Instructors (and others): what makes a great student/pilot?

Hi everyone. I’m spinning up to start the ACPP in January. I’m a former air traffic controller, so glad to answer any questions you might have about the other side of the mic; I’ve been both terminal (i.e. tower) and en route.

Question for the instructors, students, and others who might want to chip in: when you think of one or two students who you’ve seen go through the program and thought, “man, that guy is nailing it - he’s doing this exactly the way it should be done”, what do you see in him or her? What are they doing well to make them a great pilot and student? Conversely, what are they not doing that the weaker students do (or don’t do)?

I know there are a few threads already getting at some of this topic, including Tory’s recent post that has a ton of great information (read it several times and have it bookmarked, myself). But I haven’t seen one yet discussing what makes a great student, so here we go.

Thanks for whatever advice you all care to offer, and for what you’ve shared here so far. Lots of helpful information. Appreciate it!


I agree Tory’s post is dead on. To me (while obviously it requires some brains and coordination) it’s all about attitude and work ethic. You show up with a smile on your face, ready to work and you can (and will) excel. This may sound simple but sadly it’s rarer than you would think. There are people who want it handed to them and that doesn’t work and other’s who are always looking for problems and that doesn’t either. Honestly that’s it and yes it’s that easy.



I second Adam’s comment about attitude. The best students are teachable, meaning they are good listeners and open to constructive criticism.

On the contrary, students make things harder for themselves (and the instructor) when the student tries to justify EVERYTHING. It’s okay to justify some things if you’re also open to other ideas and/or suggestions, but don’t try to justify everything. You’re there to learn, not argue.

Also, good communication with your instructor is important. If your instructor is doing something or saying something that isn’t working, or maybe you just don’t like they way your instructor is treating you, or maybe there is something they’re doing that you do like, say something. Good or bad. Help your instructor understand how they need to teach you in a way that allows you to be receptive to their instruction. I can’t tell you how many times students have come up to me and said, “Can you please be my instructor? ‘So-and-so’ is driving me crazy.” When I asked the students if they have addressed their concerns with their instructor before approaching me, the answer was always, “Well, no…not yet…” The instructor and student are a team. Try to make an effort to work together. However, there are some rare occasions when two personalities just don’t work together. That’s when a request for an instructor change is imminent.

Lastly, critical thinking is huge. If you just try to memorize everything without trying to acquire a higher level of knowledge, you’ll fall behind. Ask good questions. Make an effort to understand why and how. This isn’t high school. The tests are not multiple choice. This is real life. Having a lack of understanding is dangerous. Take it seriously. Get over the “cool factor.” Have integrity and take responsibility for what you’re doing.



…except for the knowledge tests :joy: I was referring to the practical exams and flying in general.

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When I think of my students that were particularly good, it wasn’t that they had some natural ability to fly, it was that they were very dedicated to the task. My best students skipped any partying, never had excuses for not doing their work (because they had done the work) and just brought a good attitude to training. Being willing to buckle down and do the hard work, even when you don’t want to, is what makes a great student.