Here are some tips for those working on becoming a CFI or who already is, but wants to be better at what they do.
- Work hard on good radio communication skills. As an instructor you are setting the example and when you teach someone just starting out they will emulate your communication techniques. Your radio work needs to be excellent. Unfortunately this is not the normal situation. Radio communications are not emphasized in flight training and bad habits are passed down from instructor to student over and over. Help break the cycle and make yourself look and sound better in the process by sounding like a pro on the radio. Be sure to teach your Pilots in Training (PTs) proper and excellent radio work from the beginning. The result is increased safety. See my reading list for a great resource.
- Make sure you teach correctly the first time. In other words, remember primacy! This is crucial. A critical example is proper landing patterns. These days patterns have grown to incredible sizes for some pilots. Don’t fly 747 sized patterns in a Cessna 172 (or the like)! It adds risk and is woefully inefficient, yet I see this constantly.
- Get adequate spin training. I would bet that most CFIs, or at least new CFIs, are not comfortable nor competent at teaching spins despite the endorsement they get that says they are! Having taught many CFIs and CFI candidates spins I have seen the weak knowledge of spins that most show up to training with. Did you know the national average for spin training in the U.S. is little to no ground instruction and then go fly and do 1 spin each direction. This earns the CFI candidate an endorsement. This is pitiful, abysmal, wrong, and any other negative words you or I can think of.
I have queried each CFI that has come through the upset recovery & spin courses I have taught about their previous spin training and almost all of the answers are the same as the national average. How can a CFI be expected to be safe and able to teach spins if they can barely do a spin recovery themselves? I typically give a 2 hour spin lecture and a minimum of 2 spin flights. The result is a CFI candidate with much more proficiency and confidence in spins that average. The spin endorsements I give mean something.
Work hard on the spin academics so you know what you are talking about and can teach it well, get ground instruction from someone knowledgeable and at a BARE MINIMUM do at least 5 spin entries and recoveries each direction. More would be better. Even better yet, take a specialized spin training course if you can.
A CFI can stand out from the crowd by having really strong knowledge of spins (same with upset recovery) just because most do not do more than the bare minimum. Don’t be a bare minimums instructor. Start with my All About Spins page.
- Make sure you have the latest version of AC 61-67: Stall & Spin Awareness Training in your tool box, and read it. Teaching proper stall/spin awareness is a responsibility every CFI should take very seriously. Most loss of control inflight (LOC-I) mishaps can be prevented, the key is proper education and training.
- Make sure you have a strong understanding of aerodynamics. Passing your CFI checkride in no way means this is true. Just as with spin training, the average new CFI’s aerodynamic knowledge is often less than stellar. An example is Maneuvering Speed (Va). How well do you understand this? What exactly does it mean and can you teach some of the nuances related to referencing this speed in flight?
- Don’t focus on getting your hours so you can run off to the airlines. It seems that this is a problem with many CFIs. The hours will come. Flight instructors are in high demand these days so that should not be an issue. Focus on being the best instructor and pilot you can be. CFIs have a very important job, take it seriously and don’t ruin your reputation because all you care about is the flight time.
- NEVER, EVER “Pencil Whip” a Sign-off or Endorsement. There will be times you fly with a friend or feel pressured to endorse a flight review, IPC, checkout, etc. when a pilot did not perform to standards or is not ready. Be resolute no matter the consequences! You are putting your reputation, and potentially your certificate on the line if you give away your endorsement to someone who has not earned it. I have seen pilots who must have had a buddy sign them off on a flight review or IPC because their skills were quite sub-par. When pressured, use tact and explain that they need more training to meet the standards. Be polite and positive and give the pilot a route to success, but do not cave in!
- Don’t skip the debrief. It is easy for busy instructors to rush from one student to the next. Be sure to adequately debrief each flight. Have PTs run the debrief so they can evaluate themselves and then you, the instructor, fills in any gaps. PTs are usually not very good at evaluating themselves in the beginning but get better when they know they have to evaluate themselves each flight and practice doing so. Always end on a positive note.
- Provide a lot of encouragement! The nationwide dropout rate for PTs prior to achieving a private pilot rating is 80%! We as instructors need to help lower this rate. Be sure to present a positive attitude as much as possible and let PTs know when they do well, often. Psychology is a big part of being an instructor. Proper attitudes for the PT and instructor is HUGE. Don’t forget that flying should be fun. Find ways to plan some flights that are instructional and fun.
- Join a Professional Organization. The National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) or the Society of Aviation and Flight Instructors (SAFE) are great instructor organizations that provide many benefits. I also believe every pilot should be a member of AOPA. There are others out there to consider as well.
- Read this AOPA article titled: Instructor Tips
- Watch this 19 minute video: NTSB Most Wanted List Roundtable Highlights – April 24, 2018: LOC in Flight in GA (Short Ver)