With each stage of working towards a career as a pilot, a rewarding feeling of accomplishment is acquired. Whether it is the very first solo flight or passing the ATP check ride, each step is important as well as celebrated. Where a pilot wants to go with their future in the sky depends on which path they take. Someone wanting to just fly for fun on the side may only obtain their private pilot certificate, while others wanting to fly for a major airline will continue on. Flight instructing is not mandatory in aviation. Many pilots have gone on to very successful careers without ever instructing from that right seat, however, there are many wonderful benefits to becoming a flight instructor that come with learning to teach students how to fly.
Flying is expensive and for most people, and building hours in an airplane is out of the question and out of their price range. Becoming a flight instructor allows for a pilot to build their flight hours while getting paid. This is a win-win. Many times, wherever the pilot completed their training will hire them on as an instructor because they know they have been trained accordingly and know the procedures for their particular training program. Becoming a flight instructor is encouraged for anyone needing to build those 1,500 hours that are required to even attempt the ATP rating.
Let’s be honest, the amount of hours required to receive a Commercial Pilot Certificate can feel daunting to the newest of pilots when thinking about going out into the real world. One of the greatest benefits that becoming a flight instructor offers is to continue to learn through teaching, and one of the best ways to learn more is to teach someone who does not know. Flight instructors do not know everything at the point they start flight instructing. When students have questions, they may not know the answer but they have a multitude of resources available to find out. Through this, the instructor has now learned something they did not know, and most likely will never forget. The best way to expand your knowledge bank is to continually make deposits and flight instructing will always require studying and learning.
We can always create scenarios of “what-if” but even the best-trained pilot cannot know or practice every situation that can occur. Flight instructing takes someone out of his or her comfort zone and requires him or her to stay on his or her game. If pilots get too complacent, that is when an accident can occur. Lucky for instructors, the things students will almost always keep complacency from occurring because students tend to do the craziest things. Flight training allows for practicing in real life scenarios. Situations such as unforecast weather, airplane trouble, air traffic, and other events all help instructors quickly react relying on their training. This helps make them not only a better instructor but also a better pilot in the long run.
Being a flight instructor, here’s a situation a student and myself went through when practicing pattern work at Tulsa International, where F-16’s also spend daily time on pattern work. On this particular afternoon, they began their pattern work while we were on the smaller runway. When the military does their training, the public can only hear the controller talking to them, not their responses. Of course, with fighter jets, things happen way faster than they happen in a Cessna 150, so when we were about midfield downwind, we were waiting on our clearance to land. We continued to wait as we came in closer for landing. We could hear the controller repeatedly giving commands but had no ability to break in and request a landing clearance. As an instructor, I had never been in a situation where the controller forgot we were in the pattern and we had no way of breaking in. It took a go-around due to lack of landing clearance before the controller realized we had been forgotten. At that point, we terminated our pattern work and headed back to our home airport. It was a good experience for both me and my student to experience what happens when other priorities interfere, leaving us to fall back on our training. It gave us both an opportunity to walk through what we needed to do and we had a good ground lesson afterward.
Not all pilots will become instructors, but those who do will gain valuable and life-long experience that cannot be found any other place. There are even a few pilots who, after becoming a flight instructor, stay instructors for the remainder of their career, creating strong bonds with many future pilots and contributing to aviation through teaching. Flight instructing shows future employers that the pilot has commitment and the desire to do what is necessary to be the best pilot they can be.