How to Choose a Flight School
Learning to Fly Helicopters -- How to Determine What Aviation Training You Need and Want
At the beginning of your helicopter flight school search, it helps if you have a general idea of what you want from aviation. Why do you want to learn to fly? What is your ultimate, long-term aviation goal? Do you want to fly for fun, or are you seeking a flying career? Will your flying be local, or do you want to use general aviation aircraft to travel? Do you want to own an aircraft or will you rent? These are questions you should answer before you start considering helicopter flight schools. And you should consider whether you'll train full time or part time; that can make a big difference in your flight school selection criteria.
Compile a List of Flight Schools
Once you've given some thought to what you want, start putting together a list of possible flight schools. Then request all available literature from each. Ask them to send an outline or curriculum for each pilot training program in which you're interested, and a copy of the school's regulations and flight operations procedures.
Don't base your decision on the literature alone! You're looking for informative substance, and this can be found as well in photocopied sheets as it can in full-color catalogs. While scrutinizing the material, take notes for use during the flight school visit, when you'll check the veracity of its claims. Some things to look for:
- The school's philosophy, goals, and objectives, and how they match your needs.
- Are there such benefits as housing, financial aid, and additional pilot training, such as use of a FITS syllabus, that will broaden your experience?
- How important is flight training to the organization?
- How long has the flight school been in business?
- What about the school's instructional staff, its enrollment numbers, and credentials?
- How many and what types of aircraft are used in the school's flight instruction program?
- What are the school's classrooms like?
- What services are available at its airport (instrument approaches and control towers)?
- What is the school's reputation on flight regulations and safety policies?
- Meet the schools maintenance personnel and Chief Instructor - talk to them about their policies.
- Does the school have a maintenance and overhaul facility? Lots can be learned by spending time in the maintenance shop.
Take a Firsthand Look--It's Your Money
If you do nothing else in your flight school search--visit the school!
Your first contact will likely be an admissions officer or the chief flight instructor. Listen closely and ask questions about everything. Don't be shy. If you don't understand something, ask! During your tour, ensure that no area is left unvisited, from administrative offices to the maintenance area.
Interview the school's chief flight instructor or his or her assistant.
- Some questions to ask:
- Are progressive flight-checks given? (These checks evaluate your progress during the pilot training program.)
- What's the instructor-to-student ratio? (Generally speaking, an instructor can adequately educate four of five full-time students, or 10 or more part-timers, depending on their schedules.)
- Who schedules flying lessons, and how is it done?
- What are the insurance requirements of the school, and how do its liability and collision policies work? Will you be responsible for a deductible, and how much is that deductible in the event of a loss? What is your coverage as a student pilot?
- Who keeps your records? (This is important because poor documentation can cause you to repeat training.)
- What happens when weather or maintenance problems cancel a flying lesson? Who's responsible for rescheduling lessons and reporting maintenance problems?
- Does the Chief Instructor fly with the line instructors on a regular basis?
Interview the school's maintenance technicians.
Talk to the lead mechanic. You should have confidence in the school's ability to maintain their equipment. If the school doesn't employ a full-time mechanic, this is a consideration. This may affect your scheduling if there are maintenance issues. Mechanics are great resources for you to learn more about the aircraft you are flying.
After the official tour, get away by yourself and talk to other students in flight training. Ask them to rate the training's quality and explain what problems they've had, if any, and how they were dealt with.
Other important flight training information resources can be the local FAA Flight Standards District Office, the Better Business Bureau, and the Chamber of Commerce. They may offer important insights on such topics as a school's safety record and business practices. Don't forget such applicable sources as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, National Air Transportation Association, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, if so accredited, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, if you are an international student.
Don't Overlook Helicopter Ground School
Learning to fly requires that you obtain the ability to manipulate the controls of the helicopter and make it perform certain maneuvers. However, there is another aspect of learning to fly, and that is the academic knowledge required to understand how, where, and when to fly safely. This is accomplished in helicopter ground school.
Helicopter ground school takes two basic forms: an instructor teaching a scheduled class or a self-paced, home-study program using video or audio tapes and/or a computer-based program.
Which is better depends on you. If you're a self-disciplined self-starter, the self-paced video programs can't be beat. You can "attend" helicopter ground school on your schedule and review the tapes as needed. If you need the discipline of the classroom, well, the choice is obvious. Perhaps the best option is a combination of the two. Many flight schools have a traditional classroom ground school and a resource room that contains self-paced materials for additional study.
Many local community colleges or independent ground schools are also an option. Although technically not part of ground school, instrument ground trainers (or flight simulators) are being used by a number of schools in primary training, and they are a real benefit in instrument training.
After helicopter ground school and before you can take your FAA checkride with a designated pilot examiner, you must take and pass (70 percent or better) an FAA airman knowledge test at an approved computer testing site.
Flight School Instructors
A good flight instructor is important because your life will depend on what he or she teaches you. Don't hesitate to ask questions about the training and experience of the flight instructors. You might ask what the average flight time is and what the pass/fail rate is among the instructors. (A pass rate of 100 percent doesn't indicate good instruction.) You might also talk to some of the other students at the school to ask about their flight instructors.
Your primary instructor should be at least a certificated flight instructor (CFI). Ensure that your instrument instructor has an instrument instructor rating (CFII). Instrument training received from a non-rated instructor can cause problems when it comes to meeting FAA requirements.
A good way to get acquainted with your flight instructor is to take an introductory flying lesson (not just a demonstration ride). During your lesson, assess your instructor's attitude. Only you can determine what personality best fits yours, but you want an instructor who expects perfection, who will work with you until it's achieved, and who cares about you as a person as well as a student.
Compared with most of your current activities, learning to fly and earning your pilot certificate (sometimes called a pilot license) may be expensive. But remember, you're investing in your education, in skills that will open new worlds and opportunities. Flying is an activity of purpose, productivity, and pleasure. It's also a never-ending learning process and as with all education, your initial helicopter pilot training provides the foundation for all that will follow.
Looking at the bottom line, you'll notice that, adjusting for location and differences in training programs, flight schools more or less charge about the same. Only you can determine if what you get for your money is fair. As with any other major purchase, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.
When comparing costs, make sure you're comparing "apples with apples." Some flight schools base their prices on the FAA minimum-time requirements, such as 40 hours for a private certificate. Others base their prices on a more realistic figure that's the average of what their students accomplish. Some include books and supplies, aviation ground school, flight testing, and FAA written examination fees. Others don't. In other words, read the fine print, and ensure you're making a comparison of equals!
Because most schools require partial or full payment before training begins, financing your flight training, especially if you are in a professional pilot program, will be your greatest challenge. Some schools offer financing, and most have financing and loan information. AOPA, for example, offers its Flight Funds loan program to its qualified members. Schools also offer "block time" prices if you pay for a certain amount of pilot training, or flight time, in advance, which can often offer substantial savings.
Unless your flight instructor's fees are part of a "package price" program, know how you are charged for his or her educational services, and how much you're charged for aircraft rental. Aircraft rental and the instructor time are usually charged by the Hobbs meter, which is a timing device activated by oil pressure. If the engine is running, so is the meter. Even if you're sitting on the ground, you're still charged for it.
There's an old saying that says, "Time is money." In your research, make sure that you're getting the best quality training for your dollar.
The Final Flight Training Decision
What flight school you ultimately choose depends on the quality flight training you desire in a method convenient to your schedule. In earning your private pilot's certificate, you will have achieved a "license" to learn. Aviation is an ever-changing activity, and good pilots are always learning.
Perhaps the final deciding factor between several schools that are running in a dead heat is personality. Like people, flight schools have personalities. Some are deadly serious, while others are more familial in nature. Only you can select the one that matches your personality. But remember - do not sacrifice quality!
A Checklist for Choosing a Good Flight School
- Determine your aviation goals. Are you learning to fly for fun or do you plan to pursue a career?
- Compile a list of schools to examine, and request literature from each. Review material from each school and answer the questions outlined earlier here.
- Once you've done your "homework," visit the final two or three schools that pass the test. Ask questions and get a feel for the personalities of the schools. Ask specific questions and insist on specific answers. Talk to other students and flight instructors.
Thanks for visiting our site - we hope this information was helpful in your search for a helicopter school. North Andover Flight Academy is the premier helicopter flight school and Robinson Overhaul center in the Northeast!