It wasn’t that long ago that CFI meant the name of a trucking firm on the road. That all changed for me about a year and half ago when I decided to pursue my life dream of learning how to fly. I entered the local flight school and asked if I could go on an intro flight to decide if learning to fly was something I really wanted to do. It was at that time that I learned a new meaning for CFI (Certified Flight Instructor).
In Praise of CFIs
I was introduced to the CFI who would be taking me up for my intro flight. My first thought was what am I doing here after all I’m 48 years old and obviously too old to learn how to fly a plane. My second thought was I’m old enough to be his mother and every other CFI that I saw in the room. I put those thoughts aside and went on the flight and had a great time as I listened to his enthusiasm for flying and teaching me about the Cessna that we were flying.
When we landed and went back into the flight school he asked me what I thought of flying and did I want to start learning how to fly. I said “Sign me up!” The next week we began my flight instruction. He worked on teaching me to be comfortable in the plane and with the controls. Each lesson went so quickly. Each week he reinforced what we had worked the week before and added something new to the mix. The hardest part of my training was learning how to land the plane. Week after week he tried different approaches to help me with my landings. When it appeared that one method seemed to be working he would build on that. If not he’d try something new or a different approach. He was above all patient with me.
I’m the mother of four children and have taught all four of them to drive. It was a challenge but not like trying to teach someone how to fly. There was the occasional run stop sign or a bad parking job which in no way compare to a bad landing or doing a maneuver badly. At some point you are proficient enough student so your CFI has to tell you to do less and you do more instinctively. You become the PIC (Pilot in Command). I remember the first time after my oldest son got his driver’s license and left in his own car for the evening. I kept watching for him to return and imaging all that could happen while he was gone.
As a CFI there is a point when they have to sign off their student to solo. I think that letting my son go that evening is nothing in comparison to what a CFI must feel when they sign off a student. They have been with in the plane for the bad landings, poor choices, and the times when the student just can’t seem to remember what way to move the flight controls for the desired result. I imagine that it becomes easier the more students you have taught to decide whether they are competent enough to make the right choices to fly safely but it sure would be hard to let that first student go it alone.
There are many different kinds of CFIs. They are on many different paths. Some choose to be a CFI because they enjoy helping someone achieve their dream of learning how to fly. Others are on a career path where they need to build hours to get their dream flying job. Others have done other careers and have decided later in life to share their passion for flying. No matter the path they are on they all seem to have one thing in common and that is there is no place they would rather be than up in the air flying. I love the enthusiastic chatter at the flight school when they are talking to students about what the future holds for them when they achieve their certificate.
I have observed that CFIs work long hours to help their students achieve their goals. Many work evenings so students can fulfill their nighttime flying requirements. Often they are working on Saturdays or Sundays to accomodate a student’s class or work schedule. They are flexible in their personal schedules as they work around weather and try to get in as many lessons as they can for their students. CFIs are some of the most dedicated professionals that I have met and they can’t help but spread their enthusiam for their profession to all who will listen or observe them in action. I am so very thankful that someone is still willing to teach an old dog new tricks especially at new heights.