Monday, July 6, 2009

The home stretch?

I know a post here is long-overdue, but this has been a hectic month (has it been a month already?!).

I'm sitting in our dining room (I've turned the dining room table into a makeshift office so I can spread my books out) trying to put the finishing touches on the binder I have to take to my checkride with the FAA. This has been a work in progress for about 3 weeks now. Every time you think you're about done, you figure out something you should have added to your cheat-sheet for a lesson plan or a better way to do this or that. It's kind of like the adage you hear around hangars where people are building their own airplanes: "Well, I'm 90% done and I've got 90% to go."

This has been a successful month, though. Two Mondays ago on the 22nd, I passed my Commercial checkride in the Mooney. I was right back in Houston the next day flying for my CFI-I, so it was kind of an unobserved milestone. We celebrated for one night and then I forgot all about it, jumping back into worrying about all the must-do's in order to get signed off to be an instructor.

But it is a pretty big deal. I've heard the Commercial referred to as a "master's degree in flying the airplane," and it really is the ultimate demonstration of airmanship. Even cooler was the fact that I earned the Commercial exactly 10 years and 1 day after my very first solo flight in the Cub. So, every once in a while I have to sit back and enjoy how far I really have come. I still have some big goals to meet in the very near future, but I think I've earned the right to be just a little proud of myself.

Meanwhile, the flying for the CFI-I has been frustrating at best. My instructor says I'm improving with every flight, and peers who I'm doing some practice work with have good things to say, but the perfectionist in me isn't letting me sleep really well. I know that this is a checkride about teaching and not about being the world's best instrument pilot, but I still let my own errors frustrate me.

What I'm working on is taking the errors and making them "teachable moments." For instance, I get off a hundred feet or so on altitude, and I say, "you see, a student would make this error, for instance, if he fixated on the heading indicator. We'll correct this by reducing power 100 rpm and allowing a one-half bar descent on the attitude indicator."

One advantage I will have is that I've started taking N2150G to Houston with me to work on this stuff. I'm actually doing all the rest of my flying on this certificate in "Fitty." Her autopilot and GPS have some bells and whistles that N999UF at Hooks doesn't have (trust me, the autopilot is your best friend on a CFI-I checkride), and her throttle friction lock doesn't tend to slip (I like to talk with my hands when I teach---not a good thing when you've got a crappy friction lock that wants to dump 500 rpm every time you take your hand off the damned throttle). Plus, I'm not about to ignore the "home court" mentality. I got my instrument rating in that airplane. I know I can fly the hell out of it. I know that N2150G and N999UF are both 172's, but if you're a pilot you know that each individual ship has a bit of its own personality.

So, I fly down to Hooks this Wednesday or Thursday to do one more practice hop with a colleague. Then, on Thursday I have my mock oral with Gary, and on Friday my mock checkride with Gary. Thursday and Friday SHOULD result in my signoff to take the CFI-I checkride with the FAA. Frankly, the end of this week will probably be more stressful than the actual checkride. This is one of those weeks where you lay in bed at night wondering if you really have what it takes, or if somebody screwed up and accidentally let you into the club without checking your credentials.

The answer is, yes I have what it takes. I just need to capitalize on my own mistakes and teach, teach, teach. As one of my mentors, Troy Navarro ( says, I've already been invited to join the club. All I've got to do is take a little hazing, and I'm in.

I'll try to update here on Thursday after my mock oral, good, bad, or ugly. It's time to start getting paid by someone else to fly airplanes....let's get this show in the road.

"Fill your hands, you son of a bitch."
--John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, warning Robert Duvall's bad guy to get ready for a fight

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