Flight Instructing: looking back

Discussion in 'Hangar Talk' started by Tristar, Aug 10, 2013.

  1. Tristar

    Tristar Pattern Altitude

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    Random long thoughts on a Saturday.

    A few months ago, I made the decision that it was time for me to move up to full time charter pilot. There was no bad event, in fact, the people I work with in both companies have been fantastic in giving me opportunities to grow. This isn't a unique event, it happens all the time but it made me stop and think about all the things I've learned not just myself but what my students have taught me in the past 4 years.

    When I was learning to fly, my CFI was like god. To me he knew everything and if I did something wrong, there was a darn good reason for it. I thought there was no way on earth I could ever be like him. Heck, I couldn't even put up with me constantly screwing up landings, VORs were some sort of magic and there was no way in heck you were getting me further than the practice area unless you forced me! I still wondered how in the world I continued. Perhaps it was a quote a friend told me that if you find something you love doing, you wont have to work a day in your life. Of course, I learned later that quote is a bit stretched but I love what I do.

    Now that I'm a CFI with some experience, I see myself in my students. I had a student ask me on a cross country, "how do you know where you're going, it all looks the same to me!" I saw my scared self in him and the same struggles I battled but what was neat is that instead of getting nervous and thinking I'm going to crash somewhere without fuel and no one is going to know, I was able to talk him through taking each step at a time and thinking of it like finding pieces of a puzzle. You have to make it a game!

    Learning to land has got to be the most challenging thing for both students and CFIs. I was a very grabby instructor when I first started out. I actually didnt know that I was until one of my students told me I make him nervous. Me?? Yep, even though his eyes are plastered to the evil pavement coming straight at him at the speed of light, he still saw my fingers touching the yoke. He also said that landings don't make any sense, how do I figure out when to flare and when to pull power. "When and how do you do that?? You make it look so easy!" Of course you're beaming as an instructor because you can land smack center line, on the numbers with hardly a squeak. The hard part isnt demonstrating a landing, it's how the heck to explain what you just did. "It's magic!" just isn't an answer. I looked at him and told him, "I can teach you a general guide as to when to pull power, when to add flaps, when to flare, but in reality you teach yourself. Flying is not a science, it's an art." We teach with John and Martha King programs and one of his favorite quotes is "it's that easy!" That was our favorite quote for a while, I used to get a frustrated laugh out of that one because it's really not! In all honesty, we have procedures and rules of thumb on how to do maneuvers but, students, I'm here to tell you...we make half this stuff up! No kidding! You do what you have to do to get the plane safely and legally where it needs to go. Understanding the aerodynamics of pitch, power, flaps is how we make those decisions. It comes with practice. I hate when people tell me that because I want to know now, but welcome to all things aviation.

    My students taught me to pay attention: (after the millionth landing and 3rd student on landing practice for the day) "uhh...did we get a landing clearance?"

    We also made a successful landing after a very hard struggle over the past month and I was clapping and both of us started laughing...airplane pulls hard to the side. Yikes!! Our new slogan was "aviate before celebrate."

    Also, it's impossible to know everything and even as an instructor there are things you're really good at and things you're not. The famous, "what in the world did the controllers just say?" "I have no idea what he was talking about, let's find out!" or being able to demonstrate the prettiest stall with hardly any altitude loss and no wing drop but bombing a lazy eight! "err, you get the point."

    I also tried to be the fun instructor. We went all over the place to fly-ins, pancake breakfasts, Kansas City class B. There is a skydiving outfit close by so sometimes we'd drop in on them and watch the skydivers for a while. We'd play games like seeing who could get the closest to the beginning of the thousand foot markers. Some would have trouble on emergencies so I'd teach them power off 180s. That always helps, plus they think they're doing a commercial maneuver. I showed my last student a trick of doing a soft field landing and takeoff without ever dropping the nose. He got such a kick out of that I had to encourage him to drop it so he could properly show the whole procedure on his checkride. We have a cool examiner though, I think he would have laughed.

    I have lots of cool stores and fun times with students. I don't think I'll be hanging up my CFI hat but I don't have any more students coming at the moment. I was asked which I loved better, flying charter or teaching. My answer is I love both for two totally different reasons. Charter relieves the "bigger, better, faster, further" syndrome. Flying the King Air and the Citation is a nice change in adrenaline. Teaching is fun because every time a student walks in the door, they want to be there and they want to learn. You mean something to them and their dreams which means something to me. Lastly, I have ways of making it fun and if it's not, which does happen, be encouraged that there will be better days.

    I will always love flying. You're always learning something new and the people, places, planes and adventures make it all worth it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2013
  2. moonshine

    moonshine Line Up and Wait

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    Very good write-up, enjoyed reading. Thanks
     
  3. LDJones

    LDJones Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Nice summarization of what we do!
     
  4. deltafox

    deltafox Pre-takeoff checklist

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    WOW! Great post. Thanks for the optimism, it seems that the wold today doesn't have enough of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
     
  5. somorris

    somorris Pattern Altitude

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    Aha! You revealed all the trade secrets :).

    Seriously, thanks for posting that, Tristan. I think none of us are really sure about anything when we make decision about which way to go. We just have to try to enjoy the journey. It sounds like you are. Way to go. We only get one turn.
     
  6. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    Very cool story. I hope you don't stop teaching altogether. This industry has a strange habit of distancing the most experienced pilots from the least.

    I'll throw this out there...

    Engineers "taught" computers how to land airliners successfully in almost all weather conditions years ago. The "magic" and "art" seems to be more rooted in figuring out how to make humans perform as consistently and accurately as a computer, not in the mechanics of landings themselves. And in timeslicing as a brain habit.

    Same thing with instrument flying.
     
  7. BrianR

    BrianR Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Sounds like you are the type of instructor that all of us, as students, wished we had! If you enjoy teaching, as is apparent from your post, it doesn't matter if you don't always have all the answers. While I learned the mechanics of flying just fine from my instructors, I always wished they wanted to do more of the "fun" stuff as you describe!
     
  8. Swampfox201

    Swampfox201 Line Up and Wait

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    I'm subscribing to this one. Its been a long time since I've instructed. Brought back a lot of memories. Very well written. Thanks!