Just a forewarning that this excerpt of my time at ATP will be long, so I hope that I do not bore anyone and I apologize in advance if that’s your conclusion.
I started ATP on the week of My 23rd birthday back in late February of 2020. I had just graduated UCF the spring prior with a Health Sciences Pre-Med degree. My intention was to be a doctor, as per the wishes of my parents; however, as I was studying for the MCAT, I verbalized to myself “I don’t want to do this with my life”. I knew at that point that any further effort towards medical school would be a mistake. Becoming a pilot was always what I knew deep down I should be doing. I took lessons at KCRG when I was 12-15 yrs old. I also flew model airplanes and became sponsored doing aerobatics with those at events. It has always been my passion to participate in aviation of any capacity. More towards the end of my high school career, I became more busy with the idea of college admissions and put aviation on the back burner. Its funny how everything came full circle, I’m just glad it did sooner than later.
I did well at UCF and enjoyed the “college experience”. I wouldn’t have changed anything as far as the demeanor and sequence in which the events in my life transpired. Aviation wasn’t an escape or an easy way out for me, it was what I was always supposed to do with my life, and when I worked up the courage to pursue it, a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.
Getting into my ATP experience, I started right before the COVID-19 pandemic really became an international crisis. The KCRG training center in Jacksonville was BUSY. I had an amazing instructor, Grace. She was very patient and calm with me. I never had the Macho or antiauthority mentality, so Grace and I had a great relationship. my private stage took me about 4 months unfortunately. I took a month off in April before I even soloed as I was living in my parent’s house and I had to respect their rules, and they were very uneasy about COVID and me being at the training center. After that month passed, I got back into training. Before I knew it, I was sitting in my PPL oral exam. I was nervous, but the examiner did everything in his power to calm me down. It was a challenging oral exam but very fair. I discontinued the flight 4 times for aircraft maintenance issues and weather. Once the day finally came where I could do my flight, I passed, although it was very stressful.
I then proceeded to have Grace for instrument training as well, which was relatively uneventful, but very fun. This was my favorite phase of the program. In my checkride for IRA, I flew through a small cell, but the examiner was nice enough to pick up a pop-up, indicating that he wanted me to fly through it rather than discontinue, but I had better not screw this up. Once we got into the storm, he was asking me about my primary and secondary instruments, thankfully I was able to multi-task. We were in and out of the cell with decent amounts of turbulence and precipitation the entire time while flying approaches and doing holds. In the debrief he said “you flew very well, but next time I’d rather you do better on your weather briefing and NOT fly us through a storm”. I was ready to get the checkride done, but I should have discontinued knowing that build-up was coming towards KCRG. Thankfully I passed, but only by the grace of the examiner and a little bit of skill and luck.
My crew phase was interesting to say the least. I flew back from DALLAS with an instructor for 10 hours in a spin plane to KCRG. The instructor I flew with was good company. Once I got back, I was assigned to an actual crew partner, who is my good friend to this day. We flew all over Florida in all kinds of weather. I was putting my instrument rating to use when I flew down to Gainesville to 200 ft above MDA for a diversion. A lot of PIC decisions come into play in this phase, as well as interaction with a pilot of equal experience. I enjoyed this phase and learned a lot from it.
Very briefly I should say that I was generally a slacker when it came to the written exams. I didn’t take my PPL written until right before I soloed, didn’t take my IRA and II until after my instrument eval, waited until after crew to do my COM-written(I had to study for it and take it within 3 days!) but then I picked up the pace and knocked out the last two within a week. My lowest score was oddly the FOI with a 90%, but procrastinating these writtens, while doable, is NOT ideal and didn’t do me any favors.
As far as the studying goes, since I know A LOT of people ask this question, it really just boils down to how you learn best and how much time YOU need to get the information necessary for success. For every checkride aside from the CFI, I would say I would only study 1 hour a day about 4 days before each checkride. So a total of 4 hours study time for each checkride aside from the CFI. I did not study aside from this. I do not retain information well over extended periods of time. College helped me tone my studying habits. That is what works for ME, this is not a suggestion on what anyone else should do.
For the commercial single engine phase, my instructor changed. He was a phenomenal instructor and really prepared me for CFI more than I even knew at the time. He was tough on me, but said that he isn’t judging my performance against other students, he is doing it against what he knows I am capable of. In that moment I knew he was someone I was very lucky to have as an instructor. I passed the COM-SE without issue and the examiner saying I performed one of the best chandelles he had seen. It was a good feeling.
On to CFI, as a product of COVID, I had 10 days of 8 hours each day of ZOOM ground school. It was an intense overview of everything I learned (and some things I was supposed to already know, but didn’t). My ground instructor was a wonderful guy and I texted this man relentlessly asking questions, but he never made me feel like an imposition. I made lesson plans each day and modified them until eventually I had concocted a 700 page lesson plan book. The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind with the CFI initial considering you use all the instructors and students to help you get through this. The right seat flights were no issue for me, but I must admit that I had to re-do my mock oral as I was unable to go into depth on the regulations. Once I had studied up on that, I got to the real checkride and I was actually teaching the DPE some things he didn’t know about student pilot solos; he was a little surprised. My CFI initial consisted of a 7 hour oral and a 3 hour flight where every single maneuver was taught to commercial standards. It was a two day ordeal, but I actually passed this checkride on my 24th birthday if you can believe that. What a birthday gift to myself, right?
CFII was done in 3 flights and one week. It was probably my best and smoothest checkride to date. I got to take it with the famous Ernie Strange. He was very calm and fair. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
COM-ME was FAST. I had 7 hours and one week of training in the seminole when I was endorsed for my checkride. The oral exam was roughly 45 minutes of rapid fire questions from the DPE. I had this DPE for IRA, COM-SE, and now COM-ME. He’s a wonderful guy, but he sure lit me up for not doing the flows how he wanted. Thank goodness I flew well to salvage my poor performance on the flows. At the end of the day, I was rated in an airplane I was no expert in. It was not a time for celebration…yet. My MEI was scheduled for exactly one week from that day so my instructor and I thought it best to fly the same day after my COM-ME. I really enjoyed doing XCs in the multi, I began to feel like a real pilot. My MEI with Mr. Ernie Strange went well. I took the oral exam (about 1 hour) and that went well, but discontinued for weather. My checkride was rescheduled for one week later (today). I took my MEI this morning and finished the program today. It was not the smoothest flight as I was trying to memorize checklists instead of USE them. The examiner did not take too fondly of that, but Ernie truly is a phenomenal pilot, DPE, and person.
I’m writing this still somewhat in disbelief that I have finished this program. Yes, it took me a little longer than 9 months, but I don’t blame ATP and they don’t blame me. I honestly didn’t know that I could work so hard for something, but when you want it that bad, you go for it. I trained at KCRG in JAX, regarded as the location with the most difficult examiners, and have come out with the knowledge that those rumors could not have been any further from the truth, and I am sure this is true of other locations that are said to be more difficult or unfair than average. Every single checkride I have taken, I was treated with nothing but respect and fairness. If you hear different from someone, stop and question if they did everything they were supposed to do. So many people are in this for the money or look at it as an escape form their lives and that it should have been easier since they’re the customer and they’re paying for this. Content of character, presentation, and putting the work in actually plays a much larger role in this industry than I would have guessed, and I am so glad that it does. ATP does a fantastic job of training their students and providing them with a plethora of resources to succeed, it is up to you from there.
I hope this write-up helps or at the very least entertains some of you. There is so much more I could say, but I think this does it for now. There has been no greater feeling of reward than that which has come from completing this program. Thank you to the mentors for helping me along the way by answering my questions on this forum.