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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Meet your instructor

There are two types of people: pilots, and everyone else. I take the massive second group and turn them into the elite first group. Not content with just a thin blue line, I launch people into the big blue sky long enough to let them launch themselves. And I have some fun along the way.

I'm the meat grinder that takes ground-bound people with a dream in on one side and produces aviators out the other side. Now let's get into what I had to do to have the privilege of doing so.

If you've picked an instructor, you might be wondering how they know all that cool stuff. Or, if you've got your license and are thinking of becoming an instructor yourself, you might be wondering what you have to do to pass on the wonders of flight to a new crop of pilots. Today's blog post will answer some of those questions.

To become a regular flight instructor (meaning not a Sport Pilot Instructor) in an airplane, here is a simplified list of the basic requirements per 61.181 in plain English:

  • Commercial or ATP pilot certificate
  • Instrument rating
  • 18 years old (which you had to be to get a commercial certificate anyway)
  • Pass the FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction) and FIA (Flight Instructor Airplane) written exams [Note: the FOI is waived if you already have a ground instructor certificate, and I'll get into more detail about the ground instructor certificate later in this post]
  • Get spin training (don't let this deter you--it's more fun than you might think!) and an endorsement saying you completed it
  • Get an endorsement saying you've been trained in the fundamentals of instructing
  • Get an endorsement saying you're prepared to take the checkride (just like you had to get an endorsement for your private and commercial checkrides)
  • Pass what will probably be the longest oral exam of your life and then the flight portion
If you're flying regularly, it will probably take 10 hours or less in the plane to learn the maneuvers from the right seat. After all, they're the same ones you did from the left seat to get your commercial certificate.

It took about an hour to do my spin training in a 172. We did five spins: the instructor demonstrated one to the left, I did one to the left, he demonstrated one to the right, I did one to the right, and then he had me pick which direction I wanted for the last one. The 172 is a lot harder to keep in a spin to the right than to the left, so I did my final one to the right. If you can get your spin training in a Tomahawk or an aerobatic plane or something that doesn't recover pretty much on its own like a 172 does, I'd highly recommend it. Even after spin training, I was still left wondering what would happen if one of my students got me into a spin in one of our light sports because doing spins in a 172 is almost like cheating: if you just let go of the controls it turns the spin into a dive. Eventually one of my students did get himself into an incipient spin during a power-on stall (that's why you don't try to pick up a wing with aileron--if you're close to the stall, pick the wing up with rudder!) and I was able to stop wondering. Turns out spin training wasn't just fun; it was useful. Its main utility was in letting me remain completely calm as the wing dropped sharply and the nose quickly pointed itself at the ground, because I'd seen worse. (I also learned that the CTLS also recovers as soon as you break the stall, just like a 172.) You don't get to do spins on your checkride unless you failed your checkide by getting into a spin, so enjoy it while you can.

If you want to continue on to the CFII, the instrument add-on probably won't take more than a few hours, especially if the flight school you're working with has trained CFII candidates before and have an idea what the examiner's series of approaches is likely to be. At ATP, I got 3 flights and then the checkride. The FAA reserves first crack at examining all CFI initial candidates, so it's likely you'll get an FAA inspector assigned by them when you first become an instructor. When you go for your instrument add-on, you are no longer an "initial", so you can use a regular DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) for that. You need either a CFI or an MEI before the CFII because your flight instructor certificate is a certificate of its own (it's your pilot's license number with "CFI" at the end of it) and has its own single-engine or multiengine ratings. Once you get one of those, then your CFII is basically an addition of instrument instruction privileges to your flight instructor certificate, just like you add an instrument rating to a private or commercial pilot certificate. So it's possible to be a CFII without being a CFI if you got your MEI first. That just means you could only give instrument instruction in multiengine aircraft. That's why people who call themselves CFII only are technically incorrect: the CFII does not necessarily include the CFI. For a period of about two weeks, I was an MEI/CFII without being a CFI. For those two weeks, in the eyes of the FAA, I could teach someone to shoot approaches in a twin to ILS minimums with a 200 foot ceiling, but I couldn't legally teach them to putter a tiny Cessna 150 around the pattern on a clear blue day.

And, while I'm being pedantic:

1. No one should ever sign a logbook "Joe Q. Instructor, 1234567CFII 12/13". There is no such thing as a certificate that ends in "II". The instructor certificate is "1234567CFI" and that certificate has instrument instruction privileges on it. It doesn't mutate into "1234567CFII" at any time, no matter how well you did on your CFII checkride. When I give instrument instruction, I put (I) after my certificate number, but that's only to show the future examiner that the instruction was indeed given by an instrument instructor so it does count for the required hours for the instrument rating checkride (or IPC). I'm not going to make him query the FAA's airman database just to verify that I'm a "double-I" just because of my own pet peeve.

2. It's the same thing with a medical certificate. A First Class medical doesn't "become" a Second Class after six months: it's still a First Class but now only allows the holder to exercise the privileges of a Second Class. As an instructor, you only need a Third Class to instruct with a student pilot aboard. You can fly all day with a certificated pilot without a medical (for example, giving a BFR for someone who is current with a valid medical) because they are eligible to act (and are) PIC during the entire flight.

3. The term is "Certificated Flight Instructor". There is no such thing as a "Certified Flight Instructor". The FAA certificates airmen, it doesn't "certify" them. The difference to the average Joe is nil, but to lawyers it's enormous.

I'd say that about 90% of the work involved in becoming a flight instructor is book work, since you've got to have an in-depth knowledge of all the subjects in order to teach them to someone else. If you're like me and you like getting into the hows and whys of aeronautics and maneuvers, it will be time-consuming, but it will also be fun for you, especially if you want to do it at your own pace anyway.

Incidentally, I only went through Airline Transport Professionals because I had an instructing job waiting for me; if I had been doing it the way I preferred, I would have taken my time. Someday, when I have the time, I'll get more into what it was like cramming an entire CFI course into only two weeks with them. In the meantime, if you're considering doing the same and can't wait some indefinite amount of time, Ron Rapp wrote a very detailed account of his experience with ATP that starts with Day One and goes to the end of the course. Due to the standardized nature of their program, his story is quite similar to the experience I had with them in Atlanta. In fact, it's so similar that I could have written this snippet from Day Four verbatim myself: "The folks who are in the preceding class are currently in the second week of this 14 day program, and they look like they’ve been run over by a truck." My conclusion on the program as a whole is almost identical to his entry for Day Five as well, probably because our backgrounds going into the program were also quite similar.

You can start on the book work at any time (the sooner the better, because you can't know too much to become an instructor!), and almost all the books you need you already have for free either through the FAA's website or if you use ForeFlight on your iPad. Read and study the AIH (Aviation Instructor's Handbook), PHAK (Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge), AFH (Airplane Flying Handbook), and study the private and commercial PTS to where you can recite the standards from memory. (You'll need to know the private because that's what you'll be teaching to initial students, and you'll need to know the commercial because that's what level you'll have to perform to on the checkride.) For the CFII, read the IFH (Instrument Flying Handbook), the IPH (Instrument Procedures Handbook), and know the Instrument PTS and you'll be golden.

I'd actually highly recommend getting a ground instructor certificate first. You have to take the FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction) for either it or a CFI initial, and that material all comes from the AIH. You then take either (or both--I did both) the Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) written and/or the Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI) written. The AGI is mostly like your commercial written over again except questions can be pulled out of any category, not just airplane. I got a couple of helicopter questions, one or two on airships, one on ultralights, etc., but about 90% of it was airplane or general questions you've already seen before on your CAX (Commercial Pilot Airplane) written. The IGI is pretty much identical to your instrument written. Once you take the FOI and AGI and/or IGI, all you have to do is set up an appointment at the FSDO (Flight Standards District Office--basically a branch office of the FAA; go here to find the one closest to you), take the results to them, and they give you a ground instructor certificate (at no cost to you). The two big advantages of doing it that way are 1. you are studying this material anyway, so it helps you out (and the IGI and FII--Flight Instructor Instrument--are practically identical, which gives you even more practice) and 2. when you go for the oral portion of your exam, the examiner is allowed to skip Area of Operation I of the Flight Instructor PTS! The FAA considers Area I to have been covered by the process of getting the ground instructor certificate and therefore removes it from the PTS matrix if you already have an AGI/IGI, so you can save yourself some grilling at the oral. Since you had to take the FOI to get it, when you go for your initial checkride, you give the examiner your ground instructor certificate to copy in lieu of your FOI written results (since the FSDO keeps them). Sure, it's an extra $150 or $300 spent (depending on whether you took one or both writtens), but it's worth the investment in my opinion. (I intentionally left out the BGI because it's merely a stripped down, category-specific version of the AGI. I think the difference between the two isn't enough to make it worth going for the more restricted BGI instead of the AGI. If you're going to do the work anyway, you might as well go for the AGI.) If you ever want to become a Gold Seal instructor, you need at least one of these anyway, and you'll already have it knocked out in that case.

Whether or not you got that ground instructor certificate, you'll still have to write up lesson plans for your CFI binder and deliver at least one ground lesson as part of the oral portion. You can (and in fact, are highly encouraged to) create lesson plans for all of the maneuvers before the checkride and use them to teach from during the oral. (In fact, at ATP, we weren't even allowed to get signed off to take the checkride unless we showed them that we had all the lesson plans already done as part of our pre-signoff checklist.) The AIH has a lesson plan template in it. Use it, because no examiner will ever say "I don't like your layout" if you're using the FAA's way of doing it. You can go above and beyond the template, as long as everything in the template itself is there. The first few will take a while to put together because you're doing a lot of research, figuring out what's important and what level of detail would just confuse a student pilot, and putting jargon into your own words and adding your own insights, but after a while you'll be knocking out several an hour. The rest of your "CFI binder" is composed of whatever supplementary material you think might be useful in explaining concepts. For example, I have diagrams on how a constant speed prop system works, a nice article on what manifold pressure actually is, reproductions from the AFH on what the ground reference maneuvers look like, flash cards on runway signs, and a ton of other materials (mostly free handouts I've accumulated from FAA seminars, etc.) in it. By the time I was done, it was about four inches thick. Depending on your style, you may use that binder for your entire teaching career. However, if you're like me, your binder has migrated to the iPad and now consists mostly of dozens of links to YouTube videos, references to the PHAK/AFH/etc., and the lesson plans in electronic format.

During my oral, I had to give a lesson on teaching the Vmc Demo (because my initial was the MEI instead of the CFI) and the accelerated stall. The examiner told me to teach him those, then said he'd be back in 30 minutes to see what I had prepared. This was the closest I came to busting my test, because about halfway through my presentation he said, "Stop. Look, I know what this means and I can see that you know what this means, but if I'm a student pilot that just came off the street, I'd probably have no idea what you're talking about." So I took a deep breath, stepped back from the board for a few seconds, and reverted to my natural teaching style, which leans heavily on metaphors and similes referencing things people already know about. People already know about birds, so I used them in analogies when getting into more technical details. He was quite satisfied after that.

The only other time he looked displeased was when he asked me what the tolerances for some maneuver were (I can't remember exactly which one) at the private level and I said, "I think it's +/-100 feet" [or something like that] and he said, "How are you supposed to teach this if you don't even know what the standards are?" I said, "OK, it's +/-100 feet." I was right (and even when I said it the first time I was already 95% sure I was right), and we continued. The biggest lesson from that was that you should be projecting CFI authority at all times during your checkride. Remember back to your student pilot days? Back then, CFIs were these magical creatures that were 10 feet tall that knew all and could bail you out of any situation you might get yourself into. That's what you should be projecting during the checkride: that you know this stuff so well that you can make anyone else know it well, too. In fact, last month our FSDO had its annual flight school meeting where DPEs and flight school representatives spend the day together giving each other feedback. All of the DPEs said that the problem they most consistently saw from CFI candidates was the reluctance to take charge of the checkride. Instead of replying to a question with, "THIS is the answer blah blah blah," they'd timidly reply, "Umm, this?" Everyone knows that even on a private checkride, the candidate is PIC, but the student doesn't have enough experience to overcome the awe of the examiner and fumbles and mumbles. At the CFI level, you should be willing and able to speak with authority. Even if you get tripped up on something that you're not sure about, say, "HERE'S where we can get the FAA's official opinion" with authority and then flip straight to it. No one person can know everything about flying, and no reasonable examiner expects you to. However, an examiner will certainly expect you to have the knowledge of where the answer is. If you're not sure, it's probably in the PHAK. The oral portion of my initial was about 5 hours of rapid-fire questions. When he heard the FAA terminology he was looking for, he'd cut me off mid-sentence and go on to the next topic. We covered at least 100 topics, and I think I only had to crack my references open twice (both times it was the PHAK).

The flight portion of your CFI initial is identical to your commercial checkride (except you'll probably have to do almost all of the maneuvers instead of a smaller selection) plus you'll have to do an accelerated stall demonstration (Area XI-D; those aren't on any other PTS you've had), which is basically just an intentional stall during a steep turn. The big difference is that instead of a conversation like this that you had on your commercial checkride:

Examiner: "Give me a chandelle."
You: "OK." [You clear the area and do a chandelle.]

the CFI checkride is like this:

Examiner: "Give me a chandelle."
You: "OK. The first thing we do before any maneuver is clear the area to make sure there isn't any other traffic. We'll do this with a 90-degree turn to the left, followed by another 90-degree turn to the right (or vice-versa). As we're turning, we're looking for other airplanes. [As you're clearing the area, you continue by saying] Then, once we get back on our initial heading, we'll first bank the airplane and establish 30 degrees of bank. Then once we've got our bank in, we'll start increasing our pitch up to about 15 degrees [or whatever is appropriate for your aircraft] so we reach our 15 degrees nose up at the same time we've turned 90 degrees. Once we pass the 90 degree point, we'll hold that pitch constant the rest of the time and we'll start working out our bank so that our wings are level at the same time we've turned 180 degrees. We'll know we did a good job if the stall warning horn is going off as we're leveling out, because that means we've wrung out all the performance the plane can give us. So, in short, for the first half we're getting our bank then it stays constant while we adjust our pitch, and for the second half we're keeping our pitch constant and changing our bank. Any questions? No? OK, here we go. [Start maneuver and say] First I'm establishing my bank, and now I'm bringing the nose up. We're at the 90 degree point, our bank is still 30 degrees and our pitch up is at maximum. I'm keeping that nose up as I start leveling out the wings, and you'll notice that I need more and more back pressure to keep that nose up as the plane slows down. [Stall warning] So, we've rolled out on the heading opposite the one we started on, our stall warning baby seal is getting squashed, and we've gained 300 feet of altitude [or whatever your plane gets], so now we'll recover by holding this heading and altitude as we get our cruise speed back."

So all you're doing is chattering away the whole time. It's harder than it sounds, but after a few hours of practice it will feel as natural as anything else. I've gotten to the point now where flying by myself almost seems strange because I'm not hearing my own voice in my headset explaining what I'm doing. The other difference is that you're doing all this chattering from the right seat, so you've got two adjustments to make at once. Just like talking, once you get used to it, it's natural. I'm probably better at landing from the right seat than I am from the left seat now, but it's been so long since I've been in the left seat that I haven't had a chance to test that hypothesis.

Becoming an instructor is one of the most rewarding things you can do in aviation, and having a good instructor is something you'll always remember. I learned more about flying in my first 50 hours of instruction than I did in the 300 hours of flying I had done before then. Having to explain something to someone instead of just doing it makes you pick apart why you're doing what you're doing and tests whether you really understand what you're doing in the first place. It's increased my skills to the point where I'll occasionally surprise my students by seeing things when they think I can't possibly tell. For example, when working with a pre-solo student in the pattern, once we're downwind I very rarely look out the front until we're close to turning final. They probably think I'm just staring out the side window going along for a ride. In reality, I'm looking just ahead of the wing, with the end of the wing just off the center of my vision so the nose is in my peripheral vision. I can tell just from the angle of the wing to the horizon what their airspeed is, and I've taken more than one person by surprise by asking (with my hands not even on the stick), "The controls feel mushy, don't they?" They'll look down at the airspeed indicator and see they're 10 knots too slow and think I'm magic. All I'm doing is seeing the wing too close to parallel to the horizon when it should be about 4 degrees down (or whatever angle is appropriate for the plane we're in). I'm flying the wing instead of an instrument. Other times I'll say, "You need more left rudder" when they're turning to the base leg while still looking out the side. They're astonished that I can tell that without looking at the ball until I explain, "You see how it seems like you're have to drag that nose along? That's because you need more left rudder after pulling the power out for the same reason that you need right rudder when you put power in on takeoff." All I'm doing is seeing that nose yaw to the right out of my peripheral vision. It's not magic; it's just experience I've gotten by being able to step back and get the big picture as an instructor instead of the tunnel vision all student pilots (including me, back in the olden days) have. Being able to see all the pieces and their relation to one another is, to me, fascinating.

Being able to watch the light bulb come on in my students or fellow pilots is gratifying. Recently, I flew with a certificated pilot who has had his license for a couple of years but still isn't happy with the consistency of his landings. His landings themselves were satisfactory, but he wanted to work on being able to consistently land on the spot he picked on the runway instead of sometimes being too low or sometimes landing 3,000 feet down the runway. (By the way, one of the surest signs of a good pilot is that they're not afraid to keep learning after they get their certificate, so they'll occasionally bring an instructor up with them to work on getting even better. That's also the reason the FAA requires a flight review every two years.) After half a dozen times around the pattern, seeing how changing the pattern width, the time (and amount) of pulling the power out, the timing of flap extension, the maintenance of the proper airspeed, and all the other factors that go into a stabilized approach change where you end up, I could see the light bulb go on for him. Our last five times around the pattern we ended up right on the 1,000 foot markers every time without throttle-jockeying on final, and as we were taxiing back to the ramp after the last one, he said, "That was a very useful flight today." That made me quite happy, because that's exactly what my job is: to take "normal" people and make pilots out of them and to take pilots and make even better pilots out of them. Now he enjoys flying even more because he can worry less about where the landing is going to be. It's no longer a random hand from the deck of cards handed out by the aviation gods: he understands that each and every approach is something he has full control of the whole way down.

The point of the last two paragraphs is that when you're looking for an instructor, the most important, number one, biggest and most deciding factor is that they should truly care whether you are learning or not. If you don't feel your instructor cares whether you understand, or they don't present the material in a way that makes you understand and aren't willing to present it in a different way, find another instructor. A good instructor is as much a psychologist as a pilot, and I've had to find other approaches on the spot to figure out a different way to explain something. No matter how good a pilot they may be, if they don't care about making you a good pilot too, then you should find someone else. Don't give up on flying, though! I have yet to find someone I couldn't turn into a pilot; all I've found is some people that will take longer than others. It's my job to turn you into a pilot; all you have to provide is the desire, motivation, and willingness to do the hard work it involves. That means you and I work as a team: you have to be willing to do the reading, studying, chair flying, and being prepared to learn during your lesson and I have to turn that motivation into aviation.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Close to solo!

I've got an accelerated individual I've been working with recently. He's from out of state and had to leave for a little bit to take care of things on the home front, but he's returning soon. I put together a list for him of what we've got left to do so he can have a good idea of how much longer he'll need to be up here with us, and then I realized that this makes a good post on what the near-solo, solo, and post-solo process looks like for a sport pilot. (The requirements for a private pilot are considerably more, and I'll go into more detail on them in the future. However, the private pilot candidate will have to do all this and more, so this will still make for productive reading for you.) I plan to devote an entire post (or several) just to the solo when I have more time.

So far, we've covered everything required in 61.87(c) and (d) and just started on getting the hang of takeoffs and landings when he had to leave. At this point, here is what is left:

Ground (.5 hours): Pre-solo aeronautical knowledge quiz
Once you take this, I will grade it and we will go over any answers you missed or any questions you have about it. (This isn't really a pass/fail type of quiz; its purpose is more to ensure that you have a basic level of knowledge necessary to safely putter around the pattern.) Then you will receive the first of 3 total endorsements you'll need before you solo. This one will be AC 61-65E #11. (You don't have to know what AC 61-65E is all about; you just need to know that you'll need an endorsement saying you passed the pre-solo quiz. Your instructor gets to deal with all the mumbo-jumbo involved.)

Dual (4-5 hours): Landings 
Once you give me 3-4 good, safe takeoffs and landings without me touching the controls, we move on to your solo. It could take less than 4 hours, or it could take more than 5. It all depends on your performance now. You will learn 3x as quickly once you're practicing solo, so I will sign you off the minute I think you're ready, but not a moment before you're safe enough. As I like to say, "My job is to put myself out of a job as quickly as possible." I make my money by producing good pilots who spread good words about me (thereby bringing me more business), not by milking the process out unnecessarily. I make more money with 25 satisfied students for 25 hours than with 10 disgruntled students for 50 hours, so what saves you money benefits me as well.

Ground (0 hours): Solo sign-off
You will get 2 more endorsements: AC 61-65E #12 and 13. These say that (1) we went over everything we were required to and (2) you've got the skills required to fly this little bird around the pattern without me.

Solo (0.5 hours): First solo! 
Three times around the pattern, taxi back and takeoff each time. I will be standing in the pilot's lounge watching. (The lounge at our airport has a good view of the runway.) I'll have a radio transmitter, but I'll only use it to say "good job" after each landing. In other words, it's all up to you! This will be a day you'll never, ever forget. I describe it as an absolutely unique blend of sheer exhilaration mixed with sheer terror: "Holy crap, I'm doing this all by myself (YAY!), but holy crap, I'm doing this all by myself (OMG!)" After shutdown, we take your picture and put it up on our Wall of Fame.

Solo (1 hour): Second solo 
Six times around the pattern, exiting the pattern and re-entering pattern every other one. I'll be watching from the lounge again.

Dual (1 hour): Practice area checkout 
Land at Sandusky (KSKY), Norwalk (5A1), and Wakeman (I64).

Ground (0.5 hours): PTS and sign-off
Practical Test Standards introduction and overview. You'll get endorsement #15, which permits you to land at the three additional airports you just went to, and which is why I had to take up space in the right seat right after you just soloed. The reason I waited until after you soloed to do this is because once you've soloed, I'm just along to be sure you can find the airports and to let you know about their particular quirks. Since you've soloed, you have shown that you should be able to enter the pattern and land without my assistance.

Solo (3 hours over two flights): Start teaching yourself
Practice maneuvers in practice area, fly some VFR-modified B patterns, but don't forget to enjoy flying around a little bit just for the fun of it—you've earned it! This is when learning to fly starts getting enjoyable. The flights up to this point have generally been fun more or less (after all, a bad day flying still beats a good day of anything else) but they've still just been in-flight homework assignments. Now the fun really begins! Until now, it has probably seemed like every time you started getting a handle on one thing, I throw another monkey in the wrench. However, at this point I'm running low on monkeys, so you're in control of your own destiny. You control the pace now. The more effort you put in, the sooner you'll get done, but you no longer have me watching over you and deciding for you what we're going to do that particular flight. Welcome to the first few steps of the rest of your flying life!

Ground (1 hour): Dual cross-country planning
Call (800) WX-BRIEF for a weather briefing, plan 2-hour cross-country flight we've already picked out. I leave it up to the individual to decide where they want to go. After all, it's their training, so they should get to see whatever it is they want to see.

Dual (3 hours): Dual X-C
Now fly what you just planned with me.

On your own time:
Plan solo cross-country flight. I usually use KLPR to KMNN to KVNW to KLPR for the initial solo X-C and then do something the pilot candidate wants to do if additional X-Cs are needed. (For the sport pilot, they're not; for the private pilot, they are.) KMNN has two runways, one 4000 and the other 5000 feet, so the pilot should have little problem picking a direction to land, and KVNW usually has very little traffic, is 4000 feet long, and has exactly one taxiway, making it practically impossible to get lost on.

Ground (1 hour): Solo cross-country planning review
I'll review your flight planning (remember, you planned this one yourself without me around), then you'll call Flight Service for weather. You'll then receive endorsements #16 and 17 if the weather is good enough to fly it. The first endorsement says I've shown you how to plan a cross-country and the second says I've reviewed your planning and it will get you there and back if you fly what you've planned.

Solo (2.5 hours): Solo X-C
Now fly it without me! Stop at each airport, taxi to the ramp, get out, walk around, relax and take in the scenery at the new airport for a bit, then proceed to the next airport and do it all over again. There's no rush—we allotted 5 hours for a 2.5 hour trip just so you can enjoy this day! Both of these airports are uncrowded and simple, so you will have no problem finding a place to park the plane and won't get lost getting to the ramp. My favorite flight ever was my first solo cross-country, so have fun getting somewhere you've never been before!

Solo (as necessary): Prepare for checkride 
Practice each maneuver until you can do each one twice as good as the PTS requires. For example, if the PTS says your altitude tolerances for a maneuver are within +/- 100 feet, practice until you can get it between +/- 50 feet. This gives you room for the typical "checkride cranial carb ice".

Ground (2-3 hours): Oral examination preparation

Dual (1.5 hours): Checkride readiness evaluation flight with me
You'll fly a mock checkride. I'll pretend I'm the examiner and have you do what he'll have you do. If you do well, this will be the last time you'll ever have to fly with me. If not, we'll try again. The FAA keeps track of how many students pass from each instructor (they know who it is because I have to sign your application), and they don't look kindly upon instructors whose students have a tendency of not doing well. Therefore, I won't push you on to the next step until I'm confident you'll do well for both of our sakes. Besides, even if you do need another ride with me, it will still cost you much less than having to take a second checkride.

Ground (1-2 hours): Oral examination preparation

Dual (1.5 hours): Checkride readiness evaluation flight with our Chief Instructor
He'll be even harder on you than the examiner will be, so if he says you're ready, you're definitely ready and the checkride will be anti-climactic. I like having him go up with a pilot candidate because it's good to have a second set of eyes to catch anything and keep me on my toes. Going up for an extra ride with him costs less than half of what a busted checkride would, so once again, we're trying to save you money.

Ground (1-2 hours): Review for oral examination 
We'll brush up on any weak spots in your knowledge and address any final questions you may have. You'll receive endorsement #26, which is your authorization to take the checkride. You'll then fill out your 8710 (your application for a certificate) on IACRA, the FAA's Internet-based form website. I'll review it, electronically sign it, and then you're ready for the big day.

Checkride! (1-3 hours oral, 1-1.5 hours flight is typical)
When you pass, your temporary certificate is printed right on the spot and you can begin flying immediately with all the privileges and responsibilities your new license confers. Go treat yourself to a victory flight!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dreaming the life

[A] wing is an odd thing, strangely behaved, hard to understand, tricky to handle.
--Wolfgang Langewiesche, Stick and Rudder

You might feel the same way about beginning the flight training process as ol' Wolfie does about the wing above. Don't worry, and don't panic! It may seem strangely behaved and hard to understand at first, but by breaking it down into small, comprehensible steps, we'll get through it together and wonder why it ever seemed so difficult at the start.

You may be one of those people who has always looked up every time a plane flies over or spent countless hours by the airport watching the planes come in, checking them out as they taxi on the ramp, thinking how cool it would be to be able to climb in one of those and go where ever you want.

Or maybe you're a professional who needs to travel to places that aren't conveniently served by the big airlines. Our flight school trained a lawyer who just wanted to see if it could help him in his practice. Before he was even done, he had some of his colleagues start taking lessons, too, because he discovered how much easier and more productive it made him. As a real-life example, he had an 8:30 a.m. hearing that was in the next state over. Instead of having to drive the day before and spend the night in a hotel room, he slept in his own bed, got to the airport early that morning, flew himself, and was back that same afternoon with energy to spare. I also personally know at least 4 doctors who have a second (or third) practice in a location that would be too far to drive but is a short flight away.

Perhaps your career goals are somewhere in the field of aviation itself. A pilot certificate is very useful to have when considering becoming an air traffic controller. Furthermore, interviews with airlines for piloting jobs tend to be rather short if you can't fly an airplane.

Or maybe you're someone who thinks that the TSA has gone insane and thinks that just because they're getting on board an aircraft, a citizen of a country that calls itself the "land of the free" shouldn't have to surrender their dignity at the door. Well, if you learn to fly yourself, you can have all the cupcakes you want without fear that some lowly-paid government TSA drone will confiscate them. And no one will pat down grandma if you take her flying with you.

Or maybe you'd like to visit relatives or children hundreds of miles away. In many cases, flying yourself is actually faster than taking an airliner. As an example that happened to me not long ago, I had to go to Atlanta twice in the span of about a year. The first time, I traveled by airline because I had to due to circumstances. It took me over 7 hours each way because of a layover. Tack on another 2 hours because of the security screening process and you've got 18 hours for a round trip via airline. The next time I went to Atlanta, I flew myself in a Cirrus SR20. The round trip time flying myself from Cleveland to Atlanta was 6.9 hours!

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the first step toward your certificate is to identify what it is you want to achieve as an aviator. I've listed several reasons above, but you may/probably have a reason all your own. Whatever your reason(s) for wanting to learn to fly, you have a dream. Now it's the flight school's purpose to turn that dream into a reality. In my next post, we'll look at the different kinds of flight schools and figure out which one is right for you.

Tailwinds and blue skies!

Cleared for Approach

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk forever with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will long to return.
--Leonardo da Vinci

Hello, and thanks for joining me here to do some hangar flying! If you're just beginning, or even just wondering if flying is something you can or should learn to do, you'll have a ton of questions, and there are some questions you don't even know you should be asking. In this blog, I'll discuss learning to fly from the student pilot's perspective but with the experience gained as a CFI (Certificated Flight Instructor). This will, I hope, enable you to get through your training in record time, minimize frustration and cost, and maximize fun--which in the end is what flying is all about!

I learned to fly at a Part 91 flight school--in other words, an "unstructured" school, as opposed to a Part 141 program, which is a closely-supervised, rigid curriculum. (Don't worry, I'll go into way more detail on the differences in a later post to help you weigh the pros and cons and decide which suits you best.) This means I got my private, instrument, commercial and multi-engine ratings at my own pace, with almost complete freedom (and responsibility) in how I approached them. However, when deciding to become a flight instructor, I looked at going to one of the academies advertised in Flying Magazine. One of the most helpful websites I found in making my decision was a blogger who kept a day-by-day account of his experience at that academy. In that vein, I'm going to be posting a lesson-by-lesson account of the typical experience of a student pilot from the very first discovery flight through first solo, the checkride, and using that "license to learn".

This blog's title is a take on Stick and Rudder, one of the classic books on becoming a skilled pilot. Along the way, we'll go into these topics and more:

  • Choosing the flight school that's right for you
  • Choosing the instructor that's right for you
  • What to expect during your training
  • How to study for lessons, the written exam, and the dreaded delightful checkride
  • Discovering the right learning style for you
  • Dealing with learning plateaus and sticking points
  • What to do after you get your certificate (is an instrument rating/commercial/etc. a good idea for you?)
  • What this new Light Sport Aircraft thing is all about

If you're going to be joining me for this journey, it might help to know a little about who is going to be your guide. I'm a commercial pilot and a CFI, CFII (CFI - Instrument), and MEI (Multiengine Instructor). Since I can't get enough of aviation, I also have an AGI (Advanced Ground Instructor) and IGI (Instrument Ground Instructor) certificate. I spent years as the IT guy for a hospital, but after getting tired of feeling like I was living in the movie Office Space, I decided that the only office worth sitting in all day was one a mile in the sky. I went to ATP's CFI academy and began working as an instructor at the school where I originally learned to fly, Zone Aviation. Now I get paid to, as John Gillespie Magee, Jr. so elegantly put it, dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings, climb sunward and join the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, and do a hundred things you have not dreamed of. Come along and I'll show you how to do those things, too!