A nonprofit general aviation advocacy group has named Fort Myers’ Page Field-based Paragon Flight Training the best flight school in the country.
More than 1,400 schools asked their past and present students to fill out an extensive online survey created by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. That formed the basis for Paragon earning AOPA’s third annual Flight Training Excellence Award.
Paragon’s prowess at keeping students happily engaged in their lessons was recognized in the February edition of AOPA’s Pilot magazine, with a more-detailed account in the association’s Flight Training publication.
Co-owners Jeffrey Wolf and Chris Schoensee credit their success to:
•Recruiting the best instructors they can.
•Using a detailed course outline with numbered lessons to show students how they’re progressing; and
•Organizing such extracurricular events as fly-outs to the Bahamas and aviation-themed movie nights in the school hangar.
” Our quarterly events create a sense of community. Pilots get to know each other. Allof these events sell-out within 48 hours,” Wolf said.
He reflected on how the school’s course outline or syllabus keeps students on track. Survey-based AOPA research shows people quit flight instruction mainly because “they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Wolf said, adding:
“But if I can tell them you’re on Lesson 10 of 25, they know exactly where they are at.”
Also, a Paragon-developed guide breaks down each flight maneuver into smaller steps, which they study before attempting in a cockpit with the instructor.
With this uniformity, “they can go to a different instructor (at Paragon) and be taught exactly the same way,” Wolf said.
Still, sometimes a student clicks better with one instructor than another. Instructor-swapping isn’t discouraged or taken personally, Wolf said.
Paragon has students ranging from about age 8 into their 70s. However, Wolf estimates “the bulk” are age 35 to 55. About 60 percent of them are male.
National research shows most students need 50 to 70 hours of instruction before attaining certification as private pilots.
Depending on the training aircraft and instruction hours, the cost works out to anywhere between $10,000 and $14,000 at Paragon Flight Training.
“People have this misconception that they must pay it all up front, but it’s pay as you go,” Wolf said. He knows first-hand:
While in high school, “I worked as a bus boy and paid for one lesson a week,” said Wolf, who’s 29 and a graduate of Fort Myers High and Jacksonville University.
Another misconception some people have is that learning to fly is extremely difficult.
To be sure, it requires study, “but I don’t think I ever had anybody quit because they just didn’t get it,” Wolf said.
Paragon works to retain students who earn the pilot certificate, encouraging them to train for the instrument rating. That generally takes another six months to a year of study and practice.
Thirty-three-year-old businessman Doug Daubmann is working on the instrument rating, after “graduating” Paragon in December.
“I thought there would be a lot of boring classroom stuff,” Daubmann said, “but they have an online ground school course you can take at night, at your leisure.”
Daubmann is CEO of the D3 Glass manufacturing plant in south Fort Myers and My Shower Door, which has locations throughout South Florida and beyond.
He said he’s “having a blast” flying, and has used it in his business, recently flying himself and a sales manager to the Tampa-Clearwater area to see a couple of customers.
The trip out of Page took about 45 minutes, Daubmann said, adding: “There happened to be a traffic jam on I-75.”
AT A GLANCE
Name: Paragon Flight Training
Address: 511 Danley Drive, Fort Myers
Airport: Page Field (KFMY)
Instructors: 12, all full time
Fleet: Eight aircraft, including Cessna 172s, a Cessna 206, a Cessna Corvallis and a Tecnam P2006T
Services include: Flight instruction, sightseeing tours, charter flights, aircraft rental, aerial photography flights, FAA-approved Computer-Assisted Testing Service