Flight Instructor Stories That Will Make (Most) Student Pilots Feel Better

30 Jun 23 7 Comments

I have been sitting on this collection for some time now but I feel like we could use a bit of light humour today.

I share these stories not to dissuade anyone from learning to fly but instead (I hope!) to encourage students; no matter how poorly you reacted to your first stall, I bet you didn’t end up in your instructor’s lap!

It started with a simple question to r/flying on Reddit:

CFIs of Reddit: What are your “this person has no business flying” stories?

The answers came flying in (ba-dum-tss!). I’ll admit, I didn’t think there would be much to surprise me …but actually, yes, quite a few had my mouth falling open.

First, let me share a story that my instructor probably wouldn’t! A middle-aged man taking lessons at the same time as I was. He was highly intelligent, had run a couple of businesses, but also very over-extended. So he was constantly on the phone before and after the lesson and apparently during ground school, if he wasn’t distracted by his phone, he was dozing off in class. I remember sitting in the coffee shop talking to him one day and his head just nodded forward and he fell asleep. It was only for like half a minute, then he looked up, blinked, and said “Carry on,” as if nothing had happened. I don’t know if he was simply exhausted or had an undiagnosed medical condition or what. I do know that the CFI who was teaching him gave up on him and the student was passed to my instructor. He told me that the man fell asleep while they were planning the navigation for the next flight and he sent him home without flying that day. The next time, the student said he was fresh and not fatigued and they went out for a flight. The student flew perfectly competently until final approach, when he fell asleep! They were still a few hundred feet above the runway and the instructor took over the flight. Once on the ground, he told the student flat out that he was in no circumstances ever ever ever going to sign the man off to fly solo, so he may as well quit now.

No one ever knew what happened after that: did he drop his dream of learning to fly or did he just go to a different school where they didn’t know him yet.

Now, on to the Reddit stories.

almightymicrobe wrote about a student who can’t be trusted to check the METAR:

Called them up to cancel our lesson because of weather… They asked if they could do it solo instead.

PayatTheDoor wrote about a cross country solo that must have ended up with some astronomical rental fees:

Some guy at our school decided to turn his solo cross-country into a multi-day affair without telling anyone. He flew 250 miles north, went partying with friends and stayed the night, flew 200 miles southwest the next day and again left the plane. There were other flights scheduled, so as soon as the school figured out where the plane was located, they sent a couple of instructors to retrieve it, stranding the guy 200 miles from home. I’m not sure if he rented a car or caught a commercial flight home. I don’t think he was allowed to complete his training.

pilotjlr told us what not to do when lost:

Here’s a story from years ago. I inherited a student pilot who already had almost 100 hours and hadn’t soloed yet. That’s a red flag but not necessarily insurmountable.

His handling of the plane was quite good, including in landings. But he would get confused on various things and then mentally lock up. Or make up some reason why he needed help.

For example, one time we were going from a satellite airport to our home base airport, which was only 10 miles away. This was before the days of GPS being common. He got lost during these 10 miles, and then said he didn’t feel well, and asked me to take over. Once I did, he saw the airport (big airport, easy to spot), and then suddenly felt fine again and landed us.

On debrief, after some coaxing, he partially admitted to faking feeling bad because he was lost. I asked him what he would have done if I weren’t there, and he couldn’t answer.

RudderRamen points out a lack of attention to detail:

Gave a pre solo student the book and keys to preflight the plane. The important note is he’s only ever been in this 152 that we flew regularly probably 15 hrs. He not only gets in the wrong plane but he pre flights it completely. This man got it some random plane that didn’t belong to the flight school and he did the pre flight and said it was ready to go. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt they both looked like planes.

Scharge05 told us about the worst possible wedding guest:

When a wedding guest of mine (our wedding was a fly in) got extremely drunk. He walked over to his airplane, PULLED THE PROP THROUGH on his Cessna 172….. and got in and started it.

We waved him down, got him to shut the engine off and drove him to a hotel 5 miles away in the nearest town.

He WALKED BACK and got back a couple hours later. We figured it out when we heard him start up and taxi off.

I have no idea how he made it the 45 min flight home, or into a Class D airspace without dying.

We are no longer friends. He is no longer welcome at our airport.

Edit: I should add I am not a CFI and he is not my student. But I think it still applies to this question.

Edit edit: since I’m getting blamed for someone else’s choice to drink, I should mention we had a dry wedding…. Said Pilot brought his own alcohol….

For a change of pace, here’s an exchange between a newly solo student and ATC on YouTube. It’s the you didn’t ask that gets me:

A user who has since deleted his account ended up shouting:

I had a student, about 50 years old, wild dude who inherited his dad’s business he had for years and sold it for a big check. He also spent a lot of that money to become a skydive instructor.

I train him for about 10 hours in a 172m and he decides, without my knowing, to go buy a 182rg that was a total POS. So I told him okay, you need to get this thing fixed and I’ll re-teach you this new aircraft. Another 10 hours later, I didn’t give him his complex because, he just wanted to leave the props in full at all times. He comes to me one day after I told him he needs to work the prop the right way before I solo him, that he went to a skydiving event. I ask how he got there, he responds “oh I took the bird there”. So I ask okay who did you fly with. HE FUCKING FLEW HIMSELF CROSS COUNTRY ABOUT 60 MILES BY HIMSELF.

I have never actually yelled at a student before.

DingleBurg2021’s acquaintance was a bit overenthusiastic on his solo:

An acquaintance of mine was excited to learn to fly. Got his solo cert. On the second solo a friend of his posted a video on Facebook of him buzzing his work under power line height at the edge of town. Needless to say he got kicked out of the flight school and hasn’t picked it back up.

Sirburger explains that some students need more reassurance than a CFI can give:

A while back I had this student I took over from another CFI that left for the airlines. I was pretty fresh to teaching. He was a forty hour pre-solo student, weird I thought, so we go fly do some landings since that’s what he was working on last and he was nailing them, said ok let’s go out and do some maneuvers. Steep turns on the money, slow flight good, stalls… well every time he would stall he would get extremely anxious, it would break and he would attempt to jump into my lap and hug me! Here’s our problem. Could never get him to relax enough or comfort him to break that habit before he quit.

LondonPilot thinks some students just lack the required fear:

I had a student who grew up in the circus. He was literally a trapeze artist by profession, but when I met him he was the producer of a very well known circus.

His whole life centred around danger.

Trying to teach him safety culture was a lost cause. He simply could not understand why I wouldn’t send him solo, because he was used to practicing skills, even dangerous skills, when there was an element of risk.

I never sent him solo, but a colleague of mine did, shortly before I left the school. The last thing I heard, the same colleague sent him on a cross country where he got lost on his way to his first stop and bust into controlled airspace. Then on his second stop, the chief instructor (who didn’t know him) saw him landing and refused to let him leave – he phoned my old school and had us fly an instructor down to accompany him home.

The Mildura Flying School, about 1935, courtesy of Museums Victoria

hr2pilot’s story is actually a bit heartwarming once it becomes clear what happened:

Had a student years back (70’s) when I was an instructor at a small town charter/flying school/ maintenance shop. Local farmer. Flew a lesson about every third day. Took about 30 hours to solo, and about 65 hours to get his ppl. A few days after getting his license I heard via the grapevine he had bought a PA12 taildragger. A few days after that, I heard he pranged it landing on his pasture strip he made. After getting it fixed, I suggested to him maybe some dual on flying a tailwheel airplane would be a good idea. After a few lessons, in a private moment over a coffee break, he confided in me that he had bought the airplane 6 months before ever having taken a flight in his life in any airplane, and decided to go flying and teach himself. “How hard could it be?”. He got airborne ok and flew around the farm for a while but ground-looped it on landing. Didn’t get hurt. He never told anyone, and then dragged it into the barn and covered it with a tarp and then decided that maybe he should go take lessons. After finally getting his license, he trailered the bent airplane to a maintenance shop and got it fixed. No one knew the wiser.

RegularAirplanes wrote about a student making his own way to the airfield:

Not my student.

Dude would fly his airplane to the lesson. Ok, that’s fine… he was a pre-solo student. Not fine.

And the number one story, as voted by the community!

f1racer328 shared the top rated comment and just… wow.

Student took off on a solo cross country, didn’t feel like flying all of it. So he landed at a nearby airport, chained the airplane down and left it running. Then he left for a while.

Legit just left a running airplane alone on a ramp lol. I think some FBO guy found it and called the school.

I just can’t imagine paying all that money for flight school and not taking the plane out for a spin.

Do you have any flying school stories? Share them in the comments!

Category: Learning to Fly,


  • Some time, long ago.
    I was told the story when I was a newly minted pilot, so probably about 50 years ago. And it was supposed to have happened years before.
    A student pilot is on a solo cross-country flight in a.. let’s say DH82 Tiger Moth when he has an engine failure.
    He makes a perfect emergency landing in a field and the farmer has a phone – not all that common in those days.
    He calls the flying school and gives an accurate position of the field where his aircraft, undamaged, is sitting.
    The chief instructor decides to fly to this spot in another Tiger Moth to pick him up, with an engineer for the stricken aircraft to be fixed.
    He finds the aircraft sitting in a corner of an impossibly small field. How did a student pilot, with a failed engine, manage to pull that one off? As the chief instructor, he can’t be seen to be less skillful than a low-time student, so he makes an approach as low, and as slow as he can. Puts the Tiger Moth down perfectly just after clearing a hedge but is unable to bring it to a stop before diving into the hedge at the opposite side.
    Humiliated, he asks the student who was watching how he had managed that feat?
    “Sir”, the student said, “I landed in that much larger field beside this one. We just pulled it over here to give you more room to land.”

    Anyway, I think that my overconfident first solo cross-country flight most certainly belongs in this category of what total idiots can get away with.
    Not proud of it, just claiming my rightful place in this rogue’s gallery.
    But it already has been posted here.

  • To Clive:
    Somehow I seemed to have overlooked his own experiences in Lagos Flying Club when he commented. My apologies!
    I have now added some of my own reminiscences to that one, so Clive just click on the link and open it!

  • Back when I started learning to fly, I was certain I was going to go straight through to being a CFI and making my hobby pay for itself. I gave up on lightplane flying well before starting on an instructor’s course — it wasn’t a great way to get around the northeast US half a century ago, and is probably much worse today — and now I’m even more glad I didn’t go on; I wouldn’t have been able to cope with clowns like this. Not that I was anything like a perfect student — I failed my first test for permission to solo cross-country when I put the wrong sign on the magnetic variation, went 30 degrees off my intended track, and just kept flying even after the landmarks I’d plotted failed to come up — but I don’t think I ever pulled a stunt nearly as bad as anything on Sylvia’s list.

    I wonder whether the story Rudy quotes is actually a fable about misjudgment and arrogance; I can imagine a hedge so new that a plane could be dragged over it, but not without leaving a mark, and a gap big enough to get a plane through (even one as small as a Tiger Moth) would be visible. Even if it’s not literally true, it has an effective moral, like all good fables.

    • I thought about going the CFI route as well, mostly because I could see how much better than me they were at flying my plane, even the first time in it, and I wanted to be that good. Not really the best reason.

      I laughed at the landmarks — I did get lost like that once, with the instructor on board, thankfully but mostly because I was convincing myself that the landmarks I could see below were in fact a match for where I thought I was on the map, despite all evidence to the contrary. The instructor let me go on for a while and then, realising that the lightbulb was just not appearing over my head, pointed out everything wrong with where I thought I was and how it correlated exactly to another point on the map, just a few miles out.

  • The CFI at Palmerston North, NZ, had a confident post – solo student who was sent up to practice steep turns at the regulation 3,000 feet in a Champion 7EC. 3,000 is totally un-necessary for a born pilot, so he was racking it round really hard in a left turn at 1,500. Instantly, with no noticeable transition, the little Champion was pointing straight at the ground and rotating to the right – flicked over the top. Luckily there was a hand – drawn poster on the Club wall showing how to recover from a spin, stage by stage. So, throttle back, centralise controls, full left rudder, stick forward when spinning stops and recover from ensuing dive. Not all that high. And not helped by hanging in the lap strap – Champs aren’t aerobatic, so don’t have shoulder harness.
    Said pupil has told nobody about this before. And, no, I wasn’t the CFI. But many thanks to him for hanging up that poster.

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