Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stretching Your Wings

Advanced training is the ticket to taking your flying to the next level

Tailwheel training, offered at schools such as Andover Flight Academy, will hone your stick-and-rudder skills and improve your landings.
Certificated Flight Instructor
Those who instruct say that it’s the most rewarding flying they do. Good instructors also say they’ve learned more about aviation while teaching than they did in all the hours prior to their CFI rating. The gateway to the rewards—and challenges—of teaching others to fly is the certificated flight instructor (CFI) rating. A common misconception is to call a CFI a “certified flight instructor.” The FAA doesn’t “certify” instructors; instead, it issues the instructor certificate. The instrument version appropriately adds the word “instrument” to the end, making it a CFII (sometimes referred to as a “double I”). There also is a multi-engine version, the multi-engine instructor (MEI). The initial CFI rating allows pilots to train students for their private and commercial certificates.

Candidates for the CFI rating usually are skilled pilots. They must already hold private and commercial certificates and an instrument rating. Though there’s no set training time requirement, CFI candidates must receive ground instruction on the fundamentals of instruction (FOI), and must subsequently pass an FOI and a flight instructor knowledge test with a score of 70% or better. An interesting exception is that anyone holding a teaching credential that authorizes teaching at the 7th-grade level or higher, or anyone employed as a teacher at an accredited college or university, doesn’t have to take the FOI knowledge test.

The oral exam portion of the CFI rating is exhaustive and can last many hours. In fact, most programs expect the CFI student to spend around 100 hours studying and preparing for the oral exam. The flight portion of the CFI usually requires 15 to 20 hours of flight instruction. This time is spent with the candidate flying from the right seat, practicing advanced aerial maneuvers to strict standards. Candidates will repeat many of the commercial maneuvers and must also demonstrate spin entry and recovery. There are many 14-day CFI programs available with MEI and instrument add-ons, though candidates should keep in mind that learning to teach as they fly is intensive and can be time-consuming.

Seaplane Certificate
Anybody who has one will tell you it was the most fun they ever had flying. The seaplane certificate may not be the most useful rating (unless you live where bodies of water are plentiful and seaplane rentals are available), but it’s certainly a confidence and skill builder. It’s also quick (usually done in a weekend) and relatively inexpensive. And how cool is it to tell others that you can land an airplane on water?

Earning a seaplane certificate only requires a private certificate and current medical. Most seaplane programs say you can earn the rating during the course of a weekend, and it can usually be done with about five to eight hours of flight time and a few hours of ground instruction. A checkride with an FAA examiner is required.

To earn a seaplane rating, you’ll learn about all kinds of things unique to floatplanes: docking, water taxiing, getting up “on the step,” different water takeoffs and landings, and dealing with the less-than-stellar performance of a draggy airplane tooling around the sky hauling a pair of huge floats. You’ll need to pass an oral exam and then demonstrate proficiency in seaplane operations during the checkride. A seaplane rating is a great way to spend a long weekend.

Aerobatics & Tailwheels
In the same vein as the seaplane rating, few things will put a smile on a pilot’s face like aerobatics or flying tailwheel airplanes. Luckily, the two frequently go hand in hand, since most aerobatic airplanes also have a tailwheel. What’s the secret behind these two areas of advanced training? Each will make you a better pilot and put the fun back into aviation. Learning to fly a tailwheel aircraft makes you a better “lander.” By learning the skills required to successfully control a tailwheel airplane and get it on the ground, you’ll become aware of and good at rudder use. This will make all your landings better.

Many pilots have a fear of aerobatics. The truth is that with constant exposure, aerobatics becomes a lot of fun. Even pilots squeamish about unusual attitudes can come to enjoy aerobatics. The payoff is renewed confidence in your abilities and a lack of fear about unexpected attitudes. Far from the barf-fest many people think it is, learning aerobatics not only is fun but also gets better the more you do it. It’s definitely something worth trying.


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