Tips for New CFIs

Here are some tips for those working on becoming a CFI or who already are, but want 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 Aviation Radio Communications page for several great, and free, resources. Tip: “Last call” is a pointless waste of airtime used by amateurs. Don’t use it!
  • Make sure you teach correctly the first timeIn other words, remember primacy! This is crucial. I cannot stress enough how important primacy is. Undoing an incorrect habit is very difficult. A critical example is proper landing patterns. These days patterns have grown to incredible sizes for many pilots. Don’t fly 747 sized patterns in a small airplane! It adds risk and is woefully inefficient, yet I see this constantly.
  • Ensure you are comfortable with stalls!  It is amazing that I have to mention this but there are instructors who are not comfortable with stalls. DO NOT let this be you! If an instructor cannot be comfortable teaching stalls then I see that as a real problem. The instructor will likely be a hazard in some ways and will not provide good instruction in the key areas of stalls, slow flight and some other maneuvers. To fix this, get training from someone who can teach you advanced stalls and help you overcome any apprehension towards stalling. Education and practice are key factors here plus maybe a little psychology to help with the attitude change required. I can help with this if you don’t have someone else who can. Conquering stalls leads to the next key area…
  • Get adequate spin training. I would bet that most CFIs are not comfortable nor competent at teaching spins despite the endorsement they get that allows them to teach spins! 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 (often 15 minutes) to no ground instruction and then go fly and do 1 or 2 spins 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 assign homework to complete before I give a 2 hour spin lecture and then we fly 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 means the endorsee has a respectable level of knowledge and skill.

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 (such as my Enhanced Spin Endorsement Course).

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. Stall/Spin Awareness training should be taught/reviewed for every certificate, every flight review or IPC and any other opportunity there is to cover the subject. Getting good spin training, as mentioned above, and some extra study to really understand spins and the stall/spin mishap problem will help you to be an effective provider of stall/spin awareness training. If you want some ideas on what to cover, see my “Cuckoo’s Guide to Stall-Spin Awareness Knowledge” on the All About Spins page.
  • 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? See my Aerodynamics page for some good info.
  • 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 getting hours 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. Once you do leave for the airlines, be sure to keep your Instructor certificate current. All too often a pilot lets their instructor certificate lapse and later regrets doing so. It is far easier to stay current than to re-institute an expired certificate!
  • 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 (and possibly the customer’s safety) 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.
  • Be Approachable and honest. An instructor’s PTs should not be afraid to ask any questions. Work hard to develop good relationships where the PT is willing to ask anything. Also, an instructor should not be afraid of saying “I don’t know”. Its guaranteed that new instructors wont know everything. Don’t lie or guess your way through a question to “save face” and avoid looking like you don’t know something. PTs will figure it out and the instructor will lose credibility.
  • 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. Be a good mentor and do all you can to keep your PTs from getting discouraged.
  • 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 other organizations out there to consider as well.
  • If you are interested in what high time CFIs emphasize when they teach, read this study, Practices of High-time Instructors in Part 61 Environments. The study starts on page 41 of the spring 2005 edition of the International Journal of Applied Aviation. There are some great bits of knowledge to gain from this paper.

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