CFI Concerns  

By: David St. George, ATP, MCFI, DPE

Preparing the Candidate

The CFI recommending a potential pilot, especially on their first check ride, is responsible to carefully prepare and guide this flight candidate to a successful outcome. In test preparation, a lot of emphasis is usually placed on the flying performance with less emphasis on the oral, and often the legal "qualification part" of experience and endorsements gets entirely ignored. I have, unfortunately, had many flight tests where the CFI was primarily responsible for the failure or just the disappointment when a test cannot be conducted for simple technical reasons. The most obvious lapse would be a missing endorsement or not enough experience in a particular area. (The on-line IACRA application filters for these errors) Some applicants arrive without a current solo endorsement (we cannot fly a test!) or there is no cross-country endorsement to get to our airport (or to get back home in the case of a failure). To be professional, the CFI must be vigilant about the paperwork too or all the time and money spent in preparation is wasted and major disappointment is the only outcome. Some form of "experience guide" is a great help to organize all the experience and present it to the examiner in an easily readable form. If you are available on the phone sometimes we can sort out the difficulties if the "numbers do not add up."

Another under-appreciated area where a CFI can be helpful is by giving the potential pilot an overview of the flight test process so they know what to expect. Many applicants are unaware that the oral is required to precede all flight and that all the airworthiness items absolutely must be verified and acceptable or the FAA does not allow us go fly. Also, having your candidate practice the flight test maneuvers with another instructor as a "mock check ride" is often helpful both to give you another view of your work and provide your student with a fresh opinion (and new person in the cockpit to practice with).

CFI Professionalism

I guess the big story here is not a surprise: it takes time to become good at almost anything. Being a teacher of aviation is no different. And it is an unfortunate fact that being a flight instructor is commonly viewed as merely a transition to a "real job" and not an end in itself. This has been the norm for years, supported by industry demands and a lousy pay scale. There are notable standout exceptions who persist in teaching and flourish but they are few and far between. Many of the Master Instructors would be examples. These are (mostly) people dedicated to teaching flying. SOoo, what else makes someone good at this unique profession? There are obviously long-time CFIs that are still lousy! There is a certain valuable predisposition involving empathy and good human relations (and LOTS of patience). Great stick skills are low on the priority scale, we are talking teacher here, not pilot. Certainly time on task gives you valuable perspective. Once you have seen every possible way to land an aircraft you develop a fairly quick "read" on what is going wrong and what steps to take to fix the situation. The variable is always the student trying to learn. What is the most efficient path to the goal is the question and what technique or tool can we use to get there?

Maneuvering Flight Motivation Lesson Plan Common Endorsements Resources Shake 'n Bake Pilots SAFE Master CFI Pitch and Power!

Personally, I tend to put a lot of emphasis on "correct understanding" of the big picture and then we analyze the discrete steps involved in achieving mastery. Good instructors are coaches who develop confident, knowledgeable, independent, pilots a step at a time. We talk and dissect maneuvers into digestible parts then reassemble them so the student exhibits a clear understanding and correct performance. Determining how a student learns and what they value is a huge step forward in the communication process. To be successful, each student must value or "buy into" the need for the maneuver and the mastery of the technique. Without this commitment to excellence there will be problems both in training and finishing. Give me a student with high standards and motivation and the job is 90% complete. Teaching flying to these unique individuals is like "the magic beanstalk"...add a little nourishment and stand back. Many times the only problem with the "super-committed" and self-demanding type student is successfully backing off their self criticism in the initial training phase so they can progress; first in big outline form then with greater precision. It is important to first get "all the darts on the dartboard," then move them closer to the center. Perfection in flying is elusive, but worthy goal not often experienced. Perfection certainly will not consistently be achieved in the pre-solo phase of flight training.

Coaching a sport is often a very good metaphor for teaching flying. Our job is really to help and shape but also to progressively work to get out of the airplane and become superfluous, starting with the very first day. We should be fostering independence. We are pretty quickly "on the sidelines" watching the game be played. We better have developed a competent flier or the result might be unhappy...we are not allowed to lose one in this game! It is easy to fall into the omniscient, constantly present "aviation god" who saves the day (and strokes the ego). Parenting is another analogy for the process of teaching flying. Done well, they become competent individuals and safely fly away!

To teach well, a CFI needs to have a very clear picture of the "safe and effective pilot" they are working to create. What are the skills, knowledge and judgment that a good pilot must possess? Just a "monkey wiggling the stick" to the PTS standards is not good enough. The PTS is not a training syllabus and constitutes only the absolute minimum standard for pilot certification. I would argue that a constant interplay between attention to detail but also awareness of the "big picture" must always be present in every pilot...85% of accidents are pilot error! These cognitive skills are difficult to teach (or test) and do not explicitly find their way into the PTS. A good instructor must be aware of psychological principles both to be an effective educator and to engender safe attitudes in their pilots. I think we all know that the "raw material" of the beginner student is critically important to what our final pilot will become. There is an acceptable spectrum of students and no CFI can remedy years of bad habits, borderline psychosis or suicidal tendencies in 50-70 hours of dual. Some people are not suited to be pilots unfortunately. It is a professional duty to evaluate and dissuade unsafe or unsuitable candidates. It is however, extremely difficult to see immediately what will develop with people who initially might be marginal. I can relate many examples of people who almost scared me initially, or made me sigh and shake my head, who developed eventually into good pilots. The challenging students will certainly make you a better flight will have to be better to get the job done. The young, talented, "golden hands" student that progresses so rapidly make you feel wonderful, but teach you nothing as a CFI. Check the table links to explore areas of the professional CFI toolbox.

Check Out Free CFI Tools From Bold Method

Forces In A Turn

Forces In A Turn

Forces In Climbs and Descents

Forces In Climbs and Descents

CG Location and Performance

CG Location And Performance

Turns Around A Point

Turns Around A Point