Category Archives: Flight Instructor

This time next week I’ll be sitting in class!!!

I have some more fiberglass work to do today that requires me to leave the house and pick up some materials and supplies over at TAP Plastics. With stuff in hand I can finish the big patch of repairedness by the front door and move on to the next spot tomorrow. There are three spots I have not gotten to yet. If I can get one more done before school starts that will be good. The rest will need to be done on weekends. before the wet season begins.

Not nearly as many projects got finished over the summer as I had planned, and nothing got done on the airplane mostly due to buttstucktochairwhileoncomputeritis; eh, it happens. With any luck being at school will help motivate me to work on weekend projects and if I chunk them down into smaller pieces like paint a wall and not the paint the entire stairwell including floor maybe I can find and keep my motivation to get them done.

It’s kind of funny how I am great at planing and running projects and events in the real world but when it comes to maintenance around the homestead I seem to get stalled-out. Not sure why that is, but I have ideas. We have been here 15 years as of April 1, no joke, that’s our anniversary date here, and I have been itching to move on for several years now. Not like it’s a bad gig or anything, on the contrary, it’s a really good gig that has saved our butts through bad times and has given me opportunities to pursue my own business interests, learn a ton of new skill sets in the outside world, and is now allowing me to go back to school. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Speaking about stalled out, the last few weeks have been one of those weight loss plateaus that picks at your resolve to hold fast and keep on track. Well I have kept on track and I am starting to see results again. I am within a few tenths of a pound of my lowest weight in several decades and a few pounds from reaching a benchmark goal. I am still logging my food and exercise and plan to continue with that. A friend recently gave me a bike so now the wife and I can go hit some of the bike trails before the weather turns, in all of my copious amounts of free time of course.

I have made a two year commitment to complete my FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certificates which will be followed with some real world work experience, with any luck anyway. The plan is to start cultivating the contacts and experiences in the restoration world that will position me as a vintage/warbird restoration specialist.

There are other certificates and ratings I want to pick up along the way, most notably a senior parachute rigger certificate which ties in nicely to test piloting aircraft I restore. Another thing high on my list of certificates is to finish my flight instructor and instrument flight instructor tickets. It’s all part of the master plan that I have been working on since 2006.

Sometimes it is hard to believe I have been a pilot since 2004. I want to finish of my first decade as a pilot by reaching several aviation goals but time is quickly slipping away. The AMT program will wrap July of 2013, that will give me till ether April 24 2014, the anniversary of my first flight as a student, or October 11 2014, the date I earned my private pilot certificate. Most likely I’ll run with the October date. That will give me 15 months to reach my other goals after earning my A&P. Hey, all it takes is money and time, right?

FlyBoyJon’s First Decade of Flight Goals

As you can see I am a little better than half way there. It has certainly been an an interesting decade for me and I am looking forward to several more with a lot more aviation.

✔ Private Pilot
✔ Instrument Rating
✔ Commercial Pilot
✔ Advanced Ground Instructor
✔ Instrument Ground Instructor
O Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic
O Flight Instructor
O Instrument Flight Instructor
O Senior Parachute Rigger

As always my friends, blue skies and tailwinds,
~FlyBoyJon

Frequent Quitters Club

FlyBoyJon.comI just finished reading Rod Machado’s “licence to Learn” column in AOPA Pilot about the ‘Frequent Quitters Club’. Having had some interesting experiences in my own flight training, I tend to agree with Mr. Machado.

Flight instruction is a noble profession but for better or worse, it is most likely going to be a first aviation job for most working pilots who are not going to be instructing long term. What this may mean for a newcomer is an instructor that is under 25, has less than 500 flight hours, and is looking to build time so they can go and get a “real” flying job. This certainly doesn’t describe all instructors, but it does describe more than we would like to admit.

All of the “how to get started” literature makes a point of telling perspective pilots to take the time and look for a good student/teacher match before getting started on the meat of flight training, but it seems as though many ether don’t try, or don’t really know what to look for.

Here are a few recommendations for the perspective flight training student.

First off, make sure you have a good feeling about the school and instructor. Trust you instincts. As a pilot you have to learn to trust your instincts. I’m not suggesting that your instincts are the be-all-end-all but it is often the gut feeling that something is wrong that causes you to analyze your situation and re-evaluate it, leading to the discovery that something needs correction. If something feels wrong about the school or instructor move on and keep looking.

Next is punctuality and courtesy. They are important on both sides of the relationship, both student and instructor must respect each others time and schedules. If an instructor is habitually late, or flakes on appointments, call them on it and if it doesn’t stop, find an instructor who respects you.

Another thing you should understand is that there is hard work involved, there will be times when you get frustrated, there will be times when you hit a plateau of learning, these are all part of the learning process and in the long run you will look back and remember how much fun it all is. There is no free lunch as it were, anything worth doing requires effort on your part.

The best way to gain some perspective when you are not sure about something, or something doesn’t feel right, find an aviation mentor and ask them questions, get that second opinion.

Bent Metal & Chains

Last night I went to an FAA Safety Team meeting for instructors. At the breaks and after the gathering, like just about any pilot gathering, things turn to Hanger Talk. Hanger Talk is one of the highlights of any aviation event for me. For the non-pilot/airman world, hanger talk is essentially the same as water cooler talk, with pilots it’s a little different though. Pilots talk a lot about accidents and the stupid stuff “other” pilots do and our own harrowing stories of mayhem and adventure.

I spend most of my hanger talk time around career pilots, people who fly for a living or are working at making that the case, most of them are every day commercial pilots, aerial photography, traffic watch, power and water company pilots, some passenger carriers, and flight instructors or CFIs. It’s been my experience that this segment of the pilot community has something in common with early aviators, it’s a pilot culture thing that has many aspects but when you think “barnstormer”, “WWI Ace” or Fighter Pilot” you get close. There is a little of that devil-may-care in every career pilot I have met.

On the surface it seems like a dare-devil attitude, a “kick the tires and light the fires”, “need for speed” kind of air about them, beneath that however, there is a very sober, meticulous even retentive attention to detail it’s this side that keeps career pilots alive.

There is a line in the sky, a line between life and death. It may sound melodramatic but a “blink” in good judgement and you can easily miss or cross that line. The “line” is that attention to detail, the minutia of data, knowing your personal limitations, the limitations of your aircraft, and the environment around you. Early in my flight training an instructor I knew was teaching some students about pilot mortality and the importance of preflight work. He paused a moment, a stoic look on his face, then said “sooner or later, a friend will die flying, and it will have been his own fault.” It took a few minutes for the class to absorb the harsh reality of what he said. I have been flying since 2003, I have been acquainted with three pilots who blinked in their good judgement. All of them CFIs, good people, all of them doing something stupid, for whatever reason, they did not take their responsibilities seriously, at least once, and thats all it took.

This is why pilots talk about accidents, it reminds us that it only takes one mistake or over site to start the “accident chain” rolling. It’s rarely just one thing that brings about an accident. It is inevitably a chain of events, errors and over sites, that bring about bent metal or the demise of an aviator. We talk about those errors and over sites to keep them top-of-mind to remind us so we won’t make the same mistake. Accident chains are usually fairly long, 10 or so links, often several of those links are check-list items. Frequently if the accident pilot had just read through his check-list, instead of skipping it for what ever reason, the chain would have been broken early, maybe before the plane even powered up, then the event wouldn’t have been one at all.

A large portion of general aviation General Aviation accidents in the United States could be avoided if pilots commit to always using check-lists. Vigilance, professionalism, and a meticulous attention to detail are required skills for pilots, using a checklist is such a simple task, and not doing it can be costly.

For those who are now scared to fly, remember this… Pilots on their own time sometimes ease up on their vigilance, they blink, thats when they make the news. Flying is not dangerous, there is however inherent danger in the act of flying. Career pilots and air carriers do everything they can to mitigate the risks involved in flying. Commercial flying is still one of the safest modes of transportation, it just gets more press when things go wrong. Just ask Capt. Sully.

Flight Schools (pt. 2)

A few years ago I spent a significant amount of time developing a plan for a major academy program with two other people. We started with what we thought our graduates should be able to put on a resume right out of the Transport Pilot program. We made sure to provide a wide variety of actual flight experience covering single engine, multi-engine, piston, turbine, and jet in aircraft with standard instruments and glass panel systems. The program was constructed as an expanded version of a standard part 141 program and an eye toward working with a four year university to ensure an available degree program for our students.

The whole idea behind our program was to give students actual experience in turbine and jet aircraft and some level D simulator training in a transport aircraft allowing for a type rating while enrolled. It was our intention to get our students in position to interview for a regional airline job right out of the academy with all of the experience they would need for a right-seat position.

At the time, the cost to set up this academy program was in the neighborhood of 40 million dollars. A difficult nut to crack to say the least. Since then, the cost of developing a comparable program has dropped significantly to some where around ten million dollars, still not an easy number to reach. All of this was for a transport pilot program though, and thats not the direction I am looking at now. While I am still looking at the development of a professional aviation program, it is not for transport pilots in particular, and not just pilots. There are a number of non-pilot certificates that are very important to the aviation industry, and are difficult to find in the AvEd marketplace.

My desire is to build an academy that caters to aviation professionals across the board. Of course I want to train for and acquire many of these certificates myself, and teach classes for them, but the goal is to make them available to all who are interested.

For now, much to do, and many plans to make. ✈

Flight Schools

Today has been a combination of studying aerodynamics in the PHAK and FAR Parts 141 and 142. One might be inclined to ask, Why?

The answer stems back to my first Ground School Class in an academy setting. Some time around the second week of class it occurred to me; I have absolutely no desire, what so ever, to be an airline pilot. Becoming an airline pilot is, it turns out, the primary goal for most academy style programs. Also as it turns out that a vast majority of pilots who move on to the CFI/II not interested in that path, it’s gonna take a lot more time and a lot more studying on your own, and then more time and studying. Not to mention getting out there to see what other kinds of flying jobs are available.

So what does this have to do with my studying 141, 142 today? Back when I had my epiphany about career paths, I had thoughts of establishing a different kind of aviation academy program. Or, at least one that had more career track options. There are accommodations in Part 141 for schools teaching a wide variety of courses. If there is a certificate or rating for it, one could develop a 141 program for it. Even areas not certificated or rated can have a 141 program, a Test Pilot program to name just one.

Beyond certifying a 141 program, it makes sense for a school or career minded instructor to develop flight and ground school programs around the Part 141 program requirements. If you develop a 141 program and operate it as a Part 61 program you can accomplishing several things, beta testing a program that you could later certify, and teaching to a higher standard. Some of the complexities can weigh down the process, but a clear understanding of how a 141 school needs to be organized on the back end can go a long way in making a Part 61 program look, feel, and act more professional.

Building an career aviation school from scratch is a lot of hard work. It requires a clear understanding of the certificate programs the school will offer, the resources it can and will be able to provide its students, and what the target markets are for the school and its graduating students. These days it also requires a lot of planning for sustainability, flexibility, and endurance for a business to survive. And lets not forget, aviation training is a business.

As FAR 91.103 puts it “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. …”

Climbing Back On Pegasus

Gone FlyingAs the old saying goes “when you fall off the horse, climb back on.” Well, my horse has wings. I have been sitting on the ground far too long. It’s time to climb back up and get in the air.

My return to the skies begins with reacquainting myself with a stack of printed materials published by the FAA, which by the way, have all been revised since I last purchased said publications. So off to The Airport Shoppe at Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV) I go. Now, I could just download and read them all as PDF files. They are all available for free online at www.FAA.gov/library/manuals. I have downloaded them, I like having the digital versions for quick reference when working with students, it’s a lot easier to have them on my laptop than carrying around many pounds of paper “just in case”, but for studying I prefer, and recommend, a hard copy book. Oh, and in case you were wondering, printing the PDF files… several of the handbooks are well over 300 pages making printouts a costly option.

Pilots Handbook of Aviation Knowledge (PHAK)Now, with several new-edition handbooks and a years worth of aviation magazines, AOPA PilotAOPA Flight Training, FlyingEAA Sport Aviation, and NAFI Mentor, sitting on my desk, it’s time to hit the books, and I have been in a big way. Along with the most current issues of the magazines, I have been reading my way through the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25A) or PHAK. At 471 pages, it’s available for free download (in 19 PDF files, 110 MB for all of them) or you can buy it for $22.95 at most pilot shops at airports and online.

Reading through the PHAK, all of the hours spent in American Flyers CFI Academy and teaching ground schools are coming flooding back. I am on chapter 4 – Aerodynamics of Flight, one of my favorite subjects. After completing the 30 day CFI Academy program I sat in on the next two Academy classes to help out as a TA of sorts. I also taught ground school classes for Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot and Instrument Ratings, and put in a significant number of hours tutoring one-on-one with students in Private, Commercial, Instrument and CFI programs. Aerodynamics of Flight is a subject I taught frequently and well; I must confess though, cross county Navigation and Planning are my top favorites.

To get back in the game as a certified Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) and Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI) I need to study up and demonstrate to an instructor (flight or ground), who is current, that I still possess sufficient knowledge and skill in aeronautics and at the instruction there of, get a logbook sign off stating as much making me current, then I can start teaching again. So this is the first step toward getting back on track over all.

Once I get current as an AGI/IGI and teaching again, it’s will be time to get back in the air and knock the rust off my piloting skills by getting a Biennial Flight Review (BFR) and becoming current for day and night flight, Then it’s back to practicing Flight Maneuvers so I can wrap up my initial Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Once I have my initial CFI in the bag I can move on to my Instrument Instructor rating (CFII). While I am more attuned to primarily being a ground instructor, I do want to take on primary and advanced students in flight instruction.

There are other certificates/ratings I plan on working on soon as well, but the time tables are not worked out yet. For that matter, nether is the funding. There are so many things to do in aviation, flying new aircraft, fly different categories of aircraft, becoming certified to fix them, building them, and a ton of related skill sets and certificates, not to mention all of the flying adventures themselves. So much to learn, do, and teach. One could spend a lifetime just trying new things in aviation; and what a lifetime it will be…

Recording Training Flights

FlyBoyJon150x150-newWhen I first began my flight training I, being a media dork, decided to record my training flights. I made audio recordings from engine start to shut down. Now it’s been a few years and I wish I had continued the practice.

In the aircraft I was flying at the time, recording in-flight audio required me to go and buy a portable comm system because the aircraft were not equipped with audio in/out jacks on the panel other than for headsets. I picked up a modular four position comm that had the in/out jacks I needed and began using it with a small digital recorder. The quality was not great but it worked surprisingly well. I have seven or so hours of me and my instructor at the time, bouncing in, out, and around Oakland International Airport (KOAK) in September and October of 2003.

I started listening to the recordings this last week while I added ID3 and IPTC tags to the files. While listening to the recordings I had several revelations about my training and about that instructor. I am not going to go into the details of the revelations just yet, but I decided to post about in-flight recording in general. It is a simple process and does not require a whole lot of technical knowledge to do, and depending on your aircraft’s capabilities (in/out jacks in the panel and such) it could be darn near effortless.

Why do in-flight recording?

The most obvious is reason is to have a record of your training flights that you can show off to your friends (impressive to non-pilot folk). Beyond that though, I becomes an effective tool for post-flight debriefing. An instructor can go over a segment of the flight with a student with perfect recall. Demonstrating bad habits, from the left and right seat, like maintaining a sterile cockpit at critical phases of flight, positive exchange of controls, missed radio calls, all kinds of things. It can be an invaluable tool for education.

In-flight recordings are also a good tool for instructor evaluation, how you as a student interact with an instructor. This gives the student pilot a tremendous tool to use at a time when the new pilot does not have the experience to recognise lapses in the instructors skills. Had I thought about it, I could have presented information to the chief instructor at the academy that could have helped my instructor improve his skills and enhanced my training.

Lastly, it is a permanent record for you to review years later, maybe on a stormy day when couch flying is the only good option for the day. Listen to one of those old flight recordings and see just how much has changed. What you can do better, what areas needed work. Use it not only for enjoyment but for providing reference points for your current skills. A record you can pass down to the next generation of pilots.

What did I learn?

On first listening I felt awkward, not wanting to share any of the recordings because I look back at what a dufus I sounded like, then I started to analyze what was going on, in my head and in the cockpit, I began to see things, nuances in my training that I had not recognised before.

I had looked back at my early training while I was in a CFI/I academy later and had several revelations about my instructor and the training program I was in at the time, I think It would have been beneficial for me and the rest of my academy class to hear some of the recordings to demonstrate several points.

Now that I am older and wiser I look back again at those first few flights. I now know that It is a good idea to use in-flight recording on training flights as a student or an instructor. I can use those recordings as tools to improve my skills and those of my students. Don’t be frightened of by the thought of sounding like a dufus, the recordings can only help you improve your flying experience as a student or an instructor.

Spend a few bucks on a comm and a digital recorder if you have too. It is a wise investment that will pay rewards throughout your aviation carrier.

Blue skys and tail winds,
~FlyBoyJon