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.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Teaching and learning, and learning about teaching

This week our club started a 6-week ground school course, primarily for license candidates but open to students of all levels. We do this every year about this time. Since several of us are working on becoming instructors, we've been asked to help with the teaching. The way the schedule worked out, I was up the first week, doing segments on Weight & Balance, and Preflight Inspection (about 30-40 minutes each). So I did complete lesson plans, handout materials, exercises and answer keys, etc. We have eight or nine students in the class, many of whom I had never met before and many of whom are brand new to aviation. I think it went really well, other than having not quite enough time to complete the W&B segment. I've done some teaching before (technical stuff, mostly to people within my companies, but sometimes to strangers). So although in school and early in my carrer I hated to get up in front of people to speak, now I'm very comfortable with it - as long as I know my material. The instructor thought I did very well. I felt like I was going too fast, because there was a lot to cover in a short time.

Which brings up one major side benefit of getting my instructor rating: in preparing to teach something, you have to learn it really well!

Every year, we are required to do a checkride with a club instructor, and I was due, so I did that yesterday too. We turned it into an instructional flight as well. There were several aspects to this flight that made it quite interesting and challenging:
  • I had never flown with this instructor before

  • I had not flown a Blanik since May!

  • I have not done a wing-down takeoff in any club ship, so I asked to do that on this flight. (I've done it twice in a Grob 103 on a grass field, but this was in a Blanik on a runway with a gravel shoulder, so a lot more opportunity for drag and damage.)

  • He suggested we do some spins, since that's something I'll need to teach. (I've done spins only one other time.) I have been planning to work on them, but not quite this soon.

The spins went pretty well, but not perfect. CFI wanted me to do a full turn, but my first was only 1/2 and my second about 3/4. The first one I really didn't know was a 1/2 turn until I saw where I was pointed when I came out. The second one, I paid attention to the ground rotation but still came out early. I guess once I was looking straight down, I wanted to get out of the spins ASAP. Plus the Blanik recovers really quickly! Full opposite rudder straightens it right out. On one of them I came out with some excess speed... I think the ASI showed about 100 knots. I think that means I did not hold my pullout long enough. But it worked out fine. Then CFI did one himself to demonstrate some more points. Back on the ground, he told me he had never spun that glider before! Must be pretty confident to let another pilot (whom you've never instructed) spin a plane you've never spun!

Although it was a very cloudy day (storm coming in), it was really beautiful as a scenic flight. We're at the beginning of the very short season when the valley is all intensely green - it's brown for probably 9 months of the year. The mountains were covered with snow. And at one point the late-afternoon sun caught just the top of Mt. San Jacinto and turned the snow to gold. Very nice!

The rest of the flight went fine. Some stalls, some steep turns. My coordination and speed control weren't perfect, but then I haven't flown a Blanik for 9 months! The amazing thing was the approach. The Blanik holds its airspeed rock-solid compared to the PW5. Landing was pretty good, a little bounce.

He thought I did very well, thinks I'll be a good instructor. But I do have several months of work in front of me. For the last week (off and on) I've been working through the ASA instructor study guide. That'll take a while.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Air and ground work

Air work

Last Sunday we had more CFI ground school. The weather was heavy rain, so no chance to fly. But this weekend was dry and clear, so I flew the PW5 this morning before heading off to CFI ground school in the afternoon. Because it had to be early, it was of course a sled ride. I went up to 4000' AGL and practiced a lot of turns, checking that I am rolling out right on the desired heading, since the commercial tolerance is tighter. I also worked on not coming out of the turn with more speed than I started.

I did three straight-ahead stalls and was surprised to find that it really wanted to drop a wing. Twice the left and once the right. It recovered nicely, but it bothers me that it was so laterally unstable. I don't remember that from previous stalls.

Then I did a couple of pattern tows to practice landings some more. As I've mentioned, I seem to have a habit of landing short. Talking with J, it's probably that I'm expecting the PW5 to float in ground effect, and it really doesn't float much. Landings 1 and 2 were short, #3 was good.

Ground work

So now we've completed our four-week CFI training kickoff. I have a much better idea of what I need to do. One of the materials is a week-by-week study and practice plan; I think it goes for 36 weeks. There's a lot to study in the Fundamentals of Instruction area, but it's starting to make more sense to me. I have some good materials to work with... I'll list them in a future post.

Our club is going to run a 6-week ground school for students working on their Private cert. The chief CFI wants each of the four CFI students to teach some of it, which will be a great opportunity to work on lesson plans etc. As luck would have it, I'm scheduled for the first week, which is two weeks from now. I will do a half hour each on Preflight Inspections and Weight & Balance. So I've already started on a lesson plan for the W&B, and that's going prety well.

Coincidentally, I've been working on helping to clear up some questions about the weight and balance for our Grob 103. The Flight Handbook does not give the usual "station" or "arm" information. Instead it provides a general "loading plan" which means you don't need to calculate anything, but it also assumes nothing ever changes with the aircraft. So we're trying to get all the numers to reproduce a standard w&b worksheet. I found the Type Certificate Data Sheet on the FAA web site, and we have recent weight information, so we have nearly everything we need to finish off this little project.

Our chief also wants us to think about our motivations for becoming instructors. I'll post my thoughts some time soon.