It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago today that I earned my flight instructor certificate. When I renewed my CFI again this summer I spent some time reflecting on the journey I’ve had as a flight instructor over the past 10 years. Of course I fly and teach a lot less now than for most of these 10 years while I was flight instructing day-in and day-out to make a living. Either way, I wouldn’t trade my CFI for anything in the world…
Over the years I’ve been very lucky to have flown with so many great students. Some I worked with only once or a few times, and others I spent countless hours with in the cockpit and classroom working with them while they pursued their dream of flying.
Some of the most rewarding work I’ve done as a flight instructor was helping other pilots become flight instructors. So much goes into initial flight instructor training, hours and hours of ‘briefs’ in the classroom, not to mention the hours of learning how to fly with precision from the right side of the airplane, all the while teaching various concepts. You’d think it’s easy, but try writing with your opposite hand for a while and see how that goes. Maybe it isn’t exactly the same, but it’s a similar concept… It takes a while to get the hang of it, but once you get it, you’ve got it!
On two occasions I sat and waited for my flight instructor candidate students to return from the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and I was happy that both times my students came back smiling. I remember one flight instructor candidate was surprised to find me waiting for him when he returned from his CFI check ride, I told him that after all the hours we spent working together I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to be the first person to say congratulations. It’s always been important to me that my students know how proud of their accomplishments I am when they achieve such great things. From a new CFI to a first solo!
Over the course of these years I consider myself lucky that my students maintained a 100% pass rate on check rides! That is one stat that always makes me smile and something I know takes a great deal of hard work by so many excellent students… The greatest joy that I found as an instructor was when a student earned a new certificate or made their first solo flight, both of these experiences are truly enjoyable. First solo days were always my favorite. Maybe it’s because my first solo was so important to me, being my 16th birthday. Regardless, I always enjoyed the first solo, something about the surprise associated with when it was finally going to happen add s an element of mystique.
My favorite story was that of a student named Mike. Mike was a local high school student at the time, now he’s on his way to being an Air Force pilot… At the time, Mike was a teenager who was very intent on enjoying his flight lessons and earning his license. I inherited Mike from another instructor who left the flight school to pursue a career with the airlines. When I got Mike he did’t need much work. Mike’s mother, a familiar face at the flight school knew that Mike would soon be soloing but she was nervous, as is typical for mothers whose children fly. As much as she wanted him to make the step, she was worried, as is natural.
On one beautiful weather day I knew it was going to be the day… I sent Mike out to preflight and while we watched from the large windows of the flight school Mike’s mother asked if it was going to happen, I told her that I would let her know before he went up alone…
Of course, I had no intension of going back into the flight school building to tell her that her teenage son was about to go flying by himself. I tipped off the staff to my plan so at the right time they could bring her outside to watch.
Mike and I climbed aboard the Cessna R-model Skyhawk, N766PD. After a few consistent trips around the pattern, we completed a full stop landing. Following the “After Landing Checklist,” I looked over at Mike and told him I was going to hop out. I explained that he was to do three full stop landings and then taxi in to the ‘crib’ (this was the ramp where we parked the school planes). I told him I’d have my handheld radio and be right along the runway watching, but I would only speak up if I noticed something wrong. Mike then asked if we were going to tell his mother, and I told him that I’d rather wait till we get “this” finished, I didn’t want her to be too stressed. He thought that was a good idea and soon enough I was out of the plane, with my headset plugged into my handheld radio giving Mike a thumbs up to head out for his first solo.
As I’m told Mike’s mother eventually caught on to what was happening and the flight school staff escorted her out to watch. Mike made three nearly perfect landings and when I walked back across to the ‘crib’ Mike had just shut down and was beaming. The smile was infectious… Mike’s mother was so happy and proud, luckily she liked my approach and everything worked out well.
The excitement that comes with a first solo is so unique, it’s really an amazing feat. When someone is able to go from knowing nothing about flying to taking off, flying and safely landing all by themselves it really is something special. So few people ever do it, such a small percentage of the population is ever able to solo an airplane, it truly is a remarkable feat. For me, in all the years of instructing, those first solos that I was able to share with my students will always be my favorite flight instructing experiences!
Being a flight instructor has opened opportunities for me to teach college aviation courses and advance in my career in airport management. Beyond this, being a flight instructor has allowed me to become friends with so many great people including some that I’ve worked alongside and many that I taught to fly. These lasting relationships are something that I value deeply.
So 10 years ago it all started… There are a couple of reasons I’ll never forget my CFI check ride. First was the morning fog I thought was going to thwart my flight from Mansfield, MA to Bedford, MA, close by to the FSDO and the designated starting point for all CFI checkrides int he region at the time. Then, once I did get to Bedford, I had to call the FSDO because the examiner forgot about me… That was an interesting twist! On the checkride a short/soft field landing demo by the examiner resulted in a very firm landing, which made mine look so much more impressive… Then there was the 90+ degree weather, while I had to wait in line for departure to head back to Mansfield. I was at least 4-5 planes deep in the takeoff lineup sequence and the sticky, hot poorly ventured 1968 Piper Arrow I was not very comfortable at all… Of course at that point I could’ve waited all day in that plane and heat, I didn’t care I was a finally flight instructor!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9