How to Be a Pilot Buddy

In our last article, You too Can Learn to Fly, we discussed how to get started if you’ve always dreamed of learning to fly.  One of the most important tools a new pilot has is a Pilot Buddy.  A good Pilot Buddy will help inspire and motivate a new pilot to start training, train efficiently, and to stick with it until they earn their license.

How can you be a good “Pilot Buddy” to someone who wants to learn to fly but doesn’t know where to start?   Here are some tips to help you:

Introductory Flight

DSC00609The first thing you can do is to take someone who has never been in a small airplane for a ride.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just for a quick tour around town.   Give them a chance to put their hands on the controls.

This is different than sending your friend to a flight school for a Discovery Flight.  Although doing a discovery flight is a great idea, sometimes the entire process is too overwhelming.   Between scheduling, having to meet new people and the fear of having to actually fly the plane, your soon to be Pilot may never get off the ground.

Simply invite them out to the airport for a quick flight.  Make it as hassle free as possible.  Your job is to show your soon to be pilot how easy aviation can be.   Start the flight off with them as any other passenger, but be sure to talk about the steps you are doing during pre-flight and as you start the flight.  Once you get the airplane level and trimmed, let them take the controls for a little bit.

One piece of advise:  Always get level and trim the airplane before letting a non-pilot fly.

Remember you are not a CFI and that you are Pilot in Command.   Your job is not to provide instruction, but to give them a small taste so that they become hooked and have to come back.

These missions work best if you are already planning on flying and they are just tagging along.  But if you are doing a special flight just for them, it is perfectly reasonable to have them chip in and split the flight in accordance with the FAA Regulations.

Set Expectations

slider_fleetMost flight schools do not do a good job of advertising themselves and providing easy to research information.  This causes most would be pilots never get started because they feel that the task of learning to fly an airplane is beyond their reach.

Take the time to explain to this soon to be pilot how flight training works and the different steps they will go through to earn their license.  Use your own experience to tell stories and how it was for you.

Be sure to talk about:

  • Ground School
  • Pre-Solo Flying
  • Solo Flying
  • Cross Country Training
  • Written Test
  • Private Pilot Check Ride

Introduce Other Pilots

If you are a Pilot, you undoubtedly have a network of Pilot Friends.    Introduce your soon to be pilot to some of your friends.  Seeing how strong the Pilot Community can be, your soon to be pilot will remain more motivated to get started and stick with it all the way.    Having more pilots around will give your soon to be pilots more resource and knowledge to draw off of.

I didn’t plan it, but the last intro flight I did for a soon to be pilot ended up being an opportunity for him to meet a lot of other pilots.  When we arrived at the airport, 4 or 5 of my other friends were there hanging out.   I took the time to introduce him to all of the pilots.  They all instantly welcomed him to the group.

You could always organize a pilot happy hour and invite your soon to be pilot.  It doesn’t take much to get a group of pilot’s together to talk about aviation and this is a great introduction to the community.

Help Find a Flight School

Let’s face it, most local flight schools do not do a good job of advertising themselves on the internet.    If they do, they don’t often paint a realistic picture of what training will be like with them.  Being an experienced pilot, you will be in a better position to help evaluate different flight schools and make recommendations.

Be careful with this one, you are not choosing for your soon to be pilot.  Be sure to layout the information for your soon to be pilot and give him/her options to choose from.   Talk about the benefits of learning at an airport with or without a control tower and the different types of airplanes used by the flight schools.

Help Find an Instructor

CFIPicking an instructor is the single most important step in starting flight training.  Having the right instructor will make the learning process go smoothly and picking the wrong instructor will derail learning quicker than anything else out there.

Have your soon to be pilot call the flight school they select and arrange to speak with a couple of different instructors.    The student should spend some time getting to know a couple of instructors before starting training.  Tell the student to look at the following factors:

  • Are you comfortable talking with your instructor?
  • How is your instructors availability?
  • Can your instructor fly on the Days and Times that work for you?
  • Will your instructor be there for the duration of your training or will they be leaving for the airlines soon?

Stay In Touch During Training

As your soon to be pilot starts their training, check in often.  Check in with them after every couple of lessons and always ask about the next steps.    By focusing on what is upcoming you keep the focus on continuing the training.    Leave the detailed debrief and learning for the instructor.  You are not their instructor and you want to let him/her do their job.

Do focus on things like:

  • How do you like your instructor?
  • Are you having fun?
  • Tell me about what you’ve learned so far?
  • What are you looking forward to next?

If you start sensing that the instructor is not working out for your soon to be pilot, urge them to consider a change.   It is always best to stick with one instructor and not switch, but if that instructor is not working for the student it is best to change early.  The setback of changing instructors is small compared to suffering through 40+ hours with someone in a small space that you don’t like.

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