Wednesday, March 30, 2005

More about CFI Sam

While I'm still kinda on the subject of flight instructing, I may as well digress a bit more.

Flight instructing is often a pilot's first job in aviation. It merely requires a commercial pilot certificate and a flight instructor's certificate - which a pilot can obtain with just over 250 hours of flight time (less than that at some schools). There are precious few other jobs that a 250-hr commercial pilot can compete for, so most build time by flight instructing.

Flight instructing takes a lot of skill, patience, and planning. Not everyone is cut out for it, and there are a number of horrible instructors out there. Some of them really try but have no teaching ability, or are poor communicators. Others, though, simply have no patience and view the job as beneath them, just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I have no sympathy for people like these. They should not be in aviation at all. Somebody who treats students poorly will someday treat their crewmembers poorly.

On the other hand, there are many excellent instructors out there that have my full respect. Many of these are still time-builders, but they recognize the importance of their current job and devote their full energies to it. I think that's pretty indicative of how they'll do in future flying jobs.

When I instructed, I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I enjoyed the teaching aspect of the job, and I got pretty good at it. When you got a"bad" student, though, it wasn't very enjoyable. At some point you might have to tell them that more training was futile, they just couldn't hack it - and their response wasn't likely to be cheerful. Instructing could also be a dangerous job, as the following incident illustrates.

One of my first students, Anas, was an older guy from Egypt. He'd recently done his instrument training, and wanted to add a multi-engine rating to his private license. This was in May in Southern California, when the marine layer is rather persistent, which required us to do some of the training in the clouds (IMC). Anas tried to kill me on our first approach - twice!

The VOR-A approach to Brackett (available in PDF here) approaches Pomona VOR from the south, with a descent to a minimum altitude (MDA) of 1800 ft, and then 1640 ft when 1 mile from the VOR. The airport is at 1011 feet elevation, but the VOR, which you cross to get to the airport, is on a 1400 ft you're pretty darn close to the rocks at 1640 ft.

Anyways, we're in the clouds at 3000 feet, about 10 miles southwest of the airport on a heading of 080, getting vectored onto the approach by ATC. Anas was horrible at catching radio calls on busy frequencies. "Seneca 298, five miles from GOLDI, turn left 030, maintain 3000 until established, cleared VOR-A approach." Anas didn't respond. "Dude, they're talking to you!" He looks at me with a goofy look so I grab the call. "030 and 3000 till established, cleared for the approach, Seneca 298." Anas began the turn to intercept as I answered the call; I looked down at the approach plate.

I looked up from my approach plate and we were in a 45 degree bank. "ANAS! Bank Angle!" He didn't respond so I told him "My airplane!" and brought the airplane to a more sane bank angle. I asked him what happened and he said he was looking down for something. So now I'm thinking, great, I have a instrument-rated student who can't fly in the clouds. Still, I decided to see how he did on the rest of the approach, and gave him the controls again.

Passing GOLDI, he extended the landing gear and descended to 1800 feet, but at that altitude we were still in the clouds. Passing 1DME (1 mile from the VOR), the approach calls for a descent to 1640', but Anas kept level at 1800'. Now that one last mile of the approach only takes 30 seconds, so things here happen quickly. "Anas, if you want to see the airport, you're going to have to descend to the published MDA." He didn't respond. "Anas, that's 1640 feet. You need to descend."

Suddenly he pushed the control wheel forward visciously, sending me upwards into my shoulder harness. We popped out of the clouds almost instantanously to the view of that 1400' hill rushing up at us. I yelled "MY CONTROLS" and tugged back on the control wheel as I throttled the engines and retracted the gear. I flew the missed approach almost too angry to speak. I calmed down enough to fly the approach, land, taxi in, and shut down before turning to him and asking why he did that. "Well, you wanted to go down," he said innocently.

I actually worked with Anas for some time after that, but he never improved much. When I told him I could not sign him off for the checkride, he became extremely angry and threatened to sue me and the school. He eventually skipped the country to Egypt, owing the school over $1000.

I have a few more stories about students like Anas but I'll save them for another time. The point is, despite incidents like the one above, on the whole I enjoyed instructing and miss it a little, which is why I keep my CFI certificate current so I can use it with people like Johnny, and other friends & family.