Meg Godlewski, eight-time Master CFI, Gold Seal Instructor, with more than 5,600 hours of instruction given

November 2021

There are different types of flight instructors. Some are building experience for an aviation job that requires more hours. Others are augmenting their income, or they might be instructing for the sheer joy of passing on a skillset. Any of the aforementioned CFI types could fall into the same category as the teachers best remembered. The teacher who taught a life-changing skill, like reading or swimming. If you would like to be that person remembered, the person who makes a positive difference in someone's life by introducing them to the wonders of aviation, perhaps you should become a flight instructor!

Requirements for a CFI
Per FAR/AIM, 61.183, a Certificated Flight Instructor applicant must be at least 18 years of age and be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. The applicant must have logged at least 250 hours of flight time and hold a commercial pilot certificate or Airline Transport Pilot certificate with an instrument rating.

When the airlines are in a hiring frenzy, the greatest obstacle to becoming a CFI would be finding someone with enough experience to provide the training, as some CFIs have signed up to fly for major airlines.

Per FAR 61.195, ground training for the initial CFI applicant must be administered by a person holding a ground or flight instructor certificate with the appropriate rating. That person must have held that certificate for at least 24 calendar months, and given at least 40 hours of ground training, or else they must hold a ground or flight instructor certificate with the appropriate rating and provided at least 100 hours of ground training in an FAA-approved course.

A flight instructor who provides flight training to an initial applicant for a flight instructor certificate must meet the criteria of FAR 61.183 and have held the appropriate flight instructor certificate and rating for at least 24 months. If providing training in preparation for an airplane rotorcraft or power-lift rating the flight instructor must have given at least 200 hours of flight training.

Knowledge Tests Required for CFIs
There are two knowledge tests required for flight instructors: the Flight Instructor test for the aircraft category desired, and the Fundamentals of Instruction. The Instructor knowledge test covers most of the same material covered on the Commercial exam. The Fundamentals of Instruction test covers the levels of learning (rote, understanding, application, and correlation), teaching methods and techniques, human behavior, and the learning process. If the instructor applicant already possesses a state-issued teaching certificate for middle school or higher they do not need to take the FOI.

Five endorsements are required for the Certified Flight Instructor. The applicant must be endorsed for the Airplane Single Engine (initial issue) check ride: there needs to be an endorsement that the applicant is prepared to pass the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) knowledge test, the Flight Instructor knowledge test, the endorsement noting the applicant has met the practical test prerequisites, an endorsement that the applicant meets proficiency standards for the practical test, and an endorsement certifying that the applicant has completed spin training.

Spin training can be difficult to find since many FBOs do not allow their aircraft to be intentionally spun because it can be hard on the gyros. Spins are not inherently dangerous provide the aircraft is approved for spins and the recommended entry procedure -- including proper altitude -- is used. Check the POH carefully before you initiate an intentional spin because some aircraft are NOT intended to be spun -- the Cirrus, for example, a spin recovery involves deployment of the parachute and that is an emergency procedure.

Syllabi and Lesson Plans
If you did your flight training under Part 141, you should be familiar with the use of a syllabus. The syllabus states the objectives of each flight or ground lesson as well as the minimum time that should be spent on the lesson, such as 1.0 hour.

CFIs create lesson plans to teach the material in the syllabus. Each lesson contains the lesson objective, required equipment, schedule, Instructor's actions, student's actions, common errors, completion standards, and source of information that enabled the instructor to create the lesson plan. (Use the mnemonic aid: Only Elephants Should Ingest Sweet Candy Corn, SERIOUSLY!)

Lesson plans can be purchased, but to get the most out of your training, create your own using the Airman Certification Standards for the certificate or rating to be taught. For the initial CFI, create lesson plans for both Private and Commercial Pilots.

Notating the source of information presented in the lesson plan is critical because you don't want your Learners to answer, "Because my instructor told me to" when their Pilot Examiner asks why they do something. (This is the aviation equivalent of comparing your current relationship to an ex. DON'T DO IT!) The references should be FAA-approved printed sources such as the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, the Airplane Flying Handbook, or the FARAIM. These can be hard copy or e-format.

It Begins on the Ground
To effectively teach, you as the Instructor must connect with the Learner (we don't call them students anymore) and practice your delivery. A good way to do this is to sit in on a face-to-face ground school, and ask the presiding instructor if you could teach a topic or two? The presiding instructor is still in charge of the class and responsible for making sure the material is properly covered -- but you will get the experience teaching. Ground instruction is much more than reading slides off a computer or pages out of a book.

Each lesson begins with a pre-brief before with your Instructor-Learner. The cockpit is a terrible classroom, so you want to adopt the attitude of 'teach it on the ground, practice it in the air’.

You must learn to fly from the right side of the cockpit. The sight picture is different, and you must relearn some muscle memory -- your left hand will be on the throttle and the right hand on the yoke now. Make sure to perform and practice every maneuver you will be teaching to Private and Commercial candidates from the right side of the aircraft. You must fly to Commercial standards.

Allow the Instructor-Learner to make some mistakes -- but don't let the mistakes turn into an accident or incident. Be prepared to take the airplane back with an authoritative "MY AIRPLANE! MY CONTROLS!"

The Perks of Being a Flight Instructor
Flight instructing is often a second job for some pilots. Also, many people pursue the CFI certificate as a post-retirement job. You will also find that having a flight instructor certificate is like having a nursing degree - the skills are in demand globally, so it is not difficult to find a job. Finally, flight instructing is a way to have a career in aviation and be able to stay home.

You won't get rich as a CFI, however, the satisfaction you achieve is worth more by making a difference in someone's life.

If you’re looking for a CFI, check out Meg’s previous Avemco PIREP, How to Win at the CFI Dating Game.

We’d love to know what you think of this PIREP. Please email us at [email protected] and let us know.

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Meg Godlewski is a Gold Seal flight instructor, an eight-time Master CFI, and an aviation journalist. Meg writes for Flying magazine and Aviation for Women magazine. She is also the Chief Technical Writer for MzeroA, an online ground school.  Meg's specialty is getting rusty pilots back into the sky and scenario-based training using Redbird and One-G simulation technologies.

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