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A Day in the Life: Part 61 Flight Instructor

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Instructing at its Core

I have come to find out in my young Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) career that being a CFI is one of the most interesting professions in aviation. A CFI must be able to teach, monitor decision making, and let the student make mistakes, all while maintaining a high standard of safety. I have only given 200 hours of dual instruction to students, and yet I have gained knowledge and experience that is unrivaled to flying on my own. Oftentimes, being a CFI is seen as a way to build hours toward flying bigger and faster airplanes. While being a CFI does help build flight time, it is also an extremely rewarding job.

What Sparked my Passion for Flying

Like a lot of kids growing up, I had an admiration for airplanes. My grandpa had me around airplanes from a young age. We would assemble airplane models and go to airshows together. He was a flight surgeon in the Air Force, and I admired his stories about the fascinating airplanes he had seen and been on. The more I was around aviation, the more I was inspired by it. However, growing up I was always out of town for baseball or hockey. All of my free time outside of school was dedicated to sports, and my fascination for aviation was put on the back burner.

My Aviation Training

In high school, there wasn’t much of an aviation outlet, and I had my mind set on playing sports in college. However, when I arrived at college, I found myself struggling to find a career path that best suited me. After bouncing around from Dordt College (Sioux Center, Iowa) and Kansas State University, I ended up back in my hometown of Omaha at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO). That is when I stumbled upon the Aviation Institute at UNO. I enrolled in the Professional Flight Program which is when school started to click for me. During my last two years of college, I earned my Private Pilot Certificate, became Instrument-Rated, completed my Commercial Pilot training, and finally obtained my Certified Flight Instructor rating. I have been flight instructing since June of 2020, at Oracle Aviation based out of the Millard Airport (KMLE) in Millard, Nebraska.

How I Prepare for a Day of Flight Training

The night prior to a flight, I like to have a plan as to what each lesson of the next day will consist of. This is made easy through the ASA Private Pilot syllabus which lays out what needs to be covered in each lesson. I go through each of the students’ syllabi and folders. That way I can stay one lesson ahead of them and have a plan for each time they show up. All of my students who are pursuing their Private Pilot Certificate train under Part 61. However, our Chief CFI prefers that we follow the syllabus and treat it as a Part 141 program, since that is the direction our flight school is heading. Additionally, the syllabus makes it simple to track the students’ progress as they work towards their goal of becoming Private Pilots.

Typically, my first flight of the day is at seven or eight in the morning. I wake up an hour and a half before the lesson which provides me time to get ready in the morning and eat breakfast before heading out. While eating breakfast, I like to double-check the weather, Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), and Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) to make sure there isn’t anything that would hinder the flight from taking place. I try to get to the airport at least 20 minutes before the lesson, that way I can complete any last-minute preparations

Once the student shows up, I like to go through a briefing of what the lesson is going to consist of. Drawing out maneuvers or procedures on a white board helped me learn when I was a student pilot, so I try to do the same for my students. After discussing what the lesson is going to entail, the student fills out an Oracle dispatch sheet to request an aircraft and then prefights the assigned airplane. Once the aircraft is ready to go, we grab the key and fly the lesson for that day.

The Joys of the Job

The unique thing about flight instruction is the variety of flying that can take place based on where each student is at in his or her training. Currently, most of my students are close to their first solo, so we spend a lot of time in the pattern working on landings or out in the practice area working on ground reference maneuvers, slow flight, stalls, and emergency procedures. I also have students on their cross-country phase of flight training, which allows the student to fly to different airports other than Millard. Cross-country training is a lot of fun as a CFI because it provides the opportunity to get creative with the training and adds flexibility in the airports you fly to. It’s always a memorable trip when you can use the courtesy car, which is complimentary at the destination airport, and go into some small-town diner for food. This puts a practical purpose to the training and makes it more than just flying from point A to B.

Parting Words

Being a CFI is more than just a way to build flight time. It is an investment into seeing a student succeed and reach his or her goals. The longer hours and time invested is well worth it when a student masters a maneuver, solos for the first time, or passes a stage check. At some point I plan on moving on to the airlines, but I will always look fondly on my time as a Certified Flight Instructor.

Micah Schwanke

Certified Flight Instructor

Oracle Aviation

Omaha, NE

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