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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Choosing a Flight Instructor: Part Two

Tuesday I discussed how to find a flight instructor, when you’re just starting out and don’t know the appropriate questions to ask. As previously mentioned typical questions included:

  • How long have you taught?
  • What planes have you flown?
  • How many hours of instruction do you have?
  • How many total hours do you have in their logbook?

Tuesday I added to the list:

  • How long will your instructor be available?

Today I'll add:

How will the Instructor know that you’re ready for the check-ride?

Question for your potential instructor:

Instructor Darby, how will you know when I’m ready for my check-ride? Who makes that decision? … Me? I make that decision? You mean I get to tell “you” when I feel ready? That makes sense, since I’ll know better than anyone when I’m good to go.


You will not know when you will feel ready.

You will never feel ready.

That decision belongs to the instructor.

Any instructor who says, “I’ll sign you off when you feel like you’re ready,” is not fulfilling their job as a qualified instructor.

Let me explain. Student pilots don’t know enough to know when they’re ready to pass the check-ride because doubt, fear, and what if, creeps into their mind. The instructors have been trained to make this determination. They should also have the skills to help you believe.

Remember: You are the student. You’re not trained to make that kind of assessment.

The pilot personality is also one of perfectionism. We will always want to be better. “One more ride, and I’ll know I’ll feel better about it.” But you don’t. Trust me—you will not know when you’re ready. There will always be one more ride. Then another and another.

The mother bird has to kick the baby out of the nest because Mother knows baby can fly far before the baby knows.

An instructor who allows the student to make the determination of readiness is failing the student. Your instructor must have the skills to know if you are able to fly the plane, and have confidence that they did their job well in preparing you. They must also instill that confidence in you.

My first instructor never asked if I felt ready to solo. He also never told me the day that I would take that plane into the sky alone for the first time. One day he asked me to taxi to the base of the tower and he climbed out of the plane and said, “You’re ready,” then closed the door.

Years later I had 500 plus hours and was training for my 727 type rating. I did not feel ready. But the instructor never asked me if I was, he just said, “You’re ready. You can do this.” Fighting the doubt and fear, I chose to believe him for a couple reasons: First, I knew he knew far more than I. Second, I figured his name was on the sign-off and he wouldn’t want a down on his record. He was right, despite my doubt.

There is no such thing as a perfect check-ride. Being proficient and safe are the keys. Knowing what to do when you make a mistake is essential. But flying a perfect ride is a fairytale.

Perfection is a Process...

A process of learning, improving, being safe...

knowing that you will make a mistake...

but nothing you haven’t been trained to fix.

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene


  1. Excellent point and welll presented. Thanks!

  2. I like to think of it as a joint decison. You are telling me indirectly you are ready to solo when you consitently complete the targets I set you. You know what these targets are too, I dont keep them a secret as some instructors prefer to do. Should you feel you have reached the standard before I do you need to raise the bar because I aint lowering mine!

  3. Thanks for the comment Captain. I actually thought about this when a young pilot was telling me why the check was continually being delayed. I discovered it was because he told the instructor he didn't feel ready... and the instructor said, "Okay, we'll keep practicing until you do." But there is a point when the instructor... like yourself says, here are the standards. Does the pilot meet them? If yes... time to go for the ride. If not... "You're not going for the ride."
    Thanks for a great comment.

  4. That comment "how long will your instructor be around" is a critical one! I've seen so many dump all students and go fly commuter airlines. Then the student has to start with a new CFI, and probably repeat a bunch of stuff just to "CYA" of both the instructor and student. At least that is what I always do (and try to do it as quick as possible in just a few flights).
    As for solo, I know when the student is ready. I always like to spring it on them as a surprise! Then they don't have time to get all worked up over it. "Full stop, taxi to the tower and give me your log and medical!" I'll usually have pre-printed endorsements ready to quickly stick in the book, sign the medical, and jump out. "Go for it, 3 times around, have fun!" I'll tell them. :-)
    I'll then take photos of their flight.
    Checkride readiness is always a tough one, I'll usually tell them to just set a date with the examiner and go do it. That has usually worked.
    But back to the CFI thing, if you can find one that teaches as a second "fun job" and has been doing it for many years, that's a good one to go with. (I've been doing it for about 16 years, and do it just since it's fun!) No airline goals for me, I just like it. Ok, I admit it also, it's an affordable way to get my aviation fix too. Ha!


  5. Tom, you are the best example of a great instructor. One doing the job because you love it. You have a passion and you keep current.

    So... it must be a Renton airport thing springing the surprise on the student. Seriously... there is no time to worry. You just go do it. And, you know when we're ready.

    Thank you for being a great instructor...and wondering if your ready to teach me how to fly a Cessna again?

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. Thanks for the compliments Karlene! When my students are ready they go, no backing out. They sometimes wonder "Is the lesson done for the day already?" after 3 landings - just to make sure they are ready. I've never had anyone refuse to solo or say they didn't feel ready. They all went, did great, and added a memorable moment to their lives.
    Sure, I can show you how to fly a Cessna again, just have to break that airline pilot habit of landing fast and flaring at 20 feet, then you are good to go! ;-)


  7. Thanks Tom... some habits are hard to break. But, if we can teach me how to find the runway... we'll be good. :)


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