Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why become an instructor?

A reader asked, "What's made you want to be an instructor? Is there a choice you make between wanting to go the competition route, the cross-country route, or instructing, or do you see it as a natural part of your development as a sailplane pilot?"

Paying it forward

I am very grateful to the instructors I learned from. They devote many long hours to flight instruction as well as ground instruction, paperwork, and encouraging their students. One that I know has been instructing for about 45 years! There is no way I could pay them back for what they have taught me and what they have enabled me to find within myself, so the best thing seems to be to "pay it forward" (to quote a movie title). Teach someone else - pass it on!

I've also heard it called "giving back to the sport". The growth of soaring depends on pilots recruiting and teaching pilots. Instructors must do it because they want to - certainly they don't do it for the money! Quite the opposite - it will cost me about $800 just for the practical test fees.

Helping out the club

When I started out with the club, we had four instructors and ran instruction every Saturday and Sunday. Some time later, we lost one or more instructors and dropped back to only Saturdays, which really hurt our ability to be flexible, which hurt our ability to attract students to the club. It occurred to me way back then that if I could become an instructor, I should, to help the club. We have since picked up some more instructors, and run instruction on weekdays by appointment (since some are retired) so the crunch isn't there... but it could come back!

We all have jobs in the club. (I do the newsletter and the web site.) I don't live close enough to the field to drop by and work on stuff during the week, and on the weekends I want to fly. I don't have the training to repair the ships. But I do know how to teach other technical things, and I can learn to teach this.

Being the best I can be

As pilots we should always be learning and improving. I know I'm a good pilot, but I am still relatively low-time, and I always have this lingering doubt: are my skills deeply embedded enough that I will instinctively do the right thing when an emergency happens? By studying flight well enough to teach it, inside out and backwards, I will be even more secure in my flying ability and judgment. Besides, I've always been the scientific type. I love learning the technical details of stuff!

Free flight hours

I didn't really think about this until I got serious about instructing. By flying with students several hours a day, I'll build up flight time far faster. And the student pays for the tow! I'm not sure it's that great a deal... you spend lots of time in the heat, on a hard seat in the back of a Blanik, being bounced around by a student pilot...

The cross-country / competition question

In my current situation, I don't see cross-country as a very frequent option, for several reasons:
  • I don't live very close to the good cross-country launching points. It's at least a 1.5 to 2 hours drive. That really eats up a lot of the day... and my flying days are already time away from my family. Real XC with landouts means whole weekends away, which I can do only on a limited basis. But the rewards are great, so I hope to do more!

  • I don't plan to buy my own glider any time soon. I could afford to but we choose to spend our money on other things, so the club membership really works for me. Maybe some day, but not now. So I have to fly club ships when and where they are available. We can fly club ships cross-country, but it takes a lot of preparation and special permission. We hope to base our Grob at Tehachapi for the summer, and do some XC mentoring there.

  • Cross-country requires a crew. My wife is not inclined to be my crew, so I would have to recruit someone - and I hate asking for favors on a recurring basis. I could pair up and trade off with another pilot (or two). That might work out in the future, if I get my own ship.

  • I see real competition as a step beyond XC. So it's even a further-out goal. I have done one contest and it did take a lot of prep, fortuitous placement of a club ship, a volunteer crew member, and a 4-day weekend. I'll probably do more, but it's not going to be a frequent thing for me.
Keeping the balance

It seems to me that most of the instructors I know don't get to go soaring for fun all that much. I hope to not let instructing dominate my flying time. I love to soar! I want to keep flying for fun on the weekends that I'm not on duty.


smiss said...

Great post Roger, very thoughtful. I like your comment about getting "free" hours through flying with students, but every time I fly with an instructor I think the price paid by them in terror is high enough!

Good luck with it. The weather here in Sydney remains pretty woeful and when I flew last week on a rare clear weekday there were some club members with withdrawal symptoms!


Roger said...

I saw you linked to my blog from yours... so I linked back to you as well. Keep up the blog! There are very few of us blogging about soaring.