How I Became a Flight Instructor – Part II

A funny thing happened on my way to the instrument rating which segues quite nicely into Part II of how I became a flight instructor. That’s a dumb opening, isn’t it? Sheez, who is this guy?

Hokay, back to the chase … . When we left our story last month, our hero had gotten a full time writing job for John and Martha King. Prior to that particular job, however, he was still shucking and jiving for the telemarketing department. Now, if you’ve been a pilot and, for whatever reason stopped, it’s hard to be around active pilots and not wanna get back into the air. So, in late June 1997, I got back into the air with Kal Skadberg, who was one of the managers in the Telemarketing Department, a really good guy, and a really good flight instructor.

After our first flight – doing the usual stuff you do with someone with whom you’ve never flown: steep turns, slow flight, stalls, engine out maneuver, landings – Kal signed my flight review. Now, I hadn’t flown for over a decade and, quite frankly, seriously doubted my skills and Kal’s judgement. I argued against his decision but he told me that I had done everything required on a flight review, and had done it all to PTS standards – he couldn’t not sign my flight review. It did help that we were going to start instrument training the following week.

So … we started the training. I hadn’t realize that instrument flight was so demanding – I mean, how hard could it be? I had Microsoft Flightsim on my computer – I could fly instruments. Well, first you’ve gotta learn how to control the airplane with those six, stupid, tiny, ancient flight instruments: Airspeed Indicator, Attitude Indicator, Altimeter, Turn Coordinator, Heading Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator. And you have no idea how malevolently those antiquated bastards can behave. You’re looking at one, then another one starts wandering off, so you look at that one, and then two others screw up – it’s frustrating, and annoying … and all the while that asshole instructor is barking in your ear: “Heading. Altitude.”

Then … you finally figure out to control the airplane using flight instruments and the asshole adds the nav instruments. Come on, really? And once you’ve figured out the flight instruments and the nav instruments, then you’ve gotta start flying approaches, and all the while the asshole is squawking: “Heading … altitude … heading … altitude … heading … altitude … heading … altitude … heading … altitude,” like some obsessed and demented parrot.

And then you add the joy of communicating with air traffic control. Now, I like ATC. I respect what they do. On at least two occasions, alert air traffic controllers have saved my life – and one of those has become a friend. But when you’re a new instrument pilot, and you’re just starting to understand how to fly with reference to instruments, it’s hard to pay attention to another voice barking in your ear: “Cherokee 123DP you are 4 miles from DEORO, turn right heading 250 degrees, maintain two thousand six hundred feet until established on the localizer, cleared for the ILS 28 Right approach.”

And you reply: “Can you repeat all after, ‘Cherokee?’”
It’s insane.

At one point in the training, I’d just had enough. Kal and I are flying up Victor 23 to do the VOR-A approach into Oceanside Airport (OKB). It’s a calm day, I’m wearing the dreaded foggles but they’ve only been on for 15 minutes and the headset isn’t yet pinching them into my ears and the bridge of my nose. The air is calm, we’re locked on 4000’ MSL, the VOR needle is dead center … and I hear Kal make one of those kid-like giggly noises he makes when something funny is about to happen. It’s hard to mimic. “Heeh, heeh, heeh.” Suddenly an overpowering stench fills the cockpit. The air turns blue. I start to gag because the foul, fetid stink is overwhelming. Then I realized that Kal has … how shall we say this delicately … crepitated … passed gas … pooted … aw, hell – he cut the worst fart ever expelled from a living creature.

“You asshole,” I screamed into the mike as I elbowed his ribs. “You asshole.”

He just giggled. “Heeh, heeh, heeh; heeh, heeh, heeh; heeh, heeh, heeh.” He paused. “It happens whenever I drink milk.”

“Then quit drinking milk, goddamit,” I barked.

So the training progressed and by October I’m getting ready for the checkride The pressure was on, and I was having a bad day. The instruments were misbehaving, my radio work was subpar, I was flying poorly .., and then Kal said something. I didn’t hear what he’d said. I didn’t care what he’d said. I had hit the breaking point … and I screamed: “SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

“What did you just say to your instructor?” he said.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

“I can’t believe you’d say something like that to your instructor.”

“Don’t you understand English, you FUCKING MORON. “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” “JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

It got real quiet in the cockpit.

The tantrum ended, I began to feet awful. “I’m sorry, Kal” I said, meekly.

He didn’t speak.

I could feel the tension and I felt even worse. “Come on, Kal,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”

Nothing. Not a word.

The moment lasted an hour. Then he started that childlike giggle. “Heeh, heeh, heeh.” He paused. “I drank some milk,” he said. “Heeh, heeh, heeh.” And, as he said the words, the cockpit filled with that same unbelievably obnoxious stench. Ah, the joys of instrument training.

Kal scheduled my checkride with JC Boylls, who was probably the best Designated Pilot Examiner who ever lived – and a colleague at King Schools. JC was a Subject Matter Expert (SCHMEE) working on the King/Cessna Private Pilot CBI Course and, to this day, knows more about anything involving aviation, or learning, than any person I’ve ever known. And that is no slight to John and Martha, who are amazingly knowledgeable – but JC knew everything.

We set a date for the ride. I had scored a 98 on the written exam and knew everything, but the oral still seemed to go on FOREVER. It went on so long, that we rescheduled the flight. We flew. I nailed the VOR-A OKB approach, we had done the air work, and I was being vectored by SoCal Approach for the Localizer into Palomar, partial panel. There was a final approach fix called DEASY (the outer marker) at which point one starts the timer (it was a timed approach with multiple step-down fixes). I’m tracking the LOC like a champ, smugly admiring the brand new instrument rating I was about to acquire.

JC says, “What’s your missed approach point?”

I looked over at the timer, which looked back at me with three zeroes on it’s face: 000 – I hadn’t set the timer. Without the timer, I couldn’t determine the missed approach point.

“Shit,” I said, my shoulders sagged and I let go of the controls.

JC grabbed the controls and jerked them up, down and side to side. “YOU NEVER QUIT FLYNG THE AIRPLANE,” he shrieked at me.

Oh Great, I thought, Not only have I just busted my ride, the examiner is screaming at me.

“YOU NEVER QUIT FLYING THE AIRPLANE,” JC shrieked once again, jerking the controls, again.

He said it a third time: “YOU NEVER QUIT FLYING THE AIRPLANE.” He jerked the controls one more time, then said “NOW FLY THE DAMNED AIRPLANE.”

I took the controls, hands shaking, spirit shattered. I glanced at the approach plate. We were nearing the middle marker. It would provide an audio tone telling me that I had ½ mile to the runway. A thought occurred.

“Well,” I said, ”I guess I can use the MM to determine the missed approach point. It is a half mile before the runway.” I had held altitude and tracked the LOC amazingly well after the outburst. It wasn’t going to get me out of a bust, but I had learned something. JC grunted.

At the marker I told Palomar that we we executing the missed approach, then called SoCal and got a clearance to Montgomery. JC barely grunted.

It was easiest approach I can remember because the pressure was off – I had busted my IFR ride. It was, no doubt, the best ILS-28R approach ever flown. The localizer and glide slope needles were so locked on dead center that JC queried if the instrument had failed.

After we landed, and were taxiing back to the ramp, JC said, “So how do you think you did?”

“What do you mean?” I said. “I busted.”

“You didn’t,” he replied.

“But I didn’t time the Localizer approach,” I said.

“But you knew that you could use the middle marker,” he said, “So you passed.”

“But … ,” I started to say.

“And I’ll bet you never, ever, not once, ever quit flying the airplane again,” he said with a smile.

We debriefed over a meal. He was about to sign my temporary instrument rating when he paused, then looked at me and said, “Have you ever thought about becoming a flight instructor?”

I smiled. He hadn’t signed the rating yet. I didn’t wanna piss him off, again. I shook my head.

“Seriously,” he said, “With your personality, with how much you know, with as much as you love flying, you’d make a wonderful flight instructor.”
He still hadn’t signed the rating. I waited.

“You should continue on and get your flight instructor rating,” he said. “You’d be good.”

“Okay,” I said, risking the unsigned instrument rating, “Why would I want to make too little money and allow total strangers try to kill me?”

He laughed. “Well, the money’s getting better … and they won’t kill you if you don’t let them.”

I said, “Why don’t you sign that document so we can proceed with our meal.”

“Okay.” He signed it and handed it to me. Temporary certificates aren’t very impressive, but, after all that hard work, study, and after being forced to survive Kal’s reaction to milk, it looked like a work of art.

“I wish you’d give it some thought,” JC said. “You’d make a really good flight instructor.”

I smiled. “You know, you seem like a normal human being,” I said, “But then you say something like that. Does the FAA know that you’re insane?”

He laughed. “Well, promise me you’ll think about it, okay?”

I nodded. Right. I’ll think about it. When pigs learn how to fly.

And there we are. I didn’t think about it. I got my Commercial Certificate and JC asked me about CFI again, and I laughed at him. But then I did think about it.

You’re working for King Schools, I thought, If you became an instructor, maybe you could ask them for more money. Besides, you don’t really know something until you can teach it.

Less than a year later, JC was signing my CFI rating. After a nearly 7 hour oral. There is an entry in my first logbook – the one that was given me in 1975 – that says we flew for 1.1 hours. It’s signed by JC Boylls, so we must have flown 1.1 hours, but, after a 7 hour oral, I was so drained that I still can’t remember what we did in the air.

I guess it doesn’t matter. JC Boylls changed my life. When I became a flight instructor, I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. My life had purpose. And fun. And I got paid to go fly.

How I became a flight instructor? A friend showed me the way. And all these years later, I never, ever, not once, ever quit flying the airplane.

Posted in Aviation Stories