Tag Archives: flight instruction

Frequent Quitters Club

FlyBoyJon.comI just finished reading Rod Machado’s “licence to Learn” column in AOPA Pilot about the ‘Frequent Quitters Club’. Having had some interesting experiences in my own flight training, I tend to agree with Mr. Machado.

Flight instruction is a noble profession but for better or worse, it is most likely going to be a first aviation job for most working pilots who are not going to be instructing long term. What this may mean for a newcomer is an instructor that is under 25, has less than 500 flight hours, and is looking to build time so they can go and get a “real” flying job. This certainly doesn’t describe all instructors, but it does describe more than we would like to admit.

All of the “how to get started” literature makes a point of telling perspective pilots to take the time and look for a good student/teacher match before getting started on the meat of flight training, but it seems as though many ether don’t try, or don’t really know what to look for.

Here are a few recommendations for the perspective flight training student.

First off, make sure you have a good feeling about the school and instructor. Trust you instincts. As a pilot you have to learn to trust your instincts. I’m not suggesting that your instincts are the be-all-end-all but it is often the gut feeling that something is wrong that causes you to analyze your situation and re-evaluate it, leading to the discovery that something needs correction. If something feels wrong about the school or instructor move on and keep looking.

Next is punctuality and courtesy. They are important on both sides of the relationship, both student and instructor must respect each others time and schedules. If an instructor is habitually late, or flakes on appointments, call them on it and if it doesn’t stop, find an instructor who respects you.

Another thing you should understand is that there is hard work involved, there will be times when you get frustrated, there will be times when you hit a plateau of learning, these are all part of the learning process and in the long run you will look back and remember how much fun it all is. There is no free lunch as it were, anything worth doing requires effort on your part.

The best way to gain some perspective when you are not sure about something, or something doesn’t feel right, find an aviation mentor and ask them questions, get that second opinion.

12 things I want to do for the next 40 years

I love aviation. For someone not IN aviation it can be difficult to understand how all encompassing this love is. It is not just one aspect of aviation like flying, for me it is nearly everything about aviation as a whole.

As a kid in the 70s I always wanted to learn to fly. One summer my aunt took me on one of those Bay Tour helicopter flights out of the wharf in San Francisco. Ever since then, the desire to fly has been rolling around the back of my mind.

Once I started flight school it woke up all of those fascinations of childhood. They are here to stay. There are so many things I want to do, so many things I want to share with friends, family, and anyone else who is interested in aviation and flying.

Some people ask what I want out of aviation and what I want to do in aviation and the two questions are so tightly woven together that it seemed easier to make a list with a little detail.

12 things I want to do for the next 40 years:

Fly: Kind of obvious don’t you think. I love to fly. There is nothing like flying along the coastline at 500 feet a little off shore, or flying through mountain passes and landing on remote grass airstrips out in the middle of nowhere. A feeling of freedom and exhilaration I have yet to find anywhere else.

Add Ratings: There are so many different kinds of aircraft to fly; so many related things to do that need some kind of rating or endorsement. To pursue aviation is to be a perpetual student.

Exposure Flights: Part of the joy of flying is sharing that joy with others. There are so many people of all ages that would love to go for a flight who have never done it before. Giving people an opportunity to fly is a gift I am thrilled to give.

Adventure Flights: I am an adventurer at heart and there are a lot of adventurous flights I would love to plan and fly, not to mention sharing the experience with everyone else.

Write About Aviation: When I am flying regularly there are so many things to share with different groups in the aviation community.

Photo Missions: Along with writing, taking pictures is another way to share the joys of being airborne and of seeing those other magnificent flying machines that show up at fly-ins, and the tips and tricks that can be shared with images.

Produce Media: Audio and video can enhance articles and other stories that I would like to share. From education to entertainment the written word, still photography, audio, and video can come together to become amazing and expressive multimedia that is a great way to share aviation with the world.

Movie Pilot: Flying for motion pictures and other media, ether on screen or as a platform is one of those dream gig kinds of things.

Build and Restore Aircraft: I am a hands on kind of person, I like to build, maintain, and restore stuff in general. Building, maintaining, and restoring aircraft is another extension of who I am. The satisfaction of completing projects and enjoying the fruits of the labor.

Participate in Air Shows and Fly-ins: Participation in the aviation community at large is one of the integrating elements of the rest of this list; it is the getting out there and sharing with the flying community. An opportunity to take aircraft out and show them off and promote everything else I am doing in the community. It is also one of the best ways to fellowship with the community, meet and greet, hanger talk, and see some of the exciting people and machines out in the wild.

Aircraft and Powerplant Research & Development: There are a lot of new things going on in the aviation industry, changes on the horizon, and I have ideas. From new designs to unique applications of off-the-shelf materials there are test to be done.

Teach: While last on my list, it is by no means least. I learn when I teach, and I love to learn. With every new rating, endorsement, and project there are opportunities to practice and teach new skills.

Bent Metal & Chains

Last night I went to an FAA Safety Team meeting for instructors. At the breaks and after the gathering, like just about any pilot gathering, things turn to Hanger Talk. Hanger Talk is one of the highlights of any aviation event for me. For the non-pilot/airman world, hanger talk is essentially the same as water cooler talk, with pilots it’s a little different though. Pilots talk a lot about accidents and the stupid stuff “other” pilots do and our own harrowing stories of mayhem and adventure.

I spend most of my hanger talk time around career pilots, people who fly for a living or are working at making that the case, most of them are every day commercial pilots, aerial photography, traffic watch, power and water company pilots, some passenger carriers, and flight instructors or CFIs. It’s been my experience that this segment of the pilot community has something in common with early aviators, it’s a pilot culture thing that has many aspects but when you think “barnstormer”, “WWI Ace” or Fighter Pilot” you get close. There is a little of that devil-may-care in every career pilot I have met.

On the surface it seems like a dare-devil attitude, a “kick the tires and light the fires”, “need for speed” kind of air about them, beneath that however, there is a very sober, meticulous even retentive attention to detail it’s this side that keeps career pilots alive.

There is a line in the sky, a line between life and death. It may sound melodramatic but a “blink” in good judgement and you can easily miss or cross that line. The “line” is that attention to detail, the minutia of data, knowing your personal limitations, the limitations of your aircraft, and the environment around you. Early in my flight training an instructor I knew was teaching some students about pilot mortality and the importance of preflight work. He paused a moment, a stoic look on his face, then said “sooner or later, a friend will die flying, and it will have been his own fault.” It took a few minutes for the class to absorb the harsh reality of what he said. I have been flying since 2003, I have been acquainted with three pilots who blinked in their good judgement. All of them CFIs, good people, all of them doing something stupid, for whatever reason, they did not take their responsibilities seriously, at least once, and thats all it took.

This is why pilots talk about accidents, it reminds us that it only takes one mistake or over site to start the “accident chain” rolling. It’s rarely just one thing that brings about an accident. It is inevitably a chain of events, errors and over sites, that bring about bent metal or the demise of an aviator. We talk about those errors and over sites to keep them top-of-mind to remind us so we won’t make the same mistake. Accident chains are usually fairly long, 10 or so links, often several of those links are check-list items. Frequently if the accident pilot had just read through his check-list, instead of skipping it for what ever reason, the chain would have been broken early, maybe before the plane even powered up, then the event wouldn’t have been one at all.

A large portion of general aviation General Aviation accidents in the United States could be avoided if pilots commit to always using check-lists. Vigilance, professionalism, and a meticulous attention to detail are required skills for pilots, using a checklist is such a simple task, and not doing it can be costly.

For those who are now scared to fly, remember this… Pilots on their own time sometimes ease up on their vigilance, they blink, thats when they make the news. Flying is not dangerous, there is however inherent danger in the act of flying. Career pilots and air carriers do everything they can to mitigate the risks involved in flying. Commercial flying is still one of the safest modes of transportation, it just gets more press when things go wrong. Just ask Capt. Sully.