Your connection with the sky

Pilot Path: Flight Instructor

I've been highlighting various professional pilot paths and the profession tonight is a favorite of mine, flight instructor.

Flight instruction, by many pilots, is unfortunately seen as only a means to an end.  Just a way to build flight experience before moving on to the next rung on the professional pilot ladder.  But for some instructors, they realize that becoming a certified flight instructor (CFI) is much more than just another line on a resume, it is the key to sustaining general aviation as we know it today.

As a flight instructor you do more than just teach others to fly, you are directly responsible for promoting and advancing civilian aviation.  By transforming ordinary people into pilots, you are insuring the continuation of one of our nation's greatest freedoms, to fly!

Flight instruction is by far one of the most rewarding jobs in all of aviation.  The thrill of sending a student on their first solo flight, or on their first solo cross country is very exhilarating.    The joy of knowing that you are in some ways responsible for everything your student knows about flying is both sobering and profoundly satisfying.

Flight instruction is also very challenging.  They say that the flight instructor certificate is one of the more difficult checkrides in all of aviation.  You are too not only know the information, but to be able to teach it as well.  This requires a much greater depth of understanding.  Every student is unique and that requires a working knowledge of psychology and psychiatry.

Civilian flight instructors have also played important roles in our nation's history, playing a large part in the primary training of most of the military pilots of both the First and Second World War.

Flight instruction is often overlooked by many professional pilots in light of more glamarous careers but I find nothing more glamarous than being in charge of creating and shaping a new generation of aviators.

Wherever the road of aviation takes you (and it can take you many great places) I hope you don't overlook the role or importance of your own flight instructor and that when given the opportunity to become a flight instructor you'll consider it carefully and say yes.  We could use you.

15 Responses to “Pilot Path: Flight Instructor”

  1. You can also carve a niche for yourself as a flight instructor. For example, when thinking about learning the G1000, who doesn't think of Max Trescott first? Derek DeRuiter of Northwoods Aviation in Cadillac, MI is one of the very few CFI's who will give you instruction in a plane on skis. (He'll rent you the plane solo as well.) I can't imagine a more fun job than turing people upside down all day like Ben Freelove and the other instructors at Sean Tucker's Tutima Academy get to do.

    All of these instructors are experts in their own niche of flying, and they all get to have fun and more importantly make a pretty decent living while sharing their love of flying. How cool is that?

  2. One of the most rewarding apects of Flight Instruction is when you see your students replicate what you have bestilled upon them during their instruction. It is sereal to see students perform maneuvers exactly as you have taught them. What is even more rewarding is having FAA check-airman compliment the way your student peformed on the check-ride. The CFI certificate is a difficult certificate to obtain, as it should be. You are entrusted with training someone with a resonsibility that could either promote or hender an entire industry based on their actions. Although many pilots use flight instruction as a stepping stone to further their careers, they should not take their responsibility lightly.

  3. Michael Townsend Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I have been a flight instructor for 27 years and have loved every moment of it. One of joy's of flight instruction is the people you meet and learning why they want to become a pilot. I have flown over 70 different aircraft and have taught in full motion simulators as well, which is one of the benefits of being an instructor. Another benefit is owning your own buisness as a flight instructor.
    You can make a very good living as an instructor, it takes time, but as one's experience and reputation builds so does the income as more opportunities come your way. I have never been without plenty of work as an instructor despite the up's and down's of the economy. When people ask what I do, I tell them I am a professional flight instructor and that opens the door to questions about flying and then the question about learning to fly. Being a flight instructor is simply just a lot of fun!

  4. Aaron L Daniels Says:
    February 28th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Becoming a flight instructor has been my goal since I started flying back in 2005. Then I was 43 and was learning to fly for me. But as many student pilots, financial resources indicate how often I could fly. Though I had saved up and would be able to move through my instrument training fairly quickly, just under two years, I knew that if I want to keep my hours up, I'd have to find something to do inside the industry. And, starting over as a first officer seemed a little too far back to go with one son thinking about college and a daughter about to start high school.

    I'm making the last 100 hours before I can get my commercial ticket as "profitable" as possible. Complex and multi-engine by this September. That should get me close to 200 hours. During the last 50 hours and in between mastering the maneuvers, preparing for the instructor exams, I will land at every public airport within the 50 radius of Danielson (CT) Airport (LZD). I want to be able to help my very first student be as adventurous as I was, with a touch more insight.

    Save some fun for me guys, I plan to be in the instructor class of 2011!!

  5. John L. Hosp Says:
    March 1st, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Having been a flight instructor since 1984, I can say that it has truly been a very rewarding profession. I say profession because, to me, that's what teaching is, a profession and not just a pastime.
    There is nothing more rewarding than the passing on of knowledge to another and making that student pilot become the best possible pilot that he/she can be.
    The flight instructor is the front line of aeronautical knowledge and performance and I would hope that all flight instructors would see it in that light regardless of career aspirations.

  6. Thanks for the comments guys. You affirm how it is truly a very rewarding experience.

  7. CommanderDave Says:
    March 15th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Commercial Dreams - Derailed by Commerce??

    I am currently a Private Pilot who is looking to make a career change later in life. I'm 41 years of age now, and have decided my career which has been good to me and profitable, hasn't been very fulfilling. I love to fly and I have decided it's time to truly honor that dream.

    I have recently decided to hedge my mortgage and retirement accounts to re-invent my future. I'm looking to begin school at ATP (Airline Transport Professionals) in mid-April, at least I was until I came into one snag.

    I have put together all of the money I could in an attmept to make this training, I needed about $69,000 to complete the school and take care of things at home while I am gone. I decided to re-mortgage my house and use all of the equity I could, and I have finally gotten enough money, but there is no buffer for after graduation.

    I decided it would be prudent to take out a student loan to pay the tuition, leaving all of the money I have in the bank as a fall back until I can begin earning again using my new found Multi, and Commercial skills.

    Then there's the rub. I'm told by the administrators of the school, and the student loan department and Sallie May that it is customary to have a co-signor to complete my loan package. They tell me I'm apprived, but a co-signor is needed to complete the paperwork.

    Now I'm no beginner to credit. I have just finished paying off my car of 6 years, I have owned my home for 13 years and have built up equity in it. I own a plane (making payments) and have been an upstanding member of my community. At 41 years of age, a co-signor should be out of the question. But they say it's not, and without one I can not continue.

    Has anyone run into this before? Does anyone have any suggestions? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Dave

  8. I think the real money in becoming a CFI comes when you specialize in a certain area.

    Become A Marine Pilot

  9. Dave,

    Before going full speed ahead with ATP (which is a hefty financial commitment) you should consider each step yourself. I began at 42, in achieving my Private from a local flight school, bought into a 172 partnership, built time on trips with friends (having them help slit some costs) while working with an independent CFII for my Instrument ticket. I then sought out an affordable school for my commercial and multi. Now I am working on a G1000 checkout to begin working with a Part 61 group flying aerial tours, continuing to fly my own plane performing aerial photography services and now beginning the first steps towards my CFI - The dreaded FOI test! Getting this far (including my share of a 172) did not cost anywhere near $69k and I had a lot of fun getting here too! ATP, Embry-Riddle and formal aviation universities are great for some (younger with more time to take on that sort of debt) but it's not for someone making a mid-life career shift so much and who is hopefull to one day retire at somewhat of a reasonable age. Keep your cash, find alternatives, make aviation contacts and get your name out there after you have your commercial ticket and some hours under your belt (something like 350+ ASEL and approximately 50+ AMEL). Join the Civil Air Patrol and volunteer your time to help a great cause while receiving excellent training and working your way to a Mission Pilot. ASA training materials worked great for me and were very affordable (skysupplyusa.com). Just hold on to your hard earned money and equity in your home and don't put yourself in such financial debt for a potential career that may or may not ever be able to pay it all back and put you back ahead. There are other great alternatives to making quick progress without breaking the bank. Best of luck to you with your aviation goals!

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