Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI

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I typically work with owners of aircraft.  Its a strategic business decision which keeps me away from the rental fleet and customers who would seek training in rental aircraft.  The reason for this is two fold:
  1. First, by not catering to customers of rental aircraft, I don't compete with flight instructors who are struggling along for every customer they can get while building time for some career goal.  These flight instructors are not likely to meet insurance & experience requirements that aircraft owners are likely to require. 
  2. Second, by working with aircraft owners, I can spend quality time with those individuals helping them to become proficient in their aircraft but also the rating they are seeking.
Does that put me into some interesting aircraft? You bet!  I've instructed in Cessna 172s all the way up to King Air twins.  The benefits to me include working with a more select clientele.  Some of those folks have strong personalities, some  unnecessary confidence but for the most part are some of the best folks in the world.

A huge concern of mine is how well the aircraft has been maintained.  This is usually not a problem as aircraft owners are typically very detail oriented folks who take very good care of their aircraft.  There have been a few folks who didn't know enough to know what they didn't know and I was left holding the bag. Oh the stories I could tell.  Hey, why don't I tell you a few.

I instructed this one gentleman who purchased himself a homebuilt.  This particular model of homebuilt has some strange flying characteristics so a little extra care and some new techniques are required.  The goal is for the pilot to always land the aircraft as smoothly as possible, as safely as possible, and certainly without damage.  This guy couldn't get a smooth landing out of that aircraft to save his life.  Perhaps he was stressed out by having a CFI on board.  I suggested to him... go out and practice some pattern work before our next lesson.  He did so.  The next week I get a call, "Darren, I landed so hard, I broke the fairing off the landing gear.  It got ripped off because I hit the ground so hard and the tire flattened a bit in the impact it grabbed it and ripped it off.  Oh and the main landing gear is bent." 

Flew with another gentleman in a fairly popular experimental.  It was a hot summer day in Florida and so on landing, I announced, "I'll turn on the airconditioning" and I tried to open the door.  It was stuck.  About then, the engine quit and we were still on the active runway.  Pilot said, "I'll get out and push us off, you steer it."  He tried to open the door as well, it was stuck.  Luckily, I had one of those "all-in-one" tools in my flightbag and gave it to him and we dismantled the door from the inside trying to get out.  What a hot, terrible experience.  I learned that day, "flight instruction is suicide, one hour at a time."

Had the opportunity to fly with a real arrogant gentleman in his new mooney.  He needed a 15 hour insurance checkout.  I quickly found that I needed to give him the "You are PIC" speech.  That means that the guy needed to understand that any FAR violations would be his own.  I told him I would help remind him to stay within standards but ultimately he was PIC and if he violated a FAR, I would not be responsible. This guy was all over the sky, didn't know how to follow clearances so I gave up on doing IFR with him.  He didn't know how to hold an altitude so I gave up on flight following.  So we flew around Florida buring up avgas finding new places to eat.  Coming back into Tampa's class B, the controller gave him a specific altitude and heading to follow.  He was off both by more than the standards.  I mentioned to him that we needed to get back to our altitude or the controller is probably going to violate him.  With that, he responded in anger, pressed the transmit button and said, "I don't give a G** D*** Sh*t about ATC."  Tampa approach responded "aircraft calling say again?"  I pointed at his finger hovering over the red button and said, "I'll do the radio calls until we're out of their airspace."  We finished up the 15 hours and I told him he needed more time with a CFI on his pattern work.  "Would you like a referral to someone who can work further with you on that?"  He responded, "I did what the insurance company told me to do and I don't intend to do 1 hour more.  I wouldn't have even done this had they not required me to fax them copies of the logbook with your endorsement on the 15 hours."  A week later he called me in a panic as he had just landed in Zephyrhills and spun out on Rwy 4.  He took the referral to another CFI.

Then you get great folks like Jim the doctor who owns a 210 or Terry, the businessman who also owns a 210.  Both are excellent customers and care about staying current.  I've got one student that is an excellent, diligent pilot, who spends his time studying before his BFR and doesn't expect it to be spoon fed to him.  He's the kind of pilot who I know is safe and I'm not afraid to have my name in his logbook. 

I flew a Cherokee 6 off to Orlando for a customer's annual inspection.  Something about the aircraft didn't feel right.  I told the mechanics to give it a real good look as something wasnt quite right but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Something was definitely wrong with it.  Turns out there was corrosion in the wingspar and it the airplane was not flightworthy. Sheesh, this stuff is suicide, one hour at a time.

Then there was the gentleman with the throw over yoke.  Love those Bonanzas but this one was harrowing.  I go flying with this gentleman in his V35 on a hot summer day to do instrument approaches.  As he rotates, he announces, I have suntan lotion in my eyes and I can't see.  So I'm assisting from the right seat, yoke is over on the left side.  Really precarious situation as we head towards the trees.  He gets his eyes clear enough and I give him a napkin and ask him to wipe that stuff off his forehead.  "Flight instruction is suicide, one hour at a time."

Well thats enough scary stories for today.  I've got a hundred more, maybe I'll write a part two of this article and give you a few more adventures. Take care, and safe flying.

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