Transitioning to life in college can be challenging. The completely new environment, new responsibilities, and losing the comforts of home can wear down on any first year student. Add in training to become a professional pilot to the mix, and all of this instantly becomes more complicated.
I am happy to report that myself and the handful of friends I have who decided to attend Universities with flight programs succeeded in our first year of this endeavor. It was not easy, but we learned a lot and we are all going back to continue our training next semester.
During my first year I learned more piloting knowledge than I had learned in my past 4 years of being around aircraft. I was on a schedule of flying three times a week, so what I learned was always fresh on my mind. This was especially helpful as I completed my first Instrument flight lab, because there are so many small things to remember when flying under IFR. Additionally, I learned so much about the aviation industry itself. I spoke to recruiters and airline representatives about the kind of pilot they seek out. This invaluable information will help me when I begin getting my foot in the door with potential future employers.
I have a few friends who are coming in as freshman in the fall, and I decided to put together a list of a few major things that I wish someone had told me before I went to school. I hope to inform you with a little knowledge that I observed during my first year. Everyone will have a different experience at the flight school that they chose to go to, but these are all good things to keep in mind as you enter the collegiate type of flight training.
You will be mostly teaching yourself – I had this vague idea when I started school of how ground courses would go. I thought we would spend hours in our ground classes every week learning exactly how to do every flight-related thing we needed for that certain part of training, with a little homework every week. I was very wrong. Your success in ground training is still pretty much 90% up to how much studying you do on your own time. There are more resources available to you (Aviation tutor, library books, etc.) but it is still mostly up to you how much you learn during the year.
Simulators are life savers – With every ground course you take at my university, you get 5-10 hours of simulator time covering the in-flight information you cover. These simulator lessons helped me soak in the information about ten times quicker than I would have without flying the simulator. We have the ability to "put on the parking break," which pauses the entire simulator so you can take a breather and have your instructor explain everything to you. I will never underestimate simulator training again.
Record your hours diligently – If I learned anything from the recruiters that visited the school, it is that recording your hours in an organized manner is incredibly important. Whether that be online, or in a logbook with every checkride tabbed, having an accurate and updated log of your hours is a big deal once you start gaining hours at breakneck speed at your flight university.
Start planning for the future from day one – There was this magical website that every recruiter I talked to spoke about called AirlineApps.com. They highly recommended recording and updating my personal, work, and education information as it happened, so that when it came time for me to submit my "online resume" to whichever regional airline I decide to join the information will all be there ready for me. This is an example of a way that pilots can be constantly planning for the future and staying on top of the competition.
Prioritize – I cannot tell you how many times I heard this. Unfortunately for me, the non-flight part of my University is not very accommodating of the flight part. It is a struggle to find a class schedule that works with the preferred flight schedule of three times a week, but it is possible. As with any college, the workload for each class will vary and change dramatically throughout the year. The most important thing you can do is prioritize your aviation studies, but still maintain good grades in other general education classes.
This is still college – I found that it was way too easy to start thinking too much ahead and stress myself out. Some days when I had two quizzes, an eight page paper due, a stage check, and had to read an entire novel, I felt like the weight of the world was on me. It helped so much when I took a step back and realized that this is a special time in our lives for growing, making friendships, and enjoying the time we have before we go out on our own. My friends and I started hosting cookouts and weekend trips to make the most of any and all leisure time.
But don’t be stupid – The final lesson I learned from being at school and observing the behavior of others was to not be stupid. Use common sense. Don't do anything illegal or harmful to others, because your reputation is always being either built up or damaged by your actions. Word travels fast in college. There are rules for crew rest and avoiding pilot fatigue for a reason. Don’t even rack up too many speeding tickets, as I have heard many stories of pilots getting rejected from jobs because of a driving record riddled with speeding tickets.
Above all, enjoy your time in college but do your best in every academic thing you take on. Flight student or not, this is a challenging time. Keep your eyes on the goal of graduating and make yourself proud.