This weekend I've had two opportunities to work with (hopefully) future Private Pilots. They both came to me asking for an evaluation of their readiness for the knowledge portion of the Private Pilot practical test. We refer to this portion as the "oral".
Since I am an Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) I can provide ground instruction for most certificates & ratings. I am particularly interested in teaching the knowledge, planning and judgement skills needed to fly safely because I believe firmly those skills are what will keep a pilot safe and flying a long time. I've also learned from my friendship with a senior CFI and DPE that many candidates for Private Pilot are woefully unprepared for the oral portion of their check rides. It as if the CFIs that trained them are so focused on being flight instructors, getting air time and teaching stick and rudder skills that they forget they need to teach the knowledge, planning and judgement skills too. This weekend I worked with both extremes.
Left to His Own DevicesThe first candidate is a future film-maker and current tech worker. He had the typical history of being handed between 5 different flight instructors to date. He likes his current instructor and really wants to do his check ride soon. He was confident that he's ready for the ride but smart enough to take some advice and get a "second opinion" on his readiness to do the oral portion of the check ride. Talking with him on the phone I was impressed with his very positive attitude and self confidence. I was hopeful that he would sail through the mock oral and walk out ready for his ride. I was wrong.
I met with him for 3 hours and did my best DPE imitation. I asked scenario based questions that covered all of the knowledge and special emphasis areas in the Private Pilot PTS. Very similar to the last person I worked with, he was left to his own devices to study and prepare for the test. That did not work well for him. He is not ready for his check ride. We uncovered many areas that he needs to improve before he'll be ready for the ride. There were some areas I couldn't even evaluate because he didn't have the basics done.
After we were done we chatted a bit about how he may proceed from here. I recommended he study specific areas and then we get back together (or he work with his CFI) to help him really understand what he's studying. We also talked about how he was (not) prepared for the orals. He said when he asked questions of his CFIs they'd briefly talk about it and then "$170 later" he was back where he started. He said it seemed none of the CFIs he worked with took any responsibility for the ground learning he had to do. At one point he laughed and said, "It would have been nice to have some fucking warning about how hard this is!"
I emphasized to him that I was impressed with his attitude and I totally believe he can learn what he needs to learn and he can pass his check ride. I asked him to not give up. I believe in you. He left in a good mood with his positive attitude intact in spite of what he described as a humbling experience. We agreed to get back together today but he later asked to postpone so he could study more. I hope he doesn't give up.
More Prepared, Less ConfidentThe next candidate is someone I know better. I know him to be very studious and conscientious in everything he does. What I didn't know is some of why he's flying. This is his life long dream, a dream that started with the story of his grandfather. His grandfather flew in World War II in China. He and his unit helped rescue American airmen downed in China, Taiwan and Japan. After the war he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in a labor camp for 20 years for helping the Americans. Here was this man's grandson. I could feel his passion for flying and nervousness about doing this test.
Once again I did my best DPE impression and walked him through scenarios and questions to evaluate his ability to apply what he'd learned in his training. This candidate was very different. He was less confident, more nervous and more prepared. He would not have passed, he was weak in two areas. However, there were some areas that he did extremely well and in most areas he was obviously competent, if nervous. He was prepared by his CFI. His CFI also sat with me to debrief on the weak areas. I know he will do well ultimately.
The thing that ties this candidate to the story is, I told him when he left that I am totally confident he will pass his check ride. I believe in you. The look of gratitude and relief on his face was just wonderful.
Another CandidateThese two candidates are not unlike me. I, too, am preparing for my own check ride. I'm preparing for my Flight Instructor check ride. I'm more like the second candidate, than the first. I'm conscientious but not so confident. Trying hard with a CFI who is working to prepare me for both the flight and the knowledge portion. Just like them, I have areas I'm weak on. And just like them, sometimes I need to hear I believe in you.
That is one thing my CFI is not good at. He doesn't do much encouraging. I've known him a long time and know he wouldn't spend time training someone on something he doesn't believe they can do, but he doesn't come out and say it. On the other hand, I'm fortunate that I have good friends and family who do believe in me and do tell me so. When I need those precious words I reach out to them and they re-affirm their belief in me. Which helps me believe in myself.
As I continue on my aviation journey and I work with these private pilot candidates I see the power of a couple words of encouragement. I'll make sure to encourage my students. Not to do it too much, but when the time is right, when confidence is low but ability is high, I'll make sure to say I believe in you.