In my first 14 hours of flying at the tender age of 14-15 I had one instructor who set the benchmark for what I assumed every other instructor would be like in future. He was clear, concise, patient and a wealth of information (or so it seemed to my young mind at the time), despite the fact I’m fairly sure he was just hour building before jumping into the big jets.
Fast forward to last year when I finally get my arse in to gear to continue my training. I was expecting my new instructor to be somewhat like the old one, I had no reason to expect that instructors style would vary so much, but my new instructor was incredibly laid back and basically just let me get on with it. There was very little active instruction going on and for me to learn anything I had to ask questions constantly, though it was usually just re-confirming something I already knew or if I was unsure. On the second or third lesson I actually had to say to him “you don’t give much away, can I have a little more from you?”. His reply was that I simply wasn’t doing anything wrong or anything that needed much improving, but he nonetheless agreed to speak up more often. He explained that his teaching style was to observe and just correct trends or mistakes. 45 hours later and I passed my skills test first time with compliments from the examiner.
Since my skills test I have flown with six other instructors. Four to be checked out in new clubs/different aircraft/aircraft hire, one for short field instruction and one for spin recovery. Most recently I was being checked out at a new club and all the instructor wanted to see was that I could safely fly some circuits. 40 minutes in the logbook later and I was checked out and found competent in a new (for me) aircraft type, and allowed to go solo.
Three of these six have been of the type to sit back, let me get on with it and say very little. The only time I got feedback from them was when I asked questions.
I guess I feel like I should be being overwhelmed with information and critique whenever I go flying, and that’s the way I’d like it, but I always seem to get the exact opposite.
So my question is, what’s your style? Am I flying with the wrong people? Or in the instructing world, is less sometimes more?
Learning to fly, two of my instructors were teachers, and this worked well as they had more free time for flying and were very good at the didactic side, to clearly explain concepts etc. The third was a laid back Air France pilot who fell asleep during my practice PPL exam, although I’m sure he was pretending and secretly watching. All three instructed on a voluntary basis, which meant they cared about long term development rather than just being paid. The downside is that they weren’t in a hurry for a quick PPL and I had to push at the end (or maybe I wasn’t ready).
Flying in the USA I had the other end of the spectrum; hour-building instructors who didn’t care about the student, e.g. not turning up for lessons because they have an airline interview, and “_you_ tell me what we’re going to do today”; or only caring about being paid, e.g. asking me to help wash the plane and charging for the time spent. The hour builders were very good at the passing exams kind of theory. The best was a young bloke (younger than me and fewer hours at the time) who was really passionate about aviation and flying, but he got a (dream) job flying light aircraft and helicopters for the Sherriff’s Department. I really wish we’d stayed in touch. Even remunerated, you won’t get rich instructing: you’ve got to want to do it.
I’ve also flown with a couple of ex-military pilots and found both to be checklist and procedure orientated rather than focusing on actually flying; maybe this comes from flying larger aircraft? One was a real windbag.
The laissez-faire attitude probably increases as the student pilot gains more experience; early lessons should be more directed. Teaching adults is harder than teaching children in some ways, and the average student pilot demographic has more self esteem and disposable income than most in society. Instructing, and especially gauging the other pilot, can’t be easy sometimes. The invitation to self analysis – what went well/badly and why, what would you do differently next time and why – is good as it avoids confrontation between pilot and instructor, and sets up a future philosophy of reflection and improvement for the pilot.
I’ve also had “another ten or twelve hours and we’ll let you go solo” for an aircraft type I had a couple of hundred hours on. This was school policy rather than the individual instructor though. I didn’t go back.
It’s definitely a good idea to have questions to ask and ideas of what to do. The best instructors care about what they’re doing and about the pilot, and in my experience are teachers.
I’ve learnt something from everyone I’ve flown with, even if it’s not to fly with them again.
I think this is just a style preference. I am a technical engineer and a self learner; for any given lesson I had probably covered 95% of it before we went flying. As a result, I am pretty sure that my instructor had the controls for 20 minutes total in the time it took me to get my license. I would have been very irritated if my instructor was constantly barraging me with crap.
Fortunately, my instructor was laid back but precise, patient, and very good at setting the challenge just right. Rather than critiquing me endlessly he would just set a challenge commensurate with my developing skill. When I later did my night rating with him (in Canada you have to fly a night cross country and a bunch of other hours) we did gusty crosswind landings in the rain at night. A challenge yes, but it let me see my limits with an instructor in the other seat. All very good for learning. When we debriefed, I would self critic and he would add whatever I missed.
I like this style, but there can be traps. For example, because I knew most of the material, he barely had to tell me anything; however, how does he know what I don’t know? We had a few very technical sessions before my flight exam just to make sure the ground had been covered.
What I want from instructors is not a load of critique, I can already see if I am off altitude, etc.. I want to learn what the next level of finesse is… however, this is probably for after you get your license. At the begining, you just need to be safe.
Instruction should be Demonstrate – Teach – Practice. The balance will vary for level of instructing – in the immediate run up to skills test the student should be managing and running most of the flight unaided, things like night flying and Instrument instruction will also require lesser levels of demonstrate and teach and more student practice. However far too many instructors at ab initio stages do not properly demonstrate and teach and think students will miraculously learn new skills by being dumped straight in hand on. Witness the poor students hammering the circuit for hours on end trying to land when what they need is the approach and landing retaught potentially a number of times.
Remember back to school how few teachers were really inspiring? Maybe one, out of all of them, one that you remember fondly. I had one that was brilliant – but just one. Most were uninspiring and just went through the motions. I’d imagine it’s the same ratio with flight instructors.
I’ve thought of all the FIs I know and I can’t put them into categories. But some I know I will never fly with them again.
What I noticed is that most are pretty directive for the first preflight/startup/take off, and when you show them you know your stuff, they relax a lot. That tells you how much confident they are in our training système :)
So an instructor that doesn’t talk much is a good sign abiut your level but he won’t teach you much.
Did you do real post flight analysis ?
From the approx 10 FIs I know, maybe 1 or 2 are really knowledgeable and 2 or 3 are good teachers. I belive it is the general ratio.
Then, as I don’t have a infinite choice of FIs, I choose mine according to what I want from them, specifically every time. Look for their strong points and use them.
We need more FIs like Balliol !
How FIs are trained could be a long and interesting thread :)
Great post from Balliol and I suspect we are seeing the difference between the military (who need to produce competent pilots to eventually fly some very expensive hardware) and the civilian.
I flew with a wide variety of instructors, a few of whom were basically totally out of order if not certifiably mad, and one of them was an IR FE (now retired thankfully). The best one (in terms of teaching me effectively) was also pretty eccentric, as well as being easily tempted by very young girl students and that was a part of his eventual downfall
Demonstrate – Teach – Practice.
This is new age method, and the best IMO. I had a full lunatic for the first part of my PPL, who is still floating about, and I was put off flying for a number of years. We cross the road when we see each other. Last year I trained as a CRI. I had an instructor who was teaching me how to instruct. She was a disaster. I refused to fly with her on the second flight, and asked the CFI for my money back. CFI took over my final flights and training.
The problem is that we have not moved forward in the twenty years from my first experience to the my last experience. Fully laid back instruction with little or no feedback is of no use to the student. Full on Top Gun is obviously dangerous. As most things in life, balance is the key. A novel idea, a full and concise brief prior to the flight??
I rarely see one given, and if it is, it is generally delivered poorly.
Instructor demonstrates in flight, student carries out shown method, then it is practised. On to the next stage building as you go. I also like to make any instruction fun and to be enjoyed. There are some instructors out there who are ’’good’’, but you really have to search them out.
I’m a microlight instructor now, and from the seminar we had, about 15 people, I would say there are 100 different “styles” The seminar was several days with role playing, learning to communicate. Funny experience, a bunch of middle aged men sitting on a chair with a broomstick in their hand yelling at each other
I don’t know about “style”, I think this depends. One clue is to be precise and to the point. If the student do well, pinpoint exactly what he has done right, and if he does something wrong, pinpoint that as well. Elaborate this on the ground, use the time in the air for flying.
What people usually don’t think about, is how vastly different the students are. Some just got it in them, and learn in no time, others never learn, and never will. Some must be petted and encouraged, others must be “put in place” some times. I guess you could say this requires different “styles” ?
Demonstrate, teach, practice is of course what it’s all about also for microlights.
But I’m rather new at this. I have only one finished with his license, several others in the loop.
What people usually don’t think about, is how vastly different the students are
Very much so; I posted that in the link I posted earlier. I think a common failing in flight instruction is a failure to assess the personality of the customer. And the older ones are usually harder, for a variety of reasons.
I suspect it is easier in the military, because you get kicked out at various stages, plus the students are young. Whereas in PPL training you don’t ever need to leave; there are loads of 100hr students, and not all of them are “slow”… some just enjoy the experience.
And for sure I have known some who didn’t really ever want to fly alone. Two old ladies, prob99 with an inheritance, at Shoreham in the 1990s, come to mind; at way past 100hrs they did say how they enjoyed the company of the young and virile instructors, and it is way better than a care home where they stuff you with Citalopram and sit you in a chair, and at their age they would have been relatively safe from advances