On August 31st 2020 my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Certificate expired. This means far more than a small plastic card to remove from my wallet and toss away. Without a current Medical Certificate, my other Pilot Certificates are invalid. For several months, I had considered attending a weekend AOPA “Flight Instructor Revalidation Course” which I’ve attended many times previously. Usually, most of the attendees are older guys. Like myself, few of these attendees are actually instructing; however, the CFI is a valued Pilot Credential that I was proud of carrying. Further, for my aircraft sales business, being a CFI was important to have.
Adding to my considerations and thoughts was my recollection of an article by Martha Lunken in “Flying” about what goes into a Pilot’s decision to hang-up their headsets. The response from readers was significant. Pilots, in response to the article, wrote of the situations that resulted in their decision to quit flying. Throughout the day-to-day operations of my Twin Cessna sales business; I also have regular input from Senior aircraft Owners who are opting to sell their Twin Cessnas. One wrote of life’s ‘ups’: Getting a Driver’s License, College Graduation, Flight School, Marriage, Careers, Kids, Grand Kids, Retirement….. an infinite list of life’s milestones. And he wrote of Life’s ‘down sides’: Illnesses, Death, Divorce, Aging, Retiring, when Driving becomes limited or no longer permitted; and especially, when its time to only be a passenger in an aircraft.
Many were concerned with the rapidly changing cockpits, with new Avionics and Instruments and other equipment. The question often became “Can I still be the pilot I want to be?”. For many years Jerry Temple Aviation (JTA) supported the new Owner/Pilot of a Twin Cessna with an aircraft check-out and a delivery flight. Upon completion of the post-sale maintenance and/or other modifications being performed on the aircraft; we would review and establish that I knew the aircraft’s Systems and Procedures. However, often times the new Owner/Pilot was more familiar with the new Avionics. I’d say “I’ll get us safely to the destination. You program the Avionics. I’ll check and monitor what you set-up. This flight will provide you with a transfer of experience and knowledge”. Before departing on a Delivery Flight, I’d often tell the new Owner/Pilot that I’ll ask one question in a couple of hours. Later while cruising; with all systems and equipment operating, as needed; I’d ask; “Are you happy?”. The smile of appreciation and satisfaction was a highlight of my job. For several years I offered a service where I’d attend a Twin Cessna Initial Course at Simcom as the new Owner/Pilot’s “stick buddy”.
Pilots benefited from my experience; both in the classroom and in the Sim. The Simcom Instructors were all eager for my input. I often received calls from Simcom Instructors with Twin Cessna questions. As we departed Simcom; the final flights to the Aircraft’s new home were treated as a check-ride. Often the new owner’s family, friends and employees, would be waiting for our arrival. Watching a new Owner’s Spouse, Children and Parents greeting the aircraft’s arrival at the FBO’s Ramp was always a moment of satisfaction. After being introduced, I’d slip away from the scene to allow the proud Owner the joy of showing off his Twin Cessna. Some deliveries were special. Upon landing in Herzliya, Israel after a five day flying journey from Dallas, TX; the reception was large, loud and memorable. Celebration of Champagne, great food and a prayer. Later that week I participated in strictly controlled Day VFR flying in Israel. This made our US Flying freedoms appreciated.
Once I made the decision to not renew the CFI; I wanted to take time to recall significant flights, check rides given, check rides taken, and associated events. I have three Pilot Logbooks. They include One Military; plus Official Military Records; and two Civilian Logbooks. I randomly flipped open my Civilian Logbook number One and by coincidence there was an entry for a significant check ride. Here is the story:
After being discharged from active duty in 1969 I was hired by Ross Aviation, a civilian contractor at Fort Rucker, AL. The job entailed instructing in the Army’s Beech T-42A which is a B55 Baron. The course was for the Multi-Engine and Instrument Phase for Fixed Wing Students. Many Helicopter Pilots worked for Ross in order to build Multi-Engine Hours. At the time the Army did not require Ross Instructors to have an FAA CFI Certificate. Only the Ross/Army Instructor Pilot (IP) course was required. One day in 1970 we were told you have 60 days to obtain an FAA CFI w/ME and Instrument Ratings. The Army will let you use a T42A for a Check-Ride. Most of the Ross Managers and Flight Supervisors were in their 40s and 50s and had previously been in the Military. Some had served in WWII. Others were General Aviation Pilots; as GA was in the late 60s. I was twenty-four. I’d been teaching Instruments in Helicopters since 1967.
I studied all of the FAA Handouts and other reference books for a month. None of the Supervisors on Flight Status bothered to prepare for an Oral Examination. They all were confident they could make the Baron do any required maneuvers.
One day the Army let us have a couple of T42As. We had four Ross Pilots in each aircraft. The FAA in ATL had four Examiners at Hill Aviation FBO at Fulton County Airport ready to give an AM & PM Exams. I was one of the first to take the Oral. I did well. I was enthusiastic. I ‘knew my stuff’. The Check-Ride was easy. An experienced Check-Pilot quickly knows if the Examinees ‘got it’. With a couple of maneuvers and S/E ILS; I was an FAA CFI. From our group, one other Ross IP passed. Six returned to Ft Rucker with having had crow for lunch. I gave the group Ground School. All but one passed on their second try. I got a promotion, which cost me flight hours.
As I reviewed my Military Logs two entries were particularly memorable. As an Instrument Student in 1966, I had the world record for getting lost in an ADF Holding Pattern. Entries, Timing, Courses and Staying Upright were about to get me packing. Somehow I passed a check-ride. At that moment I promised myself that I would be able to teach it someday.
I began my Vietnam Tour in December 1966. I flew with the First Air Calvary Division. On March 13, 1967 while serving as the Copilot/Gunner of a UH-1C Gunship I was seriously wounded. Not shot down; shot up. Military Flight Records simply show December 15, 1966 to March 13, 1967 as Combat Flight Operations. By late 1967 I was based at Fort Rucker and became an Instrument Instructor. The trainer aircraft was a Bell TH-13T (Bell 47). The Vietnam bound students were taught to fly a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) and a tactical Figure 8 ADF Approach. Because I returned to Ft. Rucker months before my classmates, I was a Senior IP in my Flight Group. I was assigned to Instruct Helicopter Instruments in UH-1s to Senior Army Officers who were fixed wing pilots going to Vietnam to command an Aviation unit. I was a Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) with Field Grade Officers as my students. One morning I was scheduled to give a Progress Ride to a One Star General.
The room full of IPs was cracking up when I debriefed the flight. I got a “good Job” and a new assignment. Examiners School. The Army’s three-week Helicopter Examiners Course was considered to be ‘as hard as it gets’. I would be trusted to issue Instrument Cards to Army Aviators. Every Flight had partial panel: Needle, Ball and Airspeed, and the Magnetic Compass. I can still hear the NDB Morse Code Identifier for Lowe Army Heliport. The Examiner’s Check-Ride was fair and my ADF Hold and Approach were really good. A promise kept.
But nothing tops the FAA Check Ride in a Cessna 414A in the 1980s.
Perhaps now you will understand; for me, no longer being a CFI and having valid pilot certificates represents much more than expired documents. They are my life’s Biography. I can still teach a good Twin Cessna Ground School and sit in the right seat; where I am perhaps at my best.
I’ll Miss You
Even the Bad Days were Good