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Good - and bad - stories about Flight Instructors / PPL training

(continued from other thread)

I can take it if a CFI tells me that some part of my flying is lousy, but I guess it’s really the WAY people talk with you as a customer.

If there’s just a little bit of humour and charm, nothing is a problem. What IS a problem are FI’s who crawled out of some dark place, became big pilots with big jackets and big egos who try to impress you.

YAWN!

When I learned to fly i was already 34 years old (although i had flown in my dad’s plane as a kid), and one of the first things I didn’t like about aviation were the egos of some FIs. That was really a problem, because then I was already working in a pretty sophisticted job surrounded by, mostly, well educated and nice people. Then you come to the airport and you’re in another world. I know people who couldn’t take it and walked away. Like that succesful aeronautical engineer who just couldn’t stand it that they talked to him like he was a small kid.

CFIs, I soon found out, come in many colors. My first one was great, he let me take-off and land on my first flight without touching the controls. The next one, checking me out for the solo, was a wreck who started panicking when he saw a snow shower 5 miles ahead and would always hold the controls when I landed. The next one was an aircraft dealer who i did the Multi with and we did barrell rolls in the twin all afternoon … and then I had a CFII for my IFR who was so rude that I once lost it totally and screamed at him ;-)

The absolute negative highlight though was an arrogant character who was my wife’s CFI when she did her PPL. One afternoon we drove home from her last lesson, she had just completed her 500 km solo through Bavaria, when she asked me: “I wonder what I should have done had the engine quit”. I looked at her, with disbelief and said “Well, you would do what they showed you when you were practicing emergency landings”…. to find out that they had never done ONE stall nor ONE emergency landing ….

The next day I faced the CFI and asked him about it and he went “uh, you leave that to me, i know what I’m doing”. I almost slapped him and told him that he’s an asshole and that he could do that with his own wife, son or daughter. Soon after he left the school, and the airport altogether …

But i had phantastic instructors too. The best ones were former military instructors I had in the US, like my friend Frank, who taught me to fly tailwheels. One time I lost control of the Cessna (Bird Dog) taking off…. ran over the adjacent meadow straight towards an apple tree, which I missed by about 20 feet. Once I could breath again I asked Frank over the intercom: “Hey, why didn’t you take control?” …. , to get the following texan reply: “Uh, Alex, I was sure you wouldn’t want to fly us into that tree”.

Three days later I was a pretty good tailwheel pilot ;-)

(Probably lost it all again because i never do it …)

Flyer59 wrote:

I can take it if a CFI tells me that some part of my flying is lousy, but I guess it’s really the WAY people talk with you as a customer.

If there’s just a little bit of humour and charm, nothing is a problem. What IS a problem are FI’s who crawled out of some dark place, became big pilots with big jackets and big egos who try to impress you.

Oh yes. Well, the notion that it’s a lot about the WAY you get a message across applies to all aspects of life, not only flight instructors.

But in flight instructors, especially, I’ve also found a number of odd types and it’s really sad: I prefer flying with the younger ones at my school because they don’t come with that sort of “attitude” that the older ones seem to have and which makes it very unpleasant to fly with them. But then they’re obviously the more experienced ones so I should like to think it would be more beneficial to fly with them.

I remember one time after coming back from the US, one of my first lessons in Germany. When I picked up my flight bag to walk to the C152, the instructor asked me if I wanted to go on vacation with him or why I would want to carry all that stuff (really just a “normal” Jepessen student flight bag). Naive as I was, I left the bag in the school and just grabbed those items I deemed essential (headset, kneeboard, …) and carried them loosely. How stupid is even that… But then, once airborne, I found I was missing my sun glasses… On the next flight I knew better. But I mean.. you’re trying to learn from these guys and his suggesting that it’s somehow inappropriate to carry the entire flight bag influenced me. I had to understand for myself that this was just an old man’s eccentricity rather than a matter of airmanship.

Hungriger Wolf (EDHF), Germany

Hi everybody,

long-time reader introducing himself here.

Having been taught by quite some CFIs in the US and EASA countries, the best ones were always those who made the whole thing fun, reassuring and motivating. I think, the fun part is especially important for PPLs. The worst ones were those who thought the whole instructing thing was about them, and not the student (who btw is paying for the whole thing).

I remember during one of my first lessons in the US, during initial climbout in a 152: My instructor starts moving in his seat and complains that something is poking his butt. He pulls out a Glock out of his pants and says “Damn, I forgot to leave it at home before the lesson…” He had a concealed-carry license apparently.

My glider-flying better half had instructors tell her “if the student doesn’t cry/puke during the first lessons, the CFI didn’t do his job.”

As I’m starting my CFI-course pretty soon, I would be really interested in the experiences of the CFIs around here during their first lessons as instructor, however this might be slightly off-topic and something for another thread.

Germany

Hi Alex – welcome and as you’re based in EDLE, I suppose it’s good I didn’t put names to the stories above.

Hungriger Wolf (EDHF), Germany

Yep, the instructor’s approach makes a massive difference.

I remember my first flying instructor, Pete Thorn, God rest his soul. He used to say imagine picking up a dog shit with a tissue and that’s how you should hold the yoke. That stays with me when I fly today.

Years later I was renewing my licence and as we were taxying to the runway, the young instructor said, "God this is boring, I can’t wait to fly the big stuff’. I remember him too for all the wrong reasons

JWL
Booker EGTB

A fair number of instructors I flew with were variously nutty.

The very first one was nervously grabbing the yoke all the time. But what made me walk out were some nearly-broken wires, with conductors hanging out of them, and about to short to something. This was a PA38, on which you remove the top or side cowling at preflight. He said “they just go to the landing light, so don’t switch it on”. This was an AOC (charter) holding firm, involved in the notorious G-OMAR “fuel management” incident (AAIB report online of course).

Two of my PPL instructors got female students pregnant. You started with suggestive comments about the flap lever, and the narrow cockpit would be a big help. Of course “it takes two to tango” and the girl was obviously going along with it. In a PA28, as one “CFI” explained to me, with a smile, there was the additional feature of the fuel selector which could not be checked unless the instructor leaned right over the student’s legs. It worked best if flying with a girl student wearing a short skirt (as many do – same with driving lessons).

One “CFI” (who had a fake ATPL and TBM + PC12 instructor ratings) boasted how he got £25k from one female student. She found her confidence destroyed each time she made progress. Eventually she dumped him, after 100+ hours. She re-mortgaged her house to get the 25k. He was actually a very good instructor who I did most of my PPL with, but rather too aggressive and I nearly walked out a few times too. He left the industry after some adventures with two very young girls and a financial adventure setting up a new FTO but he is still around.

I had an interesting FAA DPE for the FAA PPL, which I did in Europe, many years ago. He was a visiting one, of Middle Eastern origin. He was known as “Mr Two Checkrides [surname]” because he failed most people, so got 2 x £500. Before the checkride, the wx was crap (~ OVC007, 1000m vis, -RA) and I asked him with a totally straight face what are the requirements for a VFR checkride. He exploded with a Lord Kitchener expression with “YOU TELL ME”. Kitchener was seriously into young boys, BTW. The whole coffee bar – full of other checkride candidates – went silent. So I went around some instructors and nobody could find anything in the FAR-AIM for the Class G airport. After a bit the wx improved (to about OVC010, 2000m, RA) and we went outside. I refused to do it. A friend of mine was with me doing the same process and since he was pushed for time he took my slot. He could not see the runway from the downwind leg but he passed! I did mine the next day. The DPE shouted and yelled and after about half an hour I said I am returning home. He asked why; I said “you are interfering with the flight”. He was happy (he wrote up some partial pass sheet) and I passed the rest the day after, with no big hassle. All paid in cash. My friend had the same behaviour but he was ex RAF so used to having crap thrown at him and take it all with a salute and he just sat there cooly and after half an hour the guy said to him “I have tried to distract you for half an hour and couldn’t so I will now leave you alone”. With me, after the checkride pass, this DPE, seeing my TB20 parked some distance away (I didn’t do it in it), asked me what altitude I was flying back home. I replied “2400ft – there is some Class A down to 2500ft in the UK”. He said “THERE IS NO CLASS A BELOW 18000FT ANYWHERE” My lips were sealed…

I had another aggressive instructor (not a DPE but he became one later) in the USA but he was so over the top it was comical so I just laughed. Anyway I had no choice because I was there for a 2 week slot. I did feel every day like walking out and forget the IR but stuck at it and never looked back – the IR is worth everything in Europe’s totally perverted airspace and the way ATC operate it. That guy’s behaviour was legendary on the forums at the time. However my main FAA IR instructor was brilliant; very disciplined and organised. The DPE I had was good too – a grumpy old bastard (if you met his wife you would see why) who would not let me brief over the internet; he demanded a call to 1-800-WX-BRIEF

This bit is not my personal experience but when the UK CAA started appointing FEs from the FTO industry, they picked up 1 or 2 sadists. Actually they had some of their own too, but the IR FE I had was really brilliant. Anyway, one sadist was known to end his post-checkride debriefings at 10pm. That’s for a flight which ended about 2pm. The school which “worked” him told me to call in sick if I got him allocated. I avoided him by flying with the CAA staff FE, but before that I failed the 170A “bogus test” with another FTO IRE who objected to all kinds of stuff. He “showed me” how to test the rudder travel by jumping on the pedals while stationary on the tarmac (I had the links inspected afterwards), objected to doing engine checks with tailwind, objected to me having selected Lydd as the alternate to Bournemouth (preferring Southampton) etc etc. I believe he has left the industry since too.

How these characters manage to stay on in the business, god knows. Probably because nearly everybody who gets a PPL leaves quietly so the stories don’t get told. But, like bad teachers, they blight many students who just give up.

I posted on this before e.g. here

On a slightly more serious note, I think a lot of the problems in the industry are caused by a poor matching of instruction technique to the student. You get students from all walks of life, from kids who were given 5-10k for xmas and will prob99 never fly after the PPL (but some of them will be very good), all the way to aggressive business execs who take no instruction from anybody because they know best. In between you get a lot of business / professional types who take instruction OK but who hate being taught by people who are less than very competent, and they can spot the less good ones in 5 minutes, in the same way they can spot a useless accountant or a lawyer in 5 minutes. In the end, those who have a long term future in GA are people who have money – it’s a fact – and nowadays you don’t get money if you are a shrinking violet. And the FI course doesn’t prepare you for that. Nor does it prepare you for other (political etc) stuff that goes on at the school where you end up working.

Back to work now

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Some of those stories sound awful! Perhaps many pilots instruct to add “free” flight time to their logbooks, and not because they like to teach others?

Alex wrote:

the best ones were always those who made the whole thing fun, reassuring and motivating. I think, the fun part is especially important for PPLs.

Nailed it!

ATPL / IFR Instructor
Europe

I failed my first IR ride. Pat Carey here in LA is a DPE that is known to be hard on his applicants. But I did my multi with him, he trained me in the 520 for insurance purposes and we also did some IR training in that and I know where he comes from. Vietnam vet. He actually really cares – he wants you to be safe and not kill yourself. And when he fails you he feels as bad for you as you do, but he explains why he had to do it. As much as a failure hurts the ego, I respect that approach.

In my job I encounter “difficult” people all the time, mostly because they care about the work or the product. I don’t mind that at all – they’re name is on that and they want it to be good. I respect that. It’s when someone is nasty just to hurt someone on a personal level, that’s when I get riled up.

Last Edited by AdamFrisch at 04 Nov 16:46

AdamFrisch wrote:

He actually really cares – he wants you to be safe and not kill yourself.

Good point. My observation is that such approach is very rare in GA. Failing a financially sound club member on that complex aircraft checkout is bad for business.

ATPL / IFR Instructor
Europe

Peter wrote:

In a PA28, as one “CFI” explained to me, with a smile, there was the additional feature of the fuel selector which could not be checked unless the instructor leaned right over the student’s legs. It worked best if flying with a girl student wearing a short skirt (as many do – same with driving lessons).

I tend to take these “testimonials” with a grain of salt. It’ a nice and “logical” story, but how many girls has that “CFI” actually flirted up like that? Or has he just heard the story elsewhere and passes it on? Maybe he leaned over once and accidentally touched her knee? It’s easy to amplify stories like that.

I had a taxi driver the other day who was telling me that the best phase of his life was when he was still doing night shifts. He would oh-so-often pick up girls driving home alone from some club and then… Apparently, he’s never had as many girls as during that phase. Now, I’m not sure that is entirely true but maybe it is but then I’m not sure I want to know what kind of girls he was picking up there. None of the girls I know would end a sad and only night by getting laid by some random taxi driver. Or maybe they do. Who knows. But I thought they had better ways to find an adventure.

Oh, this is getting off-topic…

Hungriger Wolf (EDHF), Germany
47 Posts
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