A day in the life (of this flight instructor)
(The title of this piece in no way references the 1967 song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and first played on the amazing album, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. I mean, really, the song’s about drug usage – and, really, no pilots I know ever do drugs. [Note, I did not write “.. ever did drugs …”. Really])
Pick a day, any day. What goes on during a fairly typical day for me? I’ve been bizzy of late – apparently all of the good, experienced flight instructors have lost their minds and gone to work for regional air carriers, hoping, one day, to get picked up by a major so that, just when they start making the big bucks, they’re forced to retire because they’ve hit 65. Best of Luck Shane, Derek, Kathleen, Erich, et al. Because of that, (or maybe because I’m so good, ahem) I’ve gotten really bizzy – apparently there are more masochists out there amongst pilot wannabe’s than I ever imagined possible. Nevertheless … .
I plucked a date off my calendar and here’s what happened.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Early morning clouds burned off into another of those hot, hazy, lousy visibility days that haunt us in late August in sunny San Diego. First flight was with Charles, a CFI candidate of Shane’s in need of a CFI Spin Recovery Lesson and the concomitant endorsement. According to the logbook, we flew for 1.2.
Spin recovery training is something the Feds discontinued in 1948 – a tragic loss in flight training curricula. An even greater loss is the idiotic, absurdist, asinine, assholic, monumentally stoopid, bureaucratically motivated … and, oh wait and even dumber, Trumpian … ruling that “slow flight” is now taught as flying 5 or so knots faster than the speed at which the stall warning alarm sounds. “That’s slow flight?” ASSHOLES. That might be 10 or 15 knots faster than actual “minimum controllable airspeed”, which was the true and most accurate example of slow flight and the airspeed at which any change in pitch, power or load factor would result in an immediate stall.
Okay, I digress. I believe that spin recovery training is an important part of the primary flight training curriculum because there is nothing that we teach in the curriculum that can show a student how to recover from a spin. Talking about it – which is all we’re instructed to do – ain’t recovering. And, if you can’t recover from a spin, you’ll suffer serious consequences.
So … what’s a spin? Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary says, the 25th definition under spin: Also called tailspin. Aeron(autical) a maneuver in which an airplane descends in a vertical direction along a helical path of large pitch and small radius at an angle of attack greater than the critical angle, dangerous when not done intentionally or under control. There’s a mouthful.
What’s it mean? Well, at the moment of stall, a yawing motion is induced or already present. The airplane drops from a very high pitch attitude and begins corkscrewing towards the ground at a very high rate of descent. Scary? The first time you try it … you betcha. Is it dangerous? At low altitude, it can be very dangerous. If performed with lotsa altitude below you, no. CFI’s need to know how to recover from spins, since we no longer teach student pilots to do so. So sad.
So, if you enter a spin, whattaya do? Simple really … first, stop screaming like a little girl because the ground below is spinning around your windscreen as your nose points, seemingly, straight down. Then, ensure that the throttle is closed, apply rudder in the opposite direction of the spin, when the rotation stops neutralize the rudder, and stop the bloody crash by pulling back on the stick. Simple really. And it’s fun. Well it is after you’ve changed your underwear.
In the airplanes we use for spins – in this case a 2000 Citabria 7GCAA – the instructor sits in the back and the student, or CFI candidate, sits up front basically on the center of gravity so the airplane revolves around him or her. Other than the initial, “I WANT MY MAMA,” moment, it becomes a ton of fun. Meanwhile, the instructor is sitting in the back getting thrown around like a rag doll and, after the fourth of fifth spin, wonders if he’ll be scrambling for the “lunch review bag”.
If you haven’t spun an airplane, it would be a great confidence boost to grab a qualified instructor in an appropriate airplane – one that doesn’t have gyroscopic instruments that might tumble and break – and go out and get some spin recovery training.
Well, Glenn, what did you do next on 22Aug18? Let’s see.
Gregg and I went up in a fairly new Cessna 182T to get re-familiar with Garmin G-1000. Gregg had been away from flying for four years dealing with a medical issue and, because we shared a wonderful mechanic, he found me.
Gregg had a thousand hours with the G-1000 and we were spending time getting back up to speed with the goal of recapturing the instrument skills that had grown a tad fuzzy with the long layoff. His goal is to get back to the days when he would use his airplane to travel across country on business.
The Garmin G-1000 can be an intimidating GPS/COM/whatever. I believe that there are 108 bells, buttons, whistles and knobs that you get to push, pull, turn, fondle, spindle and mutilate – and, if you push, pull, turn, etc. any one the wrong way, you have no idea where the hell you are in the program. It helps that there are a couple of ways to reset the thing to return you to a screen that looks familiar.
I was still working for King Schools when the Garmin engineers were readying their “Crown Jewel” of devices for the market. Since we were going to develop a course based on the device, and since I was working in course development, I got to spend 50 or so fun, confusing, befuddling hours trying to make the thing do what I wanted. The Garmin engineers were, after all, engineers and, like all engineers, had no writing skills so the manual they sent us was nearly as confusing as their creation. And all of it was written with intransitive verbs, BAH: “It is to be expected that, under certain conditions, with a variety of stimuli, PUSHING a PULL knob might possible cause the G-1000 to react in an unfavorable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous manner” – to wit, it might reach into your cranial cavity and pulverize your brain.
While the training isn’t as exhilarating as, say, spin recovery, it’s fun because I get to help someone reconnect with great skills he once had as a pilot, and someone who loves to fly and enjoys the process of training – or retraining. Pilots like Gregg are a joy because they value what the instructor brings to expedite the learning, or relearning, process. The fact that he’s got a great sense of humor makes for a wonderful experience – for both of us, I hope.
We flew the VOR-A approach to Oceanside – one of the toughest VOR approaches you’ll ever attempt – the RNAV9 approach to Ramona and the ILS28R approach back into Montgomery. Flying those three approaches, successfully, in 1.5 hours is a workout – it’s a good thing that Gregg works out.
My third and final flight on August 22nd involved tailwheel training with Chris, who is delighted to be learning what his feet are really for – working the hell out of the rudder pedals while using his hands to move the ailerons to keep the longitudinal axis of the airplane straight down the runway AT ALL TIMES. Thinks it’s easy? Ha. I’d love to help you find out how tough, and how much fun landing a taildragger really is.
Tailwheel airplanes require more attention when you’re landing, and, to a much smaller extent, when you’re taking off. The center of gravity of a tailwheel airplane is aft of the main wheels, so the airplane is predisposed to weathervane into the wind. And, once it gets started, it’s hard to stop – the resultant excursion, oftentimes involving leaving the runway, is called a “ground loop”. I’ve had two in 20 years and please believe me when I tell you that becoming a passenger in an airplane when you’re supposed to be the pilot is a very humbling experience.
A lot of pilots think that taildraggers are difficult to learn to fly. Horse hockey. It’s just that you don’t get to relax until the airplane is safely tied down. How many times have you landed your nosedragger (we call nosewheels “training wheels”), after fighting a tough crosswind and, when the nosewheel touches the ground, you relax your pressure on the controls. What happens? Usually nothing. If it’s not a 40 knot direct crosswind, the nosedragger lurches a bit, but stays on the runway. Relax like that in a taildragger and you’re into the weeds.
So, what’s it take? The average tailwheel endorsement takes about 10 hours. I’ve had a number of pilots take less – and a few take more. It took me 11 ½ hours to get the endorsement, but I’m a lot slower than most. All you have to do is learn how to keep the longitudinal axis of the airplane (from the tip of the spinner to the tip of the tail) straight down the runway, no matter what the wind tries to do to you.
Chris is new to the tailwheel thing, but he values the learning. He also realizes how much the training will help his nosedragger flying because, once you figure out how to land a taildragger, you’ll never, ever, not once, ever land any airplane any other way than straight down the runway.
How? Easy. Keep the upwind aileron into the wind, and the rudder opposite. Some call it a sideslip; others refer to it as the “wing low method” of landing. Whatever you call it, if you’ve got a left crosswind (as you almost always do here at Montgomery), you put the left aileron in and you apply a corresponding amount of right rudder. If the wind increases and the airplane starts moving to the right, increase aileron pressure and add more rudder. As the airplane slows, assuming the wind is a constant, the reduced volume of air moving across the control surfaces require increasingly more, and more, aileron and rudder control pressure.
It’s that easy.
Chris and I flew 14 landings down at Brown Field (long, wide runway, little traffic) and 1 more back at Montgomery in 1.6 hours on the trusty Hobbs. 4 of the landings were good, the rest were survivable. ‘Twere a good day. In another week, and maybe the next lesson, those numbers will reverse. Chris is a good pilot and takes the training seriously. Sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself, but that’s what pilots do – they strive to succeed, and, when they don’t, they strive harder.
The day ends. A late start, 10 am to beat the early clouds, finished at 5:30 with a total of 4.3 loggable hours, every single one of them pure fun. (Well, it had been a few years since the last spin recovery training episode and I nearly screamed like a little girl when we entered that first spin. I had forgotten how dramatically the Citabria’s nose drops at the spin entry. So there was one moment of “less” fun than all the rest.)
Got home at 5:45pm, just as Saint Laurel returned from her great, new gig. I believe that I poured myself a Sazerac as we talked about how much fun we had during our day. (Saint Laurel prefers to abstain from alcohol during the week, so she didn’t join me. Skye dog and Connor, the cat, demanded attention and love and, more importantly, DINNER.) It was just a typical day in the life, mine – a grand day. I’m a lucky guy who loves what he does. What could be better?