An introduction flight to pilot training

During my time as a cabin crew several of my colleagues expressed an interest in pilot training and would often ask me for guidance when they found out I already had my pilot license. I would give in depth explanations to everyone interested but soon realized that it was tedious to explain the same process to several people. Hence why I decided to make this blog- to write one summary for everyone to read so I could help more people in the long run.

After writing a few articles, however, I realized that there’s a few steps of pilot training words cannot adequately describe. So I decided to make a short video to show people how amazing it is to learn to fly. This is the first video I made with footage I took over a year ago for my friend’s introduction flight when she came to visit me in South Africa (after I had resigned from working as a flight attendant). The flight was from Wonderboom National Airport over the Roodeplaat Dam for the beautiful scenery. It was the first time she had ever touched the controls of an aircraft and it clearly portrays what an introduction flight is like.

So why do people take an introduction flight before enrolling in flight school? Partly because pilot training is so expensive, which means a student must be certain that their passion is sufficient to follow through when the training becomes challenging, otherwise all the money spent will be wasted. And partly to see whether flying is what you imagined it to be before you found a flying school- do you love the sensation of being in the air or does it actually make you uncomfortable and air sick? Do you think you could enjoy manipulating the controls of this machine all alone during your solo training? And how about landing the aircraft? Are you truly up for this challenge?

I was 16 years old when I went for my first flight at my flying school in South Africa. My introduction flight was in a Cessna 172 (the type of aircraft I landed up doing all my single engine training on). My instructor flew me to the general flying area next to Wonderboom National Airport where he explained how to manipulate the controls while he showed me the area. I distinctly remember him showing me what it’s like to fly through a small cloud and I instantly knew that this is the most incredible job I could ever have. When I landed I signed up for the course immediately.

Since I was so young at the time and I didn’t come from an aviation family, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived for my introduction flight. I hadn’t done sufficient research. After speaking to a few people who had completed their own introduction flights (and those about to book their first flight) I realized that several people had misconceptions about the event, so discussing them here could make you more prepared for your own pilot training journey.

What are the 3 most common misconceptions about introduction flights and initial pilot training?

Many people believe that it's possible to start initial pilot training on a larger aircraft such as a King Air in this photo. In reality training starts in a small aircraft with 2 to 4 seats.

1) The flight will be in a ‘large’ aircraft.

What people mean by ‘large’ varies, but I’ve gathered that it generally includes aircraft around the size of a King Air, especially if someone already works in aviation and has been surrounded daily by large airline jets. So many students are shocked when they see the tiny Cessna 172 or a Diamond 40 that most schools use for initial training.

Why do pilots start their training on small aircraft? Learning to fly is complex and generally speaking the larger the aircraft, the more systems there will be to manage. When commencing with training it’s best to focus on getting the basics right. Once those have been solidified, other layers can be built on that foundation. It is also important to mention that, generally speaking, the price per hour increases proportionally with the size of the aircraft. So with that in mind, flying a small aircraft is the only way to afford self-funded pilot training.

Even after I held a PPL I still flew with an instructor for advanced training. It takes several hours of training to learn of how to fly an aircraft.

2) The instructor is supposed to let you fly the whole flight:

While this seems quite self explanatory to me, I’ll still spell it out for everyone to understand. It takes several lessons to learn how to fly an aircraft- even a small one. Every hour of training is preceded by briefings to understand the aerodynamic forces involved during each manoeuvre and to understand the reason for the sequence of actions for any aircraft state.

So how could an instructor to let you fly during the entire flight when it’s your first time in that aircraft and you have not had a formal briefing yet? While an instructor will appreciate your enthusiasm and can quickly see whether you have the passion for flying, it’s best not to expect him to hand over the controls to you from take-off to landing for safety reasons. You will definitely get plenty of time to fly at certain points of the flight, so be patient and enjoy your moments knowing that you’ll have plenty of time to manipulate the controls during your training.

3) After your introduction flight it is mandatory to enroll for further training at the school:

An introduction flight is like dipping your toes into the swimming pool to test the temperature before you dive in- just like if you feel the water is too cold to swim, if you don’t enjoy your introduction flight there is no obligation to complete any pilot training. Better yet is the fact that even if you did enjoy the flight, there is no obligation to continue your training at that particular school. Feel free to look for a school better suited to your needs if you feel that something isn’t to your liking. The beauty with this flight is that you won’t have to have to repeat it if you decide to transfer to a different school or move to a different airport entirely.

Hopefully after discussing these misconceptions and watching the video above, you will feel more confident for your first flight and you’ll be on the right track to start your pilot training. Make sure to do proper research into the flying school you choose since good habits are learnt from day one. But for more advice on choosing the right school for you, subscribe to my blog and keep a look out for future articles on that subject.

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