CFI To CFI
A Day In The LifeAnother day at the flight school begins with low visibility and fog. I arrive there early in the morning but I look in vain for the tower that's lost in the low clouds. My first student is waiting for me.
We want to make a VFR cross-country, but a call to the flight service station ends the project five minutes later. "VFR not recommended." That's the briefer's advice, and we take her seriously. Enter Plan B; let's make it an IFR flight. Another call to the FSS. This time we receive another bit of information: "Embedded thunderstorms." We thank the briefer again and think for a moment. Hard IFR, with many chances to encounter a cumulonimbus on our path.
At least the go/no-go decision is easy. We tie down the airplane and go inside for a coffee and hangar flying. The late risers come to the airport, and soon there's a big group monitoring the ATIS, the radar images, and the charts. Nothing like a little weather to arouse interest in meteorology.
The morning goes by lazily, and I look for a nice place to study for my next checkride. It's almost noon when my student comes to tell me that the weather is just above minimums for a local flight. We need to rush. The ground frequency is alive with calls. Seven aircraft race for the hold-short line. The ground controllers politely advise us - the instructors - that they will not accept touch and goes for the next hour. It's nice to know, but I can't reply, because someone else is requesting a taxi clearance.
We depart to the south, and I marvel at the clouds that cover most of the sky. They are like boulders in the air, and they represent some very hard limits. Some of them just beg us to touch them, but I know that behind that little cloud may lurk another plane with the same idea. I discourage my students from doing anything that may lead to "close encounters of the worst kind," so we avoid the clouds and maintain VFR.
Soon we finish with the high work and it's time to go down to shoot touch and goes. Naples is closed to us unless we want to land, so we head for Marco Island Airport. I call on the unicom frequency, and I am met by the voices of three other instructors. For a few minutes, names replace call signs, and jokes break the monotony of the pattern.
One of the students will make her first solo today, and when her instructor announces this is a full stop, everybody has a word of encouragement.
She lifts off while we keep circling on our touch and goes. A red twin-engine flies over the airport at pattern altitude. I have to maneuver to avoid it and politely remind its pilot to use the frequency. Then I clear the area to make sure that it will not hit any of my friends, keeping my voice casual so I do not scare the solo student. Another pilot calls 10 miles inbound for touch and goes, and he is informed that there is a solo student pilot in the pattern along with three other airplanes that are pretty much giving way to her. The guy never calls back. The student's last landing is congratulated by everyone, and a few words of encouragement are said to the brave instructor who sat on the ground during the event.
Then a friendly voice comes on the radio and tells us that Naples doesn't look like it will stay VFR for much more than five minutes. We all fly to the airport in almost perfect formation. We report one after the other as the controller advises us that the field will go IFR shortly. In 10 minutes all the airplanes are on the ground. The last one in is the one with the solo student and her instructor.
There is joy when we meet on the ground and talk about this. Everybody wants to applaud the student. The field is now IFR, and a fine curtain of rain starts to fall.
More waiting for the next flight. It's just another day at the airport. Playing with clouds and sky - not a bad life.
Anibal Baranek learned to fly in a Piper Cub on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since then he has logged 1,500 hours, with more than a thousand as a CFI based in Naples, Florida. He currently lives in Buenos Aires.
By Anibal Baranek