In this blog-post I am hoping to convey what you can expect if you have ambitions to become a Flight Instructor. Becoming a teacher and a mentor is not right for everyone, and I would only encourage you to venture down this path if you believe that you have a passion for teaching and sharing your knowledge with others.
Explaining how the engine of a Diamond Twinstar (DA42) works.
You can get a pretty good gauge of how inclined you are towards finding enjoyment in this profession by tutoring your peers and seeing how that makes you feel. If you enjoy it, chances are that becoming a Flight Instructor is right for you and I would encourage you to explore this career path further.
If you are only "in it for the hours" however, it will probably not give you the same sense of joy and fulfillment as you can derive from my journey - and just like with most other things in life, it is doubtful that you will become truly great at flight instruction if the passion and interest is lacking.
When I'm typing these words, I can proudly look back at almost 10 years as a Flight Instructor. Obtaining the privilege of teaching students how to fly is a decision I am thrilled that I made, and one that I would make again if I were to start all over again. My career has led me down a path of personal fulfillment and given me the enjoyment of watching my students develop their skills towards mastery time and time again. And let me tell you, it doesn't get old!
Happy student (right) and proud instructor (left) after graduation.
When I set out on my path to become a flight instructor, I'll admit that my initial goal was in fact to gain more Pilot-in-Command (PIC) hours than other pilots. I had been told from people in the industry that this would open more doors for me in the future and in my experience this is very true.
At the onset of my career, there was one door in particular I was aiming for - a job as a First Officer with one of the most esteemed airlines in the world: the Norwegian operator Widerøe. Known for their excellent training program and routes in challenging winter conditions, they have a history of hiring pilots with instructor experience. After all, teaching others how to fly makes you an excellent pilot! Widerøe operate routes above the scenic Norwegian landscape, where many of the destinations have short (and often icy) runways. The perfect environment to further improve one's stick-and-rudder skills!
Along the way I discovered a love for teaching and mentoring, along with a talent for sharing my knowledge and experience with students from different backgrounds and cultures. It has been an incredible learning experience to try and understand how I can adapt my teaching style to give my students an optimal learning experience. When you need to be able to explain complex theoretical concepts to another human being, it has the added benefit of giving you a deeper understanding yourself. Since we all have different learning styles, a flight instructor must be able to adapt his or her teaching style to match that of the student - not an easy thing to achieve, but extremely important if you are to reach your full potential as a teacher.
The proud team leader of five recent graduates.
When starting out as a flight instructor, you are restricted to only perform certain parts of the basic training. Ironically, teaching the first phases of flight training is one of the most challenging parts, since much of the foundation is built in the beginning of a student's training. Thankfully, I was part of a well-organized flight school where we had many experienced instructors who willfully shared their insights and experiences. Being part of that team propelled my development and enabled me to take leaps in my understanding for the craft of teaching and airmanship.
As you progress and gain experience as a flight instructor, you are trusted with teaching increasingly complex phases of pilot education. After a while you will be able to send students for their first solo-flights, teach more complex maneuvers and eventually teach flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), where you are navigating the same airspace structure as airlines do, while flying to new and exciting destinations using mainly the instruments you have in the cockpit.
Russ (FAA examiner), Hawk and I after his successful checkride.
Preparing students for their first solo and watching them take to the skies on their own for the first time gives an instructor a sense of pride and achievement which is difficult to describe. The first solo-flight is a milestone in the career of any pilot. As an instructor, you have the luxury of reliving that moment over-and-over again through the enthusiastic perspectives of your students.
A TRIP Down memory lane
Another great memory I have was the first time I flew in the clouds as a student, it was a thrilling experience that has since been repeated many times. Akin to sending students for their first solo, it is a privilege to be present when your students are exposed to new experiences and watching them reach new heights (pun intended) in their own development. Witnessing the joyful excitement of my students has made flying even more meaningful and inspiring than I could have imagined.
The next step in the career development of a Flight Instructor after teaching instrument flying is usually to become Multi Engine (ME) instructors. With two or more engines comes added redundancy and complexity - giving the instructor even more possibilities for orchestrating relevant scenarios for the student to improve his/her decision making and problem-solving skills.
As students progress through the multi engine and final phase of their training, they will have reached a level of proficiency where flying under normal conditions have become almost like riding a bike. When we get to that point, the instructor is tasked with exposing the students to increasingly difficult scenarios. The purpose is to ensure that students have been exposed to these situations in a safe environment with an instructor on-board, in case they ever find themselves in a real-life abnormal or emergency situation.
It's both incredibly fun and challenging to teach this phase of training, since the instructor must strive to achieve realism and a high level of challenge for the student. At the same time it is paramount that we maintain a high level of safety as the student is allowed to practice and improve.
Right before my students would go for their checkride in San Diego, I would take them on what was known as "the Hell-run". This was usually the final lesson before they were going to prove to an FAA examiner that they deserved the privilege of becoming a commercial pilot. It involved departing from Gillespie Field (KSEE) via the obstacle departure procedure, which would then take us directly onto the ILS approach of Montgomery Field (KMYF), a nearby airport so close that it would dictate a need for a high level of efficiency from the pilot.
As we approached the threshold I would inform the student that there was an aircraft on the runway. This information (usually) led to them making the decision to execute a missed approach, during which I would simulate an engine failure. Keeping the student busy and increasing the students workload.
Once the student had handled the engine failure, I would usually "give them the engine back". This was done so we could repeat the simulation in a different phase on the next approach, usually on final. The drag-decisions required to maintain a stabilized approach are different than those needed to obtain positive climb-performance after a balked landing.
When climbing out the pilot wants to "clean up" the aircraft to minimize drag, but an engine failure on the final approach might not require the same actions. Depending on the aircraft, temperature and other factors, it can be a good idea to keep the gear down if it has already been extended. This gives the aircraft more stability in a one-engine situation (think about how the keel of a sailboat extends into the water and stabilizes it). At Brown Field (KSDM), our second destination, we would usually end with a one-engine-inoperative (OEI) circling approach to a full-stop landing. I'm sure you can imagine that this short flight has already taken a toll on the mental capacity of the student, so a well-deserved rest to prepare for the next stage was usually called for at this point.
The last leg back to base was no easy segment either, and I think one of my Chinese students said it best as he sat down in the briefing room after skillfully completing this challenging lesson:
"Sir, I don't understand why you call this multi engine training. We ALWAYS fly on one engine...!"
I got a good laugh out of that comment and I don't think I will ever forget it. All these years working with pilot training has given me a tremendous respect for my fellow colleagues. I know what it takes to get through the training and become qualified to earn your wings as an airline pilot, which probably is the reason why I can sleep like a baby when I'm travelling as a passenger!
When I was living and working as a Flight Instructor in California, I used to love taking my surfboard to the beach and get in the water to catch a few waves (initially it also involved partially drowning a few times). As if that wasn't fantastic enough, I was also able to go "cloud surfing" with my students - as we flew back-and-forth in the United States - looking for new airports to explore and difficult approaches where we could challenge our flying skills.
Cloud surfing: Cruising in and above the top of a cloud layer under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).
Some of my fondest memories come with a mental picture from the cockpit of an aircraft: flying over the Grand Canyon on my way to Las Vegas, doing steep-turns over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and flying at low altitude along South Beach in Miami (while watching manatees and sharks swimming of the coastline).
Since then I have moved back to Europe and continued working as a flight instructor for OSM Aviation Academy. Airlines are recruiting more than ever before, which means that the demand for Flight Instructors is high. They are sought after by the airlines, since they have gained valuable experience and have logbooks that are filled with more Pilot-in-Command (PIC) hours - which makes for potentially faster progression towards the Captains seat in their airline career. We are also seeing an influx of instructors from the airlines, who seek to add some variety to their career and are drawn to the creative and challenging process of educating others. This development is crucial for the long-term sustainability of pilot education.
Talking to our students about what being a professional pilot entails together with Head of Recruitment at SAS (Scandinavian Airlines).
Benefits of being a Flight Instructor
Recruiting flight instructors from flight schools has many tempting short-term benefits for individual airlines, but for the industry it is not sustainable to "vacuum" the flight schools of instructors during periods of intense airline recruitment. At OSM Aviation Academy we are working with our airline partners to provide split-duty arrangements for the experienced instructors in our team. This is a win-win situation for both parties, since it protects our academy from a "brain-drain" and helps the flight instructors to gain valuable operational experience which they can use to provide added value to their students and colleagues.
As I meander into my past experiences and the path that has led me to where I am today, I realize that I could go on-and-on about how much I love aviation and the art of sharing my knowledge with others. Along the way I have had the privilege of being surrounded with exceptional aviators who have helped me instill a safety-minded approach to the thrill of flying.
If I were to thank every person that has contributed to my journey it would be a long series of blog-posts in itself. Instead of writing down a long list of names (which would probably get me in all kinds of trouble with regards to privacy regulations and GDPR), I plan to focus my energy on giving back to the aviation community who has taught me so much throughout the years. I believe that the best way of doing so is to do my best to share my knowledge with the next generation of pilots. A humbling ambition which I plan to approach with respect, diligence and a solid dose of enthusiasm!
Working with flight training has blessed me with many great friendships from people around the world.
Hopefully I have inspired some of you to become our colleague, if that is the case for you - We look forward to welcoming you airside!
Blue skies and safe landings my friends :)
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