I get messages almost daily asking what I’ve thought about my experience at the University of North Dakota, so I figured it’d be helpful to write a little overview of my experience so far.

I chose UND because I wanted to combine a normal college experience, affordability, and a large/reputable collegiate aviation program. Grand Forks is a relatively small city, so that’s been a change for me, and North Dakota isn’t on the top of my list for favorite states. In fact, I really don’t like the snow and cold. That said, I don’t regret coming to UND for a minute and Grand Forks has become my home. As with anything, there are ups and downs, but those will be found anywhere you go. So here’s what it’s been like for me so far…

My flying at UND began with an Aviation (AVIT) 112 transition course to integrate my already held private pilot’s certificate into the UND training environment.  My class of entering private pilot freshmen participated in a test course which combined AVIT 102/112 (the private pilot ground school and flight course) with AVIT 221 (an instrument flying course and ground school). AVIT 102/112 was taught for the first 8 weeks of the fall semester, with accelerated AVIT 221 in the last half of the semester.

This new course allowed us to combine two accelerated courses into one semester, which ended up working really well! It was a lot of work and time, with tests in ground school classes nearly every week and flight training labs up to 6 times per week. Overall though, the experience was a good one. But not everything is easy to deal with at UND, especially when transitioning to a highly outlined Part 141 training environment, which was something completely different from the Part 61 training that I had been used to.

The following spring, I finished up instrument training in AVIT 222, a course culminating in an instrument stage check (just like an instrument checkride)… The only difference being that I didn’t actually receive my instrument rating until completing the full training course outline (TCO) for UND’s commercial syllabus. The commercial syllabus combines instrument, commercial, and multi-engine flying into 4 semester-long courses. Unlike many other schools, after completing instrument training and commercial training, you don’t receive a new rating or certificate. Since checkrides are done in-house by UND stage pilots, you only receive a new certificate at the end of the TCO (an instrument, multi-engine, commercial certificate).

Don’t worry though, this only applies to the commercial TCO. If you’re taking Private Pilot, CFI, etc., you’ll receive new certificates right at the end of your course.

I took an extra semester of flying during the first six weeks of summer following the end of freshman year. It was an intense six weeks, with enrollment in AVIT 323 (aerodynamics) and AVIT 324 (aircraft systems)… Not to mention finishing up the commercial flight course!

During the fall of 2016, I flew Piper Seminoles for multi-engine training. Upon completion of that course and a final checkride, I became a commercially licensed pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings.

Here are some pros and cons to Part 141 flying that I’ve discovered from my experience so far. (Remember, these are just my experiences and don’t necessarily reflect the experiences of every flight student)


  • Highly structured: I know what to prepare and study for each and every flight lesson
  • The aircraft are extremely well maintained
  • G1000 glass cockpit flying
  • UND is currently replacing it’s fleet with brand new Piper Archers. With these new planes, the wind limit will increase to 30 knots, from a previous 25 knot limit (that’ll make a huge difference, with less flights cancelled for high winds)
  • With a flexible instructor, I can get flights done as quickly as I want
  • Learning airline-style flow checklists (memorizing certain checklists fully and then verifying checklists once complete)
  • Flying in a highly congested traffic area is great practice (GFK has a control tower busier than Seattle and Orlando)
  • Largest civilian flight training fleet in North America (Over 100 airplanes, helicopters, and UAVs in Grand Forks alone)
  • We fly in some of the harshest conditions in the United States and have 4 full seasons, so my skills improved and I’ve become comfortable flying in wind near the edges of aircraft performance
  • Ground and flight training is much more in-depth than what you’ll find at many FBOs
  • Training is very checkride focused, meaning you won’t waste expensive flight time on much besides directly preparing to pass checkride requirements
  • I’ve met dozens of lifelong friends through the aviation program who are just as excited about flying as I am
  • Following graduation, UND has a great industry reputation and some of the best professional pilot cadet/pathway programs to numerous airlines and corporate flight departments


  • Highly structured: It feels like many decisions are made for me at UND (Safety Policies and Procedures dictate much of your decision making and flying)
  • I sometimes feel like just a number – There are hundreds of other flight students
  • No matter how comfortable I am with the material, I can only progress as quickly as the training course outline and lesson plans allow me to
  • Every lesson has specific tasks that you have to complete satisfactorily, sort of like a miniature checkride on each flight
  • Airline style-flow checklists can seem excessive in a small Cessna 172
  • You can’t film or photograph your flying like you can outside of UND, or upload it to social media… There are times when it’s allowed, but it’s regulated by our safety policies
  • Weather in North Dakota can be pretty nasty, with strong winds, snow, and cold, especially in November (hence the name “no-fly November)
  • The worst winter temperatures can reach into the -30s with a wind chill of -50 or worse. The worst wind-chill I’ve had to preflight in so far was around -25
  • Wind limits will ground or cancel flights a lot, even when it’s gusting just 1 knot over limits
  • Essentially none of my Part 61 experience applies at a Part 141 school – I have to complete each and every lesson requirement at UND to get ratings and certificates from the school
  • Lack of instructors – Flight schools all around the country are struggling to find flight instructors, and UND is no exception to the problem

In the end everything is a trade off. There are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to flying at UND, but with the right attitude and expectations I adapted pretty quickly. And to get some flying time outside of the highly regulated UND training environment, I take every opportunity I can to fly around with friends in rented, leased, or privately owned aircraft:

If you couldn’t tell from that video, my favorite part of the University of North Dakota BY FAR has been the friends I’ve made along the way. Sure, flying is a huge part of who I am, but the connections I’ve made with pilots and non-pilots alike at UND will be the greatest take-away from my experience here. Being in a place where there are hundreds of pilots your age, all living together, is something special and can only be found at a few spots in the world. Getting involved with aviation student organizations on campus like EAA Chapter 1342 has given me the opportunity to pay it forward a little bit by participating in Young Eagles Rally:

Oh yeah, and an aerial Chipotle delivery trip on the weekend is another fun thing we’ve been up to recently…

UND isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad I found the right place for me. Email me if you have any questions at swaynem13@gmail.com


About The Author

If you want to become a pilot, I want to make your journey just a little easier. I'm a First Officer for Envoy Air, one of the largest regional airlines in the world, and have partnered with industry leaders like the U.S. Air Force to teach about various aviation careers. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

10 Responses

  1. Nick

    When you take your wonderful videos, how do you attach the camera (Go-Pro-like I suppose) to the airframe? Also, can you give an example of the cockpit checklist difference for Part 141 in say a C172 vs. Part 61? Just interested. Do they allow you to try a landing during a lesson with high crosswind component and what technique do you prefer, crab, bank, combination, or something new?

  2. David

    Great read and outstanding flight footage! I’m a Flight Science major myself and I very heavily considered attending UND, very cool to hear about the program from an active students position! I am currently attending Western Michigan University and loving every minute of it; flight students know how to live!
    Perhaps i’ll see you in the industry some day; clear skies!

    • Swayne Martin

      It’s because there have been a few instances of student’s trying to adjust cameras while flying solo, not paying attention outside of the cockpit, or doing something dumb while flying “for the photo.” It’s not 100% restricted. You can’t do it while solo, and if you’re with an instructor you can record in a non-critical phase of flight as long as you’re not the pilot-flying.

  3. Syed Hasan Danish

    I am currently doing my A Levels in Pakistan. I had like to know what subject courses I need to study to become a professional commercial pilot? Also I would like to know that are glasses (not talking about sunglasses), are they allowed for a pilot?

    I review your web daily, great articles you have posted out there.


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