Thursday, January 13, 2011

Discontinuing work on Commercial and Instructor

Followers of this blog will recall that I was days away from taking my Commercial and Instructor practical tests back in September 2009, when gliding at Hemet-Ryan airport was abruptly shut down. I had completed all three written tests, and completed all my flight training requirement. Since then it has been difficult to work out a combination of aircraft, gliderport, instructor, and examiner that would enable me to finish the practical tests at an acceptable cost.

Recently I had resolved those logistics, or so I thought. I had resumed working toward completing my Commercial certificate before my written test expires at the end of January, and my Instructor certificate by the middle of March. I have been flying with an instructor in the club Grob 103 at Crystal, revisiting the maneuvers for the flight test and getting current on the required instructional flights. I have come to realize that I would not be sufficiently prepared for either the oral or flight portions of the Commercial test by the end of January. In addition, trying to balance this work with a number of other family commitments and projects was causing me some problems. I simply needed more study time and more practice than I would be able to accomplish before the deadline. I could retake the written test and continue on, but I have decided it is not going to work out at this time. There are several factors leading to this decision:

  • Proficiency in the Grob. I was well prepared for this test a year and a half ago in the Blanik L13 (before the Hemet crisis). But I have three times as much experience in the L13, and the Grob 103 Twin Astir (at least our unit) is more difficult to fly precisely from the rear seat. Some of the things that I need to demonstrate for the test are things I have not used recently in recreational and cross-country flying, so I’m out of practice on those maneuvers. I could get there, but not quickly enough.
  • Preparation for oral knowledge testing. I was prepared for this part a year and a half ago, but that knowledge (airspace requirements, regulations etc.) fades if it’s not refreshed. Since the time the OCSA Grob became available at Crystal, and I located an acceptable examiner, I have not had time for refresher study due to a family situation that is requiring much more of my time over the last few months.
  • Cost. When I started on these ratings three years ago, I was able to work with the OCSA volunteer instructors (whom I greatly appreciate!), the tow fees were significantly less at Hemet, and the drive and gas prices were much less. (For example, Crystal does not offer a break on pattern tows.) I understand why Crystal’s tow fees are higher – better facilities, great services, and fuel has gone up – but I can’t afford $450 to $650 in tow and instructional fees and other expenses every flying day – and I would need many more flying days to go on to the Instructor rating. Getting the proficiency I need in the current situation will be too expensive. It could easily cost another $3,000 to $5,000 to complete the Instructor test. Maybe I’ll be able to resume in a lower-cost environment in the future… Lake Elsinore Soaring Club’s tow and instructor fees are lower, but there are some other issues in taking practical tests at that location that I will not comment on here.
  • Purpose. When I started on this three years ago, I planned to become a CFI in the club environment, and “give back” to OCSA and soaring. I realize that each certificate is a “license to learn”, and I was expecting to work under the guidance of our club CFIs, and work with our constant flow of primary students as I built up my knowledge and skills. Now that the OCSA teaching environment has changed due to the Hemet and Blanik L13 situations, I don’t know what I would even do with my CFI rating. I don’t envision working as a paid instructor on Saturdays at Crystal or anywhere else. I don’t especially want to teach in 2-33’s for Lake Elsinore Soaring Club. A CFI needs to train and solo and recommend a minimum number of students to stay current – and I don’t see that situation in my future anymore.

So until some of these factors change, I’ll put my Commercial and Instructor ratings on hold, and re-take my knowledge tests later if necessary. This is a difficult decision, since I have been working on this for three years. I greatly appreciate the training and guidance I have received from my instructors, and the support of my OCSA friends. I’ll continue to fly the Grob and PW5 for fun and wave experience at Crystal and elsewhere with OCSA, and look forward to some cross-country flights this summer.

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