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Flying with ‘Crystal’ and ‘Leonard’

Cathy Frankel assists student pilot, Eric Depner with a weight and balance assignment. Photo by Niki Britton.

“Learn to Fly was born out of my move [to Kingman] to take care of my mom when she was terminally ill…I realized there was no learning institution for aviation at all in the entire tri-state area…The community was just so welcoming, and they encouraged me to do it and I haven’t regretted it since.”

When choosing a flight training program for students, Frankel said, “I really felt like students need something to see, to help them evaluate how they’re progressing through their program.” That’s when she discovered the AOPA Flight Training Advantage (AFTA) web portal- and iPad-based training curriculum. “As soon as I saw AFTA, I knew it was the right program.”

What makes AFTA different than other flight training programs, is that it adapts to each individual student’s progress and creates customized lesson plans, helping instructors and students know exactly where they are during their training.

“In a structured environment like an accelerated program or a university program where they have an outline that you have to follow,” Frankel explained, “a lot of schools and independent instructors don’t have that, they have to kind of create their own thing. So AFTA allows you to create structure where there normally isn’t for the independent instructor or small flight school. It allows structure in an unstructured environment.”

Cathy Frankel uses the AOPA Flight Training Advantage app before a flight lesson with student pilot, Eric Depner. Photo by Niki Britton.

Frankel started off giving lessons in her beloved Cessna 150, affectionately named Crystal. Running the only flight school in the area, Frankel quickly realized that one airplane could no longer sustain her growing student roster. With Crystal down for maintenance, Learn to Fly expanded its fleet with a yellow Cessna 172 Frankel named Leonard.

With the ability to take on more students, Frankel said AFTA has been invaluable. “As an instructor, it’s helped me to focus on what I need to evaluate for my students, how to give them measurable goals and objectives and feedback for how they’re doing and how to move forward from that point. It also helps me remember what we talked about last…as an independent instructor you have several students you might not remember what you talked to that student about last…so it allows me to record [what I talked to them about], go back and review it, and start from that point forward.”

Cathy Frankel and student pilot, Eric Depner prepare for a lesson in Learn to Fly's Cessna 172, 'Leonard'. Photo by Niki Britton.

Eric Depner, a student pilot at Learn to Fly, is working toward his goal of earning his private pilot certificate by the end of summer. He flies three times per week and says he likes how AFTA allows him to prepare for and debrief each lesson and stay organized.

“Before any lesson…my instructor can put maneuvers that we’re going to practice, and then I can study those maneuvers. They’ll have little videos or readings for me to do that allow me to help study and practice for those maneuvers for the next lesson.

“After every flight, she gives you a little grade, and you can look at that within the…standards to see if you’re going to pass your practical or not…It allows students to be more in line with their instructors and the communication is really good in-between the instructor and the student.”

For other CFIs and flight school owners considering a new [training program], Frankel said, “You don’t know it, but you need this. Try it, you will love it, you will not regret it.”

As Learn to Fly grows, Frankel hopes to hire more flight instructors, continue expanding the school’s fleet, and eventually make Learn to Fly self-sufficient so that she can pursue the airlines and continue to run the school. “The students are amazing! Helping people reach their goals and seeing how they light up when they achieve something…there’s nothing else that compares to it, it’s amazing, I really love it.”

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