CFI: Curious Flying Individual, Crazy Flying w/Idiots, Can’t Fly Inough

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about a flight lesson in a Grumman Tiger. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Who knew that a closed flight school would open the door (you get in, open it, and he gets in) to so many styles and manners of certificated flight instructors? Really, I am not checking them out for my next CFI. I am simply learning from them. In January, with 15 hours under my left seat and a long way from solo in 2015, I decided to see how many CFIs I could fly with in 2014.

Jean's logbook, with endorsements from some of her many CFIs

Jean’s logbook, with entries from some of her many CFIs.

I get itchy to go up only once a month, so I am not expecting much progress until I settle down with a field, an airplane, and an instructor.

While I have the time and money to progress as fast as I want in learning to fly, I am in no rush. I plan to take three years to solo. This puts me into a unique category. I would like to become competent flying an airplane, yet I am not interested in continuing on to my pilot certificate (or so I say now).

In one blog I read, “Twenty hours to solo at age 21, and one hour for each year of age after that.” While my hours are slowly creeping up with much review and some new material, at age 68, I will not panic until my presolo hours hit 50.

I am delighting in each review flight I take with different instructors in different airplanes at different airports. I am surprised how each CFI adds to my learning and understanding. Each instructor seems to emphasize different aspects or teach/reteach the basics in a different manner. While each skill I use in the air is not a totally new one for me, I learn more each flight. I love the way my prior understandings and my new ones come together to slowly increase my comfort and my skills.

In some ways, checking out new instructors is almost as much fun as flying.

I have had nine different CFIs in 20 hours of instruction. I’ve flown three different types of airplanes; most were Cessna 172s.

The CFI entries in my logbook tell you a lot about their levels of expertise and what I learned or reviewed. “Discovery flight,” says one. “Climbs, descents, constant rate and speed, medium turns, trim, taxi, airport and airplane protocol,” says another. And these two CFIs took me up in the same airplane at the same airport, albeit a short 0.3 flight versus a 0.9 flight. One was just starting his time in this role. The other had taught many.

EPSON MFP imageI was quite impressed by the handouts the more experienced instructor gave me before we headed to the airplane. While three of the flight instructors I have flown with handed me a list for radio calls, and the one who took me through my first 14 hours drew many diagrams before our flights, I especially appreciated one handout from this instructor.

The illustrated runway layout included instructions for radio calls and what to do with the instruments at each point on the way to land this particular airplane. I have had less than two hours at airports without towers, so radio calls are a bit different. Abeam the number on the runway on downwind, “Carb heat, cut power, 1st notch flaps, trim to 90 mph.” At 45 degrees and turn to base, “Call base and 2nd notch flaps.” Yes, these become second nature to pilots. Not yet for me. The diagram and the notes are particularly nice to study for this particular airplane and airport.

Another CFI, on a similar airport diagram, included altitude. So many details for landing in the pattern. Complicated considering the ease of takeoff. Once on the runway you just stay straight, throttle on, and lift that nose at speed.

Even the first time up in the air with me, the more experienced flight instructors seem a little bit more confident in talking me into a move rather than taking over the controls. I did understand one grabbing the controls to quickly taxi our small 172 off the runway for a large commercial flight coming in behind us.

Some flight instructors are a master at my comfort level, the absolutely most important factor for me. If I am feeling comfortable in the airplane with the instructor, I remember more and I learn more during the lesson. And that CFI can ask and receive much from me. Steep turns, sure. Stalls, bring them on. No help on the landing. Well…

Instructors vary on how much they talk or tell you what to do, or ask if you feel confident and want to do a maneuver (takeoff for me, fine, landing, talk me down please in the crosswind). Some just confidently expect you to do what they suggest. “Play with it,” one says. And I do. And after he evaluates my skill we play with it even more. Steeper, faster, funner.

Learning something each time. Getting different teaching styles and experiences. One thing though—most have told me that I taxi a little too fast. I think it is because it took me so long to learn it. I promise to get that right next time. Fast taxiing will slow down to match my slow solo progress.

While I have several airports and dozens of flight instructors within an hour of my home, right now I am leaning toward LebanAir Aviation at Lebanon State Airport (S30). The friendliest (and probably cheapest) little airport in Oregon: $80 airplane, $40 instructors.

This might be the one. I have eight more months to check out CFIs. At LebanAir alone, two instructors down (I mean up) and six to go at that small airport.

Six years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. My guide got ill, and I finished that trek on my own. Polé, polé, slow and steady, was the mantra. Both with and without my guide it worked. Guess I am doing that in learning to fly. I’ll get there slowly. And some CFI and I will land, he or she will get out. This CFI will leave, not because of illness, but because I am ready. The CFI will send me up into those heights. Alone.—Jean Moule

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