the life of a co pilot

It’s the little things. How you talk on the radio, using airspeed or vertical speed or flight level change to climb, the way you program the flight management, where you write the clearance. It’s the little things you do as the ‘co pilot’ that can aggravate captains.

I’ve found that none seem to have any issue with me. I’ve been far from perfect. I’ve felt more like a student pilot in last 3 months than ever before. I’m an infant in a big world. I’m bright-eyed-bushy-tailed and I feel dumb as a new puppy. I hate being new at things. I hate not being proficient and efficient.

It’s frustrating at times, yet I know it’s a learning curve that will slowly start to fade. However most of what frustrates me isn’t myself, it’s trying to appease the other crew member. Trying to adapt to the ‘right’ way and decipher what is good advice and what is not.

I’ve flown with super relaxed guys that are quiet and reserved, won’t interfere unless something catches fire. They help where they think I need it, and otherwise they just let me fly. These are the guys that are a pleasure to fly with. You don’t feel any pressure to perform or to be perfect, and when you do make a mistake(and I do) they don’t set YOU on fire for it.

There are the guys in the middle that don’t really tell you how to fly, yet they often give you ‘advice’. “Ya know, if you did it this way, I would like it better.” It’s like that moment in Office Space where he wants her to wear more flair. “So I should do it that way?” “Well if you want to do it that way, it would be better. You want to be better right?”

Except it’s not better. It’s just different. Or maybe I just think it’s different and not better. What do I know anyways? What I’ve learned about aviation is everyone has their way. Every single thing you can do with an airplane you can do a million ways. 99% of those different ways are just as efficient and effective. Unfortunately they only teach you one way. Who’s to say it’s the right way, or the best way, but it’s the way they teach you. Yet everyone has their opinion on what is better, so they feel obligated to ‘teach’ me.

Now I’m the kind of guy who wants to know the million different ways so I can choose which is my favorite or preferred, and I’m still figuring out ‘my way’. Yet it still creates this stigma that I can’t do it ‘right’. Everyone is always telling me to do it differently, and I don’t know if that’s because they don’t like the way I do things or because they know I’m new. It has quickly become the most frustrating part of my job.

Then there are the ‘other’ captains. The ones that flat out tell you to do it this way, or don’t do that. My favorite is when I’m flying and they change something and don’t tell me what. Like I get to just figure it out on my own what they changed, and why. Or they will correct my work, or just plain DO my work. Nothing makes you feel like less of an efficient worker than when somebody does your work for you. Did he think I wasn’t capable of doing it myself? Did he think I would do it wrong? Was he being nice and helping me get my stuff done? I wish he wouldn’t do that, I still need to get practice with this stuff!

I got nearly an hour long lecture on why I shouldn’t try to tell the captain where to taxi. It wasn’t my job to set the tone of the cockpit, it was merely my job to shut up and run checklists. Apparently. I was told that captains know where to taxi and they don’t need any help. Granted I wasn’t trying to imply he didn’t know where to taxi. I confirmed our route and made sure he know which way it was. I have lots of work during the taxi that sometimes requires my head to be inside while he’s driving around the airport. Guess where the most doled out violations are given? During taxi. We both get nailed with a runway incursion or deviation because he made a wrong turn. In my short time here I’ve already stopped one guy from taxiing on a closed taxi-way, a crew from crossing a hold short line while on the jump seat, and one guy from getting completely lost.

Regardless of these first world issues, I’ve been enjoying the new job and the benefits. I have traveled a ton the last few months and been able to see friends that I don’t get to see often enough. It has allowed me to make a long distance relationship feel like it isn’t long distance. It allowed me to be with my mom on her birthday for the first time in many years. I have more days off now than I’ve ever had before. I’m getting use to having days off in the middle of the week.

so you’re getting ready for standardization

This was a post I created on jetcareers about the upcoming standardization events for our new instructor candidates. The purpose of these posts was to ensure that new instructors had some insight on what to expect and what was expected of them. I tried to provide some guidance for the ground briefings as well as flights that are used to standardize the instructor. I think with the realization that I will no longer be around the academy much longer has prompted my desire to help the new comers. I wish I had started this process much sooner.

You’re not quite sure what to expect when you meet that standardization pilot.

Let me give you some guidance.

Show up on time and prepared, with the materials required for a pre-flight briefing. Don’t show up 5 minutes late, with no marker and nothing prepared on your white board.

This means you should probably have something already prepared on the white board that includes things like:

  • Title of discussion or presentation
  • A brief overview or description
  • Listed references for the student to use or refer to
  • A diagram or drawing depicting the maneuver or topic

This discussion should be taught using the guided discussion method.
That means that you treat the standardization pilot as the student, not as a standardization pilot. Don’t refer to the student in third person. “I would tell the student this” or “Now I would ask the student that.”

Ask me those questions, tell me what you want to tell me, as your student. My job as a standardization pilot is to evaluate your ability to lead a discussion or briefing on a maneuver. Show me you have that ability!

Avoid saying things like “bump power” or “pull back”. We are taught to use very specific instructions with the students, and it is heavily emphasized. “Add 100 RPM” or “Increase pitch 1 degree on the horizon” are phrases you need to be comfortable with. Generalized statements tend to lead to students over controlling and making erratic inputs.

Throughout the entire standardization event you should act and conduct yourself as the instructor. If you don’t know things, tell me you can look it up. Admitting errors is OK, but saying “I don’t know” isn’t. The student needs to know it’s OK to not know everything, but should also understand that there is always someplace to find information.

You must have instructional knowledge of the aircraft! We need to ensure you’re going to teach a student the basics of the airframe and systems of the aircraft. These are things we look for on stage checks, and they start with the students primary instructor! Just to name a few:

  • What kind of flaps do we have? What benefit do they provide?
  • What kind of ailerons do we have? What design characteristic do they have that is beneficial?
  • What does the stall strip do?
  • How much fuel is in this fuel tank? How much is unusable? How much fuel is at the tab?
  • Tire inflation numbers, and strut extension tolerance limits.
  • How the Piper External Power plug works
  • Show me the Vacuum pump. How do you know if it stops working? What instruments will stop


  • Be able to identify basic components of the engine, and what their function is
  • The Piper Pitot/Static system is pretty unique; be sure you understand the design of the mast ,
    and what happens when the various ports become blocked.

You will hear a lot, this is not a check ride. It truly isn’t. However, it is an evaluation of your instructional knowledge of the aircraft, and the topics to be covered from pre-solo to single engine commercial applicants. This will probably require some studying and practice on your behalf. Especially the procedures and specific techniques that they require you to use. I’m sure that everything we teach here is taught at least slightly different than what you’re use to.

Lets talk about the flight, shall we?

The flight contains every private and commercial flight maneuver for single engine airplane requirements. All maneuvers are expected to be performed to PTS while simultaneously explaining/teaching. This seems to be the significant pitfall of most instructor candidates.

Remember that throughout the flight you are the instructor, and the stan pilot is to be treated as the student. If you make any mistakes throughout any of the maneuvers, please use them as teaching examples. The students are going to make mistakes when they attempt maneuvers and we want to hear your criticism and analysis of your performance. Do not try to cover up your mistakes, or say that it was PTS when it clearly wasn’t. We are perfectly OK with mistakes, just teach me about it. Always admit your errors to your students. They know you’re not God, don’t act like it.

Do not teach too much. A lot of new instructors sometimes feel the need to narrate and comment on everything that occurs during the flight. Don’t. We want to hear the key instructions, and main points. We don’t need a play by play announcer of every little item. Be careful that you don’t over-instruct the maneuvers. Especially in the traffic pattern, be very cautious of how much instruction you’re giving. If you want the ‘student’ to complete a maneuver, be sure to take the controls before providing your short debrief. The student has little to no ability to listen and perceive your criticism and debrief while flying the aircraft.

Be sure to have a plan of action on how to complete the lesson. You already have a complete list of all maneuvers to be completed, use it. You will be responsible for execution of the lesson with a student, so assume that role for this flight. Tell me which maneuvers we’re going to do, and in what order. Ensure that we remain in the same practice area, or that we don’t stray 10 miles from the airport. Keep an eye on the hobbs time, and ensure that we are not taking too much time between maneuvers. These are essential skills as an active CFI.

Organize your plan of action so it makes sense. Don’t climb to 3500 after departure, then climb to 4500 with chandelles, and go immediately into a steep spiral. That will require us to climb back up to altitude most likely to perform additional maneuvers. This is a waste of time, and waste of the students money. Complete all your altitude maneuvers before descending. Once we’ve descended, lets complete the simulated emergency landing, followed by the ground reference. Once those are completed, we should be done with maneuvers and heading to an airport for landings.

No matter what anyone tells you, the power off 180 approach is not an emergency landing. Do not tell me how you would ‘troubleshoot’ for the failed engine. Do not give an example of us using this technique in an emergency. This is a performance maneuver to demonstrate proficiency and accuracy. We do not need, or want, to see you perform the power off landing checklist/procedure for the power off 180 approach. I see this a lot on stage checks, and even though it is not an unsatisfactory, it is a standardization issue.

Do not be afraid to conduct a go around. During debriefs the candidates will say ‘well I would have had the student go around’. Why didn’t you? Some of the stan pilots will not be satisfied with a go around, as the PTS allows only one attempt for satisfactory, however I personally prefer the go around. I have never, and will never, grade unsatisfactory for a go around. Unless the student is unable to satisfactorily complete the landing from multiple attempts.

Most of all this is a standardization flight, so remember that the procedures and checklists are graded most. We need to see you do the checklists and procedures as listed in the training handbooks. If you have to double check the memory item checklists, do it. Don’t feel that you must do them from memory. Complete what you can from memory, then verify. This is what you should teach your students to do, it is what you should also do.

Ensure to complete your clearing turns, radio call, and pre-maneuver checklist prior to commencing maneuvers. We have and do fail students for this on stage checks, so you better believe that instructor candidates fail stan flights for it. In fact I know of a new instructor that recently failed his stan flight for this very item. It’s crucial for the student to understand the importance of this. Collision avoidance is a special emphasis area of darn near every PTS, and it’s often listed in the specific task of maneuvers.

Contrary to what you may hear about the stan pilots, most of us are more than willing to help you along. We are not looking to fail you, we are looking to ensure you are capable of teaching our students the ‘right’ way. You have the benefit of a wide range of experienced instructors to help you out. I am the least experienced of all the IPs doing stan flights. Regardless of being on the bottom, I’ve been teaching the ‘right’ way for 3 years, doing stage checks for over 2 years, and I have instructed in every current program minus one. I do not know everything, but I sure think I can help y’all out some.

full circle

Of the things I get to do as a flight instructor, I think none are as rewarding as flying with instructor candidates. Guys and gals pursuing their flight instructor ratings are motivated, good aviators, and make excellent students.

If anything, I wish I was able to teach instructor candidates more often. Over the last three years I have had a handful of them, mostly add-on instructor ratings though. A select few were going for their initial instructor rating.

Recently I have been going over some of the fundamentals of flight instructing in preparation for a new student I was receiving. It got me thinking about how far I’ve come since I began this job. It truly is a unique experience to reminisce about days gone by, and how much I’ve learned and experienced. I have come full circle.

Tomorrow I will even get the opportunity for the first time to complete some standardization flights. When you’re hired at the school, you get to spend countless hours in class learning how to teach the way the school wants you to teach. If you were a student here at the academy, it’s never really a big deal. However, we currently have almost all instructors that trained elsewhere. This tends to be a trial by fire, and quite shocking to the new instructors. Teaching something a completely different way is almost like teaching something completely different.

Because we are so short on standardization pilots, they are utilizing the check instructors to assist with the standardization flights. So I get to fly with these new instructors and evaluate their ability to teach and evaluate the ‘right way’. This is essential to ensure that the students will be able to learn from any instructor and be taught the same thing. This makes moving students from instructor to instructor seamless, and it ensures that the instructor is providing quality instruction as desired.

It gives me an opportunity to help out a new colleague, and perhaps teach a little bit. It hopefully gives them an opportunity to gain some insight on the school, and I hope, build their confidence.

conducting vfr flight in instrument conditions

I was at an uncontrolled airport the other day conducting an IFR cross country training flight. We had arrived at this airport less than an hour prior and since I have watched 3 airplanes land. 2 I listened arrive to the airport over the CTAF making traffic calls from their respective cardinal directions. At no point did I get the feeling they were inbound on the single instrument approach serving the airport. I felt very strongly they were VFR in what I considered to be barely VFR in the class Golf airspace that served the airport.

I thought about it for a few minutes, and resolved that VFR could be accomplished as long as the aircraft were clear of the clouds. Could.

Fast forward to now. I’m in my airplane again, aircraft fueled with low lead, me fueled with turkey and cheese. Next to my airplane on the ramp is an empty 172. While conducting our pre taxi briefs and checklists two men board the 172 and begin to taxi. I didn’t hear a taxi call. I didn’t hear a call for IFR clearance on the RCO frequency for the closest approach facility. About 5 minutes later I hear them call CTAF with “departing runway XX south”.

Current conditions are VV001 and 1SM or less. I’m estimating these because ASOS was OTS, however the closest airport was reporting similar conditions. Sitting in my aircraft on the ramp, I was unable to see completely across the airfield. After departing we were IMC by 150 feet and breaking through the top at almost 700 feet.

Checking in with departure and no 172 on frequency there.

I haven’t stopped thinking about this since it happened. What possesses people to do such stupid things? Why were airplanes using this uncontrolled field for VFR flight operations in such poor visibility? Not just one, but multiple aircraft had come and gone during conditions that I barely feel comfortable departing IFR in while in a single engine piston aircraft.

Cloud clearance requirements are there for a reason. Maneuvering low level in low visibility isn’t smart. Spatial disorientation is real and it will kill you. Being conservative isn’t just for politicians. Statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re people that are no longer alive because of being unable to make good judgement calls, or not being able to identify and stop the error chain.

Stay safe people.

one engine inoperative


One engine inoperative flight refers to the aerodynamically intriguing event of an engine failure while flying a multi engine airplane. A topic of much discussion among instructors and students, an event that is practiced and drilled just as much.

During training flights we routinely simulate engine failures and practice the sequence of events for trouble-shooting, shutdown, and securing of an inoperative engine. At altitude, we even fully shut down and feather the simulated failure. This is to train the student in the complete procedure and help them gain confidence in the aircraft flying single engine.

Recently I was on such a training flight, doing the exact aforementioned procedure. Using techniques of the sneaky demeanor, I shut off the fuel supply to the left engine. Directing my student to a new heading to fly, I waited eagerly for the ‘surprise’. As predicted the left engine stops producing power, and starts producing drag. Just as taught, the student started a script of checklist and call outs. Announcing the engine failure and working to trouble-shoot the failure, deciding that it was better to shut down and secure it. Shortly after the failure, the engine is feathered and shut down. Instead of the propeller spinning with drag, it sits quietly posed defunct. So far all is routine on this flight.

I pose the question to the student “Now what would you do?”
“Fly to the closest airport and declare an emergency.”

I couldn’t have expected that would be exactly what I would have to do.

Once we were finished with the simulation of failure, I instructed the student to restart the engine and we could continue with other practice. After attempting the restart of the engine, the propeller sat there quietly still, defiant of our command. I stared at it thinking that it couldn’t possibly be sitting still, rebellious to our wishes for it to roar back to life. For the first time in my life I had the realization of only one engine keeping me aloft.

I had practiced and drilled this as a student myself, I have flown countless times single engine as an instructor, yet to this point it was all simulated. I realized at that moment that I never really payed any attention to the single operating engine while these simulations were carried out. I always just expected and assumed that if there were any problems with it, I could just restart the opposite engine I simulated failed. I didn’t have that luxury any more.

Of the many things my father taught me, one that I remember and try to implement is perspective. The same event or thought or opinion is a thousand times different from a different perspective. Keeping that in mind I have a new found perspective on this ‘simulation’.

So here we are, flying around with one engine inoperative, running the same checklist over multiple times to ensure no pilot error occurred. It appears none has, and now the event is playing out in my head. The scenario I have been taught, and have been teaching, is playing out like déjà vu.

“…inbound from the east, one engine inoperative and declaring an emergency.”

Wow. Just typing the words as I said them gives me goosebumps. That one word gives me chills.

The landing was smooth, and overall uneventful. It was quite a feeling once I got out of the airplane. I have replayed this event in my head over and over again. I learned from this experience, where I thought I had learned all to know.


Pay closer attention to the single operating engine while simulating a failure. Have a plan for what to do once you clear the runway, and where you’re going to taxi and park. Don’t come to a full stop before you’ve taxied to the parking spot. Work that out with tower, they’ll pretty much let you do whatever you want.