How to Sabotage Your Flight Training
By Rod Machado
Are you interested in sabotaging your flight training experience? OK, then let me help. Here’s how to do it.
Before you begin your flight training, demand to fly with as many different instructors at the flight school as you possibly can. Insist on being bumped from one instructor to the next. Don’t fly with just one instructor. Switch instructors every few hours to obtain the different perspectives they offer about how to fly an airplane. Whatever you do, don’t fly with one instructor long enough for him to develop an understanding of how you learn. You don’t want that knowledge to get out. If, perchance, you begin to trust one instructor, then treat this like a prison break—get out of there quick: run, leave, scoot, scat, boogie. Switch instructors immediately because you never want to trust anyone in aviation (that’s how they get you). Most importantly, if an instructor starts trusting you and begins offering you more cockpit responsibility, then it’s time to switch instructors again.
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Homeboy to get my drift here. This is the worst possible advice anyone can give a student pilot. Unfortunately, it’s advice similar to what many student pilots hear when they sign up for flight training at some (by no means “all”) flight schools. The sad part is, it’s also advice that almost guarantees a student’s inability to make acceptable progress toward earning a private pilot certificate if he or she makes any progress at all.
For instance, at a local Southern California flight school, one young lady was forced to switch back and forth between eight different instructors as they became available for training. After eight months, nearly $15,000 in debt and no solo, she quit flying out of frustration. What a terrible shame it is to ruin someone’s ability to experience and enjoy aviation for the rest of her life.
So here’s the straight skinny about agreeing to fly with multiple instructors. The only time it’s beneficial for you to switch instructors is if your present instructor is incompatible, incompetent, incapable or unwilling to teach you properly. Heavens knows there are instructors like this in aviation, and they should be avoided at all costs. If you have a bad CFI, then find a better one. If you have a good CFI, then elect to train with that person exclusively until earning your certificate. Period! You are the consumer and you have every right (and personal responsibility to yourself) to choose the person with whom you want to train.
Believe it not, some flight schools will try to convince you that it’s in your best interest to fly with many different instructors during your primary training. If you believe this nonsense, then you might also believe that the Bronze Age began with the invention of the tanning bed (it didn’t). What these flight schools don’t tell you is that the only benefit occurring here goes to the flight school, not you, the student.
With many part-time instructors on staff or a high turnover of CFIs on staff, it’s in the school’s best interest to keep those instructors busy. I don’t begrudge them for doing this, but I’m not an advocate for these types of schools. I’m an advocate for student pilots. So let’s examine the methods of persuasion that flight schools use to promote flying with multiple instructors instead of just one good instructor.
The most common reason flight schools promote flying with many different instructors instead of flying with the best instructor for you is availability. Students are told that they’ll never have to worry about scheduling a lesson because there’s always at least one instructor with an opening in his schedule. While that might be true, how does this benefit you? Well, there’s no benefit here because the flight school assumes that all instructors teach equally well (very unlikely, in my opinion). If you’re considering a flight school based solely on the number of available flight instructors, then your priorities (and chakras) need realignment. Your objective shouldn’t be “I just want to fly and I don’t care who teaches me.” Instead, it should be, “I want to train solely with the best instructor for me.” (Please read my article on "How to Find a Good Flight Instructor.")
Instructor availability at a flight school should be assumed, otherwise, why would you even consider training at this school? I wouldn’t purchase a car based on whatever car is on the dealership’s lot that day. I look for a specific car—the best car for me—then I visit the dealership selling that brand. Your objective is to look for a flight school with the best instructor that fits your needs, then create a schedule to fly with this person exclusively. Rest assured that any flight school attempting to bump you from instructor to instructor is doing this more for its benefit than yours.
When the “instructor-availability” Jedi-mind-trick fails to persuade you, some flight schools will then unleash their next most popular tool of persuasion. I call this the “many perspectives” approach. In these instances, flight school managers attempt to convince you that flying with several different instructors provides you with many more perspectives on how to pilot an airplane.
Perspectives? Hmm, doesn’t it seem as if someone is trying to enroll you in an art class? If you encounter the “many perspectives” sales pitch, then ask the flight school manager why you need so many perspectives on how to fly an airplane when you don’t, as yet, even have one perspective on the subject. The fact is that if you fly with a good instructor, then he can at least teach you to fly as well as he does, right? Right! So you only need one perspective—your “good” flight instructor’s perspective—when learning to fly, especially since no art class is involved.
The “many perspectives” idea is a guaranteed way to confuse any student during training. Fly with three instructors and you get three different views on how to fly an airplane. Ten instructors; ten different views, and so on. Yes, these differences might appear relatively minor to an experienced pilot. To a beginner, they can represent conflicting and contradicting opinions about flying that turn sense into nonsense.
Some flight schools will tell you that all their instructors use the same syllabus for training; therefore, there are no differences in how students are taught. If you believe that, then you must also believe that the Iron Age was a time when people wore neatly pressed clothing (it wasn’t). A syllabus only tells an instructor what to cover and when to cover it. It doesn’t tell him “how” to cover a topic—a disposition dependent on the instructor's experience, skill, knowledge, etc. This is where differences between instructors can inspire confusion and distraction in a student's mind.
There’s another big—and I do mean BIG!—downside to the “many instructors” recommendation that some flight schools fail to share with you. Training with one “good” instructor instead of many different instructors means that no single instructor acquires a contiguous history of your training personality. No single instructor learns your strengths, weaknesses, skills, capabilities, and learning strategies. Consequently, no single instructor fully learns how you learn.
When you switch from instructor to instructor every few hours, each instructor needs to verify your skill level to his satisfaction "once again" before you advance in training. That means you’ll spend unnecessary time reviewing material already learned. Ultimately, training delays increase and additional money is spent inefficiently on training. If you want proof of this, then ask any student who, by default, ended up losing instructor after instructor due to being hired by an airline. Years ago in Fairbanks, Alaska, I met a student who ended up having 15 instructors over a two-and-one-half year period. She finally ended up with a private pilot certificate and spent $35,000 in the process.
Perhaps the most important and often unrecognized reason for limiting your training to one good instructor is trust—trust in your instructor. Trust means predictability, which means you don’t need to keep second-guessing your instructor’s behavior. Trust implies that you’re confident that your instructor will keep you safe and prevent you from being harmed. A lack of trust means you’ll never quite relax in the cockpit. The way students learn to trust their instructors is by spending time training with them—one on one—and not by switching from instructor to instructor. There is no substitute for trust when it comes to fortifying and accelerating the flight training experience.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t fly with part-time instructors. I’m saying that, if you are going to fly with a part-time instructor because he or she is a real pro, then train with that person exclusively. Yes, it may take more time to earn your pilot certificate. However, if this is the only option you have for training, then it’s clearly the best option for you. The fact is that some flight schools endorse the “many instructor” program not because it’s good for you. They do so because it’s good for them. Your objective in taking lessons is not to keep the flight school in business. It’s the flight school’s business to stay in business. Your objective is to learn how to fly safely at a reasonable cost all the while enjoying the process. Whatever you do, don't participate in sabotaging your flight training by letting the flight school bump you from one instructor to another. Find a good instructor and stick with this person.
As a final note, none of what I previously said matters if you’re enrolling in an art class. After all, if one instructor teaches you to paint the eyes and nose on the same side of the face, so be it. If another instructs you to always leave off the subject’s left ear and one nostril, that’s fine, too. The worst that can happen is that your finished portrait looks like the guy who pointed out a spelling error in the arm-tattoo of a Hell’s Angels biker.