The Progress Check

Well folks, yesterday was a big day for me. I finally had the progress check my flight school requires before my CFI can approve me to solo.

It came in two stages, two hours of ground school and then a two hour block for the flight check.

I arrived to the ground school portion early enough to study my note cards. I felt prepared, excited even. 14:00 came and went, and with it, no progress check instructor.

At 14:10 (yes, I’m a stickler for being on time, it’s just good manners) a junior chipmunk wandered in, introduced himself as my progress check instructor, and excused himself to the bathroom for the next five minutes.

What exactly is a junior chipmunk? It is someone whose youth and exuberance for their position of authority is only outweighed by their inability to use common sense or people skills. The 18-year-old officer that gave you a ticket for going two mph above the posted speed limit on your wedding day is a junior chipmunk. The intern that sorts the office mail alphabetically and drafts a memo about the new office coffee mug organization system complete with meeting invite is a junior chipmunk.

This junior chipmunk, while unable to grow a single chest hair or empty his bladder before a scheduled meeting, began the progress check with the demeanor of Lord Voldemort.

Chipmunk: “What did you do today before you came here?”

Me: “I came straight from work.”

Chipmunk: “and what do you do?”

Me: “I am an interpreter.”

Chipmunk (somewhat deflated): “oh” [marks 10 out of 10 in the space for English proficiency] “What kind of engine does your airplane have?”

Me: “an air-cooled, four-stroke, naturally-aspirating Lycoming engine.”

Chipmunk: “you forgot horizontally-opposed” [takes point off]

Chipmunk: “how much horsepower does it have?”

Me (deflated): “I don’t know.”

Chipmunk: “108” [takes point off] “How does a four stroke engine work?”

Me: “four pistons pump up and down within four cylinders, each taking their turn with the gas and air mixed from the carburetor to intake, compress, combust, and exhaust, turning the crankshaft.”

Chipmunk: “and how does the electrical system work?”

Folks, this is where it gets murky. Jump ahead ten minutes to find both of us pouring over the POH diagram of the electrical system. He is convinced I have gotten it wrong, yet he cannot explain how it works or answer his own question. He resolves that “this diagram is oversimplified and I cannot explain how it works from this, let’s just drop that question.”

Chipmunk: “what is a stall?”

Me: “A stall occurs when you have exceeded the critical angle of attack.”

Chipmunk: “sort of, elaborate some more.”

Me: “when you no longer get enough wind beneath the wing, it will stall.”

He didn’t like this answer and spent the next few minutes making sure I understood he was brilliant using every big boy scout word he could come up with to explain that a stall was actually when the wind hits the wing at an angle that is not advantageous to lift.

Chipmunk: “What is a spin?”

Me: “An uncoordinated stall.”

Friends, he didn’t like this answer either and despite my elaboration that a spin had to do with one wing stalling slightly more than the other, he made sure to mark on my forms for my CFI that I needed more ground school review of stalls and spins.

After that he asked me things like “what are the IFR flight minimums?” to which I replied, “I don’t know, I’m training to be a VFR private pilot right now, that question hardly seems fair.”

Having never really been challenged before, this popped the acorns right out of his cheeks.


His expression looked something like this.

I’m not sure what got into me. It’s not like me to be so bold or outright rude to someone whose endorsement I need to get where I’m going. Or to another human in general. After all, I was once a junior chipmunk in my field too. Who did I think I was giving a CFI a hard time?! Something about this guy got under my skin and we butted heads the rest of the review. There were even a few questions that were so obscure he didn’t know the answers, which became apparent when I asked for clarification. At one point I even informed him he was mistaken about required airspace for mode C transponders. What was I thinking?!

Seriously, you guys. I was such an asshole to this kid and I still don’t know why.

Suffice it to say, the ground part didn’t go well. I was shooting daggers out of my eyes by the time we parted. Somehow this prepubescent with the fancy pilot shirt turned me from eager student to one of those I-eat-boys-like-you-for-breakfast she beasts in the span of two hours.

At the end he informed me “Fortunately now that you’re Part 61, it doesn’t really matter if you pass or fail this check. This was really just a conversation to see if you knew your stuff.” He never really confirmed if I did or didn’t. I suppose I will have to have a conversation with my CFI to find out. Gee I’m glad I studied so hard and paid so much for a progress check that “doesn’t really matter.”

I took a moment to douse the smoke coming out of my ears and proceeded to the pilot’s lounge for part two.

The flight portion of the progress check went much better. I didn’t do my best. Far from it! I was nervous and hadn’t flown in nearly two weeks. Fortunately the instructor was a young guy who managed to avoid a junior chipmunk complex and taught me some wonderful stuff along the way. We departed with him telling me he could confidently give a good report back to my CFI.


My next lesson isn’t scheduled until Friday. But if the weather cooperates, I’m hoping it will be a day to remember for the rest of my life.


8 thoughts on “The Progress Check

  1. “Fortunately now that you’re Part 61, it doesn’t really matter if you pass or fail this check.”

    This is critical. You need to find out if this is true. If it IS, and you wasted time and money on this check the flight school should credit you the money back toward another lesson. And if it ISN’T true then this CFI needs remedial training. On a number of items, from the sounds of it.


    • I asked my CFI twice ahead of time if he was sure I had to do this part now that I had switched to Part 61. He said he had never had a 61 student before, but the school had rules for everyone so this applied to me too. I will have another of these progress checks before my check ride. From what I understand I get to skip a lot of progress tests and checks along the way going Part 61 and it will just be these two that are required for me per the school’s rules.


      • Yeah, that’s what I mean. Either your CFI was wrong or the Junior Chipmunk is wrong. In either case someone needs to be straightened out and in one case you are due some money back for wasted time.


  2. Some schools treat 61 and 141 students the same way in terms of checking and testing. Not because they legally have to, but because a) they want to ensure their system catches anyone who’s not ready, and b) it’s simpler for them to have just one process.

    Having said that, there’s no excuse for an instructor to treat a student with anything less than the same courtesy they expect in return. If anything — as I’ve said before — since you are the customer, you have every right to complain about the stage check.

    At the moment, every corner of the aviation economy seems to be searching far and wide for pilots. I’ve heard of guys not showing up at training after being hired by Southwest because they got a better gig elsewhere. Not that that should matter one way or the other to you, but it might explain why it’s hard for you to find a quality, experienced instructor.

    P.S. I’ve been flying and teaching primary, competition, and high performance aerobatics, upset recovery, spin courses for nearly 20 years. Your explanation of a stall was both concise and 100% correct. I’d be curious to know what he meant by “sort of”. The main thing a primary student needs to understand about a stall is that it is related to angle of attack, NOT airspeed. That’s the primary misconception instructors are trying to combat. I thought your spin answer was good as well. If the plane stalls when it’s coordinated, no spin. If you’re uncoordinated, you get a wing drop, which is the incipient phase of a spin. You got it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your input. I went home and looked up EVERYTHING we talked about. Boy am I glad I did because the chipmunk had…strange…answers for spatial disorientation, vertigo and a few other topics too. I suppose the silver lining is I am more certain about the things I know now and I looked up a bunch of stuff I didn’t know before 🙂


  3. Pingback: A Girl’s Guide to Surviving Flight School | The Bold Bluebonnet

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