I know nothing about flying. How do I get started?

If you do not have any previous experience with flying in a smaller General Aviation airplane, the best way to start is an introductory flight. Book one by calling our office at 979-260-6322 to schedule it. You do not need any previous knowledge. Our instructors will guide you through your first steps in aviation and you will be flying the airplane from day one! Better yet, you can bring a friend or loved one at no additional cost (in this case, do let us know). Our instructors will also explain to you how to continue in your journey to become a pilot.

What documentation do I need to provide to get started?

No documentation is required for an introductory flight. If you want to continue with training, there are requirements set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The documentation needed depends on your nationality:

  • U.S. citizens must only provide either a Birth Certificate or a U.S. Passport. BVFS needs to see the original, a copy is not sufficient. We also require a picture ID (e.g. driver’s license).
  • All non-US citizens, permanent residents included, must go through the TSA procedure prior to receiving flight training. To start this process, go to https://fts.tsa.dhs.gov and get registered.  For any questions feel free to call BVFS at 979-260-6322.

The documentation above is all you need to get started, in addition to a few forms needed by BVFS to create your records when you enroll. Then, you will need the following in order to fly solo, when you are ready to take this step, which for most people is approximately one-third into their initial course:

  • A medical certificate, 3rd class, issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Ask us after you start to get more details on this requirement.
  • A Student Pilot Certificate, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Your instructor will guide you through this process at the appropriate time.
  • Renter’s Insurance coverage, as required by BVFS policy.

You do not need these last three items to get started. You need them when you are ready to start flying solo. We included them here because a lot of people hear about these and are confused.

What type of Flight School is Brazos Valley Flight Services (BVFS)?

Brazos Valley Flight Services is a Part 61 flight school and utilizes mostly Cessna airplanes for training purposes. We provide instruction following the certification path prescribed in Part 61 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In practice, this means that we are flexible with training schedules and have the ability to tailor the curriculum to meet individual students’ training needs. We are also a Cessna Pilot Center.

How do flight lessons work?

BVFS encourages each student to fly, at a minimum, two to three times per week. This schedule is considered full-time enrollment and allows the student to consistently make progress. Flying less than twice per week may extend the time and increase the cost of certification.

Flight lessons are scheduled in two or three-hour blocks of time with both aircraft and instructor. Private pilot students will need to schedule all training flights during daylight hours. Towards the end of the course, specific flights will be scheduled for night flying lessons. During the cross-country phase, some lessons will be four to five hours in duration. BVFS utilizes the online scheduling service Schedule Master (https://my.schedulemaster.com/) to create and schedule flights and instructors, making the process quick and easy. We will make an account for you when you enroll.

How does ground school work?

As a Cessna Pilot Center, BVFS follows Cessna’s computer-based instruction course “Cleared for Takeoff”, developed by King Schools. This program is a fully integrated curriculum where students view lessons at home on their computers and then come to the airport for flight lessons. Of course, instructors are always available to clear up questions the student may have.

Should I self-study or use the Cessna ground school kit?

BVFS recommends the use of Cessna’s computer-based instruction course “Cleared for Takeoff” to save the student time from in-classroom ground school. Self-study methods can also be used but the student may require more ground school time with an instructor than using the online course. There are approximately 60 hours of course material within the ground school kit.

Do not expect to be able to achieve certification without any ground school with an instructor. It is not practical. Perhaps impossible. Doing ground school well reduces your costs, rather than increasing them.

How much studying is involved?

Students should expect to spend about two hours studying before each flight. Since the online curriculum parallels flight training, students are encouraged to utilize the computer-based instruction course before each flight lesson.

How long does it take to complete the course?

Students flying two to three times per week and studying consistently can expect to finish in 4 to 6 months, weather permitting. Students flying once a week or less will take longer and their cost for certification will increase.

What type of aircraft are used for training?

As a Cessna Pilot Center, BVFS performs most private pilot training in either a Cessna 172 Skyhawk or Cessna 150 Commuter.  BVFS operates the classic round gauge, analog-instrument-equipped Cessna 172’s (M, N, and S models) and Cessna 150 in addition to the new state-of-the-art G1000 glass cockpit Cessna 172. BVFS will also train a student in their personally owned aircraft if requested.

What is the difference between the “Glass Cockpits” and the analog instruments?

Analog instruments measure pressure or another physical property to derive a mechanical measurement of airspeed, altitude, or similar. Typically, each analog instrument is self-contained. These are the instruments most people (over the age of 16) would imagine when thinking of an instrument panel in a cockpit. The “glass cockpit” such as the Garmin G1000 is a digital set of instruments. It utilizes screens instead of round dials to display measurements to the pilot. Although the world of avionics is slowly transitioning to glass cockpit aircraft, numerous airplanes can still be found with analog gauges. We find that, usually, transitioning from analog gauges to a screen in a G1000 is easier than the opposite route.

How old must you be to start flight training?

Students must be at least sixteen years of age to solo and seventeen years of age to obtain their Private Pilot certificate. BVFS does provide training to young men and women who don’t yet meet the FAA age minimums for a certificate. However, for those younger students, BVFS recommends a personalized training path and a slower part-time training schedule to be discussed with our chief instructor.

How do I get a medical?

First, select an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) and schedule an appointment. An AME is a medical doctor that has been authorized by the FAA to do this type of examination. All AME’s are doctors, but not all doctors are AME: please ask when in doubt. Once you have scheduled your medical examination, the AME will ask you to register for an account with the FAA’s MedXPress system. This is an electronic form that will be reviewed by your doctor and submitted to the FAA for approval upon completion of the exam.

When you are registered and have completed the appropriate forms, your examiner will verify your identity and initiate the exam. The AME will review your health history and ask additional questions if necessary. The specific type of aviation medical certificate you are applying for will determine the depth of the examination. Third-class medical exams are the fastest. Second and First-class medical exams are progressively more in-depth. A private pilot certificate requires a third-class medical certificate at a minimum. Unless you are seeking a career as a professional pilot, this is what we recommend you get. We can provide you with a list of local options to find an AME.

How do I schedule the airplane and instructor for my lessons?

Once you have filled out a rental agreement, BVFS verified the TSA requirements (see above), and we have a copy of your driver’s license, you will be given your Schedule Master username and password. To log in, you can visit our website at bvfs.net and click on the Schedule Master link found at the bottom of the homepage or go directly to https://my.schedulemaster.com/. Note: do not use the “Members Login” link found at the top of our website, that is for website maintenance. Once you log in, you can use the arrows to skip to the day on which you would like to schedule a flight. Aircraft are listed at the top of the schedule while instructors are listed at the bottom. White blocks mean the aircraft or instructor is available. Click on an open block in the instructor’s line and a window will pop up. Select from the drop-down list which aircraft you would like to fly as well as double-check that the time slot you wish to schedule is available. BVFS recommends scheduling 2 hours minimum but time less than 2 hours can be arranged with an instructor. Scheduling the airplane for longer than 4 consecutive hours requires instructor or manager approval. Approval can be requested in person, by phone call during office hours, or by email (info@bvfs.net) anytime. Up to 6 schedules can be made at one time.

Additionally, a standby schedule can be made for a period of time when the aircraft is already booked. You will have a chance to make this schedule the primary schedule if the original schedule is canceled. To do this, you must confirm your standby schedule within the allotted time frame. We reserve standby schedules for students trying to complete their solo cross-country flights or renters trying to reserve the aircraft during a time when a student or another renter has the aircraft scheduled. If you do not meet the criteria previously mentioned we ask that you please do not schedule as a standby. For more information, please see the “Sched. Policies” section under the Group Info tab on Schedule Master.

How are students paired with instructors?

Students can choose any instructor early in their training. When you schedule your first flight we will select an instructor that is available at that time, unless you ask for someone specifically. If you want to continue training with that person, you are welcome to. We do encourage you to try several instructors to find one with which you learn best. In the long run, we encourage students to fly with a primary instructor for the remainder of the learning process. However, there is no problem with changing if you find another instructor that fits your schedule or personality better.

Can I schedule after hours?

For certificated pilots: ask your instructor about after-hours procedures during the initial checkout process.

For student pilots: once you have soloed, are near the completion of your training, and are ready to take the aircraft out on your own, it may be more convenient for you to fly a little earlier than BVFS opens or after we have closed for the day. This is on a case-by-case basis and needs to be approved by your primary instructor. If you are approved to do it, make sure you schedule the plane at least 24 hours before or notify a BVFS employee promptly so that we can arrange for you to have access. Note: no solo flight is allowed at night under any circumstance with only a Student Pilot certificate. You must be able to take off and land during the daytime as defined by the FAA regulations for logging daytime.

If you’re flying after hours, you can access the ramp through Astin Aviation’s front lobby. Please speak to a BVFS employee for details on this process. If you would like us to leave you a headset, leave a comment in the comments section of the Schedule Master window and let us know if we need to put one in the plane. If you have scheduled the day of the flight, you can always call our office at (979) 260-6322 and remind us to leave you a headset. The number to order fuel is (979) 775-5255. Once you have finished flying you can leave the book, headset, and keys in the locked cabinet to the left of the office back door. If you are the last person to fly the plane at the end of the day, please taxi the plane back to the north ramp and tie it down.

A BVFS employee will check the aircraft’s logbook and create an invoice on your account for the amount flown. You can pay over the phone or in-person the following day, but please keep in mind that you must pay your invoice within 15 calendar days from the day the invoice is created. After the grace period expires, a late fee penalty equal to 15% of the amount of the original invoice may be applied. If payment still has not been received, after 30 days from the application of the first late fee, an additional late fee of up to 50% of the revised bill may be applied.

Should I borrow a BVFS headset or buy my own?

BVFS makes headsets available to our students. However, we recommend that you purchase your own headset at some point in the training: after you become a Private Pilot, you will want to take family and friends flying with you and may need a spare! Should you wish to purchase a headset of your own, BVFS sells several makes and models with a range of price points to suit all needs.

How will my Practical Test (i.e., checkride) work?

The “checkride”, or practical exam, is divided into two parts: an oral exam and a practical flying test. You will sit with an examiner for about two hours where just about every detail about your airplane, logbook, regulations, decision-making, and flying are fair game for questioning. You will be given scenarios and will be expected to talk your examiner through them. Following the successful completion of the oral exam, you will take a practical flying exam that requires you to fly as pilot-in-command with the examiner on board. You will be graded on your completion of a number of flight maneuvers and simulated emergency procedures. The maneuvers you will be tested on are contained in the Airmen Certification Standards (ACS) or Practical Test Standards (PTS). The ACS details what constitutes successful completion of each maneuver. If you are unable to complete any of the maneuvers to the required standards, you will need to retest the parts that have not been completed successfully after receiving additional instruction. Similarly, if the examiner ever needs to take control of the airplane for safety reasons, you will need to retest.

Should I get a Private Pilot certificate or a Sport Pilot certificate?

Because of the limitations of Sports Pilot certificates, BVFS recommends completing the full Private Pilot course, whenever possible, to achieve the best tradeoff between the effort of certification and pilot privileges.

A Private Pilot can fly anywhere in the U.S., day or night, with any aircraft he/she is certificated for (typically Single Engine Land, initially). It requires a current Medical Certificate issued by an AME (third class). Certification requires a minimum of 40 hours of aeronautical experience (50-55 typical).

A Sport Pilot Certificate allows the pilot to fly with both a medical OR U.S. driver’s license and self-certification. The pilot can fly only an aircraft that is 1,320 lb max certificated gross weight with a max of two seats. The pilot cannot fly a retractable gear aircraft and cannot carry more than one passenger. The minimum flight training time required under FAR Part 61 is 20 hours (30-35 typical). A pilot can fly in Class B, C, or D only with additional flight instruction. Additionally, a Sport Pilot cannot fly at night, outside the United States airspace, or with less than 3 miles visibility. Some of these limitations can be eliminated with additional training and endorsements.

You will need to have your own Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) to complete Sport Pilot training since BVFS does not have an LSA available at this time.

To see a chart comparing a private license to a Sport Pilot Certificate, visit https://www.aopa.org/advocacy/advocacy-briefs/quick-comparison-of-pilot-certificates.

Can I use my own plane?

Certainly, as long as your airplane is airworthy, has a full maintenance history, is insured for flight training, and our instructors agree that it meets all the requirements for flight training to achieve the certificate you are seeking.

Approximately how much will my private certificate cost?

The cost of flight training varies from person to person and depends on the aircraft you train with. For a detailed breakdown of typical costs, look at this link or ask our front-desk personnel.

Do you offer any discounts on flying?

BVFS offers an Annual Flying Club, which is a membership-based annual flying club designed to allow greater savings to our recurring customers. For an annual membership fee of $350 plus sales tax, members enjoy an $8/hour discount on our analog (steam gauge) Cessna 172’s, a $10/hour discount on our G1000 equipped aircraft, a $10/hour discount on our PA-28R Arrow, and a 15% discount on most pilot supplies and charts anytime.

For instance, by subscribing to the Annual Flying Club at the time of initial enrollment you can get an immediate 15% discount on pilot supplies, including the Cessna Flight Training Kit! If you are continuing with your advanced ratings, you can also get the same benefits.

We also offer a membership-based annual simulator club. For an annual membership fee of $300 plus sales tax, club members will enjoy unlimited use of our ELITE PI-135 FAA-approved Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD). You can apply the time in the Elite PI-135 toward your certificates and ratings when training is provided by one of our qualified instructors, as follows: 2.5 hours toward Private rating, 10 hours toward Instrument rating, and Recency of Flight Experience (RFE) Instrument (see 14 CFR 61.57c).

The PI-135 is also an invaluable tool to complement your training in the actual aircraft. With it, you can experience situations and instrument approaches that would be very difficult, expensive, or dangerous to do in real life. The Simulator Club membership will allow you to stay proficient and sharp, giving you the peace of mind and confidence needed to expand your flying experience.