A certificated flight instructor (CFI) had his student were practicing hover taxiing before concluding the last of three flights in a Bell 47D–a model known for its docile flight characteristics and forgiving nature. The student had trouble that day maintaining rotor RPM during maneuvers, so the CFI looked inside to check as the student started to apply collective. When the CFI looked back outside, the helicopter was nose high and rolling to the right. He tried unsuccessfully to recover. The main rotor blades struck the ground. No one was hurt.
Due to the highly responsive characteristics of helicopters, the briefest bit of inattention by a CFI can result in an accident. This has haunted anyone who has ever worked as a CFI. Yet, in defiance of logic, we rely on the least-experienced pilots to do the vast majority of primary flight instruction. It should be no surprise that flight instruction has the highest accident rate among commercial helicopter operations.
One problem is that many pilots instruct just to build the time needed to get a better job. Competency as a CFI requires more than that. To be effective, it requires an interest in and desire for instructing. A CFI applicant needs only a cursory knowledge of teaching theory to pass the FAA’s fundamentals-of-instructing written test. It is a far more complex matter to understand how the mind processes information and learns, but a thorough understanding of this is what separates a professional teacher from a time-builder.
Flight instruction is demanding. A CFI must allow extremely inexperienced people to manipulate the flight controls, typically in a light, highly responsive, and unforgiving Robinson R22, in which most primary flight instruction is done. Instructors must continually weigh when the time is right to take over the controls. A student can benefit from correcting his own mistakes, but allowing a student to go too far might make the helicopter unrecoverable. Accident reports from the NTSB consistently list delayed remedial action and inadequate supervision as probable causes in training accidents. Such reports offer a wealth of information, and their complete review can be a great learning tool for CFI applicants.