7 Flight Instructor Essentials

What Every Flight Instructor Needs

Flight instructing can be a challenging job. Arm yourself with the right instructional tools and resources, and you'll be able to handle just about any situation! Here are the top seven flight instructor essentials to start your career off right:

Lesson Plans

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You'll hear a lot from other instructors and sources regarding lesson planning: Is it best to create your own lesson plans or use a commercially sold version? As an instructor you can get away with using pre-made flight lesson plans (that's what they're for, after all!), but creating your own is a great way to learn a lot. And keep in mind that some students might need a more flexible plan than others, so you may find yourself altering lesson plans for different students as you go. In the end, whichever method you choose should support your personal instruction techniques while keeping the student's best interest in mind.

You should have lesson plans for both ground and flight lessons, and they should always incorporate the elements of the FAA practical test standards. Lesson plans can vary in magnitude and detail, but the main elements should be the same. Plans should include the objective, lesson content, and completion standards. Some instructors choose to add a list of resources for the student, diagrams, pictures, an allotted amount of time for each topic, etc. to help them stay on track.

The FAA's FITS program (which stands for FAA-Industry Training Standards) isn't a required program, but is something that instructors should familiarize themselves with. Some flight schools have adopted the program as its primary training program, while others use the concepts of the program to improve their current training programs without being officially recognized as a FITS program. It's not a bad idea: The FITS program places an emphasis on single-pilot resource management (SRM), learner-centered grading, and scenario-based training (SBT) instead of maneuver-based training only. A combination of both is probably ideal, but the FITS program was implemented for technologically advanced aircraft (TAA).

A Good Mentor

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Every beginning instructor needs a mentor. Mentors aren't hard to find, and they're usually very willing to help. At the very least, use the resources that are around you. Watch senior instructors. Ask a lot of questions. Observe other instructor's flights. Call the FSDO if you are having trouble interpreting a regulation. Ask the control tower if you can observe their operations for a short time. Get to know the other instructors and learn from their mistakes. Join the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and AOPA and learn everything you can learn from their publications. And get involved at your local airport so that when you need help, it will likely be there.


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Don't go anywhere without a FAR/AIM. Keep one at home, one at the flight school, a digital copy on your iPad and computer, and anywhere else you often visit. Chances are you haven't memorized it yet and your new students will ask you questions you've never heard before. You'll probably reference the FAR/AIM at least once a day if you're actively instructing.

A Reference Binder

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If you don't already have a binder or two full of references and diagrams, you'll want one. Organize it by topic and include pictures, diagrams, performance charts, weight and balance sheets, flight planning forms, Advisory Circulars, FAA Safety Briefs, flyers, aircraft data, etc. Put in anything and everything that you can think of. If your binder is organized and easily accessible, you will save time and energy searching for diagrams, etc. when you need to reference them.

Flying Gear

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This is the fun part. Celebrate by splurging on that handheld GPS, or a new transceiver so that you can listen to your solo students from the ground. Get that stylish pair of aviator sunglasses that you've been wanting. Chances are good that you'll be flying enough to justify the purchase.

Teaching Gadgets

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You won't need all of them, but you might want a few of the gadgets you find in those pilot supply catalogs, like an airplane-on-a-stick for demonstrating maneuvers or a laser pointer for the classroom. You'll probably need dry-erase markers, instrument covers and foggles. Depending on your teaching circumstances, you might need to buy a GATS jar, a funnel for oil, and other various aircraft supplies.

An iPad

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An iPad is a splurge, but it's worth it for flight instructors. You can keep everything in one place -- lesson plans, FARs, aircraft checklists, weather data, and flight plans. If you have one with GPS, you can use it to track your flight path, upload instrument approach procedures and even take notes while evaluating your student. And when you land at your destination you can check your email, draft an invoice, or use Google Maps to find the nearest restaurant. If you have to choose one big investment as an instructor, make it an iPad.