I've always been intrigued by accelerated flight training courses that promise to add on the next rating or certificate in a fixed number of days for a set price. Maybe it’s because the concept is so far removed from how I learned to fly back in the 1980s. At the local grass strip where I first started taking flying lessons as a teenager, scheduling two or three flights a week seemed like a lot. Now I was being offered the chance to fly two or three times a day and knock out my commercial multiengine ticket in less than a week. With a written proposal from Pan Am International Flight Academy in Miami for a packed schedule that would involve more than 20 hours of flying and a ton of learning, I packed my bags and headed to south Florida in mid-February. This was going to be a blast, I thought to myself.
Although I was excited, I also had my doubts about whether I could really master everything I needed to learn in such a short amount of time — especially after I arrived in Miami and was greeted by low overcast and drizzle. The weather cleared, but other hurdles made completing my training on time a challenge.
I flew out of Opa-locka Airport (KOPF) with Wayman Aviation, with which Pan Am contracts for the private through commercial portions of the training before students transition into airliner sims. At times during my training, I wished for a less hurried pace. Two days before my check ride I was still being introduced to new concepts even though I wasn’t yet totally comfortable with everything I’d learned so far. But Wayman’s instructors follow a structured approach that’s intended to tick all the boxes in a set order as a pilot progresses through the Part 141 training syllabus. On the morning of my check ride, I was surprised by how confident I felt that I really could do everything that would be expected of me. After 20.1 hours of flying in a Piper Seneca, I was ready.
Unfortunately, the airplane wasn’t.
The list of things that had gone wrong in my brief time flying N887SP, a 1973 PA-34-200, was longer than I or my instructor would have preferred. A starter had failed the previous Saturday and couldn’t be fixed until the following Monday when the mechanics returned to work; a dead battery needed replacing right before my long night cross-country; and now, during my check ride, a new problem surfaced. The left brake was starting to feel soft. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete the check ride before it got worse.
There was another problem further complicating matters. I’d booked an airline flight for that afternoon to take me back home to New Jersey. Pan Am had built some wiggle room into my original training schedule in case weather or mechanical issues prevented me from flying, but that time had already been used up because of the bad starter. Of course, the two days of downtime gave me an opportunity to study for the oral exam, meticulously plan my cross-country flights, learn the Seneca’s POH backward and forward, and even get in a couple of hours in a full-motion Boeing 737 simulator at the Pan Am training center, so this wasn’t truly lost time. Still, if the airplane couldn’t continue to fly today, I wasn’t sure what would happen.
It was too bad, because the oral exam had gone about as well as I could have hoped, and I was feeling confident about the check ride. I credit three people for this: My flight instructor at Wayman Aviation, Alex Alvarez, is one of them, and John and Martha King are the others. In my lifetime I feel as though I’ve been blessed to have had some excellent flight instructors, and Alex continued this trend. As for the Kings, I’ve done all of my ground school training with the King Schools home study courses, and I’m a big fan.