Every once and a while I get asked “What should I look for in a good flight instructor?” This is a pretty complicated question because each student is different and each student is looking to get something different out of the experience. I can sit here and tell you with flying, like anything else in life, you get out of it what you put into it. There is truth in this statement but there are also efficiencies involved. You can put a ton of effort into learning to fly but if your instructor is not a good match, it is going to be a harder road that could end in quitting or other more tragic consequences.
When I was looking for a flight instructor I contacted our club CFI and told him that I want to be the best and safest pilot ever and I want an instructor who would be tough on me to fly safely and with precision. There is also a schedule and body size component that is taken into account when matching students with instructors so I was hopeful but understood the parameters may not give me exactly what I wanted. I was introduced to my current instructor and was told that if it doesn’t work, we can try to match to another, no hurt feelings.
I, personally, think I have the best instructor out there. She is extremely organized, firm in her teachings and a joy to learn from. She has a ton of experience in flying and teaching, so I try to absorb as much as possible. Another thing that sets her apart is that she is willing to do whatever needed to help her students. She didn’t have to fly with me the other night. The rules say I have to give 24 hours notice in scheduling, I think I gave her three. She goes the extra mile in communication even days before a flight. Constantly evaluating conditions to help me learn what is acceptable and what is a bit too much to handle. Above all, there is no need to take unneeded risks.
She works very well for me but maybe not for others. Our personalities work well together and I think we are making great progress because we are on the same page. I ask questions no matter how stupid I think they might be. Even if I am pretty sure of the answer, I find that in the response I glean a bit of new insight. I can see how her school teacher style and firmness may not work well with others but it works for me.
I think that you need to figure out what you are trying to get out of learning to fly. Do you want to be a career pilot? Do you want to become a CFI? or like me do you just want to fly family and friends around the local area and maybe take some short trips about. That will determine a starting point for the type of instructor that you want. Next is all about teaching style. Ask the instructor questions about how he would deal with certain situations. IE.
How do you deal with:
Student struggling to figure out stabilizing approaches, Pitch for Speed, Throttle for altitude
Struggles with flair height
Struggles with Stalling
Struggles with steep turns
Struggles with coordination
These are some of the things that you can ask to get a sense of how they deal with issues that are common to learning to fly. Also ask what their passing rate is for check rides as well as what is the average hours for students to reach check ride. If an instructor says most of his/her students get to check ride around 40 hours…. They are either the greatest instructor ever or there are going to be some fundamentals that are just good enough. If you’re like me, you don’t want to be just good enough. On the other hand, if it takes most of the students over 100 hours, there may be some issues in translating fundamentals to the students.
The national average is around 70 hours to finish PPL training. There are a lot of flight schools that claim they can get you through in the minimum 40 hours but that is very suspect and I’m willing to bet, most take around 70 hours.
The FAA says that you can solo in as little as 10 hours. I solo’d at 27 hours with extreme confidence in my abilities as a pilot. I was given high marks from several instructors including the chief flight instructor for my flying abilities. This is due to spending the needed time in the four fundamentals of flight and putting them all together with precision and safety. To put it in perspective. When you solo an aircraft, this means that the instructor and flight school has complete confidence that you can fly an aircraft in reasonable weather with competence and safety. After you solo, you are working with your instructor on pilotage/planning, ATC communications and night flight as well as oral prep for your checkride. You will solo to the practice area to work on the precision of your maneuvers. All by yourself, no instructor…. just you, an airplane in the great big, sometimes, crowded sky. Do you think that with as little as 5-8 lessons, you would be ready for that?
My ground school instructor introduced me to the concept of primacy of Learning. I had heard of this before but dismissed it because of associations with things like Soccer or Football. Basically the deal is, in any situation where you are stressed or scared, you revert to what you learned in the primacy of your training. This is a very important concept in flight training because if you are trained incorrectly, then when a situation arises, even though you have learned better later, you will revert to your original primary training. You want to make sure that when your engine goes out, that you revert to the correct primary training.
If you want to fly, it is more than likely because you have a natural passion or curiosity. You want to be as safe as possible, so it is very important that you find an instructor who will train you the right way. If you ever feel like they are short cutting, find another instructor. Above all, ask questions about everything. Never make assumptions because some things in flying are counter intuitive. It is an amazing experience with big challenges and satisfying rewards. At the end of a hard flight I always think, “I got to fly an airplane today!”, and that is pretty cool.