By Time Genc
Flying is awesome. Flying an aircraft is one of the best feelings and one of the most unique accomplishments out there. It’s pretty special, so keep that in mind when I ask this next question…
How much fun is it to have to fly for 40 hours? In the clouds or VFR? How much excitement is there in building 50 hours of PIC cross-country? How memorable is it to get yourself to 250 hours of total time so you can take your commercial flight test?
Well, just like the question “what does it take to be a commercial pilot”, it depends on how you build that time. Ask yourself and other pilots where they went during their flight training. What fun places did you land at, or what places did you go to while getting your hours and experience? Can you answer this question by listing five airports ?If you can, then I think you’re a lot like many of the pilots out there who, after flying a place for almost 300 hours, have never gone anywhere. Sure, you did the long IFR 250 and the 300-mile solo cross-country for the commercial, but to where? An airport in the middle of nowhere that met the distance requirement? How much fun is that?
I know someone who acquired all of their IFR training while flying across the country; now THAT sounds like fun to me! That is going to be tweeted, that is going to be a conversation over the dinner table. Again, flying is fun, but the point here is to make flight training fun as well. When a student is just learning, there are phases of their training that can be monotonous, or slower paced. These are the times to pull out the stops and get the creative juices flowing. At the beginning of your time training each student – maybe during the first lesson or before – ask the student to give you a list of places they would like to fly to, or things they would like to do. Have they ever been to Mt. Rushmore, and would they like to go? There’s an airport nearby. How about Key West, FL, complete with a photo of the southern-most point of the US? New Orleans? Colorado for some mountain flying? (Be careful with this one. Make sure you’re savvy flying in and around the mountains.)
My private pilot CFI was a huge Cubs fan—and we didn’t hold that against him— so for one of our day cross-country flights, we flew into Meigs Field and caught a cubs game. Then, on the way back, we got our night cross-country and night takeoffs and landings in. Now, that was around 120 miles each way. Was it longer than it had to be? Yes. Was it educational? It was. Was it memorable? Was it fun? Did I tell every person I could, and thoroughly enjoy continuing my training with him? You betcha.
I used to work on an ambulance, so for some of my cross-country flights, I used to fly back down to my college airport, get a hold of dispatch, and have an ambulance pick us up to take us to dinner. One time, they got toned out for a call when we were inside, and they had to drop us off on the side of the road. And it was raining. Ideal, no. Memorable and fun? Did it make for quite a story for my student to tell her friends and family?
Yes and yes.
One summer, there were three students that trained every day, all day, working toward their commercial certificates from scratch. Three CFIs, three planes, and we were gone for the entire day for the whole summer. These students progressed at different rates, and moved through the program at their own paces, but everyday for lunch, we would fly into the same airport – all three of us with students. We would then leave and then for dinner, around 7pm, we would fly into a different airport. By the end of the summer, all six of us – separated by years of age and life experience – became very close and continued getting together well after they met their objectives.
This brings up the idea of the 100 cheeseburgers – you all know the saying. Find an airport with a restaurant on it – or at least close by – and plan on going there for a meal, or just a cup of coffee for a quick briefing. GO PLACES!!! Plan an overnight flight to somewhere noteworthy. Make this exciting, make it an adventure, in the words of Bonnie Rait, “let’s give ‘em something to talk about!”
The journey to becoming a CFI is a tough and rewarding one so is finding out “what does it take to be a commercial pilot”. It requires knowledge and planning, but it’s important to remember to stop and smell the aviation roses. Create memories with your students, it makes it more fun for both them and you, and it makes your students come back more frequently and refer business to you. That’s a good thing! Get creative, get your student involved where appropriate, have them bring friends or family. On night cross-countries, I would always recommend bringing mom or dad, the significant other – it’s a straight and level flight that’s kinda pretty! Land, get the crew car and head to Olive Garden. Simple, not profound, but noteworthy. You flew mom to Madison to go to the Olive Garden. They’ll talk about it, they’ll remember it, they had fun. Keep the fun in flight training. I know it’s hard, especially with certain topics. But find a way to keep your student guessing, keep them involved. Give them a say and integrate their fun ideas. They should have fun, and you should have fun. It makes it all worth it, and it keeps everyone coming back for more.