A Delicate Subject: Saying “No”

by Chris Findley, CFI

There’s an  old aviation cliche that says, “Flying is hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror.” I don’t think that was written by a Flight Instructor.   The CFI version would be sure and note that there aren’t hours of boredom, maybe, maybe :40mins.   Because it usually gets interesting at some point, every hour!

It can get particularly interesting if you are the instructor responsible for giving checkouts in the school’s airplane.  Why? Because when you go to the airport to conduct a checkout, the words of Forrest Gump go ringing through your ears, “You never know what’cha gonna git”.   You may have an avid pilot who just moved to the area who just needs the perfunctory checkout and the flight is as smooth as silk.  Or, you may get the newly minted Private Pilot ready to got out on their own.  Or, you may get the pilot who has 800 hours but they were all 15 years ago.

Finally, you may get the pilot who seems to have watched “Top Gun” way too much as a kid.  They just want to putter around in your school’s 172 and figure they’ll just come over and get this little checkout “thingy” done.  They aren’t engaged and aren’t too interested in anything other than showing you in no uncertain terms that Lindbergh and Yeager were wusses.   And you, lowly checkout CFI, know little about real flying.  If this is who you see looking back at you  through the lenses of their $400 sunglasses, go ahead and call AOPA and increase your insurance coverage before you takeoff.

Now that’s a caricature of course.  But an apathetic, macho, know-it-all, to me is far more of a hazard than a conscientious, but low-time pilot. In any case, when you are checking out a pilot for rental privileges or givng a BFR, you have to be prepared to say, “No.”

Recently I flew a check-out with a high-time airline guy.  He was a really nice fellow and from the first moment was professional to the hilt.  I smiled as he made his radio calls.  Each call on the small airport CTAF was as baritone and authoritative and commanding as any call to Dulles Tower.  His flying was great.  But on his landing, it got interesting.

You see, he was used to sitting some 20 feet above the runway.  Therefore his roundout and flare were quite high.  He’d come in on target airspeed and then starting to round out and flare some 50′ AGL.  He just couldn’t bring himself to fly the Cessna that close to the runway.  He kept saying, “I feel like my butt is going to drag the runway!”

We did a number of touch and goes and I tried several different methods for him to get “the picture”, but alas it never came.  I really felt for him.  Super nice guy.  Great pilot throughout the flight -safe, competent, professional.  But he just couldn’t land.  And I couldn’t give the sign off for him to rent the 172.  I had to say, “No.”

Luckily, what could have been pretty awkward (or even with some, confrontational) was not.  He understood and knew the results intuitively before we finished the taxi back to the ramp.  I offered to fly with him again soon and do some pattern work to help him make the transition to the little guys from the big ‘uns.

Sometimes we have to say, “No.”  For those of us who don’t have 10,000 hours logged with 4 type ratings, and a closet full of epaulet-equipped shirts, it can be a bit unsettling.  We may feel pressure to ok someone who isn’t really ok.  We have to have the courage to say “No” and make the professional offer for more training and assistance.

Making the difficult call is part of being a Flight Instructor.   You and I have a responsibility for the protection of the pilots we check out, for their passengers and the well-being of our flight schools.

At the end of the day, would you put your mom/wife/child/or other loved one in the plane with them?  If you answer anything other than “yes” then seriously examine the situation and consider your options.  “No” may simply be the right answer.


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