CFI! The Book: A Satirical Aviation Comedy by Alex Stone

Step into a world where student pilots repeatedly overshoot runways, foreigners desperate for a pilot’s license are casually extorted for an upfront nonrefundable fee of $10,000. And their instructors are all so broke that they spray Windex on their dress shirts every day to avoid the expense of washing them.

Is this comical fiction or appalling fact?

Flight instructor-turned author Alex Stone isn’t saying for the record. But his hilarious look inside one hapless flight school employee’s life is enough to make you wonder if the skies above you are safe or if an incompetent student pilot isn’t about to suddenly nose dive into your house, killing your whole family in one spectacular, pyrotechnic event.

It’s possible & even arguably probable if this book, with its memorable, offbeat characters and uneasy message are to be believed. But in the end, it’s probably just a harmless good read — something to curl up with by the fire and enjoy this winter, or throw in the beach hamper this summer.

Wherever you read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Stone delivers a solid, well-written narrative with an ensemble cast of fallible, believable players, like George, the perennial student who can’t seem to find the airport at which he’s supposed to land even when he’s flying right over it. Then there’s the beyond-weird father and his look-alike five-year-old son who show up for a demo ride, saluting and giggling right up to the moment he panics in-flight, seizing the controls in a dangerous death grip.

And finally, running this sleazy fly-by-night flight school is Todd, the owner who would rather see one of his planes disappear with all hands on board so he can collect on insurance than perform anything like proper maintenance on his ratty fleet of Sixties-era aircraft.

Yes, it’s a dysfunctional gathering of misfit students and desperate pilot instructors populating the pages of this rare glimpse into just how the pilot of your last commercial flight may have paid his or her dues down in the likes of this Florida flight school, where instructors are cheating death every day just trying to earn enough flight hours to move up one more level to a flying job that is more than a cut above the national poverty level.

And while the text is often peppered with aviation terms familiar only to pilots, Stone does include a handy glossary in the back to help any bewildered readers sort it all out. But even without that, the book is carried along nicely by the diverting antics of students and management, and the lengths to which instructors must go to keep the whole enterprise afloat.

Five stars to CFI. It’s a heckuva good book — but don’t read it if you’re about to go up in a private plane. You might seriously wonder if you’ll ever come down again in one piece.

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