After reading the blog post Bad instructors by David Huprich, I thought it might be good to hear the other side of the story (from an instructor point of view) about some of my bad students over the years. Reflecting on David’s article reminded me of several interesting experiences that I have had helping students transition to new airplanes, complete flight reviews, and training primary students.
After about three years of full time instructing primary, instrument, and commercial students, I started to focus more of my instructing on helping students transition to new airplanes. Once I left the structured environment of working with pilots who were trained by the same organization that I worked for, the variance of students’ procedures, skills, and capabilities started to grow quite wide. Some students were quite capable, dedicated to safety, and professional in their personal flying, while others were loose about checklists, maintenance and weather decision-making to the point of being unsafe.
My personal favorite was a particular Cirrus pilot who wanted a Flight Review. I had become a Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot several years earlier, and enjoyed specializing in the SR22 (gen 1 and 2). This client had called based on a friend’s referral of another Cirrus transition student whom I had helped about six months earlier. We met on a Saturday morning to begin the ground portion of the Flight Review.
The client flew in 30 minutes late, which isn’t uncommon in flying (safety first, right?) but when asked about why he was running late, he responded, “I had to stop for gas because I ran out in the right tank.” Given the aircraft systems and type of Left/Right fuel selector, I wasn’t too concerned. But then I realized he couldn’t figure out why he ran out, since he requested to be topped off by the FBO the day before. He never checked the gauges or looked in the tanks! His flight time to I69, my airport, was only 20 minutes. That meant he took off with the fuel annunciator on. The review went downhill from there.
A good student, by comparison, was a gentleman who was referred to me by a fellow instructor who left instructing. This student had been a pilot for about 10 years and had around 850 hours of flight time in various aircraft, many of which he had owned. In our initial conversation about beginning his transition to a Bonanza 36, which he recently purchased, he started with the list of airplanes and experience that he had and instructors whom he had flown with; pretty standard stuff. When we met to begin systems and procedures review before flying, I was blown away. He had studied the manual cover to cover, came prepared with questions about the things that he didn’t fully understand, and wanted the agenda to begin studying for the next days’ activities.
These small things may seem like standard stuff, but his attention to detail, focus on our lessons, note taking about my personal procedures for flying the aircraft, and interest in taking an instructor along “to get fully comfortable” beyond his insurance requirements showed his dedication to safety. Like many owners, he had created a checklist for his new plane, but rather than assume his shortcuts from the manufacturer’s list would work, he sought advice and opinions from me and other instructors experienced in his specific model.
Bad students don’t always have to be the dangerous ones either. Despite the initial issues, I did finish the Cirrus pilot’s Flight Review, but after some extensive grounds and serious procedural changes to his flying. He later referred me to a fellow pilot from his home airport who owned a Columbia 350. Given my experience with the Flight Review with his friend, I feared the worst from this Columbia pilot. I was happily surprised. He was a dedicated pilot who was familiar with regulations, weather services, and the usual Flight Review stuff. His flying was well within PTS standards and he completed his Flight Review in the minimum times for both flight and ground.
So, why was this Columbia pilot a bad student? He didn’t learn. He was so confident in all of his knowledge and procedures that I wasn’t able to make a scratch in the surface. I offered my thoughts about the older checklist that he was using for his plane (this occurred shortly after Cessna acquired Columbia), certain landing techniques that could help save his brakes and possibly some tread on his tires, and some newer web resources for flight plans and weather. All of my work was in waste. A student who brings a closed mind isn’t a student at all. All good pilots are always students.
In summation, there are good students, and there are bad students, but nothing prevents a student from turning the page and becoming a better student if they want. The job of a CFI is to try to steer the bad ones to become good ones.
David Zitt is gold seal flight flight instructor and Airline Transport Pilot. Formerly a chief flight instructor of a Part 141 flight training academy, David is a pilot and director of safety at a Cincinnati-based corporate flight department. David is type rated in the C500 and C525 series aircraft. David owns a 1943 L-4 Cub (the military version of the popular J-3 Cub).