Military Pilot - Why Should I Get My CFI?

For a long time, military pilots have been able to obatin an FAA Commercial Pilot certificate by presenting proof of passing a military check ride in an aircraft of any given category and class (and type if applicable.) Several years ago, the FAA approved a long-overdue decision to grant military instructor pilots a free CFI rating under a similar rule. (For reference, the approval for both cases is specified in 14 CFR 61.73(g).) This is a huge benefit for military pilots! A CFI add-on costs civilians thousands of dollars at places like ATP Flight School.

(Sidenote: It's important to note that if you want to get your intial CFI...if you've never had one before...there is no limit on how old your Form 8 (NATOPS or other equivalent document) can be. If you instructed in F-4s or C-130As in Vietnam you can use that Form 8 to get a CFI today. However, if you've ever had an active CFI, your Form 8 has to be less than 12 months old to renew your rating.)

It seems like most military pilots use this rule to get a Commercial Pilot certificate, but far fewer take advantage of the newer provision to get a CFI. Pilots have told me that they don't plan to do any civilian instructing any time soon, so they don't feel a need to have a civilian instructor certificate. Some also note that, unlike a Commercial certificate, the CFI expires every two years. They're worried that it'll be a pain to renew every couple years and don't want to deal with that process.

These comments boggle my mind! You're probably right - there probably isn't an immediate need for you to hold a CFI. However, I think there are a lot of reasons to take advantage of this awesome opportunity anyway. I also think that once you understand how truly simple it is to renew your CFI every two years, that concern won't be a factor for you any more either.

(I've also heard people say that they have little (or zero) experience in General Aviation aircraft and don't feel qualified to teach GA. That's a responsible position, but not a reason to wait to get your CFI. Get the ticket now, and then get the education you need to teach GA. I'll write a post on how to do that another day.)

I won't get anything if this post convinces you to go get your CFI...no FAA finder's fee or even personal satisfaction (unless you send me glowing fan mail.) This post is just an attempt to show a military pilot why he or she should absolutely use the military equivalency rules to get his or her CFI.

  1. Flying as a CFI can be fun!

    When military pilots think about CFIs, the first thing that comes to mind is an underpaid college student sweating through his shirt as he tries to teach some kid to land an underpowerd, rusted-out C-172 in the heat of summer. It doesn't have to be that way! There are many kinds of other teaching opportunities out there. People need flight reviews and IPCs, they need prep for advanced ratings, they want to learn aerobatics, they want to learn tailwheel flying, some even want to learn formation. As a CFI, you choose what you want to teach and to whom. Teaching advanced skills to an aviator who already has some competence can be a fun thing. I've sure enjoyed a lot of it. This leads me to my next point:

  2. Having a CFI might open up opportunties to teach.

    If you think you don't have any reason to use a CFI right now, you're fulfilling your own prophecy. Once you get a CFI and let people know you're interested in teaching, you'll be surpirsed how many opportunites arise. Here's some of the civilian CFI flying I've done:

    • Whenever someone buys an airplane, the owner's insurance company requires him or her to log an hour (or 5 or 10) with a CFI in that airplane before flying solo or carrying passengers. I've flown all kinds of interesting aircraft as a CFI checking other people out for their insurance. (I've flown some 320- and 360-series Lancairs, an RV-4, a Scottish Aviation Bulldog, and a Glassiar II RG, just to name a few...and none of that cost me a dime out of pocket.)
    • A CSO in my squadron wanted to finish his private pilot license and apply for Air Force pilot training. All he needed was to knock some rust off and do some cross country flying. A few lunch & backs later he passed his check ride, went on to ENJJPT, and is now a full-up winged aviator. I was proud to be part of his success, and I had a good time doing some flying with a buddy from work.
    • An Air Force couple bought a Lancair to commute between his base and hers. He isn't an Air Force pilot, so he needed some help finishing his instrument rating. I got to spend a several hours cruising the Gulf Coast of Florida in his Lancair finishing that up.
    • I was at an airshow once and an exhibitor wanted some help bringing an extra aircraft in to display. I mentioned that I was a CFI with turboprop exerience and he invited me to fly his Pacific Aerospace P750 XSTOL in with him. It was a blast!
    • A civilian flying buddy listened me tell stories about military formation flying for years and finally couldn't stand it anymore. He asked me to teach him some. I co-opted another Air Force CFI friend, and we spent a Saturday morning working on the basics of formation flight. It wasn't difficult or sexy formation flying, but it was still a lot of fun. It definitely beat using my weekend morning to mow the lawn.

    These opportunities are everywhere, but sometimes they only go to the person who is ready to take advantage of them at a moment's notice. If that isn't a case for having a current CFI in your pocket at all times, I don't know what is.

  3. Fallback

    Military pilots have a pretty good shot at an airline career after they get out, but occasionally things happen. I'm currently in a pool of people who got offered jobs with a major airline only to find out that our training would be delayed for a large, but undetermined number of months. Some of these pilots are taking jobs other places, some are just sitting around waiting while they burn through savings.

    If I were worried about money right now, I could head to any flight training program in the country and ask to work as a part- or full-time CFI. Though some of them are full, I've been able to find plenty that are happy to have another instructor. The pay isn't amazing, but at least it's something. It's enough of a free-form industry that as soon as my airline calls I can say, "see ya!" and move on. It would be a lot tougher to get a full time desk job at a non-flying business for such a temporary period.

  4. Differentiator on Applications

    Like it or not, military pilots tend to look a lot alike. Whether you're submitting an application to the 89 AW, the Thunderbirds or to an airline, having a CFI just makes your application look better.

    Don't think that a military unit doesn't care either. If two candidates look the same otherwise, they may go with the one who can show more breadth and experience. Just having the CFI may be the difference that gets you the job you want.

  5. Insurance

    Some day you may want to do some civilian flying that requires insurance. You might buy your own airplane, you might want to give demo rides and fly to airshows in an (original) T-6 or B-25 with the CAF, or maybe you are actually going to pick up a corporate gig flying a King Air, or Travolta's B707. Guess what: the more ratings you have, the cheaper your insurance will be. Whether you're paying your own bill or a potential employer is looking at how much it'll cost to hire you, having a CFI can only make life better for everyone.

    Running through the Military Instructor Competency process is pretty quick, but it's not instantaneous. You don't want to start on it after you've already started shopping for planes or jobs. Get your CFI now and you'll thank me when the time comes.

  6. Having a CFI Makes Renting Easier

    At some point in your life, you may want to rent a civilian aircraft. You could take a trip, take your kids flying, or just do something to avoid gouging your eyes out during a non-flying assignment.

    Civilian pilots give military pilots a lot of credit for a lot of things. However, walking in the door with a CFI will get you treated very differently than walking in without one. Getting checked-out in a rental aircraft can feel a lot like a hostile check ride. That is not a fun process. If you walk in with a CFI the chances of you getting treated like a colleague are a lot better. They might even offer you part-time work....

Now that we've established why it's a great idea to get your CFI, let's dispell the myth than renewing it every two years is a big pain. It only needs to be a small pain, and it's well worth your time. Here are several ways to renew your CFI:

(I link to a lot of businesses here. I'm not getting paid by any of them.)

(If I linked to you and you want to send me some money, I won't turn it down. I'll change my disclaimer if that ever happens, though I'm not holding my breath.)

  1. If you took a military IP check ride within the last year, you can renew your CFI by mail. I've done it. It's excruciatingly easy. I wrote a post explaining this process here.

    This rule also applies to civilian CFIs who work at flight schools. If you can present a letter from your employer stating that you regularly provide instruction and/or act as a flight examiner the FSDO can renew your CFI (by mail or in person) for free. I haven't tried this one, but I will if I can!

  2. Online FIRC

    The next easiest option for renewing your CFI is an online Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC.) This is 16 hours of CBTs (yes, civilians have CBTs too.) You can start them months in advnace of your expiration date and do them on a computer or tablet. The topics are actually pretty interesting and you're likely to learn something.

    American Flyers offers lifetime access to their course for $99. Your only costs every two years are $25 or $50 to process your paperwork. You don't even have to pay that though, you can take the paperwork to the FSDO yourself if you want.

    If you're a fan of John and Martha King, you can try their FIRC for $99 every two years.

    AOPA also offers a great FIRC for $149. Their course is cool because you get to choose six of the CBTs from a list of elective topics. Several of these options are courses available to anyone through AOPA's Air Safety Institute. You can do up to 8 of your 16 CBTs at any time during the two year duration of your CFI. Finally, you have something useful to do on Wingman Day! (Or, do it at home, in your pajamas, munching on cheetos, with a football game plaing in the background.)

    This list doesn't even scratch the surface on courses available. Shop around and you're sure to find one you like.

  3. In-person FIRC

    CBTs are nice, but maybe you're itching to take a few days of vacation anyway. Several companies offer in-person FIRCs as well. They usually take place at fancy hotels or resorts and last for a weekend. Why not take your significant other and alternate between golf, beach, and lectures about flying for the weekend? Best of all, your entire trip is tax deductible!

    AOPA has no fewer than 35 FIRC seminars scheduled in cities across the US between now and March 2016. $249 this year, $275 starting in 2016.

    A quick search showed several other options including AviationSeminars.com and Gaits Aviation offering in-person FIRC seminars at doezens of locations throughout the US.

    Again, this list is far from complete. Shop around, or let me know if you've had success with another company.

  4. Add a category/class to your CFI (single, multi, glider, rotorcraft)

    The Military Competency Instructor rules will give every military pilot a CFII - Certificated Flight Instructor Instrument. Depending on the number of engines your aircraft has you will also get either a CFI (for the category and class called: Airplane Single Engine) or an MEI (for the category and class: Airplane Multi-Engine.)

    If only hold a CFI or MEI, obtaining the other one automatically renews your other CFI ratings for another two years. You can do this if you qualify as a military IP in the other category & class. Or, you can go through a civilian training program. It will cost you some money, but may be worthwhile. (Helo pilots could potentially renew once by adding the CFI and then a second time by adding the MEI.) I can't imagine applying to a competitive program without having CFI, CFII and MEI. Why leave things to chance?

  5. Show Activity

    The FAA allows you to renew your rating for free if you can show that you've been "active" during your two years as a CFI. 14 CFR 61.197(a)(2)(i) defines this as: you "endorsed at least 5 students for a practical test for a certificate or rating and at least 80 percent of those students passed that test on the first attempt."

    If you're an active military IP you don't need this rule. Just send in a current copy of your Form 8. However, once you get out this will be an option. It really wouldn't take much to give enough training over the course of two years to recommend 5 people for a practical. This doesn't have to be initial students seeking a PPL. This could be people pursuing commercial or ATP ratings, multi-engine add-ons, glider add-ons, or even their own CFI.

    If it looks like you won't be active enough, you can just sign up for an online FIRC and spend a weekend knocking out some CBTs.

  6. NAFI Master CFI

    The National Association of Flight Instructors has a Master CFI program. If you're active in aviation and do actively instruct there's a decent chance you could qualify for accrediation as an MCFI.

    There have only ever been about 1300 Master CFIs and there are never more than a few hundred active at any given time. (Talk about differentiating yourself on an airline application!)

    Even better, the FAA recognizes NAFI's MCFI accreditation. If you're going to renew your MCFI (also every two years) anyway, you might as well send a copy of your approval to the FAA and have them renew your CFI certificate for free at the same time.

    If you're interested in working as a civilian instructor, being accredited as a Master CFI can only help. You'll be listed in a special section of NAFI's website, you get to use the MCFI logo on business cards, and in theory you can charge more for your services.

    NAFI membership is about $50/yr and it there's a $150 application fee when you submit your MCFI paperwork. This options isn't free, but if you plan to leverage your status as a Master CFI it's probably worth the extra cost.

  7. Take Another Check Ride

    If none of these options floats your boat, you can always choose to renew your CFI by taking a check ride with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. You'll have to provide the airplane, and the DPE fee usually runs $300-500.

    Or...maybe you know someone. Maybe you are going to be flying with a DPE anyway as part of a check-out for CAP, CAF or something else. There are many ways to crack that nut.

There you go. Getting your CFI is a good thing. It opens up opportunities and can lead to some fun (even free) flying. Renewing your really is easy. Go take advantage of this great deal!