Evaluate vs. Teach (Flight Instruction)

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Duchess in flight thanks to Denis Hersey

I recently added my MEI (multi engine instructor) to my FAA CFI license.  (Certificated Flight Instructor).

This is a simple way for expired old timers (me) to get back in the game of teaching flying.  The FAA flight instructor rating expires if you don’t teach enough (and endorse enough) or take the proscribed renewal classes.  I fell off the teaching wagon in 2001 and lost the legal ability to teach.  This was no travesty until I aged a bit, moved to the Bay Area and realized that I not only like teaching, but I like specific types of teaching such as tailwheel training and endorsements, bush flying, TAA (technically advanced aircraft) as well multi, turbine and high performance transition related training.  


What was special about my recent experience is that it was not a terribly stressful checkride.  And here is where I’d like to help those who have many checkrides ahead of them learn something from my experience. I never liked checkrides: Judgement, stress, finality – who needs that s–t.  So here are some criteria that really helped:

  • Pick an awesome school – I went to CFI Academy.  It is not American Flyers / ATP, but trust me, you don’t want that, you want people like Prince Singh who connect with and care about all their people.
  • Find a good DPE (designated pilot examiner) and book the exam before you start training.  Your DPE will be tough, but fair… and they will also makes sure you learn something.  I did and hence this post.  (You can look up DPE’s for your area at faa.gov)
  • Prepare – If you prepare, and over-prepare (for us slightly more neurotic types), then you can’t go wrong.  In fact, the only thing that can go wrong is managing your own anxiety, which will go away when you realize, that … well… you prepared!

Richard Conte, a DPE in the Sacramento area, took the time to give me a thorough ground exam pre flying.  He zeroed in right away on my weakness – regs and endorsements.  He made me feel that there could be some more attention here, but also afforded me the ability to use whatever I could to answer questions.  Tough ones like “So…. you have a new owner of a Baron, they aren’t “multi” rated yet, and you sign them off to fly solo, … they call you from Los Angeles – way farther than you ever hoped they would go…  what do you do?  Is this legal?  How do you plan for this?”

Evaluate vs. Teach

But the big take away from this experience, was a simple observation of my own style.

I like teaching and I like to talk whilst teaching.  I also don’t like to see airplanes get asymmetric, stone like, or out of control… unless it is me doing it for a reason.  So when things get a little slow, crazy or asymmetric (maybe due to student showing me how they can do a specific maneuver) I get extra chatty: “Ok now… a bit more rudder… oohh.. look at that airspeed… is that good?”

Richard would stop the maneuver.  He’d also stop pretending to be a student (while on the check-ride) and stare at me with a cold glare: “Are you teaching or evaluating?”

This lesson sunk in hard and he repeated it multiple times on the check-ride and we debriefed about it after.  He offered this simple reality:

When he is called to the scene of an accident and the pilot blathers on about what they did or how they got into a situation (or when he has to fail them on a check-ride) he realizes that with the instructor chirping constantly into their headphones, many pilots don’t learn the maneuver.  In fact much of their actual performance is stunted by this well meaning but chatty instructor.

In other words, it is critical, that we, as instructors, allow the student to wander into harm’s way (an exciting Vmc roll beginning perhaps) and as they do that, let them feel the panic and need to recover, before you interject.

If we don’t allow the student to wander off a heading or altitude or remember the correct sequence of recovery priorities on their own, then we are doing them a disservice.

So ask yourself, on each phase of each flight: Are you teaching or area you evaluating?

Your students need both.




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