Friday, July 31, 2009

Certified Flight Instructor

Checkride. That term doesn't exactly conjure up pleasant feelings among most pilots, especially when it involves an inspector from the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (we call them the "fisdo"). However, I went into this one pretty confident and came out victorious. This was the easiest, weirdest checkride I've ever taken.

The day started early. I was up at 0500 at and the airport a little before 0700 getting all my documents and the airplane staged. The FSDO inspector showed up at the appointed time, 0800. The first words out of his mouth were "nice shirt. It's more comfortable untucked. Kohl's, $11.00, right?" The guy was wearing the exact same shirt. I told him, "actually, $8.00." He replied, "how the hell did you get it for 8?"

That was the tone the day started on, kind of a friendly banter, and it stayed that way. After doing the paperwork to check out my application, the plethora of logbook endorsements required to be a CFI, and the aircraft records, we got started. The actual questions were very straightforward. "Talk to me about the characteristics of learning. What are some responsibilities of a CFI? What kind of anti-ice and de-ice systems does your Cessna 172-S have?"

Then there were the tangents. We established early on that we were both history buffs. The bulk of the oral ended up being a very detailed discussion of the history of the Catholic church (the guy is a very conservative Catholic) and how, at least if I'm a Protestant, it's a good thing I'm a mainline protestant. We also talked about our common dislike for the current Presidential administration, my love for tailwheel airplanes, and a lot of his life history. I embraced this as a tactic---if he went on a tangent, I'd follow him and encourage it. The oral was three hours, but we might have done 1.5 of actual "work." It didn't just kill was the first oral exam in my career that I really count as "fun."

The day continued. The northwest part of the greater Houston area must have gotten more rain today than in the past month (I should know, I've spent 20+ days here this summer). So we waited. And waited some more. It's a funny scene to see a CFI applicant and an FAA examiner kicked back shooting the bull, but that's what we did. He even ran to his house (he lives on the field at Hooks) to grab a history book he wants to loan me. It's in my flight bag, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The guy is quirky, a little sarcastic, has a dry sense of humor, and likes to sing "We're in the Money" on the intercom in the airplane, and I'll be damned if I didn't come out of the day liking him. This guy loves what he does and wants to actually get to know his applicants. The FAA does have some good guys, and if I lucked out getting him I'm cool with that.

We finally found a weather window to go flying at around 3:30. True to what I'd heard about his style, the engine start checklist wasn't a biggie...I was hardly even strapped into the right seat when he's started the engine and we were taxiing while he talked to ground. He's really a "kick the tires and light the fires" type. I think if that tactic on startup doesn't get you behind the airplane (and it didn't me), then you're not going to fail the flight portion.

I taught him through an instrument check, and off we went. He did about 80% of the flying, which is nice because I could actually focus on teaching. Two ILS approaches at Conroe, a couple of unusual attitude recoveries (I got to fly and teach those), a couple of steep turns, and a GPS approach at Hooks (I got to fly most of this and make the landing) later, he sticks his hand out as we taxi in and says "congratulations. You do good work." It was official...I'd passed my initial CFI checkride!

I ended up having to stay in Houston tonight...there was some weather between here and Waco this evening that N2150G and I didn't feel like messing with, so I'll fly home in the morning. I wish I could celebrate with Alisa and our friends, but that will happen tomorrow night.

This has been an incredible journey so far. I should have the sign-off in probably two weeks or less to take the CFI-A add on and I'll be done. Done. First part of January, I don't think I could center a VOR needle. Now I'm an instrument instructor. Crazy. Just goes to show what you can do with support and motivation.

Alisa has put up with me being gone way too much, and the Mendiolas have gone out of their way to feed me, lodge me, drive me to the airport and back, support me, and generally (happily) put up with the inconvenience of my comings and goings. But I'm almost there, and it's about to pay off for everyone!

Time to go relax some studying tonight!!

Aaron Dabney
Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument


  1. I am so very proud of you!!!

  2. I am so proud of you!!! Can't wait to come home and flyyyyy!!! YAYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!

  3. Great job, Aaron! Congrats!