actually met until 1997, when we were working at the same aviation publication. His approach to earning his ticket was that he saw it as an extra degree.  “So, if this was easy, everyone would do it.  I was paying for it, and it gave me new job skills I never had. And it was a marketable skill. But it wasn’t easy,” he recalled.

One instructor told him that pilot skills erode the instant you don’t use them.  “So if you don’t fly for a while, your landings will be rough, your checks will be slower, your training won’t be as sharp. That was true,” he said. “So I tried to fly every week, and in the end (before the checkride), I flew twice a week when the instructor told me I should. I had two main instructors, and both told me to keep asking questions and keep asking where I needed extra work. I leaned on them.”

One aspect of learning to fly that became important to Miller was being ultra-safe. “So my best advice: Be 100 percent safe, and never cut a corner ever. Never say `it’s good enough.’ Say ‘Did I do everything I possibly could to check this situation?'” he asked. “And be inquisitive at each step and don’t complain when you’re told you have to work on stalls or slow flight, because they’re telling you for a reason.”

Finally, said Miller, just go up once in a while to fly. “Not to practice. Just say, I’m going to Luray Caverns to see the Caverns. And fly there,” he said. “Even when you’re training, you should find a way to enjoy just being in the air.”

I have traveled the world with Gideon Ewers, an aviation consultant based in the United Kingdom, when we both covered the regional aviation industry. He kept his advice short and sweet.  “The best advice is relax and enjoy the journey from your postings in specific,” he said. “Accept that not every landing will be perfect. Strive to make it so, but be accepting when it is not quite as perfect as you’d like.”

Understand that this is a journey without end, which is probably the greatest of flight’s gifts, said Ewers. “I have been around flying for way more years than I care to think about and if I’m honest, my most recent lesson was the last time I flew and the next lesson will be the next time,” he stated.—Benét Wilson

Why we need GIFT

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

GIFT1 Tamara and CatherineThis week my Facebook and Twitter feeds have blown up with many smiling faces of ladies learning to fly, or getting back into flying. That’s because the skies of Vernon, Texas, are filled with the Girls in Flight Training (GIFT) participants.

I went out to GIFT last year and spent a couple days with the GIFT gang, led by designated pilot examiner Mary Latimer; her daughter, Tamara Griffith, a CFI; and granddaughter Amanda Griffith—who, at age 18, had just become a CFI. Here’s the complete article.

Briefly summarized, Mary wants to create more women pilots, and she does that by conducting a free week of flight instruction for women, aimed at helping them get over hurdles, or make them more comfortable with notion of flying. Here’s a video of the 2012 event.

Some people periodically question why we need programs like GIFT that are aimed at getting more women to fly; or Girls With Wings, which strives to introduce girls to flight at a young age; or the global Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, which seeks to celebrate women in aviation while introducing women to the opportunities that aviation offers.

Their arguments generally run along these lines: Women aren’t being held back from flying, so why should a special effort be made to include them?

The best counter-argument to that likely comes in the form of a survey of airline travelers conducted in the United Kingdom, published this week in the U.K. Telegraph. The survey found that 51 percent of respondents said they would be “less likely” to trust a female pilot. The survey polled nearly 2,400 survey respondents, all of whom had taken a flight in the previous year, according to an article in the Telegraph.

It would be easy to say that the British survey respondents are harboring some stereotypes, or that perhaps they just are a little off-base in what they want from an airline crew. (A survey conducted in 2012 among 1,000 British travelers found that a majority of respondents prefer their airline pilots have a Home Counties accent—I’m not sure what that is—and they found Cockney and midlands accents least reassuring. But I digress.)

I’d like to think that a survey of 2,400 U.S. travelers would be a little more progressive in their responses–but I can’t say for certain that they would be. Women make up just 6 percent of the U.S. pilot population and represent 5 percent of airline cockpit crews. So, until such time as the sight of a woman in an airline uniform is as unremarkable as the sight of a woman in a doctor’s white coat or any other professional occupation, I will say that we need female-centric programs like GIFT (and GWW, and WOAW, and the Ninety-Nines, and Women in Aviation International…).—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.



You don’t always get what you want…but sometimes…you get what you need

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Jean Moule last wrote about African-American pilot Bessie Coleman for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

I walked into the Salem Flight Training office to begin my 10 to 12 flight lesson. I was surprised to see Mark instead of Steve. “Steve had some work for the state,” Mark said when he saw my expression.

A bit surprised because I had let Steve know that, as my first instructor, I preferred him and he had simply cancelled or changed a flight before if he was not available.

Yet…my now flying addiction caused me to take a deep breath and go for it.

Since I have had two substitutes, at first I did not connect that, Ah ha…this is the guy that I almost flew with in February…when we did not even get off the ground…because of my poor taxiing…or  so I thought!

We talk about our plan for this time. Mark suggests that I fly to the Corvallis Airport because he knows I have not landed elsewhere. “I am not ready for that,” I say. It is empowering, in a way, to speak to someone who has not flown hours with me and needs my input to know my perceived skills.

Mark sends me to preflight the airplane and we begin the routine…the one that usually has me work myself into a snag at something I know fairly well.

I manage to misplace my radio call cheat sheet. I decide to take the high road, “Guess I will have to get this out of my head this time,” I say. And then, at least twice, instructor points to the N-number right before me above the instruments. That is one piece of information I do not need to have in my brain…of course I should know it after 12 hours in this airplane. Brain freeze and a live radio connection is an incredible eraser.

Preliminaries done, we taxi. I am getting better at taxiing because now I connect that a slight brake allows the wheels to rotate in the direction you want to go. “Like a Caterpillar tractor,” my husband explained. As if I had any experience with them either.

So, we head to the runway. I do the radio calls and take off with just a bit of voice control from Mark. We head south. I circle over Education Hall at Oregon State University. My, what a perspective of the place where I worked so long and seldom visit in my retirement schedule of classes.

Mark takes photos. I enjoy the views and then we head east. For the first time I take the airplane up to 5,000 feet so that we are above the 4,200-foot Snow Peak that marks the high point of the area where my husband worked as a forester for 36 years.

We circle the forest below. The old growth fir trees that we see taller than the others are what is called “The Park” on the 12,000-acre Avery Property. The trees are about 500 years old.

We head down toward the ridge that runs under our property. I delight in showing Mark things on the ground that I know and he does not: Richardson Gap and the towns of Mill City and Lyons. It is difficult to find my house within the square of tall firs that grow up around it.

Then we head toward highway 22, the known road that leads back toward the airport.

While I have learned how to better trim the airplane to keep from tense and unnecessary tightness on the controls, we have been in the air over an hour and I am a bit tired. I think of asking Mark to land the airplane. There is so much to do, or so it still seems to me: Call the tower once at 10 miles and again when requested. Make sure no radio traffic is directed at you. Think of your approach into the pattern. Begin to get lower and slower. Lower those flaps. Adjust to the winds. Watch for other traffic. Et cetera.

 While I know that Steve has some sense of what I can begin to handle with his help, I don’t know how my growing knowledge and skills will come together with Mark as we land with him doing some of the work. I decide to just ask him to do it all. But oh! Am I surprised! As Mark takes over the landing and I feel his hands and feet on the controls….I actually find anger rising up within me. Wait, I think, wait! I want to land this plane!  “Give me something to do,” I say with a rise in my voice. Mark releases the yoke to me and talks me down.

Wow, what did I learn from this different instructor besides to focus on the N number right in front of me when making a radio call? I learned that….I want to fly this airplane….myself…

Two weeks later…My flight instructor and I had exchanged emails and I said that, weather permitting, I would like to fly over the mountains to Sisters and back and my husband would go with me. Steve says, “Weather permitting, going to Sisters is fine with me. There is a disadvantage in that you will grow more as a pilot by working on pilot skills rather than doing cross-country flights.”

Weather was not permitting according to my standard briefing, and then Steve called because he was not even sure the low scattered clouds over the Salem field would allow for our flight at all. Since I had to drive through Salem anyway, on my way from an overnight and appointments in Portland, I stopped.

Steve decided it was perfect for touch and gos near the airport. We went over the pattern and the radio calls. I find out he has eight or nine in mind, and I have two or three! We discussed which parts of this I would do. There is so much to consider: radio calls to tower, elevation, airspeed, carburator heat, flaps up or down, turns, flight path, other planes, yipes! Take off, do a circle, touch down, and then put full power on and take off again! We did this four times and I told him it was enough for me though he had more in mind.

My flight lesson on that Wednesday keeps me smiling: scary, challenging, learning, and fun. It was like a roller coaster and merry-go-round combined. I just start to giggle every time I think about it! My adrenaline rush for at least two weeks.—Jean Moule

A flight lesson and a wedding

Monday, July 22nd, 2013


Scott Brosnan (left) wed Shelly Williams last week at a ceremony officiated by Scott's CFI, Jeff Vandeyacht (right).

Scott Brosnan (left) wed Shelly Williams last week at a ceremony officiated by Scott’s CFI, Jeff Vandeyacht (right).

When I interviewed Jeff Vandeyacht about the challenges of taking over a flight school and making it a sustainable business for the March 2011 Flight Training, I had no idea he was so multitalented. Jeff owns True Course Flight School in Fulton, N.Y.

I’ve gotten to know Jeff a little bit thanks to Facebook, and I can tell you that he’s a CFI (obviously),  an entrepreneur, and a dog owner. Now add “ordained minister” to the list. Last week he performed a wedding for one of his students—with a ceremony that started off as a flight lesson.

I’ll let Jeff tell it:

“Scott Brosnan is my student (Private) and we’ve been flying together for about a year. He’s a welder for National Grid. He welds on gas pipe lines with gas in them! Yikes!

“His fiancée (now wife) is Shelly Williams. … She has been along with me and Scott a couple of times and enjoyed the flights.

“You get to know each other pretty well during the hours you spend together in the plane and Scott and I established a good rapport right from the beginning. He told me of his fiancée Shelly and how they just didn’t have any hard plans on the when and where of their wedding. They wanted to [tie the knot] but they had been together so long it wasn’t so much of a priority.

Jeff mentioned “in an offhanded way” that he happened to be an ordained minister, and suggested as a joke that they perform the ceremony in the air. “It wasn’t long after that he told me that he mentioned it to Shelly and that she was all in if there was a way to make it happen.

“We kicked it around and determined that doing it during a flight in a Skyhawk was impractical so we figured it would be fun to pick a scenic airport, fly in, do the deed, and head back. It was a little cloudy but bright and other wise a great day. Scott was clearly a little nervous so the landing wasn’t great (lol).  The ‘ceremony’ lasted only minutes and I pronounced them husband and wife. Good times.”

Congratulations to Shelly and Scott on this new chapter in their lives; continued success to Scott on his flight training journey. Oh–how did Jeff manage to become an ordained minister in the first place? About eight years ago, friends asked if he would officiate at their ceremony, and he went online and got ordained in the Universal Life Church, a nondenomination organization that has been in existence since the 1950s. He’s performed a few weddings at no charge in the intervening years, “Just for friends and family who ask and now, I guess, for flight students.” He joked that he’s thinking of changing True Course Flight School’s slogan to “Expertise—Experience—Patience—Weddings.”—Jill W. Tallman

GIFT keeps on giving

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

A-145-0274I was in Vernon, Texas, in November 2012, watching a remarkable crew help women from all around the United States put aside their worries and fears and press forward to obtain pilot certificates. The program is called GIFT (Girls in Flight Training).

As I wrote in “Women with Wings” (click the link to read the article), during that week Mary Latimer and her crew fed and housed more than 30 women, taught ground school and took them flying for 12 hours a day. At the end of the week, there were two new private pilots, eight solos, and five knowledge tests passed.

Is that the end of the story? Of course not. Mary keeps in touch and is happy to report that four more private pilots and a new instrument pilot have graduated from the 2012 GIFT. Several others are still plugging along; some are returning to Vernon to train with Mary, who works with her husband, Lawrence; her daughter, Tamara; and her granddaughter, Amanda—all flight instructors.

The 2013 GIFT is filled with a waiting list. Mary loves what she does, but also would love to see other flight schools put together this type of program to fill the need for this type of supportive, immersive training.

Mary says the 2012 FAA airman statistics reveal that the percentage of women pilots now stands at 5.29 percent (down from 5.35 percent in 2011). “Not a big change, but certainly in the wrong direction,” she says. “I think it says a lot about the industry. Any flight school that wants to increase their business needs to figure out how to get more women in the door and then get them through the training.”

Flight school owners and operators, Mary will be at AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, scheduled for October 10-12. Want to find out more about GIFT? She’s happy to talk to you. Contact me at [email protected] and I will put you in touch with Mary Latimer.—Jill W. Tallman

Just ahead in the September issue

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Listening WellWe’re in final production this week on the September issue, but most of my thoughts are still stuck on the month of July—and Airventure! Be that as it may, here’s a glimpse of some of what you can expect to find when the magazine reaches your mailbox or electronic device:

  • Upside Down, Inside Out: What’s the first thing most people ask about aerobatic training? Hint: It has to do with your stomach.
  • No More Monkey Business: If you stumble, miss radio calls, or just don’t like chatting on the radio–we have suggestions for all those ills.
  • Stop, Look, Listen: Ways you can avoid a runway incursion.

There’s more, but I don’t want to give it all away. Look for the September issue to land in your mailbox beginning August 1. The digital edition goes live July 25.—Jill W. Tallman

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Your instrument training tips

Friday, June 14th, 2013

04-348_IFRTrainingSince many pilots start instrument training almost immediately after completing their private pilot certificate, I wondered if our Facebook friends had any tips for those about to take the plunge. Turns out, you do—probably based on personal experience. As with almost any aviation topic, there were some divergent views.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. “Learn paper! Get the iPad out of the cockpit until you can master paper plates!”—Patrick Smith, seconded by Jim Chambers.
  2. On the other hand, “Use what you’re going to use in reality. This isn’t primary training anymore so if you’re going to use an iPad for charts use it in training. That way you won’t be fumbling your first time out alone with your orginazatiom of electronic charts. Learn your GPS, it will save your butt in training and in real life.”—Miranda Noble Rydstrom
  3. Get experience flying in actual instrument conditions—Anne Scheer Wright, seconded by Steven Bristow, Bill Green, Sam Grice, and Brian Harman.
  4. “As an instrument instructor for Army flight school, I would encourage instrument students to focus on their basic instrument (BI) skills for getting too focused on the advanced (AI) procedures such as departures, approaches, etc. If your BI is bad, your AI will be even worse.”—Wylie Mathis Sr., seconded by Mackey Simbajon, Luca Simioni, and Cm Thrasher.
  5. Use a simulator to help you practice approaches.—Daryl Sweeney, seconded by Brad Rodriguez, Jim Chambers, Chad Baker, and Alejo Echevarria.

Some had very specific suggestions for choosing the right CFII.

  • “Find an instructor who has experience outside of instructing. Someone who has worked as a Part 135 pilot and has flown a great deal in the ATC system.”—Collin Hughes
  • “A few things: 1. Make sure you are working with a syllabus that your instructor initials after completing tasks satisfactorily. 2. Interview the instructor to make sure he’s a good fit. 3. Ask the instructor if he is working as a CFI in order to build time to head off to a corporate or airline job. If he is, ask if he is currently interviewing and where he is in the process. 4. Is he willing to use a simulator to accomplish part of your training. 5. How can he integrate the use of a home simulator, like FSX into your training.”—Kevin Jarchow

There were many more suggestions, and you can read them all on our Facebook page. In the meantime, I’ll close with this very smart advice from Damian M. Campayo, because it happens to tie in brilliantly with an article in the upcoming issue.—Jill W. Tallman

  • “Keep money in reserve. You’ll need it to keep your currency!”