Life Lessons

How many have you learned?

The other day, one of my Twitter or Facebook friends linked to a blog post titled “10 Life Lessons People Learn Too Late.” I clicked over to it and gave it a quick read. And I realized two things:

  • I had already learned many of these life lessons.
  • The lessons I’d learned defined who I am and how I conduct my life.

(I also realized that while I’d already learned most of these lessons, my soon-to-be ex-husband had not. In thinking this over, I realize that this was part of the reason we’d grown apart over the past few years. I was motivated by many of the the lessons I’d learned in life; he was not. (Actually, I’m not sure if he was motivated by anything.) But since there’s nothing to be done to help him, enough said.)

In this post, I’d like to explore these ten life lessons, how I learned them, and how they affect my life. Maybe it can provide some insight for people who still need to learn. I won’t duplicate that blog post here; you should read the original either before or after you read what follows here to fully understand what the author was talking about. I’ll just list the first line of each bullet point as a discussion heading.

1. This moment is your life.

Carpe diem. This reminds me that I really need to re-watch The Dead Poets Society. Seeing that movie might have been when I first became familiar with the concept of “seizing the day” and making every moment count.

What does this mean to me? It means not wasting time with meaningless crap when you can be doing something better. The opening lines of one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, Time, comes to mind:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t make the most of every moment of my life. I don’t think anyone can. Life is too full of the piddly bullshit that we need to do just to get by. Not every moment can be perfect, something worth remembering forever.

But understanding that each moment of your life is your life is the first step to having a better life. And if you approach each moment with that in mind, each moment will be better.

2. A lifetime isn’t very long.

Time
Ticking away the moments
That make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours
In an off-hand way

Kicking around on a piece of ground
In your home town
Waiting for someone or something
To show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today

And then the one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

And you run and you run
To catch up with the sun
But it’s sinking

Racing around
To come up behind you again
The sun is the same
In a relative way
But you’re older

Shorter of breath
And one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time

Plans that either come to naught
Or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation
Is the English way

The time is gone
The song is over
Thought I’d something more to say

Time lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., T.R.O. INC.

I always knew this, but the knowledge of it didn’t become a driving force in my life until 2008. That’s when my friend Erik, at age 56, was diagnosed with cancer. Erik had everything going for him — a family, financial security, and a helicopter business he really enjoyed. But a year later, Erik was dead.

What did this teach me — in no uncertain terms? Not only is life short, but it can be taken from you at any time. Why would anyone put off life goals to some later date — or retirement? Erik never had the opportunity to retire. If he’d put off any life goals until then, they were goals he’d never achieve.

If I had to make a list of the top 10 things that affected my life, Erik’s illness and death would be on it. That’s how profound it was to me. From that point forward, I began thinking about how I wanted to enjoy the rest of my life instead of working my ass off to save money for a future I might never see. I turned down book projects that I didn’t want to work on. I got my spending under control so I wouldn’t need to work so hard. And I started planning a future that included plenty of leisure time to travel and just have fun.

As for “bucket lists” — well, I don’t believe in them. Although it’s nice to have an idea of the things you want to do, building a long list of “things to do/see before you die” so they’re stored for some vague time in the future is pretty silly. Want to go skydiving? Do it this weekend. Want to see the pyramids? Plan your trip for your next vacation. Keep your list short by crossing off things on it as soon as you can.

3. The sacrifices you make today will pay dividends in the future.

Wow. Does this one ever hit home. I learned pretty early on that in order to move forward, you had to pay dues — or make sacrifices. Just coasting along wasn’t going to help you get ahead in life.

Sacrifices come in many forms, but for me they usually come in the form of time or money. I’ve made many investments in my personal life that have paid off for me.

I bought my first decent computer in 1989 for a whopping $8K and spent hour after hour teaching myself to use it. That, combined communication skills I already had (through time spent reading and writing) made it possible for me to make a good living teaching others to use computers — in classrooms and in books and even in video training material.

I spent thousands of dollars and many, many weeks of my life learning to fly helicopters. I took a low-paying tour job in 2004 to build experience — when I could have stayed home and worked on various book projects that paid out fast. The experience I built made me a better, more confident pilot and helped me get the skills I needed to build my own charter business.

And over the past five summers, I lived in a trailer, parked on the dirt so I could be close to my cherry drying clients and their orchards — when I could have stayed in a more comfortable condo or even stayed home, satisfied with the occasional hot summer charter. The good service I provided to my clients earned me their respect — and more business.

These are just three examples. I think my life is full of sacrifices — along with their eventual benefits.

4. When you procrastinate, you become a slave to yesterday.

Although I’m often guilty of procrastination, I understand how completely idiotic it is. If you have something to do, do it. As soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did when it’s done.

Maybe I’m being dense, but I don’t exactly get the “slave to yesterday” concept. When you procrastinate, you simply add more things to your to-do list. It’s only by doing things — not procrastinating — that you get things done. So my lesson in procrastination is that you can get a lot more done when you don’t procrastinate.

5. Failures are only lessons.

This is another really good lesson that a lot of people just don’t get.

Too many people — and I can name a few that have touched my life — are too afraid of failure to attempt some things that can take them forward in life. I am not like that. In fact, I’m the opposite — sometimes I simply try to do too many things.

My record speaks for itself. I’ve succeeded at many of the things I’ve tried to do: building three successful careers, getting published (back when that actually meant something), investing in real estate, building a helicopter charter business, learning to ride motorcycles and ride horses and fly helicopters. I can list dozens of things I’ve tried and succeeded at.

But I can also list plenty of things I tried and did not succeed at. Being a landlord is one example — it was probably the most grueling and unrewarding thing I ever tried. Failing to do as well as I wanted to was quite a learning experience. I learned that residential real estate is a bitch to rent, that good tenants are few and far between, and that certain tenants need you looking over their shoulder all the time just to make sure they don’t trash your place. I also learned that it simply wasn’t worth the headaches to me.

There’s no reward without risk. In other words, if you don’t try to do something, you can’t succeed. I live by this creed. And I’ve learned that sometimes success has all kinds of great rewards.

But the main point is this: even when you fail, you learn something that you can use to guide you in the future. Failures are lessons.

6. You are your most important relationship.

This particular point refers to feeling good about yourself and not needing anyone else’s approval. I learned part of this lesson — I’ve been my own person for a long time and don’t really care too much what my peers think of me. I have a lot of confidence in my capabilities and, with confidence, comes self-esteem.

Unfortunately, however, I did care what my spouse thought. And since he apparently didn’t think very highly of me in the final days of our relationship, my personal self-esteem took a bit of a beating which, in turn, began to affect my health. Once I was away from him at my summer job, I was able to recover. (And now I obviously don’t give a damn what he thinks of me.)

Still, this is a lesson I need to remember on a go-forward basis. Living a relatively isolated existence — as I am now, waiting for my life “reboot” to finish so I can start the next chapter — makes it easy to forget my self worth.

7. A person’s actions speak the truth.

Sad to say, this isn’t something I learned until recently. I can thank my soon-to-be ex-husband for teaching me this one.

For most of my life, I’m afraid I was very trusting. No — I was too trusting. Silly me — I thought that when someone told me something, it was the truth or that they actually meant it. And when it was someone I’d been living with for 29 years — well, how could I possibly not believe that what he was telling me was true?

But the actions did speak the truth. When I discovered the betrayals, I learned the real truth. Needless to say, this was a valuable — although painful — lesson. I’m a lot more careful about who I trust now. And there’s one person I will never trust again.

8. Small acts of kindness can make the world a better place.

How can someone not know this lesson?

You’re walking up to the post office door, arms laden with packages to be mailed. Someone walking by — not even walking into or out of the post office! — changes course to open the door for you. A small act of kindness. Doesn’t it make you feel good? And don’t you think it makes the other person feel good when you say thanks?

Or you’re in the supermarket and a vertically challenged woman is having trouble reaching something on the top shelf of the aisle you’re walking down. You offer to get it down for her, she accepts, and you hand it to her. A small act of kindness. Don’t you think it makes both of you feel good?

These are tiny things. But they really make a difference. Do ten of these things a day and you’ll feel great — while making others feel good, too. The world can be a better place.

9. Behind every beautiful life, there has been some kind of pain.

Until recently, I felt “blessed.” Mind you, I don’t mean that in the religious sense. I just mean that throughout most of my life, things have gone very well for me. It wasn’t luck — I worked at it and made a lot of good decisions. But it mostly worked out and things were good. You could argue that I had (and still have, for that matter) a beautiful life.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected the run of good fortune to last forever. Things are different now. Losing the man I loved was a huge heartbreak for me, one that I’m still struggling (with professional help) to deal with. There’s a lot of pain in my life right now.

There’s also been some pain in the past. Losing loved ones, including cherished pets, leaving behind parts of my life that I wished I could retain.

But pain is part of life. If you’re fortunate, the good times far outweigh the bad.

10. Time and experience heals pain.

This is something else I’m just learning now. My grief counselor would argue this point — she’s given me a “workbook” full of exercises to help me deal with my loss and resulting pain. But I do believe that time and experience are the primary healers — as long as you’re open to be healed. I’m getting there.

What Do You Think?

Which of these lessons have you already learned? How did you learn them? How do they affect your life? Share your thoughts in the comments for this post. It would be interesting to get a good discussion started.

“Internet” is Not in this Class’s Dictionary

Help me fix this problem.

Note: I’ve been purposely vague about my friend’s identity and details about her school. In all honesty, she’s a tiny bit concerned about her job and would prefer to remain anonymous.

A good friend of mine is a teacher in a local elementary school. The school has several hundred students and is located in a low-income, rural area just outside Phoenix. My friend has a class of about 23 students and is constantly struggling to keep their interest and teach them with the tools she is provided by the school district. More than a few times, she’s dipped into her own pockets to buy things her students need that aren’t provided by the school.

My friend doesn’t make much money. Although she loves to teach, she finds her job frustrating. She wants to help the kids learn, she wants to help them break the cycle of poverty and make better lives for themselves. But there isn’t enough money in the school district to buy the tools the kids need to learn. She’s considered leaving her job, but doesn’t want to let the kids down — their class has already lost two teachers mid-term in previous years. She thinks it’s important for them to have continuity throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the school district superintendent, who only has two schools to manage, is reportedly pulling in a six-digit salary and gets a $750 per month clothing/car allowance. His bonus last year was more than my friend earns as a salary.

Internet Not in the Dictionary?

Internet is not in this dictionaryThe other day, she and I were talking about how kids have access to things we didn’t have at their age. Referring to her class, she said, “When I tell my kids that we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid, they don’t believe me. So I had them look it up in the dictionary. Our dictionaries are so old, they don’t include the word ‘Internet.'”

I was floored. Her class was using dictionaries that were that old? The word Internet came into general usage in the 1990s — her dictionaries was older than that?

Old DictionaryWe talked more about it and I discovered that not only were the dictionaries old, but there was a mix of them and not enough for all the kids. And although she was required to teach the kids about synonyms, they didn’t have any thesauruses.

I whipped out my iPad to see what an appropriate dictionary would cost. A decent paperback was available for only $5.99. It would cost less than $150 to buy 25 of them for her class. Or about $300 to buy enough for both classes in that grade. A fraction of the school superintendent’s monthly clothing/car allowance. Yet the superintendent got his check every month while the kids went without decent reference materials.

Can you imagine how much that annoyed me — a writer?

What Can I — or We — Do to Help?

It also got me thinking…what could I do to help?

Yes, I’m willing to spend $150 to buy 25 dictionaries for my friend’s class. But I could do better. With the help of my blog readers and social networking friends, maybe I could raise enough money to get all the kids in that grade a better, more durable hardcover dictionary and a thesaurus.

DictionaryI did more research on Amazon.com and found Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Thesaurus. The books were recently published, so they were up-to-date. They were designed for the right grade level. I could get both books for $24.77 with free shipping from Amazon prime. 50 copies would cost about $1,238.50.

I thought about The Oatmeal raising a ton of money for the Tesla Museum. I know that $1,238.50 is a lot less than the $1.37 million the Oatmeal raised. Yes, I have a lot less influence. But even if I got 100 people to donate $13 each, I’d have enough. And if I came up a little short, I could make up the difference.

No, I’m Not Nuts

At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m nuts. After all, what do I care about these kids? I’ve never met them and I’m never likely to meet them. And will having a decent dictionary really make a difference in their lives?

I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the kids, it probably won’t make a difference at all. But imagine it making a difference in just one kid’s life. Maybe he or she develops an interest in reading or writing or just using words to communicate better. Maybe browsing through the pictures in the book leads him or her to a word that sparks an interest in science or geology or history. Maybe just having a good reference book to learn from might help him or her score better on an exam down the road. Any of these things could change his or her future. It could break the cycle and open doors to a better life. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

And these books would be around for years. Imagine making a difference on one kid’s life every year for the next 20 years. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

I know it would make my friend’s job easier and a tiny bit less frustrating.

And yes, it’s a damned shame that tax dollars are funneled to superintendent compensation before educational materials for students — or even teacher pay. But I’ve tried fighting in the political arena before and got nowhere. I’d rather spend a few dollars to solve the problem from the outside than years of my life trying to fix it from the inside.

Will You Help?

With all this in mind, I set up a campaign on Indiegogo to raise $1,500 to cover the cost of the books, the rewards for big donors, and the campaign fees. I’m hoping you’ll click over there now and donate a few dollars to help me reach this goal.

If we come up short, I’ll try to make up the difference.

If we go over, I’d like to buy the younger kids copies of the Merriam-Webster Elementary Dictionary, which is designed for grades 3-5. I’d get as many copies as I could — hopefully enough to outfit at least one classroom. Those books are $11.66 each with free shipping.

And maybe you can also spread the word about this campaign? Tweet or share this blog post or the link to the campaign.

Thanks.

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 6: Study Hard

Flying a helicopter is more than just knowing how to move the controls and perform maneuvers in flight.

As with any other skill you might acquire in life, learning to fly helicopters is made up of many components. The most obvious is getting the motor skills — including reflex reactions — to handle the actual mechanics of flying: working the controls, etc. But behind all that is the knowledge you need to acquire so you fully understand what to do, why you need to do it, and how it works.

Ground School

Ground school — time spend on the ground with a flight instructor learning the what, why, and how parts of flying — is an important part of flight training. Unfortunately, it’s not usually the fun part and, because of that, most pilots try to minimize it. Instead of learning as much as they can about ground school topics such as aerodynamics, aircraft systems, weather, and physical (or medical) issues, some pilots learn only as much as they need to know to pass the written and oral tests that come later.

This is not a good idea if you intend to build a career as a helicopter pilot. At some point in your career, the gaps in your knowledge will be noticed — perhaps by the chief flight instructor you hope will give you your first job or by the chief pilot who can put you in the seat of a turbine helicopter. Or maybe by the mechanic who asks you to perform and document power checks in flight and you clearly don’t understand what he’s talking about. Or maybe by the new pilot you’re asked to show around — the pilot who did study hard and realizes how clueless you are.

Ground school is where you can learn what you need to know, with an experienced flight instructor who’s there to answer your questions. Dig in and learn. Make sure you understand everything — if you’re hazy on something, ask questions. Discuss topics with other student pilots and flight instructors. When you fly, try to understand how ground school topics apply to flight. Take notes, review them, jot down things in the margins when you connect the dots between topics later in your studies or during flights.

Hitting the Books

There are many books and study materials that can help you understand and learn the topics you need to know.

I’ve already pushed the excellent FAA publication, Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, several times on this blog, but I can’t recommend it often enough. Where else are you going to find a free, generously illustrated guide that explains much of what you need to know about flying helicopters in terms anyone can understand? It’s an excellent starting point for your studies.

FAR on iPadAnother pair of must-have publications is the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and Auronautics Information Manual (AIM) which are often published in the same volume. The FAR is updated throughout the year and most publishers publish new editions annually. You should get the most recent edition when you begin your training and try to update it at least every two years. Or do what I do: buy it in app format for an iPad (shown here) or iPhone. You can find them both on Tekkinnovations.com; once you buy them, updates are free (at least they have been so far for me).

Another handy book to have in your possession is a copy of the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for the aircraft you’ll be flying during most of your flight training. Yes, I know there’s one in the helicopter — it’s required to be there — but unless you plan to sit in a helicopter to do you studying, it’s nice to have your own copy to jot down notes, etc. I learned to fly in an R22 and bought a copy of the POH the first time I attended the Robinson Factory Safety Course; I added all kinds of notes in the margins during that course.

Cyclic & CollectiveThere are other books about flying helicopters. Many of them have been written by experienced helicopter pilots. One of my favorites is Cyclic & Collective by Shawn Coyle. This is a huge book jam-packed with information that goes beyond the basics offered by the FAA.

It’s likely that your flight school will also recommend or require certain books to help you study. The Jeppesen books are a big hit — especially to your wallet. But, to be fair, they do have excellent illustrations to make important points clear.

But remember, buying a book isn’t enough. You have to crack it open and read it.

Going the Video Route

There are also training videos that you might find helpful to reinforce what you learn in ground school and on your own. I used the King School videos. Although the series is designed for airplane pilots, there was an extra video in the set that covered helicopter operations. In general, I found the videos painfully boring at times, but I admit they were informative. By the end, however, I wanted to grab John and Martha King and crack their heads together. This, of course, was more than 10 years ago; hopefully, the videos have been revised by then. There’s also a good chance you can some of this material on their website.

I think Sporty’s has a set of videos that compete with the King’s — so you might want to check that out as an alternative.

If you decide to buy the videos, I bet you can find them used on eBay or Craig’s List for less than regular price. You can always sell them when you’re done.

Make It Count

Your flight training will cost as much as — if not more than — a college education. You need to take it just as seriously.

If you fail to learn the concepts by studying hard and asking your flight instructor to explain things you’re struggling with, you’re not only throwing away the money you’re spending on your education, but you’re setting yourself up for failure in your career.

Make it count by putting real effort into it and studying hard.

Next up, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t hit the books with a bag of chips within reach.

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 5: Check Your Attitude at the Door

Attitude is everything.

You think you’re a hot shot because you’re learning to fly helicopters? Check that attitude at the door. It won’t do you any good if you plan to make flying a career.

Attitude is everything when it comes to any career. A cocky, overconfident attitude will not help you in training and it certainly won’t help you get your entry level job — likely as a flight instructor — when your training is done.

Be open to what your instructor and other knowledgeable pilots have to say. If you don’t understand something, admit it and work with your instructor to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Show respect for your CFI, chief flight instructor, flight school employees, other students, and FAA examiners. Act mature. (This isn’t high school, grow up.) Be helpful and cooperative. Don’t be a whiner.

Beyond the Flight School Environment

Attitude also extends beyond training and into your jobs.

Just the other day, while flying in the high-traffic area around the Hoover Dam, I had the displeasure of conducting a useless radio exchange with a tour pilot. This little twerp probably had half the flight experience that I have, yet he talked down to me in a sarcastic manner that was obviously his [failed] attempt to prove how much smarter he was. The radio exchange wasted bandwidth and provided little useful information about what could have been a traffic conflict. It was clearly more important for him to try to intimidate me than to provide me with the information I needed to avoid his aircraft, such as position, altitude, and flight path.

Yet only moments later, another pilot operating nearby communicated exactly what he was planning to do and even offered to wait a minute or two until I was clear of the area.

Which one had the better attitude? Which one do you think other pilots would want to fly with? Or employers would want to hire?

Attitude Extends to Safety, Too

And it’s not just a positive attitude that will help you achieve your goals. It’s a safe attitude. If you don’t conduct yourself as a safe pilot, you will simply not move forward in your career.

Back in 2009, I had a run-in with a tour pilot in Sedona. He was upset that I’d parked my helicopter in the spot across from his at the airport. Apparently, he liked that spot kept free so he could fly through it on departure. To “show me a lesson” he departed nearly right over my passenger’s heads as we waited for him to leave the area. His action was foolish and dangerous. I reported him to the airport manager and the FAA. I later learned that this same pilot had demonstrated his bad attitude at the local FSDO within earshot of one of the inspectors. It was the pilot that was taught a lesson that day.

Accidents like the one at Grand Canyon West in 2001 are teaching employers the importance of their pilots flying safely. The accident pilot had a history, backed up with videotape, of performing aggressive maneuvers during tour flights.

One of the [past] passengers stated that there were particularly exciting episodes during the tour that were frightening to some of the others. As part of the tour, they flew over a site that was used in the commercial motion picture film Thelma and Louise, and the pilot pointed out the cliff. … During the return to LAS, the pilot asked if they wanted to know what it was like to drive a car off of a cliff. She stated that they all said “no” to this question; however, he proceeded to fly very fast toward the edge of the cliff and then dove the helicopter as it passed the edge. The passenger reported that it was “frightening and thrilling at the same time but it scared the others to death.”

On August 10, the pilot and six passengers were killed; the other passenger received serious burns on most of her body that have likely destroyed her life. The NTSB report’s probable cause was:

the pilot’s in-flight decision to maneuver the helicopter in a flight regime, and in a high density altitude environment, in which the aircraft’s performance capability was marginal, resulting in a high rate of descent from which recovery was not possible. Factors contributing to the accident were high density altitude and the pilot’s decision to maneuver the helicopter in proximity to precipitous terrain, which effectively limited any remedial options available.

Evidence shows that the pilot may have been attempting to perform the “Thelma and Louise” maneuver when the aircraft crashed. (You can read the details of this accident to learn more by downloading the full NTSB report as a PDF.)

You can bet that if there are any questions about your attitude regarding safety, you simply will not get hired as a pilot.

Start Now

Getting into the habit of having a good attitude should stick with you throughout your career — and your life. Start now, before you even begin your search for a flight school.

Next up, I’ll remind you why flight training is like any other school.

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 4: Choose a Reputable Flight School

Get what you pay for.

The quality of your training will be determined by your flight school. And believe me, you want the best training you can get.

Some Basic Tips

Here’s a bunch of tips for choosing a flight school; sadly, most of them are “don’ts” because of the kinds of marketing tactics some schools use:

  • Don’t be lured by ads for cheap training with promises of jobs at 300 hours of flight time. These schools are not interested in turning out quality pilots. They’re interested in attracting as many wannabes as possible to fill out their bottom line.
  • Don’t get fooled by schools that make verbal promises about hiring all graduates as flight instructors. A verbal promise isn’t worth more than the paper it’s written on. Many flight schools will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to sign up. Besides, wouldn’t you rather get trained at a school that chooses the best CFIs as instructors than the one who takes any CFI as an instructor? And do you really think they can hire all of their graduates? What happens when graduates hired as CFIs outnumber students? How many hours of flying will you get then?
  • Don’t look at the biggest or smallest schools. Look at schools somewhere in the middle. These are the ones where you’ll have the benefit of several CFIs on staff while still getting some level of personal attention.
  • Check into the experience of the training staff. Find out how many hours of flight time the chief flight instructor and some of the other flight instructors have. Find out whether any of them have real-life flying experience. Flight schools that offer tour and charter services also offer opportunities for their CFIs to get the kind of experience they’ll use in future jobs.
  • Once you’ve got the flight schools narrowed down to one or two, talk to some of the students and flight instructors there. See what they think. Try to get the contact information for one or two graduates who have moved on to see whether they thought their training at the school helped them succeed.

Don’t be lazy and take shortcuts here. Your future starts with your training. Do your homework. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.

Equipment

Learn to Fly Here SignThere are a lot of people who make a big deal over the kind of equipment used for flying. There are three basic helicopters used for training: Robinson R22, Schweitzer Schweizer 269/300 (which has a bunch of other names), and Enstrom F28F and 280FX. News flash: They’re all good.

The R22 is an extremely “squirrelly” helicopter. It really takes all of your attention to fly. Its two-bladed system makes it unsafe for aggressive or low-G maneuvers, but ground resonance is not an issue. Robinsons are widely respected and widely used in flight schools.

I can’t speak firsthand about the Schweitzer Schweizer since I’ve never flown one. I know that as a helicopter with a fully articulated rotor system, it’s capable of performing far more aggressive maneuvers than a Robinson. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. It is susceptible to ground resonance. I have heard that its glide slope in autorotation is steeper than an R22 but can’t back that up with facts and figures.

I have flown an Enstrom and, in all honesty, I wasn’t impressed. The excessive vibrations really turned me off, but that could have been caused by the blades being out of balance or some other maintenance issue on that particular aircraft. It also has a fully articulated rotor system, but I can’t recall hearing anything about one getting into ground resonance. I don’t know enough about its flight characteristics to pass judgement on it.

Most pilots favor the helicopter they trained on. That’s true with me. Not only did I learn in an R22, but I owned an R22 Beta II for four years and put at least 1,000 hours on it. But who knows? If I’d trained in a 300, I might have all kinds of love for it instead.

I’m hoping that folks reading this who have more knowledge about the other two aircraft will comment on their experiences. (Warning: I will not allow an equipment-bashing comment thread to form for this post. Present facts about what you know; not hearsay about what you don’t.)

I certainly don’t think you should pass up a flight school because of the brand of its equipment. The age, maintenance quality, and condition is far more important. You want a flight school with its own hangar and maintenance facility. You might even want to take a look at it to make sure it’s relatively neat and clean and the mechanics look like they know what they’re doing. A place with friendly mechanics who are willing to talk to you when you have a mechanical problem or question will certainly help you get more out of your flight training.

There’s one other thing to keep in mind. Some flight schools have one or two turbine helicopters on hand that they use for charter work or even training. When trying to get you to sign with them, they might hint or even promise that they’ll give you a certain number of hours of turbine flight time. Get any promises in writing. It is not uncommon for flight schools to give students the impression they’d get turbine transition training in a package deal and then, for some reason, not provide it. Either the aircraft was down for maintenance or there were too many other pilots queued up for time in it or there was an additional fee that was never discussed. If a turbine aircraft is dangled like a carrot in front of you, get all the facts about flying it before signing up.

Beware of Package Deals

And that brings up the topic of package deals. My advice is this: Do not sign with a school that forces you to enter into a contract for all training and pay them a bunch of money up front. (This was also pointed out by Damien in comments for Part 2 of this series, which discussed funding your flight training.) You do not want to be contractually tied to any flight school (at least not without a contractual way out that won’t cost you anything) and you certainly don’t want them getting money upfront (beyond reasonable prepayments) for services yet to be rendered.

If there’s anything the Silver State debacle taught us, it’s that flight schools aren’t always around forever. If they fold with your money, you’re out of luck.

Equally important is that if you decide after a few weeks or months of training that you don’t like the flight school and want to continue training elsewhere, you have the freedom to do so. And believe me; this happens more often than you think.

Networking Potential

Keith, who has far more experience flying far more equipment in far more places than me, pointed out in comments to my earlier post about age:

I know several aspiring pilots who I have counseled about the helicopter business but I hesitate to recommend a school to them. My usual advice on schools has been pick the best ranked school that provides the greatest possible chance to get that first job.

It is a little discouraging to me to have to tell an aspiring career pilot that all the good grades, excellent flight reviews and mind numbing study may come to not if they don’t make that first job happen for themselves. Perseverance helps but choosing the right place to train and the connections and recommendations that come from certain schools and/or instructors might make all the difference. It is still a small industry where more positions are gained through personal recommendations and associations than any quantity of paper credentials. Your reputation in this industry begins at day one and for good or bad will follow you your entire career.

This is excellent advice for career pilots. I know of at least once school — now defunct — that had a terrible reputation for training. It got so bad that many employers would simply not consider any pilot that had that flight school listed on a resume. That’s a difficult hurdle to jump when you’re just starting out.

But I think what Keith’s saying goes beyond just choosing a flight school. I think it also has to do with how you represent yourself throughout training and your first few jobs. That’s attitude and I’ll cover that next.