Switching Instructors by Michael Marotta

Find an instructor you can work with and stick with that CFI until you earn your ticket. That is the usual advice. However — as the Tulip Craze showed — most people in most times and places are wrong about most things. Even so, it is still true that the road less travelled is less travelled for a good reason: it is a worse road! So, the bottom line is that if you are a typical person then you are probably best off doing what everyone does and following the common wisdom.

If you think you are special, you are, by definition. Doing what most people do is not for you. Therefore, when you learn to fly, you might well be served by finding a series of instructors. You will pay a price — and gain a reward.

The price (actually prices) include the fact that you will be paying to relearn material with one CFI that you already covered with a previous one. Also, you will get to a point where CFIs will be reluctant to take you on. They are rewarded by the FAA for students who pass check rides. CFIs are unwilling to spend time with a student who will only credit another CFI later.

The rewards will include a richer set of tools, methods, and solution sets. You will experience a wider range of aircraft and airports. In the long run, the extra time and money will pay off in a deeper facility for flying. You will know more about it and appreciate it more.

In the last two years, I have had at least 10 different instructors and flown in four different makes of planes, among them four different models of Cessna single engines. I have flown from grass strips and international airports. I soloed in three (150, 152, and 172) for about 8 hours solo of my 50 hours total.

I took a ground school in central Michigan in the Winter of 1999. Discussing restricted areas, the instructor quipped, “Don’t fly over the Space Shuttle.” The class laughed. I did not. It was a concern for me when I flew from Merritt Island: I had the Space Center on the north and Patrick AFB the south.

Flying in Florida, I learned a lot about clouds, lightning, and rain. Huge masses of air move in from the ocean and without a cloud in the sky, a bolt from the blue will take out the power for a neighborhood. On the other hand, clouds and rain can be all around you in perfect VFR conditions.

Having flown a sailplane twice, I am not concerned about engine-out emergencies. The instructor pulls out the throttle, I set up for 65 KIAS, and start a shallow turn, looking for someplace to set down. Engines are just a noisy way to be in a hurry.

I like the Cessna 152 and I know why — because I’ve flown the 172 and a 182 so new it smelled like a new car. The 152 is small, compact, and reliable. Having flown a 152 Aerobat, I think that that would be the perfect plane for me.

Different instructors teach differently. Two CFIs taught me to come in high and fast until I have the markers made then cut the power and lose the speed and altitude with either slips (one guy’s way) or S-turns (the other’s). However, a third instructor reamed me for “dive bomber” landings. He warned me sternly against fighting all that speed and altitude. He also taught me not to be afraid of trees.

I opted not to take another ground school this winter. I tried a class, but it was boring and useless. (As an instructor myself, I have some theories about this.) In late June, at a local airshow, I met the instructor and a couple of students. The whole class had their tickets now. I was the only one still a student pilot. I am also the only one to have flown Buffalo International Airport in a Piper Warrior at night.

Michael E. Marotta
Technical Writer