Good InstructorsNothing gives me greater pleasure than to hear students say good things about instructors. At a recent aviation event, a student bragged about her CFI. "He's the best flight instructor I've ever had," she said. "How many have you had?" I asked.
"Oh, I've run through about five over the last six months," she replied. "Most drift away to other jobs."
Over the years I've made it a point to ask these students why they like their instructors so much. Here's a sample of their comments.
One of the more common reports goes something like this: "My instructor is very patient with me. He never yells, loses his temper, or gives me the impression I'm not smart enough to learn to fly."
Another comment reflects how CFIs show interest in students. One student said, "My instructor always gives me the impression that he's interested in me. He goes out of his way to make sure I comprehend the material and doesn't quit in frustration when I don't understand."
Finally, almost every student who compliments his CFI says this person is a good pilot. Granted, you don't have to be the base ace to appear good in the eyes of a student. But I suspect these students are actually saying they trust their CFI.
Trust, patience, and interest in their welfare are essential elements in a student's happiness with you as a flight instructor.
Know Your Airplane
There are some aircraft systems that pilots really need to know. Actually, we should know all the systems well. If the aircraft is a simple trainer, there isn't much to remember. If it's a complex monster, there's a lot of equipment to break and Murphy's law being what it is, it will sooner or later.
I was talking with an FAA friend the other day who voiced his concern about many pilots' seeming lack of knowledge about the hardware they fly. A recent incident involving an aircraft with an electric trim malfunction started the conversation. The pilot wound up fighting the trim and nearly losing the airplane because he was not familiar with the trim disconnect system. There are several ways to disable the trim, and you should be familiar with all of them.
As a CFI, perhaps instructing in multiple aircraft, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the specific aircraft systems that are time-critical. Do you know where the electric trim circuit breaker is? You won't have time to read the fine print, so it would be a good idea to color-code it with a trim ring, tape, or paint.
Some aircraft need fuel pumps to be on for takeoff, some need them off, and some need them armed. There are pumps with low and high positions. Each installation is unique, and getting the switch in the wrong place for takeoff results in bad things. The engine may flood and quit or starve and quit. Takeoff is not the place to learn that your system knowledge is a few bricks shy of a full load.
If the alternator fails, what are the indications? Some ammeters show the load on the system, while others show the rate of charge or discharge. What is the reset procedure? What if it doesn't work? How long will the battery last? Can you get the landing gear or flaps down? Is there a preferred way to shed the load?
On some older multiengine aircraft, understanding the fuel system requires a master plumber's certificate and an engineering degree. Pumps, auxiliary tanks, crossfeeds, locker tanks, header tanks, and valves without detents that turn both directions are all waiting to snare the ignorant pilot. There are malfunctions and configurations that make it impossible for all the fuel to be used, and if the fuel is used in the wrong sequence the flight might wind up short of the destination.
The most common area where system knowledge comes up short is in avionics. GPS receivers and even the basic nav/com now have new twists that require extra time to learn. Unless yours is the most basic of aircraft, more time must be devoted to learning the details. This shouldn't be a surprise; it's flying as it is today. If you are going to be the master of all you survey, then you'd better master the systems of your survey vehicle first.
Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
By Bruce Landsberg