The Four “C” Note Lesson

A friend recently took his first flight lesson at a Midwest flight school and paid $400 for 1.2 hours of dual instruction. Shocked? That’s what it cost him for a two-hour block of time (at $100 per hour for the instructor) using a glass-equipped Cessna 172 (at $170 per hour). Cha-ching!

Sure, there are places to find less expensive flight training. Even at lower relative costs, flight training might still be unaffordable for the average Joe or Josephine. This point is especially relevant for the “high school” Joe whose minimal flight training income is dependent on a lawn maintenance business that goes dormant in the winter—a real “sod” story. Aside from the obvious ways of reducing the cost of flight training, I’d like to offer a recommendation that you’ve probably never heard before. Are you ready for it?

If you want to learn to fly on a budget, then learn to fly before you learn to fly.

Given the fidelity of today’s flight simulation software, the average person can acquire highly sophisticated flying skills using inexpensive software and a simple desktop computer. I know this for a fact given my experience with students who’ve operated Microsoft Flight Simulator over the years. It’s not just my opinion either. Over the past decade, many students and instructors have testified to the power of desktop flight simulation in reducing the cost of flight training. The time has come to take flight simulation to the next level and make flight training more affordable for everyone. Let’s begin with the hardware.

Your first purchase should be Microsoft Flight Simulator, version X (preferably). You’ll also need a joystick and rudder pedals. Find discount deals by shopping for used hardware on eBay.

Next, you’ll need a minimum of two books and two pamphlets. Your first purchase should be a book that will give you the intimate details of simulator operations. Without a doubt, one of the best on the market is Bruce Williams’s Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator. You’ll also need a book with detailed step-by-step instructions on how to fly an airplane. The book should cover the four fundamentals of flight, slow flight, stalls, spins, and landings as well as the other requirements for a private pilot certificate (please check out my newest book titled, Rod Machado's How to Fly an Airplane Handbook on this site. Search around and ask for a recommendation on a good book having this content. Finally, download the FAA’s free Private Pilot Practical Test Standards and a good private pilot flight training syllabus (both are available for free via Google search). Got all that? Good. Here’s where you’ll get down to serious study.

Begin by taking the ground and flight lessons in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Read the individual chapters of both books between lessons. Use your big brain here. Learn as much as you can from the simulator and your reading materials. Then do what Bigfoot does and take the next big step.

Visit the local flight school, chat with the instructors, find one you like, wrap him up, and take him home. Better yet, invite this person to your home for an hour’s worth of dual flight training on your simulator. In addition to his or her hourly fee, a promise of free desserts with moist dairy toppings will entice most instructors to make a house call.

When he arrives, have him explain the syllabus and Practical Test Standards to you. (Whatever you do, don’t say, “Explain your PTS to me.” Otherwise, he might drone on for hours about his posttraumatic stress caused by students who can’t land.)

Now it’s time to take your first official dual flying lesson on your simulator with your new instructor. At this point, don’t plan on flying the real airplane until you’ve practiced and mastered every flight maneuver in the Practical Test Standards. Given that there are 12 sections in the Practical Test Standards, you should plan on at least 12 in-house flight lessons with your new instructor. Take more if you want. This is money well spent.

I realize that there are limitations to this approach, but the fact is that flight simulation is already used by major flight schools to accelerate and enhance student learning. Students who follow this strategy—and dedicate themselves to the book work—will substantially reduce the cost of earning a private pilot certificate. Your biggest challenge will be to maintain a fresh supply of most dairy toppings to ensure your instructor’s happiness (and reduce his PTS).


By Rod Machado | | CFI Resource Center, Learning to Fly | 1 comment
next post → ← previous post


  • tigger - January 23, 2015

    That is a good idea. Much better than teaching one oneself to fly a ultralight.

Leave a comment

Stay in Touch

Physical Product Ordering Only (800) 437-7080

If you'd like to order a PHYSICAL product by phone, please call the number above. Digital (downloadable) products can't be ordered by phone.

Latest Posts

  • The FORBIDDEN Question

    By Rod Machado During my high school years, it was known as the forbidden dance—the Lambada. Do it on the dance floor in front of the principal and you’d be “dancing with the scars” resulting from that encounter. Some things... read more

  • Rod's Letter to the FAA and ACS Committee Members

    Yes, really! The Private Pilot ACS adds 363 Risk Management items to the PPL practical exam testing requirements. Students are responsible for knowing the answers to each and every one of these items, all of which require highly subjective answers (according... read more

  • Minimum Cost Private Pilot Certificate

    Greetings Folks:Below is a recent letter from a young man named Joel Thomas. Joel earned his pilot certificate at a very low cost using many of the recommendations I've made over the years. Yes, it's entirely possible to earn a... read more

  • Why Vx and Vy Change With Altitude

    Recently, someone asked about why Vx and Vy change with altitude. This isn't necessarily an easy thing to understand since it involves several variables. So here's a modified "quick" version of the explanation on this topic that is covered in... read more

  • How to Flare Any Airplane Any Time and Anywhere

    Princess Buttercup and I were walking on the Redondo Beach pier last month and unknowingly stumbled onto the “live” movie set of Big Momma 2. As I passed one of the props, an ice cream kiosk, I stopped to buy... read more

  • The Airman Certification Standards

    As most readers of my blog know, I'm not a fan of the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for many reasons, not the least of which I originally posted with the FAA in 2013 (click here to read that response). Apparently, the... read more

  • Risk Management? Really?

    Is the Emperor Naked? It Sure Looks That Way The illusion here is based on the FAA’s belief that student pilots can be taught risk management skills. Learning to manage risk, however, requires prerequisite knowledge that student pilots typically do... read more

  • Hot Props

    Crocodiles and Propellers - Not Much Difference Sometimes we need to be reminded just how dangerous a propeller can be.  The first video below shows a fellow pulling a propeller through to check for nicks when the engine started and... read more

  • Striving for Too Much, Too Soon - Fantasy Flight Training

    Early in the previous decade, the FAA began heavily promoting a flight training concept known as scenario-based training (SBT). SBT was billed as a highly structured script of real-world experiences to address aviation training objectives in an operational environment. Hailed... read more

  • Rod Machado's "FREE" Private Pilot Flight Training Syllabus

    I'd like to offer you two different syllabi (FREE). The first is my Private Pilot Flight Training Syllabus. This is intended for use by the flight instructor as well as the student. Both should have a copy for their own... read more

  • Flight Instructor Training Resources

    I'm often asked about resources for CFI applicants. Here are a few resources that you might find useful. When I discover more, I'll be happy to list them here.  Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook - A  must have book to help... read more

  • In Defense of Stick and Rudder Training

    It happened in the early 1990s. That was the time we saw the diminishing influence of WWII flight instructors (and their instructional progeny). Our pilots didn’t fly jets during that war. Instead, they flew airplanes that demanded exceptional stick and... read more