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Training Tip: The Siren and the SphinxTraining Tip: The Siren and the Sphinx

One of our long-time local working pilots had a colorful way of griping about a colleague he would fly with when the need arose. The fellow was amiable, the pilot admitted, “but he can talk the ears off a cast-iron pot.”

A good instructor knows when to pipe down and let the learning happen. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Loquaciousness has limits before becoming lamentable in a companion. A cockpit’s confines compound the discomfort.

We all find ourselves captive to a chronic conversationalist on occasion, but if you fly regularly under rhetorical duress—possibly in your flight training—it’s a scenario in search of a solution.

And it’s not an uncommon complaint.

When the problem of overly verbal flight instructors came up in an online AOPA Hangar discussion, examples emerged of dilemmas pilots faced when dealing with distracting dialogues.

“My CFI is great but kind of talkative in a nagging way,” wrote a student pilot, narrating an account of a hectic flight during which the CFI’s constant critiquing hindered the student’s efforts to divide attention between multiple tasks, resulting in a sharp rebuke from air traffic control.

The writer concluded with a plea for help—or perhaps just empathy: “Any other students out there who have had similar experiences?”

One respondent related a most aggravating variation of the too-talkative-CFI problem, but also shared a silver lining: “My first CFI (many years ago out of KSMO) used to talk, tell jokes, hit me in the head with a pencil on final, sing loudly, etc. I learned two valuable lessons: 1. How to drown-out extraneous noise and distractions and focus on important tasks. 2. How to tell a passenger to shut the hell up.”

The silver lining—although controversial, based on past debates on CFI decorum—was this: “It turns out his behavior was quite intentional as it was a training method he had acquired in the military,” the commenter said, adding that the experience “has served me well both in my subsequent IFR flying and communicating with SoCal (especially over KVNY/KBUR).”

(While we love to receive your phone calls, emails, and social media posts, let’s go ahead and disclaim any inference that all military flight training weaponizes pencils, song, and humor.)

In a contrasting response, another commenter shared an instructor’s strict adherence to “sterile cockpit” procedures.

Whether the individual you fly with is a Siren or a Sphinx, after all is said, if it’s not working out, talk it out—but wait until you’re back on the ground.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Instructor, Flight Training, Student
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