On this page I would like to try and share a few keypoints to look out for, when studying and preparing for the FAA Certficated Flight Instructor Exam. The CFI is considered the “Masters Degree” in Aviation – and on the CFI’s shoulders rests, squarely, the single greatest responsibility in Aviation. Everything starts and ends here. If you are pursuing your CFI or you are a CFI maybe this page will help you along the way, to find and develop the structure you may need to get this done successfully. It will not be easy, however if you focus your efforts correctly and pay attention to a few rules of thumb, you may find the peace and confidence you will need to succeed with this.
Here are a few ground rules or food for thoughts:
REMOVE OUTSIDE PRESSURE AND FEAR!
Please take this point serious and consider it all along the way! I am exhausting this point, because it caused HAVOC in my own training. You will find your fellow airmen and people who have completed their CFI’s to be the worst advisers when it comes to this Certificate. Everybody knows some story about the FAA.
Well, the FAA is represented in the field by what is called a “POI” which is a Principal Operating Inspector. These Inspectors are usually highly credible, highly experienced Pilots and have at some point in their life, proven to be pretty good Instructors themselves. They have to be well respected and accomplished within the Aviation Community before being selected by the FAA. When you start your training you will hear a few stories from your fellow airmen which will make the hair on your neck stand up. The first thing you will hear is that:
- The failure rate for the XXY FSDO for Initial CFI’s is between 90%- 95%!
This translates into a simple fact that only between 10 or 5 in 100, walk out of your FSDO with a Temporary Certificate in hand on their first attempt. Pretty bad odds, if you ask me! In fact, compare these odds with walking into a Doctors Office and being told that something is wrong. Imagine the doctor telling you straight off the bat that you have a best case 10% or worst case 5% chance of survival. This can cause major anxiety. What people fail to tell you is that this rate is not accurate, because it includes “Letters of Discontinuance”. A letter of discontinuance can be issued based on several factors, including Weather, Technical Issues and Fatigue (Inspector or Applicant) and other reasons. A letter of discontinuance is NOT a failure! It simply states that the test was ended early, based on sound decision making or maybe the Inspector giving you a chance to recoup and replenish your system before trying this again. In light of this, the only way to find out would be to call the FSDO’s Supervisor and find out how many of their Initial Applicants actually FAILED the test based on lack of skill or knowledge. You may find your odds to be greatly improved after that. Lets assume 10% of tests get discontinued because of weather, 10% because of fatigue, another 10% because something was found to be not in compliance with the FAR’s on the plane and in maybe 5% of these discontinued exams simply run out of time. Lets also assume 50% of applicants actually fail the test because they are simply not ready or talk themselves into a bind when trying to find an answer. Maybe they excercised bad ADM and decide to go flying, even though the successful outcome of a Power Off 180 can be doubted in 25 knot winds? Every FAA Inspector I ever questioned stressed that being prepared is key and they usually share a few of their own experiences with you, if you ask. Don’t ever engage in a match about which Inspector you should hope for, and shut your ears as tight as possible if someone feels compelled to share with you how this last CFI Applicant was taken apart by that specific POI.
It happened to me – and the amount of stress it induced had me in doubt as to if I really wanted to subject myself to all this. If you are a person that can have a stone face, but your emotions run havoc with you later on, REMOVE yourself from any setting that creates and fosters anxiety. When you are a CFI later on, pay attention to this sort of anxiety in your students, and make sure your student understands that it is extremely important to remove him/ herself from such an environment. Things like these can have tremendous impacts on your students self esteem and messes with their innermost set of values. Students can also talk each other into anxiety, shortly before the check ride comes up. If you can, go visit the FSDO (or DPE) with your CFI Applicant or Student and once and for all put a face on the Monster. You will find that FSDO Inspectors and DPE’s wish to have a relaxed atmosphere and desire to put the applicant into NORMAL mode, when conducting a Exam. It serves no purpose to have a bundle of anxiety airborne for a test that is set up for failure from the start! Remember, in distress people react exactly within the scope of their training envelope and exercise exactly what they have learned. Do not allow this test to be spoiled by fear. Chances are greatly improved after looking at the facts and making a reasonable effort to distinguish hearsay from fact.
SELECT THE RIGHT INSTRUCTOR:
When you are shopping for someone to get you from Commercial Pilot with Instrument Rating to CFI consider these factors and evaluate the Instructor based on your own prior experience.
- Credentials: (24 Months, 200 Hours Dual Given for the Initial CFI) – Ratings Achieved, Student Pass Rate, FSDO CFI Pass Rate, Reputation. I think the instructor should have way more experience than that. DPE’s sometimes offer this training, I am generally looking for people with more than 15 CFI’s under their belt. 10 should have been instant passes on the first attempt.
- Chemistry: Is this person open minded, a good listener, tone of voice, demeanor, is there a instant connection that goes beyond asking for the sale? Does the Instructor take you serious and does the Instructor show commitment to get this done with you? Is there a chance the two of you could be friends outside of aviation, does your Instructor care for your success or is he/ she just along for another ride? Can you value and appreciate that person beyond the classroom and airplane? A mismatch is a recipe for failure. Pay attention to how your future instructor strikes you. Honesty and Respect must go both ways, and if this element is missing we are going nowhere.
- Syllabus & Structure: You are supposed to learn how to teach! While some characters argue that you should develop your own syllabus and structure, it may help to realize that the purchase of a Practical Test Standard book makes perfect sense. You should use this PTS for yourself and cross off or mark if you have studied a subject well enough to present it in a lesson, yet, your overall success depends on the amount of guidance and structure that goes into your training. If you ever hear your CFI ask you what you believe you need, or if that question becomes a standard in your day to day training, something is WRONG. Your CFI is required to teach you to certain standards or above. Shooting from the hip rarely leads to success. Buy a Student Record Folder for your CFI Training and plan and evaluate where you stand constantly. It is important to use this syllabus all the time and every time, otherwise you may find yourself teaching without guidance. I am sure there are a few characters out there who know the PTS inside and out, but you do not. What good does it do you to become a CFI and realizing later on that you will need to provide some sort of guidance to your student. Your student will NEED to know where he/she stands, measure progress and work towards a goal. Why not use the tools given to us, why accept shooting from the hip as a viable means of providing Pilot training?
- Aircraft Selection and Evaluation: The Aircraft you provide for your practical test should be as good looking and well maintained as possible. Does the paint peel off? Is there visible corrosion? How does it smell and look inside? Is the panel cracked up, are the placards still visible after having been pointed at for the last 20 years? True, the visual appearance says nothing about airworthiness, yet, how comfortable would you feel getting into a old and abused, dirty, smelly airplane? If you where a student, paying upwards of $150/hour for a complex airplane, would you rather fly one that looks neat, or wonder what people will think if you show up with it somewhere to take Grandma flying? How quickly do Squawks get addressed? Chances are, shortly before your check ride with the FAA, something needs attention. Can and will the Owner/ Operator provide the necessary repairs or fixes to get this airplane returned to service quickly? Will they send you to a CFI check ride with a plane that looks like it could use a good mechanic? The FAA will take a serious look at the plane you bring. In fact they will turn the plane down for any particular reason and, if they have to, issue you a ferry permit to get it back to where you got it, to get it repaired to airworthy standards. How clean are the logs? Your airplane should be well within limits on everything and you should have a clear and concise, easy to find a AD compliance record. Remember, it is YOUR job to provide a airworthy airplane for this Test. Having the box run out of an annual 3 days after your scheduled appointment will put the Inspector in a bind. Sure, the plane is legal, but heck, how much has gone sideways in the last 11 months and 27 days?
Here is a list of Books and Publications I would recommend, notice my lack of advertising any specific brand, because EVERYTHING you EVER need comes directly from the FAA!
- Current Copy of Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (as per November 2009 this is FAA – H – 8083 – 25A and available in print directly from the FAA or via download from the FAA Website)
- Current Copy of Airplane Flying Handbook (as per November 2009 this is FAA – H – 8083 – 3A and available in print directly from the FAA or via download from the FAA Website)
- Current Copy of Aviation Instructors Handbook (as per November 2009 this is FAA – H – 8083 – 9A and available directly from the FAA or via download from the FAA Website)
- Current Copy of Practical Test Standards for Private, Commercial and CFI.
- Current Charts, AF/D as well as current FAR/AIM.
Within the PTS for CFI there is a list of references which lists which AC’s, and FAR’s the PTS is referenced to and based upon. Get yourself organized with important AC’s and locate regulations not covered in your hardcopy of a regular FAR/AIM as sold by ASA for example. Print and retain hardcopies if you so desire. I made a list of AC’s I’d like to refer to during my upcoming exam and categorized them neatly on my laptop. One good piece of advise I got early on was to go through and research and study the “FAA Special Emphasis Areas” printed in the PTS.
These 14 (+1) SEA’s are written in blood and every DPE or POI is asked to place special emphasis on them during each test. Be prepared to fail your test for drawing a blank on all or one of them.
- positive aircraft control
- positive exchange of flight controls
- stall and spin awareness
- collision avoidance
- wake turbulence avoidance
- land and hold short operations (LAHSO)
- runway incursion avoidance
- controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)
- ADM and risk management
- wire strike avoidance
- checklist usage
- temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)
- special use airspace (SUA)
- aviation security; and
- other areas deemed appropriate to any phase of the practical test
Know and study the regulations and AIM – know where to find references. Remember the goal is not to know everything, otherwise we would have only 98 year old CFI’s being tested by 123 year old Inspectors (The Inspector always knows just a tad bit more, ergo, he/ she has to be older… What you should strive for is to have a solid understanding of what you are trying to teach. Use family members and notorious non pilots as victims for learning how to accomplish a learning outcome, rather than pilots. Pilots tend to be perfectly fine with you throwing acronyms and abbreviations around like sugar candy, but your average student will stare at you with wide open eyes, trying to make sense of the word “Adverse Yaw”, for example, if you do not teach the concept carefully and right the first time.
Ask a fellow CFI to attend and listen to (maybe even assist if you hold a AGI or IGI) in his/ her teaching ground lessons. It will be an amazing experience and show in incredible steps how differently people learn. In some cases you will sit in front of a individual who sends you all the signals of having understood exactly what you taught, yet, a few minutes later, when you have proudly moved on to the next learning block, that same individual will show you that there is an incredible misunderstanding. Something as simple as a wrong term or the overuse of an abstract can throw your student off. The few things that always struck me when teaching, but also learning something new for myself was the incredible frustration that comes with not being entirely sure about something. Unless we are 20 years old with a nose ring hanging off our face, our students views us as the ULTIMATE in Aviation Knowledge. Be aware of the risk that comes from teaching something the wrong way. It will take much longer to unlearn something taught wrong, than it takes to learn it right once. Saying: “I don’t know, but lets find the answer together” will put your students mind at ease as it makes perfectly clear that CFI’s cannot and will not claim to know it all.
Here is a link for all the regulations:
Here is a link to the complete AIM:
Spend some time on the FAA Website and make yourself familiar with all the resources. If you consider certain links relevant in helping you find a certain reference during your oral exam – categorize them and have then in your favorites. You will use them later anyways. Quite a task, you say, rightfully so. If you wish to do this right, you will eventually have to put the elbow grease into this task. Sure, it can be done in 3 weeks during an accelerated course, but remember that if you attend a crash course, you will end up learning much about yourself and your students in the plane or while working in a school. You learn the most about any subject if you teach and explain it. Having explained something so that a normal nonflying human being experiences fun while understanding what you are trying to say is the biggest reward there is in being a Instructor.
To be continued…