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#120 The Culture of Flying

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Julie Benson and I were at the fuel pump the other day.  Julie was up on the ladder, fueling the plane.  I was scurrying around, trying to look busy so that I wouldn’t actually

Julie fueling her 182 at the Sisters fuel farm.

have to do anything.  I thought of Julie’s position as the co-founder and CFO of an engineering company.  Among its employees are people with all levels of competence.  I thought of how easy it would be for Julie to pick up the phone in her office and say, “please get my airplane out of the hangar and fueled.  I’ll be flying in an hour”.

I looked up at Julie up on the ladder, with her smudged paws on the nozzle.  I told her that perhaps it would be fun for her to make that phone call and enjoy the perks that could come as the result of all her hard work to get where she is.  She couldn’t do it.  I understood her attitude.  It’s probably what makes her and her husband such good executives… they “lead from the front”.

Brian and Benny re-attach a freshly-repaired cowl flap.

But this little conversation got me thinking about another of my favorite subjects when we discuss flight training.  Later that very day, we were all working on the same plane in the hangar/shop at the Squirrelwerks.  “We” were Benny and Julie as well as one of our high school students who simply likes to hang out at this wonderful little airport and learn as much as she can about aviation.  We all worked until the sun went down.  We cleaned up and lubed the primer.  We removed the cowls and repaired a cracked cowl flap.

Bethany’s not really using her head as a wheel chock… she’s carefully lining up a cotter pin in an axle.

We drained the fuel tanks and calibrated our new dipstick. We changed a worn tire. We inspected a few other items and planned our next maintenance session.  One of us even found time to barbecue a burger.

That student now knows how to remove a wheel and change a tire.  She now knows a little more about split wheels, torque, wrench size, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosy”, quarter turn fasteners and a myriad of little details about which so many flight students are ignorant.  It’s why I feel that minor maintenance should be a part of EVERY flight student’s education.

This other-than-flying education should extend to more than maintenance.  I am often reminded about the importance of a relatively simple thing like hand-propping.  Years ago, when I was running the Sunriver Airport, a guy loaded his rented Cessna with his wife, kid and luggage.  They’d had a wonderful weekend and now they were heading back to the valley.  With the speed of the airplane, they’d be back before dark on this Sunday evening.  But the starter broke.  I don’t know.  Maybe burned out, but for whatever reason, that thing wouldn’t operate.  The guy didn’t have a clue as to how to prop it.  I had a little chat with him and told him that I’d prop it for him.  I advised him of the slight risks

Margaret Crain practices her newly learned skill of hand-propping at Tailwheel Town.

involved in operating an airplane without an operable starter.  Then we loaded up everyone and, in about three flips, the airplane’s engine roared to life and the family blasted off for home.  Their weekend had not turned into a nightmare of last-minute logistics, waits for rental car and late night arrival at home, not to mention the expense to them or the owner of getting a Skyhawk repaired at a distant airport and ferried home.  That’s one reason why all my students learn to hand-prop.

But back at Sisters, I was delighted at how our little maintenance session went.  I believe I’m going to go out of my way to make sure that all of our students here at Tailwheel Town have a chance to get their hands dirty and learn a few maintenance operations.  I think that it’ll make them better fliers.  After all, the Tailwheel Town planes carry a quick change tailwheel and a main tire inner tube, as well as a few tools.   But what good would carrying that stuff do if the pilot didn’t know how to use them.

Happy Swooping (and tire-changing)