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Here’s My Advice...


Editor’s Note: To support this aviation training-focused issue of FAA Safety Briefing, we invited every CFI of the Year since 2000 to offer tips to pilots in training and their instructors. We could almost fill the entire magazine with the enthusiastic responses we got. Here’s the short version — see if you can spot some consistent points.

Bob Hepp – 2016

  • Choose your school and instructor wisely. The skills you will learn will determine the safety of you and your passengers. Do not make your decision based on cheap rental rates.
  • Look at the instructional program. The more structure the better.
  • Ask for a written set of procedures for all of the maneuvers you will be expected to perform.
  • Arrange your schedule and finances to fly two to four times a week.
  • Do your homework. You will maximize your satisfaction and minimize your time, cost, and frustration by coming to each lesson prepared.
  • Don’t let the “pre-solo slump” get you down.
  • Become part of the safety decision chain as early as possible. Learn how to evaluate weather, weight and balance, and maintenance data.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, either do something to feel better about it, or don’t fly.
  • The checkride is a check of your performance compared to the PTS (soon to be ACS). Make sure you can consistently perform to all of those standards before your checkride.
  • Learning to fly is a life-changing endeavor. Enjoy it!

Mary Schu – 2015

  • For every hour you fly, spend at least three hours on the ground studying. Flying is the easy and fun part, but knowledge will play a big role in the safe and successful outcome of each flight. Look at the ACS and get a good idea of expectations well in advance.
  • Budgeting the time and money in advance to complete training keeps the cost and the frustration down. Flying three times a week reduces the cost by about 25 percent.
  • Approach training with a comprehensive “story problem” — think of the information in terms of how it would apply to a real life flying situation.
  • CFIs should make ground and flight training FUN! Vary the places you go. Challenge your learners to contests of skill, and encourage interesting homework assignments. Occasionally just fly for fun — don’t cause anyone to forget the sheer enjoyment of being in the air. Sometimes I throw in an ILS, or fly into a busy airspace airport at night to let a private pilot experience the excitement of ATC, big airplanes, and lots of lights.
  • CFIs need to correctly demonstrate maneuvers, take-offs, and landings. A picture is worth a thousand words. It keeps the CFI’s skills sharp and gives a struggling learner a chance to relax and absorb the information without the distraction of trying to do it at the same time.

Howard Wolvington – 2014

  • Students need to understand airworthiness requirements. Spend some quality time with a CFI to understand the regulations at an application or correlation level of learning.
  • If you are a CFI, don’t dispatch an airplane for a training flight without full compliance with the requirements as stated in 14 CFR section 91.213(d) — and make sure your students understand them.
  • To support training on this subject, I have created a presentation available to any CFI or student: http://fly

Dean Eichholz – 2013

  • I often see weakness in takeoffs and landings at both the private and commercial levels. Learn to fly a stabilized approach on final until touchdown by practicing key skills in the practice area.
  • Spend time in the practice area perfecting the skills for stabilized glide path, angle of attack control (including stalls and recoveries), and ground reference maneuvers to eliminate the “common errors” and make your landings consistent and professional from the beginning.
  • Acquire and use the references listed in the PTS or ACS. For takeoffs, landings and go-arounds, these include the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, the Airplane Flying Handbook, and the Pilot’s Operating Handbook.

Judy Phelps – 2011

  • Choosing the right instructor is key to the flight training experience. It’s okay to change instructors if you’re not compatible with your CFI. Remember, you’re the customer!
  • Your flight training should have structure. Your instructor should use a syllabus, and when you walk out the door you should know what you’re going to be doing on your next lesson.
  • Everyone learns at a different pace. Don’t compare yourself to others in terms of progress.
  • When preparing for the practical test, remember that you are doing more than just passing a test. You are building skills you will use well after your checkride.
  • Once you get your certificate, keep practicing! Flying skills deteriorate if we don’t use them. A good pilot is always practicing and learning.

Jeffrey Robert Moss – 2010

  • Take the time to learn a memorized flow. Airline pilots spend up to three days in front of a cockpit poster getting the flows right because they expedite SOPs, increase safety, and help pilots to learn the “switchology.”
  • Be sure to always back up each flow with a checklist that now will serve to function as a CHECK list.

Arlynn McMahon – 2009

  • Make flight lessons a “standing appointment.” Get into a same day and time routine, like a college class.
  • Morning lessons are more productive — cooler with fewer thunderstorms and less turbulence.
  • Don’t cancel lessons unless it’s absolutely necessary, and don’t let your instructor cancel. You have this time allocated, so be assertive in using it for something productive. Start a list of things you could accomplish when weather or aircraft maintenance get in the way.
  • Don’t be afraid to use/make your own tools. You might need a seat cushion to better see over the instrument panel. If you need to add notes or items to your checklist, do it. If a “cheat sheet” helps you to be comfortable talking on the radio, make one.
  • If it’s not properly recorded, it didn’t happen. Take the time to read and understand what the instructor is recording in your logbook, which is your official, permanent, and legal record of flight and ground training. Take personal responsibility for your records so that if your instructor is no longer available, your next instructor is equipped to move you forward.

Max Trescott – 2008

  • Be intellectually curious — especially about things that have the potential to kill you!
  • Your goal is mastery of the aircraft. Strive to learn as much as possible about an aircraft and how to remain safe in it. You won’t be able to Google critical information fast enough when you’re flying the aircraft.
  • Passing the checkride means that you’ve met the standard to qualify for a pilot certificate. That doesn’t mean that you’ve learned enough.
  • Supplement your flight training through reading and attending safety seminars whenever possible. Flying with a different flight instructor is also a learning opportunity.
  • Make sure you’re having fun while learning to fly. If it seems like work and you’re not having fun, figure out why.
  • When you get your pilot certificate, take other people flying and share the fun!

Mike Gaffney – 2007

  • Find an instructor who instructs because he or she loves to help people learn. Ask for a new instructor if yours demonstrates less than a professional, caring attitude.
  • Understand the big picture of your training program, and periodically compare where you are in relation to the end goal. Expect your instructor to begin each lesson by discussing what you will accomplish, and to end with a review that gives you feedback on what you did. It should also preview what you need to do to prepare for the next lesson.
  • Your training should include scenarios that help you envision conditions other than those you experience at your local airport.
  • Flight simulation provides an excellent opportunity to practice the finer points of procedural flying in a friendlier environment.
  • Learn to fly with as little control input as possible. Use your fingertips and trim, small power adjustments, and subtle control movements for more precise aircraft control.
  • Be consistent. For example, deploy flaps and landing gear at specific points.
  • Rudder is your best friend during takeoffs and landings and when dealing with wind drift.
  • Keep a healthy, positive attitude. Arrive early, study pertinent material, and ask questions while they are fresh in your mind. Watch and talk to other pilots to help gain perspective.
  • Replay the lesson in a comfortable chair after your lesson is over. Imagine each step. Rehearse reaching for flaps and trim, power, and moving the controls. Make flash cards to help you master airspeeds, runway lengths, radio frequencies, and other flight details.
  • Relax, enjoy yourself, and develop confidence. Be on time and be prepared for every lesson. Most of learning to fly is between the ears, not between the clouds.

Doug Stewart – 2004

  • If your instructor is not using a syllabus, or has not shared that syllabus with you, find a new instructor!
  • Regardless of whether you are a student pilot on your first solo flight around the pattern, or an instrument pilot flying in hard IMC, it is critical to stay ahead of the airplane. You should always be able to answer four questions: (1) Where am I? (2) Where am I going? (3) What will I have to do when I get there? (4) What can I be doing now to prepare?
  • Don’t be in a hurry. The worst thing a pilot can do is to be in a hurry.
  • On every takeoff, regardless of whether the runway is 1,200 feet or 12,000 feet, make sure you know where you should lift off. If you are past that point and still on the ground, ABORT the takeoff.
  • Learning to fly can be very challenging, but it should also be FUN. Make sure it is!

Kirby Ortega – 2002

  • Rehearse your lines for the oral part of your practical test. If you are an instructor, be sure to discuss the material likely to be asked during the oral and give the applicant an opportunity to answer. As a DPE, I am looking for answers that are concise, accurate, and that demonstrate knowledge of that subject. For example:

DPE - “What type of airplane can you fly with your new certificate?”

Applicant - “Any single engine land airplane that is not: a high performance or complex airplane, equipped with conventional gear, or is capable of pressurized flight above 25,000 feet.”

  • Continue to rehearse answers with other pilots and while at home, even with the cat.

Phil Poynor – 2001

  • First and foremost: Have fun! Learning to fly is one of the most exciting, stimulating, memorable, and difficult things you will ever do.
  • Embrace the process. You usually will learn more from the challenges and setbacks than from the clear sailing.
  • Always get a clear study assignment for the next scheduled session. Have your instructor give you an alternative set of plans — one for a “go day” and one for a “no-go day.”
  • Most of learning to fly is between the ears, not between the clouds.
  • Be on time and be prepared for every lesson. That’s a two-way street. Insist that your instructor be on time and prepared for each lesson also. Always insist on a preflight brief to review any uncertainties that you have about the flight.
  • Each instructor/student relationship is unique. If things aren’t working with your instructor, first see if you can work it out. If not, don’t hesitate to ask for a different instructor. An instructor who is a true professional will put your needs first. However, ...
  • Remember that different doesn’t mean better — it just means different.
  • It’s okay to take advantage of truly unique training opportunities that occasionally arise. However, the training syllabus is designed to be used like the plans for a brick building: you build layer by layer. You can’t place a brick on the fourth row when only the first two rows are complete. Your instructor should use a syllabus, and when you walk out the door you should know what you’re going to be doing on your next lesson.

Greg Brown – 2000

  • Here’s the secret to better steep turns: once established, make only pitch changes. Do not turn the yoke left or right (except to correct for turbulence) or unnecessarily move the rudder. Apply this technique, and you’ll be delighted at how much easier the whole maneuver is.
  • What is a perfect landing, any way? What you’re actually striving for to qualify your landings for solo is not so much consistently “perfect” landings, but rather, consistently “controlled and safe” landings. So, if you balloon and correct, or drift and correct, or choose to go around from a bad approach, and each results in a safe and controlled landing, that is a worthy performance.
  • To make better landings, establish a “stabilized approach” well before touchdown. Fly your landing pattern the same way every time. Establish and trim for the proper airspeed on final approach. Correct your final approach path long before touchdown. Stabilizing your normal airspeed and approach path well before reaching the runway makes flaring easier and more consistent. Since flare is largely judged through peripheral vision, looking down the runway gives you the “big picture” required for good landings.
  • To master crosswind landings, establish a “stabilized” approach to landing. On final, use rudder solely to align the airplane’s nose with the runway. Use the ailerons solely to adjust lateral position to keep the plane on the (extended) runway centerline. Use elevator solely to control pitch and to flare.
  • To handle emergency landings, select a suitable field as close as possible to directly underneath you. Circle down over the approach end. Every time you’re abeam your touchdown spot, ask yourself, “Is this the time to fly downwind to base and land? Or do I need another turn to lose more altitude?” When abeam the touchdown point, picture a string extending from the nose through the rest of downwind, base, and final to desired touchdown point. Evaluate and control the length of that “string” throughout the approach.

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