ATP Total CFI Program Day 14

Put a fork in me. I’m done!

Today’s checkride went very well. I was up at 5:30 and at the airport by 7:00 a.m. By 10 a.m. I had the new temporary airman certificate in my pocket and had said my goodbyes to the ATP staff as I headed out the door.

So much work. And all for a little piece of paper! I really don’t feel that much smarter or more knowledgeable than I was two weeks ago, yet now I’m legally able to provide training as an FAA authorized instructor. But as I was explaining things to my non-flying friends this evening, I realized that hey, I really do know a lot. It’s just that you learn one piece at a time, bit by bit over a period of years. There are very few “ah-ha” moments.

As they say, it's not over until the paperwork is completed.  Well, here's the evidence:  I did it!

As they say, it’s not over until the paperwork is completed. Well, here’s the evidence: I did it!

Now that I’m done with the ATP program, I can render a judgement on it. And my opinion is this: as I said previously, the program is not appropriate for everyone. Accelerated training is serious business. It can work wonders, but not if you just show up and expect to be magically transformed into a serious instructor. There is no magic.

On the contrary, you have to do an incredible amount of footwork before hand. And when you arrive, you must take charge of your own learning and be an honest advocate for yourself. By honest, I mean if you need time in the sim, go get it. No one is going to babysit you. And for God’s sake, if you’re not ready, don’t sign up for a program like this until you are. Get some real world experience. Fill the holes in your training. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself later.

Anyway, enough about the program. The drive home was pleasant and quick — only three and a half hours from door to door. Quite a pleasant surprise for a Sunday afternoon.

I’ve already started contacting a few people about a job. I’m looking seriously at Sunrise Aviation, where I did my primary, instrument, commercial, and aerobatic training. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and Sunrise has a great combination of aerobatic airplanes (Extra 300, Pitts S2B, Decathlons, etc) and advanced composite birds (SR20, SR22, DA40, DA20).

This is attractive because I’d like to hit both extremes in the general aviation world: master the latest in all-glass IFR panels like the Garmin 1000 and Avidyne, while also teaching aerobatics in total VFR airplanes. Nosewheel and tailwheel. Smooth IFR flying and hard core acro. I feel that this is the best way to master general aviation flying and become the most highly skilled and capable pilot I can be.

Another key is continuing education. Change is constant in aviation, and there’s always more to learn. So once I get settle in as an instructor I’ll have to figure out what comes next. Cirrus Standardized Instructor? RV-6 flying? Rotorcraft training? Aerobatic competition?

The ATP Total CFI program has been quite an adventure. Despite the official two week duration of the program, it has consumed my attention, time, money, and effort for several months. Now I’m ready to move on to the next step and make the transition from student to teacher.

So who’s gonna be my first vict—er, I mean, student? Any takers?


ATP Total CFI Program Day 13

The end is in sight! Tomorrow is the final checkride. In fact, 24 hours from now I should be back in Orange County.

You know, these two weeks have flown by (no pun intended). And yet in many ways I feel as thought I’ve been in Las Vegas for months. The program started with such a bang, and yet seems to be ending with a whimper. Richard and I are the only students left, and the flight board is nearly blank. We each have our flights tomorrow with the examiner, and that’s about it.

This evening I was on my way to dinner at a little cafe inside the hotel when I heard someone calling my name. I looked over and saw all three ATP instructors standing in the buffet line. They invited me to join them, and I figured “why not?”. We had a pleasant conversation over dinner and I felt like one of the gang. Appropriate, I suppose, since I actually will be one of them after tomorrow.

I feel for these guys. They’re getting up at 3 a.m. and either flying or working in the office all day long. And in exchange, they get $1,000 a month. Minus the $200 per month that ATP deducts for company housing. And any withholding for tax, Social Security, etc. How anyone can live on a gross salary of $12,000 per year is beyond me.

You’d think things get better after they land an airline job, but it ain’t necessarily so. One of the guys, Bobby, is leaving soon for a job with Express Jet. Apparently they don’t pay much more than ATP, though you get a type rating and plenty of multi-engine turbine time. It’s odd to think of a $15 million jet being flown by a pilot making only $15,000 per year.

Anyway, now that the ATP office feels like home, I’m leaving. Isn’t that how it always is? My bags are packed, the car is full of gas, and I’m ready to put in another hour or so of studying before heading to bed.

ATP Total CFI Program Day 12

Not much to report on day twelve. Only made one flight today, and it went fine. I was having a bit of trouble remembering the commercial maneuvers since I haven’t done them since… well, since I got my commercial certificate circa 9/11/01, but the cobwebs are slowly clearing.

You know, I’m starting to think that Lazy Eights are the non-aerobatic equivalent of barrel rolls: they take a moment to learn but a lifetime to master.

I’m also starting to think about What Comes Next. The new year will be here soon, and with it I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do with this new airman certificate in my pocket. Instruct, sure. But how? Freelance? Work at a flight school? Mix the two?

As a graduate of ATP’s instructor program, I believe I could get a job teaching for them. My commercial multi instructor told me that ATP has a hard time keeping the Long Beach office staffed, so maybe that would work. It’d involve a lot of multi-engine time, that’s for sure. That’s the big thing the airlines, and therefore many newly minted CFIs, are looking for.

The question is, do I want to work for the airlines? I’m not sure. Aerobatics, biplanes, tailwheels airplanes, and that sort of thing seem like a lot more fun, especially with the current state of the airline industry. Even so, some airlines are definitely hiring. I had dinner this evening with the three CFIs who run the Las Vegas ATP office, and it seems that Express Jet (a subsidiary of Continental Airlines) is hiring a lot of former ATP instructors. Nothing like getting paid $15,000 a year to fly a $15 million jet, eh? I told my instructor, Dan, that it’s like being an out of work actor, only you’re poorer.

There are a lot of unique and fun flying jobs in aviation. When someone finds out that I want to fly for a living, they always ask which airline I’m applying to, as if there are no other flying jobs out there. Heh.

I’m going to have to mull this question over quite a bit before I can figure out where I want to go after instructing. If there even is an “after”. Many people I highly respect are career instructors. That’s another possibility. Experimental transition training, glass panel instruction, aerobatics, type ratings, warbirds, etc. One of the members of my class flew for the Forest Service and made that sound like a lot of fun.

Decisions, decisions.

ATP Total CFI Program Day 11

I’m sitting in the ATP office and the place is empty.

Just a week ago, the scheduling board was so full you almost couldn’t see any white space on it. Now there’s just a few flights left. Some of those flights are mine, and that’s why I’m still here. All but one other member of my class has finished the program and gone home, but since I was on the “long” 15 hour program, I’m still here. Part of the slowdown is also due to the fact that Christmas is just a few days away and therefore there’s no class right behind us.

Moving back to single engine flying has been an adjustment. The airplane, a 180 hp C172P, is not a stellar performer even on the cold days we’ve been having here in Las Vegas. The terrain out in the practice area northeast of town is so high that we’re flying at 8000 MSL or so. A 50 degree steep turn at that altitude is going to burn off a lot of airspeed. It also takes a virtual act of God to stall the thing compared to the Seminole.

Even so, I’ve been enjoying the return to “simpler” flying. I’m not worried about the last checkride at all, it should be relatively easy. Besides, the Designated Examiner is no longer an unknown since I’ve flown with him before, and the unknown is really what gets people nervous, isn’t it?

It’s not that I’m being nonchalant about the upcoming practical test, but the pace is slow enough that in comparison to the first week it seems like a breeze.

After living in a hotel room for two weeks, I can’t wait to pile into the car and make the drive back to Orange County. Put some Christmas music in the CD player, get into the spirit, and finally relax. Ahhhh….

ATP Total CFI Program Day 10

Wouldn’t you know it? Just when I was getting used to the 5:00 a.m. flights, they’re over. I took my multi-engine instrument instructor checkride this morning. And passed, thank you very much.

In fact, everyone in my class has passed every test so far. Three of us took MEII checkrides this morning. As I recall, Casey departed at 1:00 a.m., Gracie took off at 3:00 a.m., and I got to sleep in, departing at 5:00 a.m.

The hard work paid off, because the checkride was easier than the training flights. There were only two instrument approaches, a single-engine ILS and a partial panel VOR circle-to-land. There was also a hold, unusual attitude recoveries under the hood, constant speed climbs and descents, and compass turns. Piece of cake.

The flight wasn’t completely without surprises. For one thing, traffic was pretty heavy up there. It was about 5:45 or 6:00 when McCarren suddenly got slammed with aircraft.

Also, the wind was howling at altitude. Another aircraft on the approach frequency noted that there was “some wind up here”, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. The examiner had failed the left engine on me, and when I turned to intercept the final approach course, the HSI nearly pegged before I could get it under control. It ended up requiring about a 35 degree wind correction angle to keep the airplane on course. And naturally the wind was coming from the north, so I was cranking the Seminole to the right with the left engine failed. Meanwhile, I’m intercepting the glideslope and have to run the ‘gear down’ checklist to configure the airplane. Fun!

The other day I experienced a complete “freeze up” of the Garmin 430 in this exact aircraft, but there were no problems today. On the other had, Casey lost the GPS in his plane during an instrument approach today. In fact, all the Garmins have been acting strangely. There’s a notam out for unreliable GPS signals, but I can’t see any reason why that should cause the box to freeze up or reboot. When it does that, the Garmin has to go through the power on self-test, reacquire the satellite signals, and then you have to reprogram it for the current approach, all while descending toward the ground.

Or not. After all, GPS is not necessary to shoot ILS or VOR approaches, though it does get used as a substitute for DME and the display is necessary to use the #1 nav & com radios.

Finally, I did fail to notice that the aircraft’s HSI was, unlike the other ATP airplanes, not slaved. As such, I should have set the HSI to the magnetic compass prior to departure, but it completely slipped my mind. Thankfully, the examiner was fairly understanding about it. Technically, he could probably have flunked me for failing to set all the instruments correctly.

I learned an important lesson, though: just because you’re flying a plane of the same make and model, with the same paint scheme and avionics, as those you’ve been flying for the past ten days, that doesn’t mean that there are no differences. You just have to search harder to find them.

The test was done by 8 a.m. and I was walking out the door with a shiny new airman certificate in my pocket. I’m done flying twins for now and have to go back to the single engine birds to prepare for my single-engine add-on. But seeing as how I’ve spend the past ten days — or two months, depending on how you want to look at it — working nonstop on this thing, I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. A “sanity break”, if you will.

I cruised down Rancho Blvd. in search of the house I lived in back in the mid 80’s. I finally found it and grabbed a picture. I also drove over to the Robindale house and was blown away by how much the area has grown. As late as 1990, there was nothing out there. Now it’s bumper to bumper traffic, even in the middle of the day. Hotels and strip malls are everywhere, and the roads are twice as wide as they used to be.

I stopped by the Bellagio to check out the Christmas decorations, watch a bit of the World Poker Tour tournament going on in the casino, stretch my legs, and get some fresh air. For the past week and a half, I’ve had virtually no exercise. I’m either sitting in class, in the cockpit, or here in the hotel room studying.

Anyway, as I noted at the top of this entry, the late night/early morning flights are done with. My next flight is at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. Eleven a.m.?! I hardly know what to do with myself. The lady at the hotel front desk is so used to providing a three a.m. wake-up call that she might ring me at that hour just out of habit. Is it possible to ask them for a non-wake up call?