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Instructor Tips

So You Want To Be A Flight Instructor

Many young people are beginning their pilot careers by way of the flight instructor certificate. Most are looking ahead to a job with a major airline. Since the cost of building the necessary total flight time to be considered by an airline is prohibitive, flight instructing provides the journeyman period.

The technical information, regulations, and procedures to be absorbed in order to pass the CFI checkride, and later be a resource for your student, are extensive. Instructing technical subjects, including principles of flight, aircraft systems, and FAA regulations, is required. Because of their previous experience, most pilots are not mechanics or engineers, and many young pilots have little experience in presenting technical material. Therefore considerable time is usually taken up with ground instruction and study.

The CFI must have a genuine interest in the student, and high standards should be instilled in students. The student tends to imitate his or her instructor. Students may not remember all they are taught, but they will certainly remember how the CFI handles situations. That one shortcut the CFI makes will be remembered and repeated by the student. Reading the minds of students, searching for teaching opportunities, and improvising to capitalize on the personality of the student-instructor team can be an art. The student is taught to recognize his own limitations. The CFI is sometimes required to recognize student stress resulting from outside sources and modify the training accordingly. The only way to assure that the student understands the maneuver is if he or she can teach it to you.

When considering a new CFI for hire, the chief instructor in a flight school looks at the whole person. What type of role model for students is this CFI? Appearance and speech reflect the instructor's character. Because of the critical nature of flying, instructors are held to a high level of conduct.

Student pilots come from all kinds of backgrounds. On a typical day at 8 a.m., the young student arrives and is ready to learn. At 10 a.m. the 50-year-old manager of finance, who never changed the battery of his car and now has lots of money to spend, shows up in his fine suit. At noon the guy who knows it all - and wants you to know that - shows up late in shorts, a T-shirt, and no shoes. At 2 p.m. (no lunch today) the person with no self-confidence is intent on proving that he can't do it. There's more, but you get the idea. The CFI has to adjust the teaching technique for each student.

Here are some typical examples where flight instructor judgment is tested.

Your young student pilot is a good pilot who easily picks up the cross-country details you taught her. She must complete the long cross-country soon so that she can complete the checkride and return to school by next week. She's ready today to go on the trip, and the weather is typical for the month of May - overcast in the morning and clearing to 5 to 8 miles in the afternoon. She gets a late start. The forecast for the route is clear except for scattered to broken clouds late in the afternoon at Santa Barbara.

Today is the first holding-pattern day in the airplane for your IFR student. You remember that he had difficulty with intersection entries in the simulator, and his first entry confirmed his simulator performance. Socal Approach is providing traffic advisories, and you are concentrating on the student's instrument and navigation performance. Is he on the proper heading for intercept? A shadow catches your attention and you look out at the tie-down rings of a Piper Warrior going by.

You soloed your primary student a week ago in a Cessna 152, and he did well. His flying is better than average. He now has three hours of solo in his logbook. Today he is to practice takeoffs and landings. While you're working in a briefing room with another student you hear that a Cessna has gone down on short final, probably because of wake turbulence. Did you really train all the wake turbulence situations?

You have a student who has more than 100 total hours and five hours' solo time with a previous CFI. He has been through four CFIs and a lot of money during his training. His performance is marginal, and you are not ready to let him go on his own. Where do you go from here?

You are checking out a renter pilot in the Bonanza. He's been a good customer in the past. You note in his logbook that he flies infrequently in a Bonanza, although he has 150 Bonanza hours and a total of 1,100 hours. On the first flight he is way behind the airplane. His age or recent experience may be a factor. He is planning to take his wife to Las Vegas in the airplane this weekend, and he has limited time for the aircraft checkout.

Techniques used during flight instruction are developed during the CFI's training. Knowing when to recognize and take over a deteriorating situation in time to save the aircraft and preserve the training environment is a technique developed during training.

Flight instructors have different ways of performing the same procedure, and while some feel that their way is the only way, there may be several correct ways to perform a maneuver. If individual instructors at the same flight school used different procedures to perform the same maneuver, the consistency that makes for an excellent flight school would be lost. If an instructor leaves and a new CFI takes on his student, or if the student is performing a stage check, how does the new CFI or the chief flight instructor know that the student is performing correctly? The only way is for procedures at the flight school to be consistent.

Who teaches the CFI candidate? The regulations require that the instructor have given at least 200 hours of instruction and have held his CFI ticket for at least two years. Since the flight experience requirements for the airline job in today's world usually are obtained within two years, most young instructors are gone before they can teach a CFI candidate, sometimes making it difficult for the CFI candidate to find an instructor.

Instructing a CFI candidate requires a significantly different approach from that used to teach a primary student. Typically the student pilot is new to the flight environment, and most ground instruction covered is new. The CFI student, however, already knows how to fly and has been exposed not only to the dynamics of flight but also the expanse of information required to be safe, proficient, and legal. Past experience in teaching CFIs indicates that flying the maneuvers during the training is the easiest part of the task. The most difficult part is absorbing the considerable information and then being able to convey that to another person. My experience indicates that some CFI students cannot teach others even when they know the information. In addition, although some CFI students have a natural ability to communicate, most young people today have little exposure to technical material.

The initial task is to determine where the CFI student is coming from. The student's education, personality, present job, or school requirements will determine how much of his or her time can be allocated to the task. All of these will help to influence how the instructor will proceed.

In my sampling of some 40 CFI students, completion of training has averaged 23 hours of flight and 27 hours of ground time. Most CFI students can't work full time, seven days a week in training, a fact that usually results in the instructing time being extended. They have other lives. The CFI student needs to be made aware beforehand of the commitment of time and effort required.

During training, a good bit of teaching practice is required. One method I have found that works very well is instructing two CFI students simultaneously both in flight and ground. Each then can practice teaching to the other and receive helpful comments.

Despite all the time and effort (and money) expended to perform as a CFI, the rewards are significant. Watching your first student solo and later being accepted by an airline are moments you never forget.

By Al German

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