I thought this would just be a 1-off topic, but as I’ve thought about it, there’s a lot you should be considering when looking for an instructor. In the first part, I said that your instructor is going to be the most important variable in the quality of your helicopter training. In the second part, I pointed out how challenging it is to separate the good instructors from the bad, since most have big aspirations and little teaching experience. That post talks about the qualities and attributes that predict who will make a good CFI. The purpose of this post is to give you some pointers on how to apply the lessons from the first 2 posts to the real world.
First, find out if the school has a selective process for hiring their flight instructors. Ask the school’s owner what their selection criteria are. Take this example of 2 schools up in the Northwest: the first posts job ads, requests resumes, and has a review and interview process. I haven’t been through it–and it might all be bullshit–but at least it’s a formal process for validating what the chief pilot might already know about a prospective CFI (and maybe learning some things he didn’t know). At the other school, instructors are just hired. The owner doesn’t ask for resumes and there are no interviews. Who gets through is based more on the school’s immediate needs, when they graduated, and who the current CFIs recommend (and what are their criteria…?). There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with that system, but does the owner really know what they’re getting? Sooo….
Ask the owner what their flight instructors’ individual qualifications are. If you get a generic answer and nothing deeper (“Well, we look for professionalism, good skills in the helicopter, good attitude, and they have to be good teachers…”), but the owner can’t say, “Well, Bob did XYZ before flying helicopters, and during her CFI training, Sally stood out from the other candidates by…”, then you’re dealing with a flight school that isn’t hiring instructors based on the ability to be good instructors. Does the owner (or chief pilot) relate examples to you that illustrate the attributes that predict who will be a good flight instructor?
Get to know your instructor too, before you sign up. Ask her if she has any prior teaching experience, what she did before flying, what her greatest non-aviation accomplishments are. By the time you complete your training, you’ll probably get to know all these things through the course of friendly conversation, but it doesn’t help you then.
When you do your demo ride, see if the instructor is using the “I do, we do, you do” method, or if he just hands over the helicopter after briefly demonstrating a control’s effect. If that’s what he does (and most will, because a demo ride is really about getting you excited about flying a helicopter), ask him if he uses the “Telling-and-Doing” technique of flight instruction. Every CFI has to know about this method, and the good ones will have learned to put that info into practice (as opposed to just memorizing it for the check ride). You might be impressed if the instructor says he actually prefers the Demonstration and Performance method, but the Telling-and-Doing technique is an extension of the D&P method. They aren’t the same, and the most important distinction is that the “student tells, instructor does” transition. There’s a whole freaking chapter on this in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, aka The Fundamentals of Instruction or FAA-H-8083-9, so it’s gotta be pretty important! If you don’t believe me, drop me an email and I’ll send you a copy of the FOI with the key paragraph highlighted.
Most students won’t do any of this–they’re too excited about the dream of being a helicopter pilot, and aren’t going to start thinking about their career until some time down the road. Big mistake. Be rational about your demo ride. Almost everybody is too excited or too nervous to make a demo ride meaningful. Consider doing a no-pressure demo ride just for the hell of it, then doing a one-off, honest-to-god lesson that includes a complete ground and flight portion (and the 2 ought to relate to each other…but that’s another topic).