Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

License Next Step: Commercial Certificate

AFIT’s accelerated Commercial Pilot program adds finesse, control and the ability to get paid

In my case, I was fortunate to work with John Templeton, one of AFT's top senior instructors. A seasoned pro, John has nearly 40 years' experience with everything from gliders to airliners. He was also my CFII during instrument training, and at this point, we've spent nearly 60 hours in the cockpit together. We've become friends, and his words often echo in my mind during a difficult approach or challenging maneuver.

AFIT's program requires just as much from the instructor as it does from the student. Each day consists of ground training followed by flying, then more ground discussion followed by more flying. It's not unusual to get six hours of flying in a day, and the rhythm of flying and debriefing turns into a welcome cycle as the days pass. Your job as a pilot is to come prepared: know the material. The instructor's job is more difficult, as he or she becomes teacher, mentor and motivational coach. My running joke with John is referring to him as "Yoda" for his quips and tidbits of wisdom. One example: "Call your gear down in three positions—downwind, base and final, so you never forget no matter how high your workload."

Detractors of accelerated programs say that so much is thrown at you that you could never retain it all. They say the traditional approach of earning the rating over many months and flying a few days a week is better. The truth is that it depends on the student.

Studies on learning reveal that the key to accelerated programs is to immediately use the skills learned once the training is over. The U.S. Military uses accelerated training for their pilots today, taking a student from zero time to fighter-jet pilot in 210 hours (90 hours in primary flight training and 120 hours in T-38 school). That's astonishing.

Will Fly For Money
The first question my pilot friends asked when learning about my planned commercial certificate was, "So, you want to fly for the airlines?" Most pilots only consider the commercial certificate as a gateway to corporate or air carrier operations. As a taildragger and biplane pilot, I'm still holding out for a gig flying a venerable Beech 18 or DC-3, but I have no desire to fly for an airline. I'm pursuing the rating to become a better pilot. Though getting paid to fly is now a possibility, the commercial ticket was a way for me to continue learning.

"What's with the 40-degree bank angle?" Yoda asked as I cranked the 210 over, trying to stay tight on base leg. "As a commercial pilot you have to concentrate on making all your maneuvers smooth, gentle and easy." That was one of the greatest lessons in my commercial training. Having been something of a lone wolf before, I never considered my bank angles or descent rates as long as they were what was called for on that approach. The commercial rating, it turns out, is about flying in a way that's consistent and always stable. "You have to think about grandma in row 26," John smiled, admonishing me to keep my banks in the pattern to 20 degrees and my descent rates under 500 feet per minute.

The other great epiphany of commercial training was that I learned to master the aircraft. While instrument training dealt with complexities that were external to controlling the aircraft, commercial training takes you back to the basics in a new way. Instead of just learning slow flight again, you have to master slow flight, so your altitude variances are minute. It's the same with stalls, steep turns, or the lollygagging Lazy 8 and zooming chandelle. The maneuvers refine your skills to a dramatic degree. It's freeing to be able to know you can put an airplane where you want it without hesitation. It's like aerobatics, but in the opposite, gentler direction.


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