Real World Flight Training
By Peter Conant
- In this month's issue of Flying Magazine, Robert Goyer talks about clouds. His focus is how we train primary students to decide when they are in over their heads and how to get out of deteriorating flight conditions. We all remember when, as newly minted pilots, we flew into weather which was beyond our capabilities. Goyer then talks about how new pilots and even many seasoned pilots are reluctant to divert to another airport. He has a number of suggestions about how new students are, in many cases, not exposed to real world conditions.
All this is of interest to me because this month I will begin my training as a CFI. I am fortunate to have the best of the best, Radek Wyrzykowski, as my instructor. Radek told me last week that flight instruction is about teaching and how an instructor goes about imparting years of experience in a structured, methodical and systematic way. Flying is the subject matter, of course, but the real test is examining the way in which a CFI prepares his or her student.
I would therefore like to offer some of my own ideas for how to make flight instruction challenging and relevant for the novice pilot. There is a book I would recommend, Things My Flight Instructor Never Told Me, by Mike Leighton, which lays out a number of his own mishaps and difficulties he handled throughout his career. Many of these have to do with ground operations, interactions with ATC, and mechanical glitches.
My own flying began in 1979. In those days, just as I do now, I loved to take long cross-country trips in a Piper Archer. This was before the days of GPS, Nexrad, TCAS and such. My pilotage skills were pretty sharp and I made it from Boston out to Minnesota on more than one occasion, also flying to Oshkosh and down to Maryland. I think it may still be valuable to teach pilotage and navigation but I wonder if anyone does this anymore, with inexpensive portable GPS units so available. I think pilotage and looking out the window are things I would want to cover with my new students.
On the matter of diversion, obviously knowing where you are is rather important. You can press the "nearest" buttons and find yourself on a moving map, but I think I would have been better served had I practiced a diversion to a new and unfamiliar airport during my training. And I wonder what you, my growing readership, think is the best way to quickly get the information needed when a diversion is necessary. My AOPA Airport Directory always accompanies me and I find this more helpful than an AFD. But for recent diversions I find myself looking at the instrument approach charts (assuming my diversion airport has an published IAP) to quickly get the runway diagram, elevation, length, and frequencies. Would it make sense to train a VFR student pilot in the use of the NOAA IFR approach charts? I would welcome your ideas.
Diverting in Arizona some years ago to a gravel strip without an IAP found me breaking out the AOPA Directory in heavy turbulence while flying toward a thunderstorm. Nowadays I would simply use my Lowrance 2000 for airport information. Is there any use in carrying an AFD? Well, I suppose one reason is that the AOPA Directory is not an approved source of aviation data. Handy, but not approved. Nor is, I don't believe, a handheld GPS.
Besides training with a hood, I also wonder if a new student might benefit from an actual trip inside a cloud. That is something I never did in training and wish I had. After receiving my PPL, I once advertently flew into clouds south of Albany, over the Catskills. I did a one-eighty and landed at a small uncontrolled field, waiting until the weather blew itself out. That was my first time in actual, and it felt totally different from being under the hood.
I once had an instructor who showed me his method of making a short field landing in the Archer. As we were settling in the flare toward the runway, he retracted one notch of flaps and set us firmly on the pavement. "Don't ever tell anyone I showed you this" he warned. But since the statute of limitations has probably run out on this instructional maneuver, I think I might show this to a new student when they are getting sharp on their landings. I know I have used this many times when I'm landing on a grass or short field. Get the wheels down firmly on the surface so you don't bounce back up. Makes the braking more effective, too.
So I'm hoping you pilots out there can help me here with your stories and ideas of what you think real world flight instruction should include. For example, my first really difficult crosswind landing was at Akron-Canton Ohio. A stiff west wind was gusting enthusiastically but only the north-south runway was available. Talk about the need to make a diversion! But, just as Goyer tells it, many long trips end with a laser focus on the intended airport and the idea of going somewhere else just doesn't occur. That landing had me up on the right wheel, full aileron deflection into the wind, and the left wheel just refusing to come down. It was something I'd never seen before and wished that I had practiced earlier, rolling down the runway with a pronounced thirty degree tilt.