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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Spaniard, the engine failure and the Seminole

While filling in my application for a new FAA medical yesterday, my eyes caught a glimpse of the form I'd filled in last year.
"Time in last 6 mos: 15 hours."
I smiled, scribbling the number 400 in the same box on this year's form.
It has been a long time since my last update, back to my fourth week of instruction. Five hectic months have gone by and I'm happy to report that I still very much love instructing. Some of you noted that the rush to the airlines was not a good trait in any CFI and, while that dream of flying something much bigger and much faster is drawing nearer, I agree.
Much has happened since my last entry. For the most part, I've learned a heck of a lot about flying and, on most days at least, I still report to work with the same tingly feeling in my gut, the one most flyers get as they ready to commune with the blue, blue ether.
The summer came and went, all too fast, as did the fall.
I spent too much time at the airport and very little at home with Jen. Hours have been long and my one day off every week is never enough to fully rest, but I've fallen into the busy groove.
The daily routine, however, was shaken on a summer's evening as I slid down final with my last student of the day. It had been a long and humid day, and as we neared the field for a full-stop my mind lost itself in the reflection of the orange sunset in a meandering river. I was already thinking of my evening with Jen and looking forward to a few hours of badly-needed sleep.
The engine's droning only made my grogginess worse.
The deafening silence that ensued, however, woke me right up.
On very short final, as my student pulled the throttle to idle, the Lycoming gave in. I promptly took the controls, landed and pulled off the runway. After a deep breath, and a few tries, I managed to get it restarted and we taxied back to the ramp.
The idle, which we had meticulously checked prior to take-off, seems to have been the problem. I counted my blessings for not doing maneuvers that required pulling the throttle that day.

As the hot days turned milder and shorter, yet more excitement came my way.
The school I teach for offers a fast-track instrument program, under which a student can earn his ticket in 10 days or 20 half days. I'd seen such courses advertised before and remember thinking that it would be folly for me to tackle such a monumental task in so little time. Little did I know at the time that I would be teaching such a program.
I'm sure every CFI has at least one very memorable student. The kind that, through either good or bad performance or unforgettable quirkiness, will always stick in the teacher's memory. My first fast track student was just that. Memorable.
A native of Spain, he is one of a dozen pilots racing Extras and Edges in a worldwide series sponsored by a certain energy drink.
Surprise was my first reaction when my boss briefed me on the said student, who shall henceforth be known as The Spaniard. How could I, a vastly inexperienced CFI with just a few hundered hours under his belt, teach a pilot who twice cheated death after spectacular crashes, bailed out of an out-of-control Sukhoi and over the years accrued several thousand hours of aerobatics at the sport's highest levels?
"Oh, and he's shooting to complete his instrument, commercial and multi in three weeks," was the concluding note of the briefing.
I met The Spaniard a few days later. Seemed like a nice enough guy, with a bigger-than-life boisterous personality, but the task was almost suffocating.
We hit the ground running, somewhat formally at first. In no time, however, we both joked around and with the knowledge that we'd get along I slowly came to believe we might just be able to get this done. While he recognized his stick and rudder skills, he fully admitted that instrument flying would be a novel challenge.
The first two days were dominated by ground and basic instrument flying, to which The Spaniard took quite quickly.
"What kinds of unusual attitudes can I give this guy," I wondered, of the pilot who probably spent more time inverted than upright.
Straight and level did the trick. I chuckled.
We soon moved on to holds and DME arcs and in a matter of days to approaches.
Fourteen-hour days were the norm in those couple of weeks, as I tried to juggle my other students and The Spaniard. While I flew with others, he spent hours studying. A quick smoke and a laugh later, we'd be taxiing out on our way to yet more practice.
As he grew into a very capable instrument pilot, we began working on commercial maneuvers. He demonstrated his version of lazy eights (your garden variety crazy eights) and while they were fun, I reined him to conform with the FAA's standards.
In the process, he gave me a lot of great stick and rudder pointers and I can say with confidence that I'm a much smoother pilot as a result of his instruction. His dissection of aerodynamics and the angle of attack, obviously a huge part of his type of flying, were also particularly illuminating to me.
Before we knew it, it was checkride time.
His confident demeanor couldn't fully hide the natural stress that comes with an impending examination. Two days later, however, he was a commercial pilot single and multi-engine with an instrument rating. He achieved his goal with flying colors and the thrill was probably greater for me than it was for him.
The Spaniard's success boosted both my confidence and my profile. I'm currently teaching a couple of CFII candidates as well as more fast track students and have also been enlisted to teach on our G1000 172s and 182s.
It's fun and very educational for me. I'm learning more now than I ever did cramming for those checkrides!
Guess it does pay to be a CFI...

A few days ago, I reunited with an old friend.
Hadn't seen her in what seems like an eternity but our time together was magical. Sure, it was awkward at first, as our routine had rusted a little over our months of estrangement but that didn't last long.
As I popped the door to preflight, I caught her forgotten smell, the same I'd grown so accustomed to when we spent all those hours together months ago. What a thrill it was to fly her again and to dash through inclement skies for some very exciting approaches the next day.
How I've missed the Seminole.


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