Can I afford to learn to fly?

I was asked recently on another forum if it would be worth it to train in small bites when the money was available or to save up for a year (or more) to do it all at once. I thought I’d share that write-up here with those who might be entertaining a similar question:

Yes definitely, but go into it fully aware of what’s to come: Once you have your license, you have acquired a skill that is multifaceted and has a shelf-life. The longer the time between your flights, the more rust has a chance to build on your skills. Most people can go a week or 2 in the early stages and not experience significant recession, but beyond that you’ll find yourself working hard to do basic things. Please consider establishing a personal minimum for time between flights (or if it goes long, go up for an hour of rust removal with an instructor).

Your US pilot’s license itself will NEVER expire, but it can go dormant so to speak. Every 2 years you’re required to go up for a flight review with an instructor and if you don’t then your license is not usable until you do. I have had clients who haven’t flown for 20 years come to me for this kind of training. It takes a little while to get back into the game, but they do not have to re-test in any way.

Saving up prior to training also gives you the ability to do it on a better pace. If you could see yourself going for a week or more between lessons, don’t go up. You’ll spend the entire next lesson trying to get back to where you were when the last one ended and this is a sure way to spend way too much money doing the same thing.

The best way to train is to spend several full days in a row, take a break of a few days for study and recuperation, then go back at it again. This kind of immersion will give you a huge advantage: the familiarity with what you’re doing and the freshness of the experience will let you build more advanced skills more efficiently (ie: less money).

If you can’t do full days in a row, at least try to do several consecutive half days. Don’t let the school talk you into going for an hour or two per session – you want more depth than that. Go for around 4 hours at a time, at least. This will allow you sufficient time to brief the flight, do the flight, then post-brief.

Study the books before you even go for your first flight too – the more time you spend filling your head with knowledge the less you’ll have to pay for somebody else to do it.

Since I’m already well down the path of answering way more than you asked, one more thing: be picky about your instructor. The first job most pilots get is that of teaching. Don’t let the school just assign you an instructor, interview several and ask about their experience and teaching style. You’ll find out very quickly who is there just to build their time and who really cares about teaching you well.

Safe flying,

John Fiscus

Chief Pilot, The Flight Academy

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