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Checkride to CFI - Bridging The Gap

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Greetings everyone,


I am relatively new to this site but I have quickly come to appreciate the generally well informed and intentioned discussion that takes place here. As I just passed my CFI checkride today I figured no better time than the present to get on board with this forum with a mindset toward encountering new people and ideas in the helicopter community.

My question is directed to others who have already been down this path. It's a great feeling to get the CFI, but in spite of all the hard work, the sense of proficiency and accomplishment it seems there is still a feeling of the great unknown. Until you get that first job and work with some live students (or move on to the next new job) anyways I suspect.

So what advice, aside from continuing to study and striving to improve oneself, would a working (or former) CFI give to the aspiring to be gainfully employed CFI in making the transition as smooth as possible? Your knowledge and experience are greatly appreciated!

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First of all, I'm a fixed wing guy who's currently working toward becoming a rotorhead, so I can't give advice specific to helicopters. But as I spent years teaching in fixed wing, I'm sure there are a lot of things in common with both.


The first thing I remember about instructing was that you will be humbled by your students, probably quickly. I didn't get through my first preflight inspection without a student asking me what some doohickey did on the side of the plane that I had never noticed in several hundred flight hours before. At first, you'll feel like you're not qualified to be doing what you're doing when this happens, but the reality is that honesty and humility in this circumstance goes a long way. Students won't expect you to be perfect, but they'll expect you to be honest (admitting you don't know the answer to something) and persistent (following through on finding out for them). Making things up or not following through is what will make you look like a poor instructor, and students can smell that sort of phoniness a mile away.


The second important thing I used to impart on instructors was the importance of maintaining control of yourself. If you're losing your temper when your students are doing something wrong, it's because you're not teaching the student properly. Don't get me wrong--I expressed stern disappointment when students would let me down or weren't living up to their potential, and occasionally I would "lose" my temper if there was a student who was outrightly disrespecting me (I had one student from another instructor who demanded that I sign him off for his written exam despite having never spent any time with him, who I prompty told to never come back with that attitude. I was fortunate to have a boss who backed me up, which isn't true everywhere, I'm afraid). But yelling at students who are genuinely trying their best does not make them better pilots, and it makes you look like an ass. Critique is different than rage, and the delineation is in how in control you are of your emotions. My helicopter instructor has watched me damn near kill us on more than a few occasions, but he's never "flown off the handle". He certainly does explain what I'm doing wrong and how I should execute a maneuver in the future, and he's never been afraid to point out the things that I've let go lax. But it's always respectful, and you should be, too.


The other most important thing you need to remember is that people learning to fly are probably living out their fantasy, so you want to keep it fun. I know this is a business and I know that flying can kill you--having lost several friends in my career, I can attest to how serious you have to treat many aspects of aviation. However, nothing will make a student keep coming back than to perpetuate the fantasy of the fun stuff. So take your students to a fun airport for the $100 hamburger from time to time, or invite them to the school BBQ. Aviation is more than a profession--it's a fraternity, and student pilots want to be a part of that brotherhood. Find a way to give them that sense of belonging, and they'll be back week after week. Do pattern work or hover practice for eight straight hours, and you'll end up with a burned out student who won't remember why they got into this in the first place.


Hope that helps. Good luck out there!

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