Updated: Dec 27, 2020
A microlight instructor shares their experience of the instructor course and the job.
Following an offer of voluntary redundancy, I chose to train as a microlight instructor. I had only 150 hours in my logbook and my licence was just over one year old. The minimum requirements for starting a Microlight Flight Instructor Course are 100 hours as Pilot in Command, of which at least 40 hours must be on microlights and at least five hours on the type of microlight you will be doing your instructor certificate (i.e. fixed-wing or flexwing). You must also have held your licence for at least eight months.
I met the requirements. The next step was to find a course provider and sit the pre-entry written exam and flight test. You must pass the pre-entry exam and the flight test prior to being admitted on to the course. There are several course providers around the UK, all of which are listed with the BMAA. I chose Airsports Training in York as they were closest to me.
The pre-entry written exam covers all of the subjects studied for the NPPL Microlights and is very similar in format and difficulty to the exams taken for your microlight licence. I admit that I had to do some revision to get back up to speed. The flight test is designed to check that your flying abilities and airmanship are of a good enough standard for you to succeed on the course. It included stalls and emergency practice as well as general handling. I was nervous about the flight test as it was in an aircraft I had never flown before, but the instructor assured me that he would take this into consideration.
Having passed the tests, the instructor shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you’re on the course”. So I had what it took to be a flying instructor. Now I needed to fund it - I told my employer that I’ll accept their offer.
Whilst prices vary, you can expect to pay at least £4,000-£5,500 for the course. If you are studying out of your local area, you will also need to consider accommodation and living costs. Your study material has to be paid for separately. The material I needed totalled £150. I budgeted for £5,500 all-in.
The course consists of at least 15 hours flight training and 40 hours ground school and as with the NPPL Microlights, most people will require more than the minimum training before they are ready to take their flight test.
I had decided to break up my course into two parts, each two weeks long separated by a couple of weeks break in the middle. My first two weeks were spent studying the ground school as the weather was consistently poor. During this part, I was given a subject to research and prepare a classroom briefing for. The briefing was to be given in front of the Course Instructor and fellow students, of which there is normally one or two. It was impossible to bluff this and it wasn’t just about spouting out facts. You had to completely understand the subject you were talking about in order to teach it confidently. The Course Instructor could sniff out any doubt and would press you on the subject to check the depth of your understanding. The other students would research different subjects so my briefings were a great chance to develop my teaching and communication skills. If they understood what I was talking about, I must be doing something right.
I worked from 9-5 doing the ground school and returned to my accommodation on an evening for more studying. After two weeks of solid studying, my flying knowledge vastly improved and I was more confident in my briefings, but I was tired and ready for a break. There is no denying that the studying is hard work.
In the second part of the course I carried out most of the flight training. A pattern of training emerged where the Course Instructor would announce the flying exercise to be taught and give me a sample briefing. I would take notes and prepare my own briefing. In the air he would show me how to teach the exercise and I would practice teaching him as if he was a student. When he was playing the role of the student, I had to call him Wally. This avoided any confusion about who was doing what in the cockpit.
This is where I started to develop ‘the patter’. This is the mythical art of coordinating your words with your demonstrations and the students own flying. It has to be completely clear what you want the student to do and articulating your words clearly and timely is quite difficult. It’s not enough to say ‘pull back on the stick’, as my Course Instructor demonstrated. Students will generally do exactly what you tell them to do. I asked Wally to do just that whilst practicing climbing. Climb we did. I later reworded my request to ‘gently pull back on the stick to raise the nose just above the horizon’. This is the patter that I am talking about and it’s even more important to be clear and concise when you are teaching students to land. I found this part of the course quite challenging but immensely enjoyable. After covering all the exercises in 20 hours, I felt ready for the FI(R) initial test.
The test must be done by a different examiner to the one who provided the course. This can prove expensive as the examiners travel and accommodation costs must be reimbursed in addition to paying their fee. Students can expect to pay at least £500 for their test and licence issue. Unfortunately, this does put added pressure on you to pass first time but it is often the case that you are able to share some of the costs with another student and get both tests done over a couple of days.
During the test, you are asked to brief the Examiner as if they were a student on a flight exercise of their choice. You will then teach the exercise to them in the air along with some others. You are tested on your clarity and the quality of your demonstrations as well as your ability to spot student mistakes. Whilst a certain standard must be met, the Examiner is sympathetic to the fact that you have never had a real student! Another part of the test is the oral exam. This is where you are tested on your theoretical knowledge and your ability to teach the ground school subjects. This part can last several hours and the whole test will normally take a full day.
The test is not easy and nothing but hard work and thorough preparation will bring a successful result. If successful, you will be issued with a Flying Instructor (Restricted) Certificate. The FI(R) certificate allows you to work as a Flying Instructor under the supervision of an experienced Flying Instructor (commonly known as a QFI or Qualified Flying Instructor). You are not able to send students on their first solo, or first cross country flight. You are also not allowed to work instruct unless there is an experienced FI on site to supervise you. After you have gained 100 hours and instructed for at least ten months, you can apply for an upgrade to remove these restrictions. This is also done by test.
So with the test passed and a licence in your pocket, you’re ready to teach.
How is the job?
Overall, instructing is a satisfying career. There’s nothing better than taking off first thing on a Monday morning into a calm, clear sky, knowing that this is your job and you’re getting paid. There’s also big satisfaction to be had when your students go solo and pass their skills test.
It’s not without downsides. Instructor pay can vary significantly depending on your agreed terms and your location. Most instructors are paid an hourly rate. This means you are completely at the mercy of the weather. Sometimes you can have several weeks with little or no flying and there is certainly a requirement to budget throughout the year, holding money back for quieter times in the winter. Most instructors are required to work weekends as that is when the schools are busiest, and your summer timetable can be busy.
If you are considering becoming a flying instructor, my advice would be to ensure that you are the right type of person for the job before enrolling on the course. People skills and communication skills are a must. You will also need to be a sound pilot with excellent airmanship. You should be prepared to get your head down and do some hard work. It is advisable to discuss your intentions with local flying schools to see if they would have any work available or you may find yourself in a difficult situation with a newly minted licence and nobody to teach. Remember that as a restricted instructor, you cannot instruct unless you are supervised by a QFI. An instructor certificate is an investment in yourself and like any investment, you should be sure it’s right for you.
How we can help.
Our highly acclaimed online ground school and practice exams are designed for student pilots and will help you nail the theoretical exams and become a competent pilot. The training will be prove invaluable for a would-be microlight instructor looking to refresh their knowledge and prepare for the course. Our Learn to Fly video series will also be of great help when preparing and practicing your pre-flight briefings.
We have tailor-made products for the PPL, LAPL and NPPL Microlights.
Click here for more information.