Heeding to cautionary tales

Well folks, I did something bold today. I fired my CFI and quit the airplane club.

Now when I say “fired” and “quit” it actually means I crafted two very poetic and polite emails to express my gratitude and gently explain my position to the club manager and my CFI. The hard truth of it is I’m back to the beginning, needing a plane for training and a program for ground school.

For a while now I have felt frustrated and uninformed. Every time I asked a question I got very vague answers. When I asked for a checklist, or suggested list of readings I was given an “all in good time” response. When I tried to show my CFI a curriculum I wanted to work from, he ignored it.

The airplane club turned out to be a bust too. The schedule filled up fast and new members were joining the club every week. I could get a plane just before sunrise for 30 minutes, or after 5pm. Sometimes. The planes were ill-maintained metal death tubes. When people spoke to the club owner about fuel leaks and planes not starting after refueling he dismissed it as nothing. Every pre-flight there was another laundry list of items that “really weren’t safe, but we’ll let it ride.” Then came the kicker: the Cessna I was training on left the fleet suddenly one day. Just like that [insert snap here]! I had it reserved through spring break and out of the blue an email came from the club owner that the Cessna was leaving the fleet two weeks early and all future reservations for it would be cancelled. I was left with a much larger Piper Pathfinder 235. After jumping through about a dozen hoops I was cleared to fly it. It didn’t help that it was $20 more an hour to rent, it cost $30 more than the Cessna did to fill up, and my CFI showed up an hour late for our lesson that day. When we went up the lesson was more basic than a discovery flight. “Turn left” “good” “turn right” “good” The end. My CFI said he wanted to give me a chance to get used to a much larger plane before we did new stuff.

I left the airport that day almost in tears. I had worked so hard and studied as best I could to be forced into a more expensive plane I honestly had no business flying to learn absolutely nothing new. I was going backwards, and it was costing me more.

Then I got some sound advice from a number of brilliant 99s. One of them told me how she did what I am doing (studying independently and hiring an independent CFI at a local airport). She had been through three CFIs, had bought a plane, finished her training and still didn’t feel ready to take her check-ride. “I’m just not sure I learned the things I should have” she told me. Another 99 told me her story. She was at a 141 school and had a lousy flight instructor, but didn’t know it until he went on vacation and she had another CFI sub in for him. She asked me what I had learned so far and all I could list was “I turn left and right…my CFI showed me one stall…He walks me through landings and takeoffs…sometimes I do the takeoffs, but I’m really not sure if I’m doing it right…I know some of the instruments.” That’s it. I didn’t realize it, but after more than 5 logged hours, that’s pretty pathetic. Especially considering some people who really put their minds to it solo after 7 hours. Then I was given advice about all of the things I could do on the ground to prep for my time in the air. I felt so gullible. I had been asking about this stuff and never really gotten an answer and moved on blindly into the next lesson time and time again.

You don’t know what you’re doing wrong if no one has ever told you how to do it right. All I knew to do was read everything I could get my hands on and keep going up with my instructor. After all, that’s what he told me to do. I’m glad I expanded my horizons to get access to the advice of other pilots on what their journey was like and how I can avoid the pitfalls they fell into. I don’t want to end up like the one that preceded my path, owns her own airplane, and still doesn’t feel ready for her check ride. I also don’t want to stay with an instructor that has no structure or timetable for my training and can’t give a clear answer to any of my questions.
I deserve better. The money I have worked very hard for and sacrificed to save deserves better. The time I am spending away from my family needs to be worth more than another lesson of “turn right…good…now turn left.” So today I did something bold. I quit what I was doing because it wasn’t working and I am starting again.Starting tomorrow morning I am researching 141 programs (and applying for scholarships because dear lord they’re expensive).

Future pilot out. [microphone drops]

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7 thoughts on “Heeding to cautionary tales

  1. Good for you. Frankly the world is full of these good for nothing lazy flight instructors who think their job is about building hours to go be an airline pilot and not about the student who pays them. My girlfriend has the same issue at her flight program. It’s infuriating. She got her private license with the part 141 program and swears by it because even if the instructor is a joke it regiments her lessons much better. Personally I prefer part 61 because I like to choose what I practice when I fly. Also if you want to solo in 7-8 hours I highly recommend getting yourself a good joystick, pedals, and downloading x-plane 10 or fsx. It sounds silly but it really helps.

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  2. Lots of things here so I will try to be brief. Good luck with that, ha ha.

    I am glad your out of that club, flying a airplane that is just as likely to fail a preflight as finish the flight is not a good idea. There is no reason to show the world how wonderful your emergency engine out landing procedures are when all you really had to do was fly a better maintained aircraft. Don’t fly an airplane that is not airworthy, ever. That is my number one rule for a productive learning environment, keeping your certificates and having a longer life.

    I was a part 61 guy and I don’t think it matter if you go 61 or 141 when looking for a good CFI. Think of it like going on a first date, you probably knew within five minutes if a guy was descent or not. If he wasn’t, then you moved on. Yes first impressions are important and if you don’t feel good about the CFI as soon as you meet them, then keep looking. I don’t care if they are building their time for the airline job or if they flew the space shuttle. If they don’t have the heart of a teacher, then move on.

    You are the perfect student, you are highly motivated, you want to learn, you are smart and most importantly you are serious about learning to fly. A good CFI, should want to be your instructor and they should be seeking you out. In the 61 program you are required to do more self study but in the 141 program you are more restricted to staying on their syllabus. There are positives to both and negatives to both, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be exclusive to just one CFI in either program. Pick one until after your solo, then fly with 2 or 3 more to complete the process. Different perspectives and techniques are very valuable, don’t discount that.

    Finally, never, ever put the pressure on yourself to do anything in a specified period of time. Thinking “I’m going to solo in 7 hours” is about the best way to set yourself up for failure. You will solo when you solo. You will take your private check ride when you take it and not before. And when you do go to take the check ride, I promise you that you will not feel like you are ready. Only a fool feels ready, so don’t worry about it. By the way, the saying is that only a new CFI is the perfect private pilot.

    The best thing that I hear from you is that you are not going to accept substandard training and that attitude will save your butt one day. Keep smiling.

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    • Thanks for the advice and the vote of confidence. To be honest, I’m not even sure what to ask a CFI to know if I’ve found a good one yet. I have given up on timetables, but I think a structured program will help me map out my journey more clearly and at least know what’s coming next. You are one of my favorite commentators and I thank you for keeping tabs on me šŸ™‚

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      • It is a pleasure to be a sounding board and cheerleader, I am passionate about the future of aviation. It is folks like you that are the future and this is a critical time for the future of general aviation. The costs are so high and unless we collectively work to make it accessible for everyone, we will lose that opportunity. I think the most important lesson anyone needs to learn is that you ultimately responsible for your training and I am so thrilled that you are embracing that lesson.

        I know you are not a kid but I always think of what would advice would I give my kids if they were in your position. Here are the questions I would ask a prospective CFI.

        “Describe your teaching philosophy.” The answer I would want to hear is something about giving you the tools and techniques that will allow you to become competent and proficient in the airplane. I would also want to hear something about teaching good habit patterns, encouraging you to expand your perspectives, and allowing you to fly yourself out of your mistakes. I want to hear something about giving you the information and trusting that you will do the home work to learn it. I love when I ask a tough question and the answer is “I don’t know.” That tells me they are being honest and not going to give you some BS answer and I like if they will encourage you to fly with other CFIs to give you a honest quality check on your progress.

        If you want to go a different route, call up the local Flight Check Airman and FAA inspector. Explain that your looking for a good CFI and ask them for a recommendation. They know who is good and who is great at teaching.

        Hope this helps.

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