I became a flight instructor

I have been a glider flight instructor since May 2013. Some readers may wonder how that came about.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I did a glider add-on rating at Bermuda High in January 2011 before going to Germany the next month. In Germany I discovered how incredible soaring was compared to just gliding; I was hooked! In April 2012 I went home on two weeks of emergency leave. While there I took one day for myself, took the written exam in the morning and the checkride in the afternoon. No, it wasn’t quite as random/spontaneous as that sounds, it took a lot of email and telephone coordination to pull it off!

A year later I was home from Germany, demobilized from the Army Reserve tour that sent me there in the first place, and I had 90 days before I had to return to work. After some research, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona for the better part of a week to train as an instructor at Turf Soaring. An important criterion for the search was the availability of a Designated Pilot Examiner on staff.

After flying the ASK-21 in Germany for two years, it was hard to transition back into a Schweizer SGS 2-33, though the backseat didn’t make much difference after a couple flights. Each morning I would have a ground lesson on lesson plans, flight instructor skills, and other required ephemera needed to make the transition from pilot to instructor. Dan Webber (retired Canadian Air Force NCO with lots of glider time in Europe) was an outstanding instructor; I learned an incredible amount from him.

Saturday morning we’re talking about the schedule, and Dan realizes I’m leaving on Tuesday. That means there’s no way to coordinate with the Phoenix Flight Safety District Office for them to give approval for an Examiner to give me the checkride. I was a little disappointed about leaving without the checkride, but the training was so good that it was it was going to be OK.

At home with a signed FAA Form 8710-1 in hand, I had just 60 days to find an examiner to give the checkride. A few days later I get a call from one of the airline pilot members of Mid-Georgia Soaring saying, “Go see Bob Burbank at Citrus Soaring in Eustis, Florida.” I called. I scheduled. I went. I passed.

My son Sean drove down to Florida with me to keep me company (and hang out on the beach?) We checked into our hotel Friday evening. The next morning Sean dropped me off at the glider field for a planned orientation day, with the checkride scheduled for the next morning. After some conversation on the ground, Bob said, “Let’s go fly.” As we were climbing in the 2-33 he said, “Remember, I’m just ‘Bob the instructor’ at the moment. Later I’ll be ‘Mr. Burbank’ the examiner. Make all your mistakes now.” I guess I took him at his word, because there sure were some mistakes…

We chatted on the way back to the office with Bob-the-instructor having survived two flights with me. We sat down and he said, “Let’s get started!” I was a little surprised and it showed. He said, “You’re here, we have time, let’s do it.” So, without any time to mentally prepare myself we got started! Bob took me through aspects of Fundamentals of Instruction, Federal Aviation Regulations, and a long, long list of things he’s required to do. A few hours later we were back in the cockpit. Since all the mistakes were out of the way, the flying went great. At the end of the last flight, Bob put his feet up over the altimeter and air speed indicator and said, “Take me home.” I did. I passed. Sean arrived right on time to pick me up and I was then America’s newest flight instructor.

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