Did you start flight training and not finish? Or maybe you started, took a long hiatus, and then returned to it in a better place at a better time.
There are many reasons people quit flight training. They get busy, start families, run out of money. Life happens. These are acceptable setbacks. But there are many other setbacks and challenges during flight training that, in my opinion, are unacceptable, and the most frustrating of these is poor instruction.
I recently had a conversation with a medical professional about flying. The conversation started out like many of them often do - we discussed our respective professions, and he mentioned that he began flight training when he was younger but never finished. When I asked him why, he described a myriad of flight training problems and challenges not uncommon to new students, but that he accepted as his own problems. He just wasn’t a good pilot, he said.
At first, it would seem that this particular person might have given up too quickly or too easily, but further into our discussion, I began to see a bigger story - a relatively common story that as a flight instructor, I really despise hearing.
Here’s a perfectly capable person- a medical professional and a seemingly well-respected business owner in the community - who is led to believe he can’t fly. "Some people just have the natural ability to fly, I guess, and I’m not one of them," he said. In discussing the topic further, though, it was clear that whatever instruction he had accomplished with his instructors in the first few hours wasn’t productive, wasn’t positive, and gave him a bad perception of flying.
Throughout our conversation, I discovered that he had been physically uncomfortable in the airplane (an airplane not really ideal for flight training, to begin with). I learned that he was unable to reach the rudder pedals, that he was all but reprimanded when he lost sight of the airport and was unable to navigate back to it on the first lesson. He said he wasn’t offered ground training and didn’t feel like he progressed.
Have you heard similar complaints before? Me, too. Is it possible that he was a student who showed up unprepared or didn’t make his instructor aware of his inability to reach the rudder pedals? Sure. But a bad pilot after only a few hours? Nah. There are outliers, to be sure, but the majority of flight students who walk into a flight school are eager to learn and capable of learning. We need to do better.
In a short conversation, I couldn’t convince him that he’s wrong, that he was likely (and unfortunately) the product of terrible instruction, and that it’s not like that everywhere. But I tried. I tried to reassure him that there are more professional instructors out there, more comfortable aircraft, simpler aircraft, and something called ground school, all of which would help alleviate many of his challenges, misconceptions and insecurities.
It might be too late for this person - I hope not - but if we’re serious about saving general aviation, if we want flight training to be a robust and successful industry within general aviation, we have to do better. Flight training is a serious venture, and one we need to approach cautiously, with safety in mind. But after ensuring safety - rather, along with the assurance of safety - flying should be fun. As instructors, we should be teaching students, encouraging students, and making aviation safe and enjoyable for students.
When it’s not fun, students quit. When they’re belittled, students quit. When they don’t feel safe, students quit.
I wonder how many other prospective pilots are out there with similar stories about initial flight training? How many of you started flight training and were faced with similar challenges and problems? How many of you quit and maybe found your way back somehow, eventually, after moving to a new flight school or befriending a new instructor? How many of you haven’t yet found your way back?
If you’ve had a bad experience with initial flight training, I urge you to find a new place to fly, or a new instructor to fly with. It’s not like that everywhere.