First meeting with my instructor: A mild dose of reality and some good learning

So I met on the weekend, for the first time, with the bloke who has been suggested as my instructor for my March-April training. On first meeting I was reasonably favourably impressed. Professional, well presented, clearly speaking bloke of 29. In first conversation he seemed like the type of person who’s able to listen – always a good quality in a flight instructor!

What I liked most is that he didn’t shy away from immediately communicating a couple of things to me that some prospective students may not necessarily want to hear. He imparted two views to me that have prompted me to do some thinking and mild adjustment of expectations over the weekend.

Can I get it all done in 8 weeks?

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m not sure whether 8 weeks full-time flying will be enough time to fully achieve my PPL (Private Pilot Licence). Weather being probably the most important variable, followed by my general learning pace and progress. (Possibly with aircraft availability thrown into the mix as well). My instructor – let’s call him “Brian” since I don’t want to use his real name in this blog and because I love Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – painted a rather more conservative picture. In addition to underlining the weather uncertainty – he pointed out that March in particular can be variable as the season changes from summer into autumn – Brian suggested a rather more definite scenario might be that I do my GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) in my 8-week timeframe, perhaps with some progress towards my PPL as well.

This is well short of the aim I’ve set myself of knocking over the PPL in 8 weeks, particularly given the discussions I’ve had with other people including the General Manager and CFI of my flying club, and a friend of mine who’s flying heavy aircraft for Qantas. The general impression I’ve had so far is that 8 weeks should give me a reasonable (though not definite) shot at knocking over the PPL. However it’s probably a good reality check at this preliminary stage. I always knew that weather could be a factor. This has simply prompted me to adjust my expectations towards the possibility that it just might not be all done and dusted in 8 weeks. In which case, whatever part of my training remains uncompleted after that period – which would probably be some part of my Navigation training towards achievement of the full PPL – may have to be completed on a part-time basis.

That’s an outcome I was specifically trying to avoid. The whole idea of taking time off work and learning to fly full-time is to minimise the impact on my family – avoiding the need to be away every (or every other) weekend. I called my Qantas pilot mate Chris, who pretty much endorsed what Brian told me, though suggesting that Brian may be thinking on the particularly conservative side at this stage.  But Chris also reinforced the view I’ve heard from pretty much everyone else, which is to stay flexible, be ready for some setbacks, and not get frustrated.

Sound advice! I certainly embrace the idea of setting realistic expectations, so what I’m determining to do is go as hard at this as I can in the 8 weeks full-time I’ve got, and just see how it goes. If it’s not all completed by end of week 8, it’s not the end of the world. With my mid-week flexibility and weather permitting, I could probably take every 2nd Wednesday and every 2nd Saturday or Sunday and get the rest done in 2 or 3 months. We’ll see how we go. At least I can target achievement of my GFPT in 8 weeks with confidence, and we’ll see how much further beyond that we can take it.

The importance (and cost) of instructor briefings

This was something that I hadn’t really heard mentioned before I spoke with Brian. Though when I reflect on it, it seems both obvious and necessary. Brian indicated that I would need to plan for several “instructor briefings”, which are one-to-one sessions with your instructor prior to certain flight lessons. Makes total sense.

While I had received some pretty detailed cost estimates from the General Manager of my flying club, which I’ve used to budget my spend on all of this, these did not mention anything about the separate cost of briefings. Which come, in the case of my flying club, at $65 a pop. So I’ve asked Brian roughly how many of these sessions I should be expecting to need and be budgeting for.

I’m hoping that this is the only surprise I’m going to get in terms of training costs! I’ve got a pretty conservative budget outlined, but the money’s not unlimited.

But it’s all good

So …  a couple of unanticipated issues to negotiate, but I’d far rather be uncovering this stuff now – still 5 weeks in advance of my training start date – than on Day 1 of training. Actually, I’m feeling pretty good about the approach I’ve taken over the last 6 months of talking to basically everyone I can think of about all this stuff. I’ve got advice from pilot friends, I’ve spoken with both the General Manager and the CFI of my flying club, and I’m now in the loop with my prospective instructor. In fact I think I’m ready to record my first official “insight” which I would recommend to others contemplating learning to fly. So here’s my first good insight:

Insight #1

Before you get very far down the path towards learning to fly, talk to everyone you can think of. Talk to friends, colleagues, people at the club, instructors, whomever may have some knowledge and experience to impart. This will help you establish realistic expectations about how long it’s all going to take, what it’s going to cost you, and what variables you need to expect to have to deal with from time to time.

I’m not saying, with the above, that I’ve got it all sorted and that the path is totally predictable from this point onwards. But if I hadn’t put in the legwork that I have over the past 6 months, my expectations at this point would probably be a whole lot more unrealistic, setting me up for surprises, frustration and disappointment down the track. Bottom line, when you spend something like $20k on learning to fly, you want to make sure you’re directing that spend as best you can and that you know – within reasonable boundaries – what to expect.


2 responses to “First meeting with my instructor: A mild dose of reality and some good learning

  1. Dave,

    Welcome to the realities of learning how to fly. The instructor “briefs” can be a monetary pain in the posterior, but keep this in mind: if it can save you an hour’s worth of flight time by preventing you from having to practice maneuvers over again, $65 spent on the ground beats spending another $150 in the sky. Keep in mind there will be more surprises along the way—some good, some not so good. Take them all in stride.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that progress will seem to be unbearably slow. Most student pilots want to hurry up and finish their lessons to the PPL—be content with solid and meaningful advancement. It is not a race; take it easy and spend more time reinforcing your lessons. In the end, you will be better off.

    Be observant: watch for the mistakes of others who are learning to fly. After all, if they make a mistake, you might as well learn from it without having to pay the same monetary penalty.

    There is something else—don’t sweat the details. Enjoy your flying lessons and have fun. Sometimes you will be frustrated; don’t allow perceived problems to get in the way. In the end, it will all be good.

    Have fun,

  2. Hi Joe

    Many thanks. You make a very good point about the value of the briefs. I definitely get it. In fact, in my case if a AU $65 brief eliminates the need for an extra hour in the air at AU $278 per hour, the economic equation is a complete no-brainer.

    I’ve been pretty cognisant of the fact that this won’t all work the way I have it planned out in my mind. Life experience has certainly taught me that! But it was good and healthy to have a reminder of it from my instructor, and my Qantas friend Chris, over the weekend. Your sentiments are identical to theirs.

    The reminder to have fun is also salutary. That’s why I’m doing this. 🙂 As a project manager by background, my natural inclination has been to explore and plan all this carefully, and that approach is definitely paying off. Funnily enough, my wife also gave me a similar reminder. MAKE SURE YOU ENJOY THIS.

    Oddly, I’m quite glad that I’m doing all this at 40 and not at 20. Back when younger, I think I would have had a much harder time dealing with the variability and unpredictability of all of this. As it stands, like most maturing/mature adults, I’ve had my ups and downs and that experience makes me a bit more sanguine. It’s a good thing.

    Your support and comments warmly appreciated!


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