Here’s My Advice …
Training Tips from Award-winning Flight Instructors
By Rebekah Waters, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
To support this aviation training-focused issue of FAA Safety Briefing, we invited some winners of the National General Aviation Flight Instructor of the Year Award to offer tips to pilots in training. Here are their responses. See if you can spot some consistent points.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were a student pilot?
Gary Reeves (2019 Flight Instructor of the Year):
All instructors want their students to do well and be safe, but some matchups don’t always work. My first several flight instructors were all great pilots but needed to be more organized. The most important things are a written curriculum and at least two weekly lessons. Starting an online ground school before you start lessons will save you money and time.
Amy Hoover (2022 Flight Instructor of the Year):
Since I was a student pilot almost 35 years ago and learned to fly in a small rural town in the Idaho mountains, I did not know there were resources available other than reading the FAA publications and asking questions of my flight instructor. I wish I had known about the various oral exam guides and practical test prep guides from a variety of publishers. I did fine on my checkride, but it would have been easier with more help from those types of publications. Now there is a plethora of online courses, test prep software, and other resources to help student pilots gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and best practices required to obtain their pilot license.
Bob Raskey (2023 Flight Instructor of the Year):
I wish I had known how inspiring, rewarding, and life-changing it is to fly. I was 18 years old when I officially became a student pilot. After completing high school, I joined the New York Army National Guard, and I was selected to attend helicopter mechanic school at Fort Rucker, Ala. I loved learning how to repair helicopters and thought this would be my future career. Then, one day an Army warrant officer came up to me and said, “Looks like you are doing a great job there, have you ever thought about learning how to fly?” I thought, “Why not?” and joined the Fort Rucker Aero Club. I obtained my FAA student pilot certificate, and then took to the skies with my instructor to basically see if I really wanted to be a pilot.
On my first instructional flight, I was completely taken by the sheer beauty and motivating challenge of flying a plane. I was so motivated that I flew almost every evening and weekend, around my helicopter repairman training, and received my FAA private pilot certificate in about 30 days. I left Fort Rucker as a certificated FAA private pilot — airplane single engine land. I was fortunate to have someone ask me that question that changed my life’s trajectory: “Have you ever thought about becoming a pilot?” I wish I had heard that question when I was 14! So, anyone even remotely considering flying, obtain that FAA student pilot license and stay in the game.
Take your time to find the best instructor for you.
There is a plethora of online courses, test prep software, and other resources to help student pilots gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and best practices required to obtain their pilot certificate.
What is your best advice to someone who is considering becoming a student pilot?
Take your time to find the best instructor for you. Interview at least three, at different schools if possible, and check for five key things:
- Do they provide you a written curriculum with assigned study topics and details of what will be covered in each lesson?
- Do they teach ground before each lesson to make sure you are prepared and review each lesson after a flight?
- Are they and the planes available when you are? Is there another instructor that can fill in if needed?
- Are they active in the FAA WINGS program?
- Does their personality match yours?
Schools that promise you will finish in exactly 40 hours of flight time for the lowest price available are often unrealistic. 40 hours is the minimum, but not the goal. Your goal is to be safe and confident when you fly, to enjoy this new hobby, or build a solid foundation for a possible career. Be active in the FAA WINGS program, attend EAA chapter meetings, and join groups like AOPA. The more you immerse yourself, the safer you will be.
An important part of your success is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will motivate and mentor you as you learn to fly.
Getting a pilot certificate is expensive and will take longer if you are not able to be consistent with your training. Ideally, plan to fly at least twice a week, and more often if able. Save enough money in advance so you do not have to stop training due to lack of funds, as that will prolong the process and cost more in the long run. Find a mentor who can assist you with the process; most pilots are excited about helping up-and-coming aviators and will be happy to help you. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the process!
Find the nearest airport/flight school and take that first discovery flight as soon as you can. It will be that first flight that will hopefully take you past the interested phase to the inspired phase of flying. You are no longer interested in becoming a pilot; you are now committed to becoming a pilot! I can say that some of the greatest pilots I know did not have in their thoughts a future as a pilot. My own son and daughter both initially said no to flying. Yet, after taking them flying in my airplane, a Piper Cherokee, their perspectives changed, and each earned a private pilot license.
My daughter then took it further, similar to me, by joining the Air National Guard at 18 years old, after high school. She continued flight training and after receiving her commercial pilot license and graduating college, she was selected to fly the Air Force F-35 fighter jet. She is currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona training to become a fighter pilot. I have learned in my lengthy career as a civilian and military pilot, that your degree of success in aviation will be enhanced by your willingness to take on the challenges along the way.
An important part of your success is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will motivate and mentor you as you learn to fly. You should always keep the end game in view as you progress in your goal of being a professional pilot. The world really needs pilots more than ever, so take this moment in time to get out there and FLY! Be relentless, resilient, and respectful as you progress on from student pilot. You will find success, and, more importantly, you will find mentors in aviation who will be honored to assist you on your journey.
Do You Know …
Do you know an outstanding flight instructor, mechanic, or FAASTeam Rep? Consider nominating them for a national GA award. Go to GeneralAviationAwards.com/nominate on or before November 30 to submit your nomination!
Gary “GPS” (Guy in the Pink Shirt) Reeves has two decades of teaching experience in the U.S. and internationally. He is the 2019 FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year and a lead representative for the FAA Safety Team. He is considered the top expert in general aviation using GPS and autopilot systems. For more info, visit PilotSafety.org.
Amy Hoover (NAFI#16135) of Ellensburg, Washington, was the 2022 National Flight Instructor of the Year. Amy has dedicated over three decades of her life to advancing aviation education with 3,000-plus hours of aircraft instruction time and 15,000-plus hours of ground instruction time. She specializes in tailwheel and mountain flying instruction and teaches backcountry flying in her home state of Idaho.
Robert “Bob” Raskey was the 2023 National Flight Instructor of the Year. Mr. Raskey is a current FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor; FAASTeam industry member; and United Airlines Boeing 777 captain with over forty years and 23,000 hours of general, commercial, and military flight experience. Mr. Raskey has been a flight instructor and pilot examiner on various airplanes, helicopters, warbirds, and experimental aircraft.