A Tale of Four CFIs - Same Outcomes, Far Different Methods10:48 PM
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
CFI #1 - I earned by private pilot ticket in 1996 at KFAT (Fresno Air Terminal), with a CFI named Steve M., a really nice and patient instructor who seemed to seriously enjoy his work. He loved every minute in the sky, and received extreme joy out of helping someone else achieve their dreams to fly. We trained in a Cessna 150 and his PA-38 Tomahawk, and I got the job done in about 55 hours. I learned everything I needed to do to easily pass the private pilot check ride on the second try, having botched the slow flight element on a hot September Fresno day when density altitude kicked my butt while hauling a 200-pound FAA Designated Pilot Examiner through a bumpy, smoggy sky.
But the one thing I never really got right was landings. Yes, Steve taught me to land, and I always landed his Tomahawk (NOT Traumahawk, the PA-38 was actually a very cool little airplane) without breaking anything, over and over again to airfields all over California. He didn't get into specifics or teach me "by the numbers" so to speak, I just pulled throttle, add some nose up trim and the houses got larger. But many of the landings just never felt right. There were times early in my flying when I didn't feel totally in control of a landing, I was just slowing down, aiming for the runway and descending. The outcome was fine...I earned my ticket, so all good, or so I thought...
CFI #2 - Fast-forward to the same airport (still KFAT but now called Fresno International Airport) a few years later. I had an advertising client who ran a large part 141 flight school there that was cranking out airline pilot candidates with plenty of multi-time long before the 1,500 hour rule. I was chatting up the owner, Jim B. about how my landings never felt quite right, and explained my methods. He dropped what he was doing and said, "let's go flying."
CFI #3 - Some years later while on a vacation in upstate New York, I decided to go rent a Cessna 172 and fly around on a solo scenic flight. This was WAY before the brilliant concept of Open Airplane was a thing, so before I could go explore the Finger Lakes region from the air, I had to prove to the FBO that I would bring their Skyhawk back in one piece. So they assigned me a snot-nosed kid fresh out of CFI school who had one thing on his mind...breaking me.
CFI #4 - It is now 2007, and I am the proud owner of my recently-purchased Cherokee 235. My new CFI, Jim H. of Eugene, flew down to Whiteman Airport in Los Angeles with me to pick up N8527W, and we flew the plane north on an IFR flight plan in VFR conditions. I handled the "high performance" of the 235 well, and I soon began my instrument training with Jim.
Four CFIs, four very different methods of teaching. While the outcomes were positive, their methods were very different. I write this because I want people considering flight lessons to really let the CFI audition on the first couple of lessons. If you don't like what they are doing, change instructors quickly. Learning to fly is hard, but it is much tougher when the instructor is beating you up on every flight.