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During my nearly six decades of flying, I’ve had more good instructors than bad. But beware: there are bad ones. The worst instructor I ever had was in a Pitts S2A. I learned nothing from him except how to keep from redecorating the interior of his airplane.
After attaining modest proficiency in basic aerobatics in a Great Lakes, I wanted more advanced maneuvers in a higher performance aircraft. On the appointed morning, the instructor took the controls of the S2A after we reached altitude and said, "Okay let me show you a snap roll." Fair enough. I’d never done a snap roll. Wham, bam, around we went.
I expected him to then describe the sequence of control inputs and say, "Okay now you try it." But instead he said, "Okay now let me show you a hammerhead." The nose came up and up, straight up, edge of the stall, left rudder, and down. Then instead of having me try one, he said, "Let me show you a loop with a snap roll on top."
And so it continued with "let me show you." After 15 minutes of riding through aerobatics, I maxed out on my tolerance scale and said we should return to the airport. "Okay, but first let me show you…" I kid you not. That’s what he said. And this continued for another agonizing 10 minutes with me just barely keeping it together. After he landed the airplane (I was incapacitated), I spent the next two hours in the restroom. That’s my definition of a really bad instructor.
Compare that to my primary instructor, Francis Williams, at KZZV. I was not feeling so good after he demonstrated a couple of high speed stalls in the Cessna 140. He recognized my plight and said, "Let’s head back to the airport. You fly the airplane." I spent some time in the restroom after we landed, but Francis had handled the situation right. He’s in my Instructor Hall of Fame.
A not-so-good instructor was my multiengine instructor. He did a good job of honing my reflexes to deal with engine-outs at the most inopportune moments. But when I presented myself to the examiner, he looked at my license and said, "You’re instrument rated. Good. We’ll do the checkride under the hood."
I was stunned. Some of my dual time had been under the hood, but the instructor had not mentally prepared me to fly the entire checkride on the gauges. I groped my way through it and got the endorsement, but my instrument flying that day was ragged.
An almost-funny bad instructor was the young guy who nearly jumped out of the airplane when I went into a slip on final. "What are you doing?" he shouted. "This is an uncoordinated maneuver." We were on final to a small airport in Chicago with nothing under us but rooftops as far as far as the eye could see. I explained what I was doing and why, but he just shook his head. After landing, he leapt from the plane and ran into the FBO’s office. I think I saw him make the sign of the cross.
He was talking with his boss when I walked in. After a couple of minutes, his boss walked over and asked what happened. I explained. He nodded and went back to the instructor. The instructor grudgingly picked up my logbook and signed me off.
Contrast that with the instructor who had me arrive 2,000 AGL in a single about a mile from the approach end of the runway, then pulled the throttle and said, "You have to land on the runway with no power. How are you going to do it?" When full flaps weren’t enough, I slipped the airplane. We landed in the first third. The instructor grinned his approval.
And then there’s the instructor with whom you don’t connect. Probably something about the way he communicates or how you learn that doesn’t work. He’s not a bad instructor, as such. He’s just not a good instructor for you.
Bottom Line: Not all instructors are created equal. Most are good. Some are outstanding. Some are good up to a point. Some are okay for other people, but not for you. A few are downright awful. Don’t give up on flying or getting that next rating if you hit a bad one. Find an instructor that fits your needs.
What’s been your experience with instructors? Tell us about the good and the bad and why.