flight instructor training: what to expect

I often hear from pilots asking how to prepare for, and what to expect in training for the flight instructor “practical test” (Ie; oral and flight tests.) The subject is little-discussed among the general pilot population so I decided to answer it in this post.

In training for the CFI practical test you will:

  1. master flying the private and commercial maneuvers from the right seat (if you haven’t already)
  2. write lesson plans and use them to teach every maneuver and key aeronautical knowledge subjects to your instructor (and perhaps other CFI students) on the ground, and
  3. teach those maneuvers in the air.

Assuming you have a good instructor, which is critical for CFI training, you will get the opportunity to review the knowledge for each subject area in the course of teaching it. So other than keeping sharp on your flying and aeronautical knowledge, and becoming familiar with the FAA’s Aviation Instructor Handbook, there is little preparation required to start your training.

That being said, I can recommend a few excellent reference books for teaching given maneuvers or subjects. The Flight Instructor’s Manual, by the legendary Bill Kershner, is a must-have reference that answers most any flight-training question that will ever come up. Another great reference is Instructional Methods for Flight Instructors, by Gordon Henrie. And if you can find a copy, Edwin Quinlan’s The Flight Instructor’s Lesson Plan Handbook (currently out of print) offers pre-developed lesson plans for every maneuver. (9/10 update: I see that Sportys is now offering their own CFI Lesson Plan Guides.) For specific tips on passing your CFI practical test, and subsequent guidance on building your upcoming flight training business, consider my own book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition.

I do have one important “outside the box” suggestion regarding preparing for your flight instructor checkride. Shortly before taking the test, I encourage first-time CFI applicants to teach at least one “real lesson.” Find a friend or relative interested in becoming a pilot, schedule an airplane, and teach him or her an entire first lesson including ground briefing, preflight, flight lesson, and debrief. Of course you can’t charge for the lesson or log it as dual, nor can your “student” log it, but your learning experience in teaching this practice lesson will be invaluable in sensitizing you to the teaching level required by your students, and thereby will prepare you to satisfy your own CFI examiner or FAA inspector.

BTW, at points during your CFI checkride it may not be clear whether the examiner is asking you a question in the role of your student, or in the role of your CFI examiner. Be sure to ask, if you’re not sure!

You will love being a flight instructor, and delivering the dream of flight!

©2009, 2020, 2022 Gregory N. Brown

For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor 2nd Edition.

6 thoughts on “flight instructor training: what to expect

  1. Hi Greg. Read your post here. My 2 cents – The Savvy Flight Instructor, I can not emphasis enough the importance of this valuable resource for each fresh and veteran CFI to read, and then put the learning to work. I have been recommending this book to all my CFI students, and CFI staff, and I can tell one thing – BIG DIFFERENCE. 10 years since I read it first, and it still is my all time favorite.
    BTW, I am back from long vacation, and will start teaching at CFI Academy this Jan onwards. And The Savvy Flight Instructor is a part of the training kit for all my students.

    1. Prince, you are so cool. Thanks for the kind words! Congrats on getting back to teaching! Greg

  2. Hi Greg, I realize this is an old post, but I found it very relevant. I’m an instrument rated private pilot seeking my CFI, and have a question about the next two steps (commercial + CFI): The requirements for each are a bit complicated. Is there any overlap? In other words, is there anything I can do for the commercial rating that also qualifies for the CFI? Likewise, is there anything I did for my instrument rating that qualifies toward my commercial?

  3. Hi Greg,

    I’m a 270 hour pilot, and have been “collecting” ratings (IFR least year, tailwheel in April, and Commercial in May). What’s a typical time for someone to earn their CFI? How many ground lessons vs flights? Full-time vs 3x weekly (and keep my engineering job!).

    Your book is next in line on my bookshelf. Just finished 21st century flight training by Lane, and thought it had great explanations, especially about flying visually.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Andris, I realize many years have passed since you posted this, but I am highly embarrassed that I missed answering your question. I hope you long-ago earned your CFI, and continue to collect flight ratings and experience!

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