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The University of North Dakota - Your First Part 141 Flight School Experience

It's only October 4th and the temperature outside is 33 degrees with a 20 degree wind chill. The wind gusts across airport at 15-20 knots as I enter the front door. That's North Dakota for you!

I was fortunate to visit the University of North Dakota and their aerospace programs recently. As a high school senior, college applications are piling up and it's time to start making decisions! UND has the country's largest collegiate flight training program, with over 120,000 hours of flight training occurring annually. Pilots here truly experience 4 seasons of flying. And with some of the harshest winter conditions in the United States, students at UND are prepared to handle the extreme cold and wind that might otherwise cancel your flight.

My CFI for the day was Erik Breault. Erik is a Junior at UND who entered the University with his private certificate already in-hand. He's one of the youngest CFIs at the school, a highly motivated and enthusiastic guy from upstate New York. It was a great experience flying with him. Thanks, Erik for showing me what UND Aviation is all about!

In this article, you'll learn what your first flight at a Part 141 school might look like. Coming from the Part 61 world (my local FBO, KOFP), I was overwhelmed stepping inside the doors of a much larger Part 141 school.

On The Ground

With dozens of airplanes and helicopters, UND's flight training school is BUSY. The Grand Forks International Airport (KGFK), where UND trains its pilots, had the country's 3rd busiest control tower this October by FAA statistics. UND flight operations is rarely quiet with its hundreds of students from the United States and abroad. Many international students are from Chinese and Saudi Arabian air carriers, who do contract training through UND.

Coming from a Part 61 operation, an often "do it yourself" environment, makes the whole experience a bit overwhelming but nonetheless exciting. With a fully loaded maintenance department, capable of nearly building the planes themselves, nothing goes unnoticed. Pilots fill out a report on the plane after each flight, including any issues that arose before, during, or after the flight. At an FBO, you decide how to fly and organize yourself. It's the complete opposite at a Part 141 school, where procedures govern nearly all of your flight actions. This isn't always an easy adjustment for students with previous flight experience - it takes some getting used to.

Airline-Style Procedures

Flight training at UND replicates that of airlines. There are procedures for nearly everything, from checking in and pre-flight, to aerial maneuvers, post-flight, and walking around the ramp. Flight students learn to use flows, which are airline-style checklists and procedures for aircraft operations. All of these procedures make sense considering that most UND pilots aspire to fly in airline settings. However, some students may find the training too rigid. In a way, you may feel like you're training out of a manual if you're coming from the Part 61 world. For me, I look forward to a more structured environment; I like the idea of training to the standards of airlines that I may fly for one day. Regardless of personal preference, this sort of structured training will in fact make the transition to a first airline cockpit much more simple for graduates.

Safety

The numerous procedures, maintenance, and regulations that students at UND handle create an extremely safe and structured environment. If you're like me, from a more local Part 61 operation, it's a little intimidating to imagine all of the procedures that you'll have to know thoroughly. After talking with a few UND students who had their private certificates upon arrival at the school, they confirmed that the transition was difficult. One student even told me that in taking the private pilot course nearly all of your old aviation knowledge is thrown out of the window. You immediately start learning standardized UND procedures. For instance, one regulation I learned was that on the ramp a taxi speed of 5 knots or below was required, but on an active taxiway, flight students could taxi at 15 knots and below. Subtle regulations like these are something that many Part 61 graduates would never imagine. These same regulations made me feel much more confident in the C172 that I was flying, knowing the amount of meticulous maintenance that goes into each and every plane. Well maintained and operated aircraft give me an important peace of mind when flying, making the whole experience much more enjoyable.

In The Air

The Grand Forks International Airport (KGFK) is a bustling environment for new pilots. With 2 sets of parallel runways and anything from a Fedex Airbus A310 (Yep-the A310, not the A300) to a UND Cessna 172 on final approach, you're forced to become an expert on the radios. It's not uncommon to find a few planes lined up for takeoff, 4 aircraft actively in the pattern (for each parallel runway), and helicopters landing and taking off in-between it all!

On top of that, many of the international students are just beginning to learn ICAO English, which can create some challenging radio situations filled with broken-English. This is perfect training for operations at larger airports, where you will encounter pilots flying in from other nations. As a CFI at UND, you might have one of the contract students from abroad; the language barrier can be pretty challenging. Imagine trying to explain an instrument approach procedure to a student that is learning the basics of English. Tough, right?

UND divides parcels of airspace to serve as practice areas for students. There are maximum amounts of aircraft allowed into each section, and you ask approval before entry to see if a slot is still available. Furthermore, all UND Aircraft are equipped with ADS-B live position reporting. So, when you're flying a Cessna 172 and look at your G1000 navigation display, you can see university, and other ADS-B equipped, aircraft with heading and altitude information.

On our flight, we flew over Grand Forks towards a Northeast practice area. Once over the practice area, I did some steep turns and other aerial maneuvers. We took the plane up to about 6,000 feet, above a thin layer of clouds. Erik showed me the basics of how their glass cockpit works (Garmin 1000 displays). It felt great to be flying in a Cessna 172 that was so sophisticated.

After some more flying around the practice area, we returned to Grand Forks, entered the pattern, and did 3 stop-and-go landings on Runway 35R. At the time, winds were gusting anywhere from 15-20 knots (about a 12 knot crosswind on 35R). Below is a video of our last landing:

Post Flight

Collegiate aviation isn't for everyone. The rigid training structure can be a big hurdle for those students coming in from Part 61 schools. That said, the amount and quality of training are immense at places like UND. If you're looking for an environment that will replicate the airline you could fly for one day, a Part 141 university program like this might be for you.

Thanks to the University of North Dakota for making my college visit a great one. It was helpful to experience Part 141 training for the first time. To read more about my visit to the University of North Dakota, Click Here.

Is Part 141 training for you? How would you like to attend a university with a large flight school? Tell us in the comments below.


Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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