Just because you have a flight instructor certificate, that doesn’t mean you’re a good one. Good flight instructors tend to share the same traits; so do the bad ones.
Throughout my career, I have received training from hundreds of flight instructors. You’d think with exposure to more and more of them the bar would constantly be raised, especially when making one’s career aviation. Yet out of all of those instructors, the flight instructor who I still consider the best was one I had when I started training for my commercial pilot certificate. It was a large school with 25 instructors and it was just my pure dumb luck that I was assigned to him. He then trained me for my instrument rating and after passing my instrument check-ride, I commented to the examiner (who doubled as the school’s director of operations) “I owe credit to Paul, he was an incredible instructor.” And the examiner replied, “Yes, I wish I had 25 more Pauls.”
So what made Paul not only stand out as a flight instructor but withstand the test of time as I compared his skills to the myriad of instructors who I have experienced since?
Take a moment and think back on all of the instructors you have had. Which one would you single out as the best and why? If your answer is, “Oh they were all good,” you are fortunate. Sadly, some instructors are weak and getting hooked up with one of those can snuff out plans to make a career in aviation quickly. If you’ve only been exposed to one or two instructors you may not have much of a sampling for comparison. It’s not until you receive training from a mediocre or bad flight instructor that the good ones will really stand out.
I can name you a number of instructors who I felt were awful. One of them was an experienced pilot for a huge corporation. Another was a guy who had just got his CFI certificate and seemed uninterested in instructing. In fact, he seemed to take offense that he was relegated to instructing when he believed his career advancement deserved better. He oozed disgust. I thought it was just me that brought on his behavior until I heard from many that that was his shtick.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have also been fortunate to receive training from other excellent flight instructors. As I experienced all sorts of professional pilot training venues, it became apparent that the good instructors possessed similar, no…identical traits. I made a list of traits that Paul and other superb instructors with whom I’ve had the pleasure of training. Here’s what I came up with:
There are surely many more traits in a good flight instructor that I’ve omitted. Very often, there are very small nuances that make the really good instructors stand out. There may be little additional tricks you notice a good flight instructor doing that demonstrate a pro who is meticulous and precise.
You may have noticed that absent on the list was any reference to the number of flight hours possessed by an instructor, whether the instructor works full or part-time, or length of time an instructor has taught. I can cite you examples of both extremes in those instructors I have considered to be excellent. Sometimes an inexperienced instructor is more enthusiastic and trying harder. Conversely, sometimes a new instructor is just building time to move on and really has little interest in teaching. Very experienced instructors also range between those who are burned out to those who have “done it all, seen it all” and identifying student problems and correcting them comes easily to them.
If your flight instructor cannot demonstrate a maneuver properly, it’s probably fair to conclude that it’s also not being taught correctly. Nor do you want to receive pilot training from someone who is willing to take shortcuts or ignore safety protocol. One of my early instructors arrived late for a training session and was anxious to get the Hobbs meter clicking and enjoined me to skip over doing a pre-flight inspection because (he said) the airplane just landed and “it’s fine.” I refused and spent the next hour in a taught atmosphere.
In pilot training, one of the most important instruments you should continually scan is the “BS-O-Meter.” This gauge cannot be found on your instrument panel but we all have them in our heads. If you ask an instructor a question and you sense the answer is being fabricated as the CFI talks, your BS-O-Meter should be registering in the yellow arc or possibly into the red arc. An instructor who is unwilling to admit ignorance is committing two ethical sins: Providing inaccurate information to the student and being content knowing his or her own knowledge is incomplete. Instructors don’t have the answer to every question and, when this happens, a good one will usually respond with something like, “That’s a good question and I am not sure I have the answer but will get you the answer right away.” More importantly, the CFI shouldn’t blow it off and forget about it but, instead, actually research and then provide the correct answer in a timely manner. When a CFI provides answers that are incorrect, you never are really sure what else they’re saying that is flawed or a plain, old lie. That’s where integrity and honesty comes in and once your trust in a flight instructor is broken, it rarely can be repaired and will remain a stumbling block to your learning.
Take another look at the list of flight instructor traits above. How many of these traits can you honestly say could be applied to your instructor? If many or all of them can, you’re fortunate to have a good instructor. If only a few apply (or none), you should consider shopping around for another instructor.