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How to Prepare for Flight School

How to Prepare for Flight School

Sep 9, 2020

So you’ve decided you want to pursue a career in aviation, and you’re scouring the internet for information on how you can prepare for flight school. If you haven’t yet, first you’ll want to decide which training path to take: a university degree or private flight school. Then you can begin to develop the skills and qualities you’ll need to be a successful, safe, and well-qualified pilot as you pursue professional training.

Training to Be a Pilot: the College Path

Pilot training at university

Universities and colleges across the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world offer flight programs that train and certify you to become a pilot while you earn a Bachelor’s degree.

For example, Purdue University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Flight as part of its School of Aviation and Transportation Technology. This program empowers students to pursue a variety of pilot paths after graduation, including professional pilot, executive pilot, flight instructor, and more.

If you want to become a pilot and you’ve chosen the university path, make sure to research application requirements for each college you’re considering. This may include high school GPA and test scores, prerequisite courses that, if you haven’t taken yet you might want to take at your local community college or online, a well-written essay, and other requests that will be specific to each school.

A university program is often the preferred path for high school students who know they want to be pilots or for young professionals who are interested in going back to school to change career paths or earn a Master’s degree in aviation.  

While you may have your heart set on one university’s aviation program, apply to several, so that if you don’t get into your top choice you have multiple options.

Training to Be a Pilot: The Flight School Path

Woman and man in flight school

If you already have a Bachelor’s degree or aren’t interested in pursuing the college path, then you may want to seek a pilot license at a private flight school in your area.

First decide what kind of pilot license you want. Are you learning to fly for fun or do you hope to build a career as a pilot? While many flight schools train for both private pilot licenses and commercial pilot licenses, take time to research schools in your area to ensure they provide exactly what you’re searching for.

If they don’t, are you willing to either move closer or commute to a flight school that meets your needs? If you’re currently unable to, but you might have the means to in the near future, then work on building the skills and qualities discussed below before launching into your pilot training.

Another factor to consider is what kind of time commitment you’re able to make. Some flight schools allow you to obtain your commercial pilot license in as a little as nine months of full-time training.

Are you able to take nine months off of work to quickly obtain your commercial license? If not, some schools also offer flexible programs for working professionals, which will extend the length of time you’re in training  but will allow you to continue to work while obtaining your license.

Skills and Qualities You Need to Be a Pilot

While this is by no means comprehensive, and we encourage you to find a pilot mentor to help guide you along your path, these three C’s are absolutely vital to develop as you learn to be a pilot. You can begin to hone them now, before you’ve even chosen which flight school path to take.

These three C’s are concentration, communication, and composure.

Concentration

Concentration as a pilot

Are you easily distracted? Does every ping and notification from your phone cause you to lose track of what you’re doing? Is it difficult for you to focus at school or work? If you’re interrupted while you’re in the middle of a task, do you have a hard time juggling multiple sensory inputs at once?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, start working on concentration now. While pilot distraction is responsible for fewer dangerous plane incidents than other factors, it has been blamed for its share of fatalities or near accidents.

In 2009, Northwest Airlines Flight 188 overshot its destination by 150 miles because of pilot distraction, which set off panic on the ground that the plane had been hijacked. While this story has a happy ending and no one was injured, it’s a prime example of how distracted flying can lead to disastrous consequences.

The FAA has created a simple two-page document that outlines distractions that pilots will undeniably face, and it includes resources to help you understand how to deal with these distractions.

Start working on concentration now. Develop the skills you’ll need to be able to concentrate while still allowing crucial information to filter in.

Communication

Pilots need to be good at communicating

Communicating well is an essential key to being a good pilot. In fact, we think it’s so important that we created an entire app to help pilots and pilots in training practice communicating better.

When you’re training to be a pilot, proper communication will be covered extensively, and flight instructors are trained to help you develop strong communication skills and avoid common pitfalls of bad communication.

However, until good communication becomes muscle memory, you should listen and practice as much as possible. LiveATC allows you to listen to air traffic control at hundreds of airports around the world. While this doesn’t enable you to practice your own communication skills, it can help your communication knowledge to listen to how the professionals do it.

atc simulation app

For developing your communication skills, we encourage you to subscribe to our app in order to practice communicating with ATC. You won’t be communicating directly with ATC, so no need to worry if you’re a newbie. However, the app simulates what it’s like and tests you on your skills.

Composure

And finally, we come to the last C: composure. As a pilot you may face situations that are unexpected and unfamiliar, and those types of situations often provoke a fear response. That fear response is normal, but you need to know how to cope with it and still provide safe and confident leadership.

Your flight instructors will teach you how pilots cope with frightening and stressful situations, but you can also spend time understanding the biology of fear, and learn what neuroscientists say about training your brain and body to cope with fear and extreme stress.

Another way to learn about composure in stressful flight situations is to read about how pilots have dealt with emergencies, both successfully and, tragically, less successfully. For example, the study linked to above shows that it’s easier to maintain your composure when you’re well-trained, well-rested, have developed strong decision-making skills, and are cognitively flexible.


While the path to becoming a pilot will depend on your life circumstances and your preferences, the skills and qualities you’ll need to develop are universal. Check out PlaneEnglish’s resources and download our app today to begin gaining confidence in communicating with air traffic control.