The team here at PilotPlanet has had the fortune of sitting down with Marc 'Nate' Nathanson (Ret. Lt. Col USAF, CFI, CFII, MEI, Designated Pilot Examiner) and had him answer some of the common questions he comes across as a DPE that beginning student pilots tend to ask about their flight training. Nate's insight and experience as a DPE is invaluable and we thought we'd share some of his knowledge and wisdom with each of you!
Q: How long should a lesson last?
A: This varies depending on the phase of training that you are in. Early on, before you solo (when you are the only one in the aircraft), the flights will last somewhere between 1 hour to 1. 5 hours, normally less in the beginning. You want to fly shorter flights in the beginning as learning maneuvers is demanding work and you can become fatigued sooner than you expect. You can fly longer, not to exceed 1.5 hours, as you build up your stamina. Your cross country flights will be a bit longer, but are less strenuous as you will be flying mostly straight and level not practicing stalls or other maneuvers.
It is important to let your instructor know when you are getting tired. The learning process pretty much stops when you are fatigued and it is time to put your aircraft on the ground. Don't become discouraged if you find that you are pooped at the end of a lesson as you will build up your tolerance soon enough. Don't forget that, just like Naval or Air Force fighter pilots, you still have to land so concentrate on this task when it comes time to land. Don't end a great flight by not paying attention to the landing and all it requires.
Q: Should I pay for all or some of my training up front or pay per flight?
A: My suggestion is to pay as you go at least until you are satisfied you want to continue and are comfortable with your instructor and the flight school. Some schools offer a discount if you put a certain amount of money down. Ask how this works as the rules maybe different than expected. For example, there maybe restrictions on what this money may be use for such as flight and ground training and not for training materials such as plotters, headsets, etc.
Q: Should I take spin or aerobatic training while I am learning to fly?
A: Absolutely, but I recommend you fully understand what is involved. This is not a joy ride, but important training that will make you a much safer pilot. Understanding the dynamics of the different spin entries, modes, and recoveries gives you the advantage of knowing when a spin occurs and more importantly, when the spin is about to happen. Aerobatics hones your kinesthetic senses which means that you will "feel" your aircraft change attitude, airspeed or power without looking inside at your instruments. Nonetheless, It is important to remember that you can still be a victim of vertigo or disorientation so make sure your instructors gives you plenty of instrument training. Understanding how to recover from an unusual attitude is important and aerobatics makes the uncommon common. Look for a reputable aerobatic school on our website. Ask if the parachutes are inspected and repacked every 180 days and that only aerobatic certified aircraft are used. One last note that you should pay attention to; you may get hooked on aerobatics. That's ok. But, although you may want to just fly aerobatics and put your effort towards your private certificate on hold, you should can mix the two and keep the goal in mind-the private pilot certificate.
Q: What airplane should I train in?
A: There are many wonderful trainers that may be used. The Cessna 150 and 172 are among the most popular. There is also the Piper Warrior or Cherokee 140, which are also very popular. The high wing aircraft such as the Cessna line tend to be more difficult to land than its low wing counterparts like Piper. There is also the emerging Light Sport market that has many great trainers.
Q: How about learning to fly in older aircraft like the Piper Cub or Aeronca Champ?
A: I often tell new pilots that if I were king of the world, I would require everyone to learn in Cubs or Champs then they could move on to the modern day tricycle geared aircraft like the Cessna and Piper trainers. Although Champs and Cubs require greater coordination of the controls to properly fly them, they are wonderful trainers. Many fledgling pilots learned to fly in these aircraft. They both have tail wheels, which at an earlier time were considered conventional. Aircraft that have a nose wheel are now considered conventional. Landing aircraft that have a tail wheel is more difficult, thus more contentious in that control while on the ground during takeoff and landing takes more planning and acquired skills. But it’s not as hard to takeoff and land as one would think. As with any aircraft airspeed control is the key when landing. Learn in an old timely tail dragger and you will be a much better pilot.
Q: I understand I must pass the written test called the Knowledge test what can I expect when I take this test?
A: First of all you must know the material in the test. When you are in the final preparation for the test buy Gleim’s Private Pilot test prep. It is the same questions and answers the FAA gives you. The test is multiple-choice and you must select the most correct answer. The most important documents you should read are the FAA-H-8083 manuals concentrating on the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and The Aircraft Flying Handbook. You must receive a score of 70% or higher to pass the test.
Q: I bought the training kit. Should I start viewing the labs on-line or DVD training before I begin flying or should I take a few lessons first?
A: It is to your advantage to begin the home study course before you fly. You may not understand everything, but these areas or tasks will be better understood and learned after a few flight lessons. Some people can understand concepts simply by reading and then apply to what they have read, while others comprehend better by seeing a visual presentation. Most of my students know which works best for them before they begin flight training. I strongly recommend using both methods. Take good notes and use underlining or highlighting words, sentences, or paragraphs that may need review or explanation by your instructor.
If any of our PilotPlanet users have questions that they would like to have answered from our experienced CFI team and by our friend Marc Nathanson DPE, we'd love to hear from each of you!