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#117 The Shadow Game

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When I was a new CFI, I was consumed with inventing new training maneuvers.  Gee, maybe I still am!  One of the maneuvers I came up with was The Shadow Game.  I was flying out of the Montague Airport in northern California.  We were very close to Interstate 5.  That highway teemed with traffic, whizzing north and south.  I’d take my students over to the highway at about 1,000 feet on a clear day.  We’d find our shadow moving across the ground, then move to a position from which that shadow was over the Interstate.  We’d place our shadow over one of the cars and try to keep it on that car.  It was a challenging game.  We had to play the sun’s angle.  Let’s say we were northbound in the morning with the Sun high and on our right.  In order to move our shadow left, we’d try to move the aircraft 90 degrees to the sun.  That would mean that we’d move left and up.  To move our shadow to the right, we’d move right and down.  Sometimes we’d just put the shadow on the highway and disregard any cars.  That would teach the student to get familiar with the basic principle of the Shadow Game.  Then we’d find a car and deal with the speed, matching ours to the car on the interstate.  But the funniest phenomenon was the speed adjustment that so often came when the driver of that car became aware of the airplane overhead.  More times than I can remember, the driver would suddenly slow down as soon as he became aware of our shadow.  That would require the pilot to immediately reduce power and raise the nose in order to match the speed of his plane with the car.

I was smugly thrilled with this little maneuver.  It really developed the ability of my students to put their aircraft where they wanted.  It also took their head out of the cockpit as they controlled the airplane while watching the cars on the ground.

Speed control in flight
Mine wasn’t the only airplane lurking over the interstate.

But have you ever noticed that there is often a “spoiler” which lurks in the background, waiting to louse up a good thing?  There sure was in my case, and the spoiler was wearing the uniform of a California Highway Patrol officer, who came to visit me one day at the airport.

“Are you the guy who’s been putting his shadow on traffic over on the interstate?” the cop asked me.

Not certain what kind of trouble I was in, but pretty sure that I was in SOME kind of trouble, I hesitated a bit before answering, “uh, yeh, I guess I am…”

Speed controlled by aircraft sign“I really wish you’d stop”, he said, then explained why.  “You see, the stretch of I-5 that you’re playing your little game over is where we use a Cessna 180 to catch speeders.  In fact, there are big signs on the side of the freeway which state, “Speed controlled by aircraft”.

Suddenly it all became crystal clear.  The drivers would see that sign, then they’d see my shadow either on the pavement ahead or right on top of them.  In order to avoid getting a speeding ticket, the drivers would often slam on the brakes in order to slow to the speed limit.  That maneuver on their part, challenged my students to alter THEIR speed and made the game even more productive.  But it drove the cops nuts!

So I cut back on my fun game.  Eventually I left Montague and pursued a career in the airshow

Speed control cop
The cop who visited me was not nearly as friendly as this officer.

business.  I pretty much abandoned my old Shadow Game.  But lately I’ve resurrected it a bit.  You may want to as well.  But if you do and you see an annoyed-looking cop looking for you at the airport you’ll know what’s on his mind.

Happy Swooping… and shadowing!