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Professionally Speaking

An Instructor's Bark

A few issues back I wrote about my old flight instructor, Dick Branick. It was a complimentary article, but it drew criticism in the form of a letter to the editor.

In the original column, I mentioned that Branick delighted in catching my many in-flight errors, then chastising me sharply and sarcastically for same. That is true. Branick did indeed do that. But this reader took high exception to that technique in his letter, calling such behavior "esteem shattering." He further said that criticism by a CFI should always be "with respect and compassion - never in a demeaning manner."


First, I must say that this reader's criticism of Branick seems to show neither respect nor compassion and appears to be a tad demeaning. That said, let me be quick to say that I agree - in general - with just about everything the good reader said. I, too, abhor the overly critical CFI.

On the other hand, my relationship with Branick was not "in general." I should have mentioned in my column that Branick and I worked for the same company in different departments. We recognized, respected, and admired each other's knowledge and capability. We were equals in the company, our wives were friends, and we socialized together. Frankly, neither of us was capable of demeaning the other. Also, I went to Dick for advanced ratings, not primary training.

Dick Branick and I did enjoy - and still do - a type of aggressively sarcastic relationship. We argue about everything, and we enjoy the argument. (Dick is now a rocket engineer working under a contract with NASA, so I avoid scientific arguments. Anything else is fair game.)

Dick didn't treat his primary students the way he treated me, but he did make a delightful game out of trying to do things right. As I remember it, he chortled at a mistake only when the student could chortle along with him.

Both Dick and I dislike CFIs who take the fun out of learning. In fact, I remember my first lesson. The CFI told me to taxi without telling me how, then made me feel stupid for not knowing that steering is done with the feet. I never took another lesson from him.

I had a friend who, believe it or not, owned a carnival. He bought a Piper Cherokee and learned to fly in it. His CFI was a mature adult who got along well with my friend - let's call him Joe. One day the CFI was out, and they put Joe with a young CFI who, as Joe told it to me, "started hollering at me before we even got to the runway. He didn't even like the way I got into the airplane, and it was my damned airplane!"

After the lesson, Joe asked the young CFI if he could hire him for eight hours the next day at double his normal pay. "Sure," said the CFI. "We're going to spend the day setting up a Ferris wheel in a parking lot," said Joe. "But," said the CFI, "I don't know anything about setting up a Ferris wheel." "I do," said Joe. "And I'm gonna holler at you all day long."

By Ralph Hood

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