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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Bonanza Killers
High Performance Conversion Training

By Jim Trusty

Doctors are Bonanza killers. Or did I say that backwards? (And just so Beech doesn’t get a big head, this article covers all the other high priced toys – Mooney, Cessna, Piper, and the rest.) Either way, the statement can be applied to many low time pilots transitioning to high performance aircraft. Especially those who chose not to participe in an ongoing proficiency training program almost immediately after purchase.

I will agree with those who say that some professionals hurry their first purchase of an airplane. As a flight instructor, I would like to see them with more time in the air before they leave the comfort of a forgiving trainer for a high performance complex machine with speed and power and avionics. But, they put a price on their time, and it’s their money. I’m not sure, if I could afford it, that I would do anything differently.

I fly with a lot of these pilots – male and female – including doctors, lawyers, and business people from all walks of life. I decided a long time ago that if I am going to take their money, we are going to do it the right way. The bad part of this philosophy is that most hate to give me the necessary time, but that also plays into the good part – neither of us waste a minute when we do start training.

My syllabus for transitioning, or getting an additional certificate or rating, is based on past training, time available, complexity of the aircraft, and demonstrated skill level. It will be over when both of us are satisfied that the student can go from point “A” to point “B” safely, correctly, and comfortably, and not one flight sooner. They seem to like this little motto of mine, and my continued success depends on it. My license depends on it too!

I actually like most of this group. They don’t have any idle time, they study hard, they listen, they fly the very best equipment, and they pay well for good instruction. The onus is on the instructor to know how to work with these pilots and to know the equipment, and how to get the most out of both in as short a time period as possible. Some turn me down, and some I turn down. I am not considered an accelerated instructor, but I am known for working a student 60 minutes out of every hour we are together. I do not do this solely for the money, but I do require payment.

I do not fly their airplanes, but teach them to fly them better – how to handle the speed and how to prepare and react to the ATC system that will allow them the freedom to go anywhere in the world. Most of these pilots want to be very good at this endeavor because it is not a game, but a business tool – a tool they need to learn how to use it wisely. We both agree on this in the initial meeting along with several other goals, or we go our separate ways. A parting of the ways is seldom due to my fee. It is usually a disagreement as to exactly where they are in their piloting skills, and how much time they really need to spend with an instructor. I never lose these arguments.

If the costs keep rising and the requirements get tougher, these business professionals may be the only ones flying in the future, so we need to make some mental adjustments to the way they prefer to get things done, or they will get someone else to do their training. Most of the negative comments about them come from envy of what they can afford to fly, which is sometimes true in my case. On the other hand, I am happy when chosen to work with a new buyer of something I will never be able to afford. I get to fly in more new aircraft than a test pilot at the factory, and for this I am grateful.

Almost all of these pilots learn the same way; by doing, or “hands on.” They won’t give up any brain space for paperwork, conversation, or ground school, but they will get in that airplane and fly with an instructor at a moment’s notice until both are worn out. That is the way they learn, and it isn’t going to change. By learning this way, it doesn’t push any other information aside that they use to make a living. It is a good way, this “hands on,” but it takes time and energy on the part of both instructor and owner. Don’t waste their time or yours on “war stories,” certificates, awards, or other achievements in aviation. They are only interested in your ability to teach them the performance characteristics of the airplane, so no silly demonstrations, no funny stuff, nothing scary, and certainly nothing unsafe.

The percentage rate for making a successful conversion and becoming a better and safer pilot is very high, and the instructor gets a lot of undue credit for it. The transition pilots really do most of the work, and they realize, in most cases, that they have reached a level not many aspire to because it is a lot of work. I am personally proud when one of them completes an advanced rating or certificate, and usually ask them to go on to another step. It will benefit them as they go forward in aviation, and I also get to ride some more in their beautiful machines.

Not everyone succeeds at or makes any money being a flight instructor. As far as those titles, “Bonanza Killers” and the like, any mistake that a student makes, no matter the level, is ultimately the instructor’s fault for not pushing harder. If they can’t take the heat, kick them out of the kitchen at the initial meeting. Don’t waste their time and money if you are not both committed to the same end result.

Enjoy this type of training and this quality of student. There are not many of them now, but as the cost of flying goes up, so will their numbers. Get ready. They may be our only customers as the cost of flying continues going up . . . up . . . and away!

Jim Trusty was the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year (1997) and the first-ever Southern Region FAA Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year (1995). He appreciates your comments. You may call him at 615-758-8434, e-mail at, or write him at 103 Highland Drive, Old Hickory, TN 37138. A nationally published writer since 1973, he still works daily as a pilot/instructor.
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