A Look Inside a Helicopter CFI Checkride
Your initial CFI Practical exam is widely recognized as not only the most difficult of all checkrides; but also the most important. “Checkride” is a term those in the industry use when talking about the FAA Practical Exam. Passing the CFI Checkride, or CFI Practical Exam, is the moment where you are finally going to set yourself apart from a ‘student’ role, to a marketable role as a Flight Instructor. This important milestone is what will allow you to start your career. It is well known that here, in the U.S., your first job as a professional helicopter pilot will most likely be as a flight instructor. First, we will discuss what it takes to become a Helicopter Instructor Pilot; then we are going to go inside a CFI Practical Exam.
Where to start, and what it takes to get there
Anyone who has never flown before will start out as a Student Pilot working towards becoming a Private Pilot Certificate holder. You will need to find a Flight School to begin your training. There are several options out there, and choosing the right one for you is a discussion for another time. Once you complete your Private Pilot Training and you are ready, you will take a Private Pilot Practical Exam. Practical Exams are the same in regards to how the exam is conducted.
You sit down with either an FAA Examiner or a Designated Pilot Examiner also known as a DPE. The day starts with an in person oral quiz known as the ground portion of your checkride. After hours, yes hours, of answering questions; you will either be approved to progress to the flight portion of the exam or hear the dreadful words that you did not pass the ground portion of the exam. If all goes well in the ground portion, you will then move on to the preflight and flight portion of the checkride. This is often times referred to as the ‘easy part’ of the Practical Exam. The only people who say this, are the ones who feel confident in their piloting skills. Make no mistake about it, you can and many people do fail their checkride in the air. This is perhaps why it is so important that you wisely choose who you go to for your flight training. For another viewpoint regarding the CFI Checkride click here.
Great! You’re now a Private Pilot…..what’s next?
Once you become a Private Pilot Certificate holder, your flight training can go one of three ways. One, you can stop training and remain a Private Pilot. Several people in the General Aviation sector take this route. These are likely the people who are fortunate enough to own their own aircraft and all they want is to be able to legally fly. They have no ambitions of flying for a living and are content simply being a ‘pilot’. However, most of us are doing this because this is what we want to do for a living. This brings us to the other two options in our flight training career. The most common step is to begin your instrument training.
This is where things get ‘serious’. In order to be a Private Pilot Certificate holder with an Instrument Rating, you are going to dedicate yourself to in depth ground training, simulator training and flight training with a view limiting device. At this point in your flight training, you are going to learn how to safely fly the aircraft with no outside references by solely relying on your instruments inside the cockpit. This stage of training is what I like to call, the make or break stage. If you complete this invaluable training, you can walk proud because everyone in aviation will know that you are serious about becoming a career pilot.
What’s the third option?
As a Helicopter Pilot, the other option would be to start training for your Commercial Pilot Certificate immediately after obtaining your Private Pilot Certificate. This option is only available to Helicopter Pilots and many schools do not allow this course of training to be taken. I think it is important to gain the skills needed for an Instrument Rating before you begin training as a Commercial Pilot. In fact, this makes so much sense that those on the fixed wing side are required to receive their Instrument Rating prior to obtaining their Commercial Pilot Certificate. Regardless of your path, you need to do both before you are ready to become a Flight Instructor. You can become a Flight Instructor without being Instrument Rated; but I stand behind my statement that both are needed before you are “ready” to be a CFI. Both the Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot Certificate will require ground training and flight training. They both also require a separate FAA Practical Exam or ‘checkride’ in order to be granted the certificate or rating. Again, the Practical Exams are conducted in the same manner; pass a lengthy oral exam and then prove your skills in the air.
You are now an Instrument Rated Commercial Pilot. Ready for your first job? Not so fast. Here’s why…
Once you become a Private Pilot, get your Instrument Rating and then knock out the flight training requirements to become a Commercial Pilot; your next step is likely to begin training to become a Certified Flight Instructor. According to the regulations, as a Commercial Pilot you can now be paid to carry persons or property. But let’s face it, at this stage of your flight career, you simply do not have the hours needed to be marketable for a job. This is why the next stage of your training is the most important. It is now time to begin training as an Instructor Pilot. You will begin learning how to fly from the Instructors seat and start transitioning from student, to teacher. You will learn Fundamentals of Instruction and begin writing detailed lesson plans in order to be prepared to teach someone who has never flown all the way up to a Commercial Pilot level. Once you complete your flight instructor training; you will be ready for your CFI Checkride and Practical.
What makes a CFI Practical so different from the rest?
My CFI checkride was in Colorado with an Examiner that is known to be one of the toughest. The practical started with me teaching the Fundamentals of Instruction. We then moved forward into certificates and endorsements. We spent nearly three hours as I was given scenario after scenario demonstrating I knew what I could and couldn’t do as a Flight Instructor. I was then given a list of items to instruct on. In addition to the requirements of the Practical Test Standards (PTS), I taught lessons on Airworthiness, Risk Management, Commercial Pilot Privileges & Limitations, Auto-Rotations, Translational Lift and Special Awareness Training required for Robinson Helicopters. We finished the ground portion at 6;30 that evening…yes, 11.5 hours of ground. I had a 30 minute break for lunch that I used to prepare my next lesson. Day two started again at 7am. We did a thorough preflight and then flew a 1.8hr flight. In total, my CFI Checkride took 18.5hrs over the course of two days. Due to the training, preparation and mentorship I received from Upper Limit Aviation; I am now a Certified Flight Instructor, ready to begin my career.
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