As a job, flight instruction straddles a fuzzy zone between professional pilot and professor.
You need to have a flight bag full of goodies to do your job correctly. Some of that stuff you will have been carrying around since day one of your pilot training, while other things are new tools you need to teach.
Here’s a look at some of the supplies you might want to consider purchasing for your CFI training, which you’ll use every day while teaching students.
You can find a lot of flight instructor supplies lying around your flight school or FBO. Some flight schools have built up a collection of old instruments, classroom aides, and various props that instructors can grab when they need them.
Other times, you’ll be working on your own in an empty hanger. In those cases, you’ll need to think ahead and figure out what you need when.
An Organization and Note System
If there’s one constant in flight instruction, it’s the need to take copious notes. You’ll take notes in the plane, on the ground, before and after the flight, and during ground lessons.
The key to your success will depend on how organized you can keep those notes. Of all of the instructor tools you can have, a clean and tidy note system is the one that will pay for itself first.
Tablets like the Apple iPad offer fantastic versatility for flight instructors. There are hundreds of apps you can browse that will help you teach, both on the ground and in the air.
Notability is a great app that can help you organize your notes into binders for each student. Notes can consist of handwriting, typed text, photos, or video.
You can even make PDF templates to make all of your notes match the same format or your school’s lesson plans.
Most pilots already know about Foreflight and the wonderful tools it has for pilots. Foreflight has some great options for instructors, too, including route recording and having any chart at your fingertips. Since many of your students will want to use it, it helps to be knowledgeable about this app yourself.
Also, give some consideration to the power of your tablet and how it can help organize the rest of your flying life. Look for apps that educators use in the classroom.
Explain Everything is a great one. It allows you to create multimedia slideshows that can be projected and presented. During the presentation, you can quickly annotate, draw, and point to things.
There’s another great app that shows a wind tunnel simulator. You can put in different shapes and airfoils, and you can change the angle of attack right on the screen.
One of the handiest accessories you can have for your tablet is a high-quality stylus. Even though many tablets don’t come with them, they are available as an accessory.
With the iPad, most are now compatible with the Apple Pencil, but you can still find many generic styluses online for older units.
Some people don’t like taking notes or record-keeping on a tablet, which is fine too. But it’s still just as essential to have a dedicated note-taking and organization system.
As a CFI teaching students, you’re going to spend your time trying to convey some pretty abstract and complicated subjects. In the process, it helps to have something physical to point at and talk about.
For every lesson plan that you can think of, try to find something you could have on hand to relate it to.
Gyroscopes are a great example. It’s one thing to read about rigidity in space and gyroscopic precession in the book, but it’s an entirely different thing to feel it in your hands or see it before your eyes. How can you make that happen?
Pick up an antique-style toy gyroscope top. You pull the string, and with the top spinning on a book, you can easily show rigidity in space. Tap the side with a pencil, and precession comes to life.
Another excellent prop for the gyroscope discussion is a custom-built bicycle wheel. This one doesn’t fit in your flight bag easily. With a handle mounted on the hub that the student can hold, you can make enough force to surprise them when gyroscopic precession hits in a place they might not be looking.
Any airplane parts you can get your hands on, be it from real planes or model ones, are helpful.
You can use a small propeller from an RC model plane to talk about P-factor and washout. A small model plane with control surfaces helps show stability, the directions of motion, and types of controls.
You might already have a collection of aviation books, but it is convenient to have your references and sources close at hand. And while all of these publications are available on your tablet, having paper copies in the classroom is handy for finding things quickly while discussing with your students.
The most important books to have around are the FAR/AIM, the FAA handbooks, and your aircraft’s POH/AFM.
Old Paper Charts
On that same note, it’s handy to have a collection of old charts around. On the one hand, many students are no longer buying physical charts and relying solely on their tablets.
Their instructor’s paper charts might be the only time they get to hold paper examples, which is a shame.
You can learn a lot about a chart just by studying the publication in its entirety. When was the last time you looked at a chart and perused the legend?
The new digital equivalents are outstanding, but for beginners, they sometimes don’t make a lot of sense and can seem ad hoc in their structure.
Primary instructors should keep a drawer full of old sectionals, especially ones from other parts of the country with features their students don’t see in the local area.
Flatland students will especially enjoy looking at sectionals from mountainous areas. Don’t forget to have a TAC and a WAC for reference, too.
Instrument instructors will need even more options. Like the VFR sectionals and chart supplements, instrument charts are best learned initially from the paper examples. Students learn on either Jeppsen or government charts, and as the CFII, you should have a set of both to teach the differences between the two systems.
Some flight instructors use shared classrooms, while others use their own space all the time. Their preparation will largely depend on the overall organization of their flight school.
If space is shared, you should assume that what you need to teach will not be there when you need it. Bring your own supplies. The biggest thing missing nearly every flight lesson–functional dry erase markers.
If you teach from a tablet, you might want to make sure you have access to a compatible projector in your classroom.
A poster of the cockpit of your training plane is handy for chair-flying activities. If you can find one that matches exactly, you’ll increase your student’s positive learning between the classroom and the cockpit.
Instrument Training Tools
Never count on your students to have their own supplies, either.
It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them; the time will eventually come when even the best-prepared student has forgotten something.
For the CFII, it’s usually their instrument hood or goggles. Keep a spare set in your flight bag to save the lesson.
It’s also up to the instructor to have some form of instrument covers. There are simple suction-cupped rubber covers for steam gauges or cling-film covers for electronic displays.
There’s an entire list of things that you may find handy to have when operating an aircraft as a flight instructor.
You’re teaching your student how to be a self-sufficient pilot, but at the same time, you’re operating as the school’s representative and as the veteran pilot onboard.
Some schools may keep their planes stocked with these items, but other places may put the responsibility onto the pilots.
Here are just a few items that you might want to keep in your flight bag or at least in your office.
- Windscreen cleaner cloth and water in a spray bottle
- Tire gauge
- Manual fuel gauge
- Fuel testing jar
- Spare batteries for your headset
- A backup battery for your tablet
- A nice multitool with flat and Phillips-head screwdrivers
Finally, think about the personal things you’d like to have handy after a long day on the job.
Think through some what-if scenarios. What if, at the apex of a long cross country, the plane breaks down at a distant airport?
It’s not out of the realm of possibility, and it might be a day or two until a mechanic can get to it. Should you pack a full overnight bag when you go on long trips?
That might be overkill, but if you’ve got a track record for this sort of diversion, no one will fault you for it.
Some in-between level of preparedness is likely sufficient. Throw a travel-sized toothpaste and toothbrush in your bag, along with some emergency snacks and a big water bottle.
It also can’t hurt to have sanitizer wipes and even a first aid kit if you fly in planes that don’t already have those supplies onboard.
And all flight instructors will benefit from a pack of gum or breath mints, even if you only have them to subtly offer your students.
What are your top recommended flight instructor supplies?