A few flight training questions for NJ

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I'm about to start taking flight lessons in central NJ and had a few

1) First, type of aircraft for training. My options are a Cessna 152
or 172. One school of thought is the 152 since it is "smaller and you
feel what is going on more." The other advocates a 172 since it is
more likely to be the airplane you later fly. Any thoughts are

2) Second, type of school and instructor. At one place close to my
home, Eagles View Aviation at BLM, I have a Part 61 school with a high
time (5500+ hour) instructor. About 40 min away, I have a part 141
school, Ocean Aire at MJX, using Cessna computer training with lower
time instructors. The 141 school seems more professional and has
newer planes, but the part 61 school, despite older planes and a more
"informal" attitude, is much more convenient. Does it really matter
when I am getting my private? What should I consider?

Thanks in advance!


-- Marcus Muller, June 18, 2008


I don't think the 152/172 difference is very significant. Unless you are very poor the 172 is probably the better choice because that is what you will be flying in the long run and time in time is valuable for safety.

As for the schools, take a lesson or two with each of these and then decide. Cessna "computer training" is worthless; everything you need to know for a Private you can get from a handful of PDF files on the FAA Web site. A guy with a lot of hours might or might not be a good teacher. A convenient location is a huge plus. If you fly more frequently you will get your rating with fewer lessons.

-- Philip Greenspun, June 19, 2008

Just some quick thoughts...forget the grain, take all this with a full block of salt :-)

1) I am extraordinarily biased. I am personally too tall for a 152 and I find the useful load to be too restrictive. Even though it was once called the "commuter", it really isn't. It's too slow for anything but training. The 172 is better, you can actually put a few people in it, fill up the baggage area a bit and still put fuel on board for a decent flight. It really depends on what you want and what your finances will cover. Personally, if I had the means, I'd be looking at some of the newer crop of planes (i.e. Diamond, Cirrus). Don't get me wrong though, both the 152 and 172 are great aircraft. I would think about this as a long-term investment in your flying rather than a short-term investment in your training. I'm sure you'll get advice to the contrary; like I said, it's my personal thought on that.

2a) Weigh the instructor's experience equally with how well you get along with him/her. You could find the world's greatest instructor, but if personalities clash then you don't want to spend 20+ hours in a small aluminum box with this guy/gal. You're progress will be dramatically hindered and you'll both get frustrated.

2b) Also, don't look at the 141 school just because it offers something the 61 school doesn't. I've worked/trained at both kinds of schools. Neither is better than the other and both can be structured with military precision or be completely incompetent. The 141 school may say you can get your certificates in less time, but typically this is not the actual case. I've seen few students who could legitimately pull off a Private Pilot checkride at 35 hours (and most of those have had some undocumented training from a family member in the family airplane).

My best advice: Go talk to both schools and interview their management/instructors. One thing I hated at the 141 operation was it seemed I had a new instructor every couple of weeks because of attrition. And finally, be honest with yourself. You need to know how you learn best. Are you a visual learner? Tactile? Do you learn best from lectures? From reading? You really need to find an instructor who can best teach you in the way that you learn.

Disclaimer: I was at a small 141 operation that was excellent with low attrition, and most of the instructors were high-time, many with corporate and airline experience who really knew how to work the system. These guys were great and it was a great place for me to learn. The other 141 operation was at a large university. Attrition was high due to the hiring agreements the university had with airlines (they would take pilots with very, very low time and put them in the regionals). One of the 61 operators I was with was probably right in the middle. Most of the instructors were above average and the school was busy. The other 61 operator ran their school like a solid 141 school does, just without the actual FAA paperwork for the 141.

That was a little longer than I expected :-) Good Luck!!!

-- Jason Hackney, June 18, 2008

First, I agree with Philip that a more convenient location may tip the scales on your choice of flight school, all else being equal -- Convenience equates to frequency, and frequency is an important key to proficiency.

Consider the availability of the two flightschools' rental airplanes after you get your ticket -- what are their insurance / checkout / currency requirements? Again, convenience equates to proficiency.

Second, I agree wholeheartedly with J.Hackney's very thorough response to these questions, particularly the emphasis on checking out the instructor. Much more important than "Part 61 vs 141" is the fact that you will be spending many hours in a very small, rather intense environment with your CFI, and you will want to make sure you communicate well and trust each other.

Third, keep in mind that (at the extremes) a very experienced CFI could be a burned out ol' crab, while a new CFI could make up for his/her lack of total time with pure sincerity and thoroughness. It still comes back to communication and trust. Only a trial lesson (or two or three) will tell -- an excellent investment in your training overall! Your primary training experience will most likely set the tone for the rest of your flying.

Soapbox Alert: YES IT MATTERS! Once you decide to learn to fly, flight training is not merely an obligation -- it is an investment in your future! Consider that once you have your license, you will be carrying yourself, your wife / children / friends / colleages / clients --- Invest into your initial and recurrent training approx 10% of the value of the airplane you will be flying. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Best of fortune with your flying goals!

-- Jane Carpenter, December 28, 2008