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What to expect from your CTP Course

A quick preview:

The process of transitioning from a time building pilot to an airline pilot can be confusing. If you find it difficult to navigate through the google searches cluttered with ads and personal opinions of "that guy you met, that one time, who knew someone who's brother is going to flight school", I can relate.

Take a breath because I'm here to share what I've learned.

Many times, the multi-step certification process is blanketly referred to as "getting your ATP". Below are the steps, in timeline order, that you will need to go through to achieve airline pilot status.

  1. Meet the minimum required hours (this can differ depending on restrictions)

  2. Complete the CTP course (some airlines will pay for/ send you to this)

  3. Complete the FAA written exam (at the end of your CTP course)

  4. Complete required flight training in the form of ground school and sims

  5. Take FAA check ride consisting of Oral and Practical portion (usually a company specific examiner)

Now back to our featured program:

The CTP course (step 2 above) is an FAA approved pre-requisite for the FAA written exam. The written exam must be achieved before beginning flight training for your ATP and eventually taking your check ride. Most regional/low cost airlines will send their new hires to a CTP course of their choosing and many will pay for that course.

* You can choose to take this course on your own and prior to obtaining your necessary flight hours. If you do so, you pick the location and will pay out of pocket. The written exam, taken at the end of the course, will expire 60 months from the date taken.

My personal opinion? Focus on getting your hours. The night and cross country will be the hardest to finish up, and let the airline pay for the rest. I'm already treading water in flight school loans. When I've made it this far, I'm only interested in companies willing to help me achieve financial freedom. With the current pilot shortage, many companies make this part of their new hire process, so remember that when selecting your first airline.

My experience:

* I promise to never sugar coat things for you. So buckle up. This program is not first class flying.

Originally, my ATP class date was the beginning of this year. A back injury quickly pushed that date back about 3 months and left me scrambling for hours until the day before I left.

Crammed into the bucket seat of a DA20, with ice packs strapped to my lower back to make it through the day and regular visits to the physical therapist, I left for my CTP course with just over 1475 hrs and a few cortisone shots for good luck.

I was counting on the simulator hours I'd get during the CTP as well as my airline's flight training to finish getting my 1500hrs.

The CTP course itself was just under 3 weeks long. I was sent to a training facility in Dallas Texas. The training center itself was clean, well organized, and efficient. The staff were polite and helpful.

The hotel our regional airline put us up... not so much.

The dingy, budget hotel smelled like mold and had tiny ants running around the floors. I'd dry off from the shower, only to step outside and get soaked in humidity, or was it sweat? But hey, it was free.

A short 1 mile walk under interstate overpasses lead to the closest entertainment, I mean grocery store, Walmart. I stocked up on salad kits and premade smoothies. After the frozen dinners got old, I began to overspend through door-dashing dinner every night.

My free time at the hotel was split between the little closet of a gym, that was the only room in the building without working ac, and "exploring" those interstates just to get some sunshine.

I known. I know... first world problems. I just want to prepare you, it's not glamourous.

The first part of the CTP course consisted of ground school. The room was large, holding over 80 future airline pilots. Class was every day, 7 days a week, for 6-8 hrs a day. In that group, maybe 10 of us were women.

The classroom material:

I did not attend an aviation college nor did I dig into aviation history prior to making it this far in my career. The biggest surprise of the CTP for me, was the amount of accidents we watched and discussed.

I found the analyzing of previous airline accidents insightful. But, I can't lie to you, after watching multiple crashes, most deadly, every day for 2 weeks straight, I was nervous to fly a jet. I was more than nervous, I was scared.

I called up my boyfriend at the time in tears. He was my one connection to the airline world, coming from a family of aviators. I was terrified to touch the rudder pedals in a jet and even more afraid the auto pilot would overpower me and take over, like a renegade from IRobot sent to bring us humans to our doom.

It took a solid hour to calm me down.

While my confidant had trouble understanding my mild panic, he listened and that's what I needed. My recommendation? Find yourself a confidant. Find someone you can ugly cry to and admit when you're scared or insecure. You're fooling yourself if you think you'll never feel those emotions. The ones that face and overcome those emotions become more aware, well rounded pilots. Plus, it's healthy to have a supportive avenue to vent to and game plan with.

What was my game plan? We talked through each accident, looking at what went wrong and specifically what I would do differently.

I saw that I already possessed what was needed to get myself out of half those situations, common sense. The other half could be mitigated with attention to detail through holding myself to high standards in training.

The instructors:

Some of the instructors were hilarious, sharing stories from their glory days and providing tips on how to act like a captain no matter which seat you occupy. Some provided real life examples of dangerous situations they found themselves in and what they'd do differently if they could. Overall, I learned the most from the soap boxes and guest lecturers.

One particular instructor walked around introducing himself to all the men asking their names and where they came from. When he walked in front of me, he simply turned to the guy I was sitting next to and exclaimed, "Man the women are trying to take over aren't they?" I laughed, assuming he was trying to be funny. He looked at me disgusted and walked on, continuing to introduce himself to the rest of the men.

The other instructors were better, if you don't mind the occasional jokes about how the best feature of the pop out trays in the cockpit is that they can "easily hold 130 lbs" or the serious lecture warning the group to be smart about who they allow into their rooms on layovers because "women like to talk."

I was floored in those moments. I went back to that humidity filled hotel from hell those first few nights furious.

What got me through?

I reminded myself, the course is taught by pilots from generations before me, who are only here because they've aged out. It is not my job to teach an old dog new tricks. It was not my mission to help them understand how an industry can change or the positive aspects of that change.

But, it was my job to observe and learn from them. I began to think of class as a lesson in determination. If I could center myself to, not only listen to what these instructors had to say, but to read something between the lines of their stories, I could imagine myself handling stressful situations with poise in the air.

Part of our strength as women comes from the constant adversity we face. Even when you feel overwhelmed, hold onto the knowledge that you've already overcome so much. If you've made it this far, you're part of the freaking 7%. Hold your head up high.




Ok, ok, I'll jump off my high horse so we can move on.

Here is a short list of the little things to help you get comfortable during ground school.

Pro tips:

  • Bring a sweater, they kept it at a comfortable 65 degrees in the classroom at all times.

  • Stock up on easy lunch options at the nearest store and bring it with you each day. The service the company utilizes is not healthy and is equally as expensive as door dashing.

  • The coffee there is free and descent, so bring your favorite mug... you'll live off of this stuff.

  • You can bring a notepad if you'd like (I did) but I found myself doodling more than writing much down. This course is story telling style. The real learning comes from the SIMS.

  • Excuse yourself as needed to use the bathroom or simply walk into the hallway to stretch. (I came in with back pain and would go to the restroom every hours just to stretch and pop my back. It's not worth it to sit uncomfortable all day.)

  • Make friends with those sitting around you. Even if they're not in your company or on the same plane as you, aviation is a small industry and it's good to know people going through this career at the same point in their journey as you.

  • Remember this course is temporary. It's a prerequisite and not graded. Keep your priority on studying for the written test at the end. That's all you need to succeed.

If you're unsure what to wear during this training, below is a typical outfit I wore throughout this course. I was overdressed compared to most but comfortable.

The second part of the CTP course was roughly 10 hrs worth of full motion simulators.

This part was my favorite!

While the SIMS in the course are full motion and will count towards your total time if you choose to log them, they are not graded. I was partnered with someone going to a low cost carrier with previous jet time. We were lucky enough to be placed in an A320 sim the entirety of the course and got to experience auto throttles and some advanced technology that I probably won't see again for at least a year.

I wasn't sure what the instructors expected from me, so I fell back on what my Air Force Instruction training taught me: follow checklists quickly and precisely, communicate succinctly, and when in doubt, aviate, navigate, communicate.

I answered all the questions, and was wrong at least half of the time. I've never been one to limit my own learning because I was scared to be wrong, but boy was it ever a transition from my world to the big leagues.

Be prepared to be wrong... A lot.

From my experience, the SIM instructors wanted to see us try. They were less interested in us "getting it right" and more interested in how we press on when we're faced with failure.

What I wasn't good at:

  • Taxiing: holy puke and motion sickness, bring gum!

  • Knowing how to set up an FMS: at this point, I didn't even know what it was called.

  • How to work the auto pilot: you mean I have to trust a machine?

  • Flaring 30' above the ground: call me a gardener because I planted those landings.

What I did well:

  • Unusual attitude recoveries: I went first and the instructor used my technique of rolling into the attitude as an example when correcting my SIM partner's nose high recovery.

  • Communication: KISS and listen up to ATC (the instructor).

  • Checklist usage: don't rush through, monkey read, monkey do, nothing more to it.

  • Terrain and collision avoidance: when your hair starts standing up, react right away.

  • Scenario based hypotheticals: sometimes the most obvious solution is what works.

Wrapping up your CTP

The written test was the last day of the CTP course and was just like every other FAA written exam you've ever taken.

My technique:

1. Go through the entire test quickly, answering only the ones you know instantly, without having to look at the image attached. It's strictly route memory first.

2. Go back to the beginning, skip the ones you've already answered and make a list of the ones with images. Try each one with an image and see if you know any more quickly just by looking at the picture.

3. Now take your time and go through what is left. After you've trusted your memory to get your through most of the questions, you can overthink and dig deeper into what's left.

4. Go back through each question and ,make sure you like your answers and haven't skipped any. BE CAREFUL, if you're thinking of changing one of your answers from step 1 or 2, chances are, your first instinct was right. When in doubt, I kept my first answer.

After taking the exam, you'll go straight to reception who will provide you with your score and certificate instantly.

Be sure to ask for a list of your SIMs and instructors printed out. I brought this with me to my check ride because I was counting these hours towards my total.

I'll leave you with a quote from my favorite SIM instructor.

After a day full of emergency drills and unusual attitudes, he was urging me to speak louder. He was encouraging me to trust my instincts and command the cockpit when I spoke.

What he could never have foreseen, was how his words carried me through the struggles at airline training that were coming next and into my OE flights.

His words gave me the confidence to press on and I may or may not have reminded myself of these words in tears, full superman pose in the mirror a time or two.

I hope they speak to you the way they did for me.

"'Don't you ever forget, most men in this industry are terrified of women. You have power here. Don't be afraid to use it."

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1 Comment

Sep 13, 2023

Fantastic article, thanks for sharing your experience. Keep getting after it. Looking forward to your next post about part 121.

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