One Happy New CFI…!!!


New Member
You are reading my story of how I attained my Temporary Airman Certificate and have been found to be properly qualified and authorized to exercise the privileges of FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR! On Monday, January 12, 2004, I passed the Practical Test for Airplane Single-Engine Land Flight Instructor. My account that follows may help you be ready for your test.

If you will be taking the initial CFI check ride early in your career, my pilot experience may be a little different than yours. I’ve been a pilot for 12 years, have a little over 2200 hours, got my Instrument Rating one year after becoming a Private Pilot, and nearly all my Pilot In Command (PIC) time has been in a Complex-Airplane Arrow or a High-Performance Mooney. I took an early retirement from a 27-year career at a high-tech company that has been hammered in the market. I had been thinking of retiring and becoming a flight instructor, and perhaps flying freight or charter. You can find a lot of sobering, negative views of the aviation transportation industry. However, I have been encouraged by some of the positive opinions and personal accounts of success found on, and hope in turn this report helps you reach your goals. You will have to listen to your own heart and trust your own judgment to decide what’s for you.

My journey on the CFI path began after I finished my Commercial Pilot (CP) check ride last August, 2003. You can read that story on at Checkride Central. My goal was to complete the CFI by the end of 2003. I struggled with my decision to attend a local 30-day CFI Academy, or to stay with the Part 61 School that helped me with my CP ride, or to try a freelance instructor. All three were attractive, but I decided to try the freelancer who is also a Designated Examiner, a Part 135 Operator’s Chief Pilot, and a former FAA Principal Operations Inspector.

My first CFI Dual received was on September 25, 2003. By the time I was ready to submit my application, I had received about 110 hours of Instruction, including about 20 hours in flight. An important part of the ground instruction I received was actually “career counseling” and introductions. My instructor and I met for training most weekdays in a pilot lounge of the building that also housed the on-field Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), the NTSB, and several flight schools. This provided a stream of interesting informal meetings with FAA employees, inspectors, pilots, mechanics, and instructors and their students.

You may find it a challenge to “re-learn” how to fly – from the right seat. I did. My landings went to squat. The view at out the front was “wrong.” All those nice things to which I was accustomed were gone from the yoke, like speed brake buttons, electric trim buttons, and autopilot buttons – even the Push-To-Talk (PTT) switch was in the wrong place. Copying ATIS or a clearance was almost a crossed-control stall, with my left hand crossing over my writing right hand to hit the PTT switch. My left hand took awhile to find the throttle, the prop, and the mixture – which were all in the wrong order now anyway. I noticed that the right side of the wind screen was smaller than the left side, and the centerline upon which to taxi became infuriatingly evasive. The only good thing I can think of is that now I can escape immediately, and not have to wait for the passenger to exit. Everyone tells me I’ll get used to it.

I did my required Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) airplane spin training in a Decathalon tail dragger on Monday, October 6, 2003. I passed the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) knowledge exam on Tuesday October 7, 2003. I missed one question. I passed the Flight Instructor Airplane (FIA) knowledge exam on Wednesday, October 8, 2003. I missed five. I used the Gleim 2004 material to prepare, and was happy with it.

My aircraft, a Mooney Bravo TLS, went down for three weeks after a routine oil change revealed a leaky exhaust valve guide on the #3 cylinder, so off it went to be overhauled. I also took a week off to fly to the Mooney Homecoming and Convention at the Mooney factory in Kerrville, Texas.

I prepared lots of Lessons Plans, and then my hard disk crashed in early December. Fortunately, I had printed most of the lesson plans and put them in a binder, but now I will see how I will recreate them for real live students. You will want to make paper copies, and to keep a backup, to avoid my dilemma just before the practical test.

I filled in and signed my final version of FAA Form 8710-1 on December 4, 2003. I prepared my record of Pilot Time using AeroLog Pro. I learned more about log books and recording time while entering all my data into the program. I also discovered the typical math errors, and made a one-line log book correction entry. You may find the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 14CFR Part 61 at to be useful when you prepare yours. The FAQ is also available on the Summit Aviation CD, which I think handy for finding things fast. Just don’t expect your inspector to allow you to use the CD in a laptop during the Oral. Mine didn’t.

I was introduced by my instructor to the FAA Operations Inspector that would conduct my Practical Test. We scheduled it for Monday, December 15th, with a weather date on Wednesday, December 17th. The inspector explained he expected I already knew how to fly, and would be focusing on how well I would teach. He suggested that I be specific about roles in the cockpit, that I “stick to my guns” on the topics to be taught, and that he would be strict but fair. In retrospect, I felt intimidated, but I asked him how much he weighed. I asked that he share with me his written “plan of action.” He would, but only on exam day. I had to be prepared to demonstrate the ability to instruct effectively in ALL Tasks included in the Areas Of Operation. If you read the CFI PTS carefully, you will notice some tasks are Required, and others are selected, or skipped, by the Examiner or the Inspector. You just won’t know until Test Day. Make sure you know everything in the PTS, including the Introduction, and especially the Required tasks like Flight Instructor Characteristics and Responsibilities, Logbook Entries and Certificate Endorsements, Eights On Pylons, Spins, Emergency Approach and Landing (Simulated), Systems & Equipment Malfunctions, and Postflight Procedures.

We began the Practical Test, famous for the arduous Oral Exam, at 7:30AM on Monday, December 15, 2003. The Oral lasted about five hours. It wore me out, and I think it also wore out my Inspector. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure, and that I had to justify everything I said. I am professorial by nature, so my answers were windy and long. You can do better than me, keeping your answers terse, crisp, and to-the-point. You can probably knock out at least an hour off of my five, maybe two, if you keep it short. I gather that too much information bombarding a fresh student will be overwhelming and ineffective. Teach “Building Blocks” with one brick at a time explained.

Try to remember to take breaks, even if only to take a sip of water. Stand up. Move around. You will do all the talking, and your throat will be dry. And when your brain locks up, like mine did, you may be blessed with an inspector that says “let’s take a break and be back in five.” This, too, is work for the inspector. Think about it: they’ve heard all this same old stuff over and over from applicants that sometimes haven’t a clue, they have to act like somebody they’re not, they have to ensure the appropriate material is fairly covered, and there’s a pile of paperwork waiting for them back at their desk and more telephone calls to return.

You will do well to question your examiner or inspector to find out the understanding of the individual they are “simulating” or role playing. You may get confused, and so may they. Consider making little name signs with “Instructor” and “Applicant” on yours, and “Student” and “Inspector” on his/hers, and then flipping the signs back and forth to keep track of which role you are taking. It might fun, and you might want to create some kind of gimmick that will break the ice and be a little different from the usual fare the inspector receives. Just when they think they’ve seen it all, there you come and show them something new or different or interesting. Just be sure to practice your “gimmick proficiency,” certainly with your instructor.

Especially if you are tense as I was, listen carefully to the inspector, so that you will avoid my mistake of answering the wrong question. I made a lengthy discourse on flight control aerodynamics, when what he really wanted was how the flight controls operated (push/pull rods, yoke, flaps, trim, etc.).

Your exam tenseness will be anticipated by the inspector, so don’t let it get to you more than enough to encourage you to do your best. They may use intimidation to test your resolve. They may do the good cop/bad cop routine to keep you on edge. In flight, they may simulate an attempt at your demise by unexpectedly diving at the runway, or by pulling up hard for a potential stall/spin. They may want to see how close your hands get to the controls when they are doing something crazy. They may stress that if something bad happens, you, as a CFI in the aircraft, will be doing all the explaining, regardless of who was flying. They may even entertain you with cracks like “Part 61 is how you get your certificate. Part 91 is how you loose your certificate.” I thought that was pretty rich, coming from the FAA.

Going in to the Oral, we knew the weather was crummy (4SM BR OVC004) and so would likely not complete the flight portion that day. I received what is known as a “Letter of Discontinuance” that stated I “successfully completed the oral portion of the practical test for a Certified Flight Instructor. The practical test was discontinued because of weather. If the application is made within sixty days, this letter may be used to show the following portions of the practical test which have been completed satisfactorily. Areas of Operations: I, II, III, IV only.” These Areas correspond to the CFI Practical Test Standards (PTS), which you should study rigorously. You can buy them, or find them online at . Keep in mind you must also know cold the Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot PTS, since they contain the standards expected of you in your flight test, as well as your future student’s tests. And be aware that you can ask for a Letter of Discontinuance anytime you feel like you need another day. You’re probably not a quitter, but worsening weather, a power failure in the building, or a distracting mechanical problem with your aircraft may prompt your wise choice to carry on another day. Showing your good judgment is key.

With the Oral complete, we planned to use our weather date of December 17th. “How cool is that” thought I, the 100th anniversary of flight? Not to be, as the weather gods gave us 10SM OVC015, enough to be barely legal, but a “belly flop” for a day with a real student, or for the “high stuff” I needed to do at altitude. The next calendar opening was December 23rd, so that was the plan. Unfortunately, the weather was crummy again, so we moved the date to after the holidays on Thursday, January 8, 2004.

The weather was good to go in the New Year on Thursday at 7:30AM, but forecast to deteriorate as the day progressed. Don’t do like me and be 30 minutes late. I thought I had a good excuse (traffic jam delay due to an auto accident) but it didn’t change the inspector’s tight schedule for the day. I gather these folks are heavily booked and short staffed, especially over the holidays, so respect their time slots and be ready an hour early, if that’s what it takes to ensure your check ride success. Be aware that if you fly with an FAA inspector, they will likely have another inspector go over your aircraft’s logbooks, AD and STC compliance records, usually during your Oral, and then conduct a detailed inspection of your aircraft. Since my Oral and Flight were on different days, the inspection took up some of the time on the flight day. As it was, we were able to fly 1.5 hours before he had to cut it short and move on to a meeting with the Blue Angels to prepare for next year’s Air Show. You will likely be one of many priorities, so don’t miss your time slot, or you will become another reschedule like me.

Friday the 9th’s weather was another marginal heartbreaker (3SM –SN BKN020 BKN 025 OVC033) so I got another Letter of Discontinuance, this time with the additional portions of the flight test successfully completed. I had now completed I, II, III, IV, V, VIII(A), VIII, IX, X(D), XI, and XII in the PTS. On Thursday we pretty-well stuck to a sequence where I performed a maneuver while instructing, and then the inspector repeated the maneuver while I critiqued. We did Level Turns, Steep Turns, Chandelles, Eights on Pylons, Power-Off Stalls, Crossed-Control Stalls, Constant Airspeed Descents, Turns To A Heading, and a Simulated Emergency Approach and Landing (not in this order). My take away version of his summary comments were that I needed to be more in charge as an instructor, that I needed to explain more sequentially and less confusingly, that I was overly nervous, that my emergency landing would have taken us cross-furrow to a snowy field, that my cross-control stall should have been more abrupt and dramatic, that some of my explanations, like on level turns and chandelles and checklists, were weak. I noticed that he preferred the command/response method for checklists, rather than the flow/then check that I prefer. Overall, I was doing OK, but a little weak in some areas. This was humbling to me.

Monday the 12th began with more crummy weather at 7:30AM. Hey, come on, this is winter! I tried to tell myself that my good judgment was on display when I postponed the flight to 1 PM, where the forecast was to improve. Fortunately, the inspector could accommodate me, so off we went for Traffic Pattern Work and Rectangular Course work, doing Soft Field Takeoffs and Landings, Slips to a Landing, Go Around/Rejected Landings, and a Power-Off 180 Degree Accuracy Approach and Landing. Again, on all but the 180 Power-Off, I demonstrated one, and then he did the same maneuver simulating a student. I pointed out where he hadn’t put the gear down, or the flaps down, or where the power was not set right, or where he was over controlling pitch attitude, or was too low, or where he was setting up for an accidental crossed-control stall and should go around. It looked like he would fly down wind too close to the runway, and sure enough, turn a too-wide final. After we parked the Mooney, he said “meet me upstairs” and sped off to the FSDO. Total flight time amounted to 2.5 hours, with 1.0 hour today combined with 1.5 hours last week. I dared to think my performance was OK, not pretty, but OK. But I had also heard that only about 15-to-20% of the Initial CFI applicants actually pass the first try.

One more surprise awaited me upstairs. With no sign of any completion paperwork in sight, the inspector proceeded to express to me what I took to be his unhappiness with my description of forward slips. I attempted to coax a suitable explanation through my now very dry mouth, wishing I had not left in the airplane my flight case holding all my training material complete with illustrations. He suggested I had confused the Forward Slip with the Side Slip. I nervously recalled that I had been challenged about Slips on my Commercial Pilot flight check, so I had learned the hard way that the slip names to me were not intuitively the same as they were performed. A Forward Slip has the nose of the airplane pointing to the side, while a Side Slip has the nose of the airplane pointing forward towards the runway. I respectfully requested that he or I consult the Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH) to set the matter straight, so off he went to get his AFH. Thankfully, I was right to have “stuck to my guns” because upon opening his AFH the inspector agreed I had correctly described slips after all. I was greatly relieved, and am still wondering if that was another test. In retrospect, I will make it a point to ask him when I see him again.

He then told me that today was a pass, not a pretty one, but never-the-less a pass. While he went off to complete the paperwork, I let a wave of emotion splash my heart with a smattering of joy, exuberance, fear, relief, and a sobering desire to show the world I was bound to do good instructing and to help pilots meet their goals.

The inspector returned with two copies of a Temporary Airman Certificate, explaining I should expect the final version within 120 days. We each signed both copies, one for each of us, and concluded the Practical test. My take away version of his summary comments were that I should expect my students to try to kill me, that I should have my hands closer to the controls when something stupid is happening, that I must tailor my instruction to the conditions available, that I should have resisted a little longer in putting the flaps down for the 180 Accuracy landing, that I need to work on quicker and clearer explanations, that I should latch on to a good mentor or chief pilot to work out my rough spots, and to find a way to deal better with my intimidation at check rides.

If I could do it over again, I think I would seek more opportunities to practice teaching to pure neophytes (not other instructors, my brother, my spouse, nor my cat) who would follow my modest attempts at instruction with a literal intensity that would reveal my teaching weaknesses, scorch the slick coating of pilot slang from my glib tongue, leaving the remaining terse lips of a cautious, but quick, flight instructor. That might work for me.

You may have heard of “check-ride-itess” where one reverts to a form of applicant somewhere between quivering intellectual juvenile and quavering uncoordinated pilot unable to fly in formation with themselves. Well, I found myself a bit harried at the prospect of teaching someone from the FAA how to fly, even if only a simulation. Hopefully you will do better than I by reading this lowly epistle and then preparing to be mentally tough enough to tell (instruct) the FAA representative where to go and what to do. You will hear them say “You’re the Instructor” more than once, so be mentally prepared to take charge, and even direct the entire exam as if it were your own lesson plan. After all, you will be prepared, right?

Good luck!
Congratulations! Many of the "problems" you listed at the end are common and get worked out with experience. Welcome to the club!
Great post, very entertaining read were you asked many "part 61/91 regulation" type questions on the oral or was it mostly giving simulated lessons to the examiner?
so my answers were windy and long

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Really? Can't immagine that

Seriously, thanks a ton for that great write up!!!
Congratulations...and what a great write-up!

Any students yet?? Have fun and be careful out there!

Oh yeah, and:

“Part 61 is how you get your certificate. Part 91 is how you loose your certificate.”

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Never heard that one before...thats, uh...kinda funny, I guess.
The Oral questions were along the line of "Prove that you have all the necessary items for the CFI Practical Test." Tell Me how you would endorse a student to travel repeatedly from another airport for lessons. What's the difference between a critique and an evaluation. What are your responsibilities as an instructor? How would you prepare for a lesson? There were several along the line of "where would I find...[something in the regs]" and about there is when I had a brain lock. I was holding them and looking at them, but I paged through in a fog, so we took a break. When I came back, I quickly referred to my Lesson Plans to get back in gear. I have the [bad] habit of looking up stuff fast with the Summit CD, which doesnt work in the Oral. I stepped him through the endorsements for the Private Student. Fortunately, my instructor had already had me do this, so I spoke from my already-prepared logbook entries for an imaginary student. If you cant remember everything, at least remember where to look it up.

If you are preparing, just go through the PTS and make a straight-forward question for yourself on each Task element, and then answer it. There probably wont be any trick questions. You will make it harder on yourself, as I did, with long answers- you expose more of your inexperience that way - plus it will be way too much info for your real student. Pretend you're instructing your kids, who may maliciously follow your exact words and expose your goofs. Expect to have to justify everything you say with a regulation or an excerpt from the AFH or PHAK.