What I Learned From A New CfiEvery now and then, I get to fly with a really excellent flight instructor. You know the type-makes the lesson fun, challenges you thoroughly, and leaves you with that great feeling of accomplishment when you're done-almost like winning a tough tennis game or completing a marathon. When the session's over you find yourself thinking, "That was tough, but I mastered it, and I'm feeling really good about myself as a pilot right now."
Often the CFI who gives such great lessons is an old pro-someone who's been flying and instructing for many years and knows all of the tricks. There's little doubt that experience adds to the value of an instructor, or of any pilot, for that matter. But at the same time, it's important to recognize that new CFIs can be highly skilled and professional, too.
When my flight review came due a couple of years ago, I telephoned the owner of the local flight school and asked if he'd be available to give me the review. I've flown and worked with Gary for quite a few years, and as a result know pretty much what to expect. So, like many other pilots, I've gotten in the habit of going back to the same instructor time after time.
But this time, Gary wanted to assign me to someone else. One reason was that his schedule was packed, but I quickly learned that he had something else up his sleeve, too.
"We've just hired a new CFI," Gary told me. "And since he trained elsewhere, I'm interested in informally assessing his performance. Would you consider taking your flight review from him, and sort of checking him out while he checks you out?"
"Well, that's certainly a new twist," I replied. "Of course I'll be happy to take my flight review with anyone you recommend." It did make me think, however, about how comfortable many of us become flying with the same CFI time after time.
"Great," said Gary, "I'll put you on the schedule with Jim. Try to avoid telling him you're a high-time pilot or CFI, if possible."
Although I was a little concerned about perhaps misleading this new instructor, I had to admit to myself that the experience sounded like fun, especially the idea of reliving a flight review as given to a private pilot, a position I hadn't been in for many years. Of course, I had no intention of lying to the fellow. I just decided that I wouldn't volunteer any information about my experience level except as asked.
When I showed up on the appointed day, Gary introduced me to Jim Pitman, a friendly young instructor with a warm smile and a firm handshake. I could tell right away that he was a nice guy, and that whatever transpired would probably be fun. That's a darned good start for any pilot's flight review, right?
"Come on over to the briefing room, and have a seat," said Jim. "Let's talk about what we need to accomplish today."
We sat down, and after some pleasantries designed to make his new student relax, Jim opened with a good question. "What sort of flying do you do?" he asked.
"I'm a pretty active pilot," I replied, "fly quite a bit locally, and also enjoy cross-country flying."
"Well let me have a look at your logbook," said Jim, "to get an idea of your experience level and what we might want to work on together."
"The jig is up," I thought to myself, as I handed Jim my well-worn oversized professional pilot logbook. I was already impressed that this instructor was taking time to assess my experience and background so he could design the flight review to address my needs.
"Hey," said Jim upon opening my log, "You've got a ton of flight experience-wish this was my logbook!"
With that I became concerned for a moment that Jim might defer to my greater experience during the flight review and give me something less than the honest workout I deserved. But I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Obviously, you're a very experienced pilot," said Jim. "Of course you know we'll need to review Part 91 as part of your required ground instruction, plus I've prepared a list of questions to discuss at flight reviews. You'll probably know most of the answers, but even for experienced pilots review is a good thing."
"That'll be great," I said, impressed with the young man's confidence.
"When we get to the airplane," Jim told me, "we're going to run through representative maneuvers from the practical test standards. Again, I suspect from your logbook that you're already pretty good at these things, but I figure with flight reviews coming around only once every two years it's always wise to run through everything and work out any problem areas."
"Wow," I found myself thinking, "This guy is sharp!" But the best was yet to come.
"Listen, Greg," said Jim, "Every pilot, no matter how experienced, has things they get rusty at. Along with completing the basic review, what else would you like to work on today that would be of particular value to you in your flying?"
This, of course, is a marvelous question for opening any flight review, and one that few CFIs think to ask. Most pilots will tell you right up front the areas where they need work, if only given the chance. I think Jim knew he'd earned my respect when at that moment I furrowed my brow and, like a parishioner at confession, opened my heart and spilled the areas of concern to me.
"To tell the truth," I said, "there are several areas where I could use some help. One is a ground instruction topic-I get most of my weather briefings over the phone, and being an old dog I'm still not very comfortable with reading the recently-introduced [at that time] METAR/TAF printed weather format. Do you think we could spend a few minutes reading weather reports?" I asked.
"You bet," answered Jim. "We'll print out some reports and go over them together."
"As for flying skills," I told him, "of course I'd like to complete whatever maneuvers you normally require at a flight review, but could we include some chandelles and lazy eights? I haven't done either of those 'by the book' for some time, and would like to remember how to do them correctly next time they come up."
"Sure," answered Jim. "We can do that. In fact that sounds like fun."
I could tell he was sincere, and found myself delighted at the thought of reviewing several areas where I no longer felt particularly confident, especially with someone freshly trained in how to do them right.
I probably don't need to tell you much more about my flight review, as I suspect you've already figured out how it went. Jim was as professional in the airplane as he was in the classroom, and we covered his own checklist of topics and maneuvers, plus the topics I'd mentioned.
In my opinion, Jim covered the spirit and intent of the regulations, plus a whole lot more. He gave me a thorough and rewarding workout that left me feeling good about my aeronautical knowledge and piloting skills when we were finished.
Jim closed our session with one last telling question that really showed what kind of pilot and CFI he is.
"Say," the young instructor said, as he reviewed my certificates and filled out my logbook, "I didn't notice before that you're a flight instructor?and it looks like you've been doing it for a long time. Any instructing pointers you can give me, now that we're finished?"
Even with his excellent skills, this instructor was interested in honing his own performance. No wonder he was so good.
"Nope," I answered sincerely. "You are one of the best instructors I've flown with." I then proceeded to tell him the reasons why: how he took time to set me at ease when we met; how he sized up my experience before launching into the review; how he asked me about areas where I needed work so we could address them; and finally, the way he didn't let my thicker logbook deter him from doing a professional and thorough job.
If this fellow had any doubts about my sincerity at the time, he doesn't any longer-Jim is among the first CFIs I call when I need instruction or need to refer anyone else, for that matter.
Experience is a valuable asset for doing a professional job of flight instructing, and even sharp people like Jim get better the longer they do it. But there's something unbeatable about the enthusiasm of a new flight instructor with the right degree of knowledge, professionalism, and skill.
Thanks to Jim for reminding me that you don't have to be a long-time flight instructor to be a pro. You just have to be dedicated and good at what you do, and take time to understand and address the specific needs of your individual students. All of us need to remember that, whether we've been CFIs forever, or just earned the certificate last week.
Just how new at the instructing game was Jim when he gave this flight review that impressed a 20-year instructor? Well, I was wondering too, so I asked him about it last week when I called for permission to use his name in this article.
"Gee, Greg," said Jim, "Didn't you know? Yours was the first flight review I ever gave."
By Greg Brown