Every once in a while, someone will ask me why we do some of the maneuvers we do at Tailwheel Town. They don’t see the purpose of Slaloms, Landings in a Turn and Proximity Flying. I understand this question. It comes from those who are uneducated about the fundamentals of airmanship. Most will eventually learn the answer to their
question. Good for them. They might be Whuffos now, but they won’t be much longer. The reason they won’t remain whuffos is simply because they thought to ask why. The folks who worry me most are the ones who are active flyers and who choose to pursue the type of flying they learned at Acme and are convinced that their approach to flying is far safer than our practice of flying closer to the envelope in order to become more proficient. They accept every piece of misinformation their low-time flight instructors tell them. They never practice what we practice and they will never be able to perform the maneuvers our students are capable of before soloing. Unfortunately, they often become the ones who teach others to fly.
Let’s take our flagship maneuver, the Landing in a Turn. I’ve long maintained that we must always leave ourselves an “out”. That out may be a landing spot that we can only barely glide to in the event of an engine failure. Do you think that you will always have enough altitude to
make a power-off rectangular pattern just like they taught you at Acme? Hmmm, maybe the tooth fairy will bring you a new Waco Biplane if she can get it past Santa on the way down your chimney. The Stick and Rudder Master Class graduate will not need enough altitude to fly that lovely pattern. His training in the Landing in a Turn will enable him to safely land in a spot which is at the limit of his aircraft’s glide, even if the landing direction is other than his own current course!
Many years ago when I was located near the intracoastal waterway on the East Coast, a lot of eyebrows were raised by my practice of flying close to the surface of the water and occasionally hydroplaning on the surface. Whuffos would ask, “where’s he gonna go if the engine quits?” Simple: the same place the guy who is much higher will go. We’re both over water. It never occurred to them that “water skiing” an airplane develops elevator skills as no other maneuver can. Similarly, some Acme-trained flying whuffos have questioned the safety of the Irrigation Pivot flight. Being in the pivot is kinda the point. If the engine quits, you land in the track in which you’re presently flying. You won’t have to seek one out!
So many of the maneuvers taught at Tailwheel Town have one simple purpose: To make our applicants more proficient pilots by teaching them maneuvers which place their airplane accurately where they want it while it is both in the air and on the ground. In fact, an early sub title of this course was “precision airmanship”. Precision is simply not being practiced by the majority of undertrained general aviation pilots. They are barely in control of their aircraft during the landing or takeoff phase. We can prove that such precision is possible and we can, through practice, increase the skill level of the average pilots so that they are no longer barely in control.
Barry Schiff, an aviation writer for whom I have immense respect, once wrote a very simple statement to me which spoke volumes. We were discussing Dead Stick Landings, a subject about which he had recently written and which every one of my students gets to experience. Capt. Schiff said, “It’s called airmanship… and they don’t teach it anymore”. Not at Acme, they don’t.
How fitting that the son of Wolfgang Langewiesche, William Langewiesche, wrote in his excellent book, “Fly by Wire”, the indictment of modern pilots that I wish I had written: “: “More fundamentally, they spend year after year deep inside the flight envelope, within the narrow range of maneuver that delivers smooth and safe rides to the passengers. They are good at that job… and often superb. But the consequence of working so far from the extremes is to allow almost all of them to believe that they are full masters of flying, when only a small percentage of them actually are.”
Eventually, places which teach pilots to carefully fly closer to those extremes, places like Tailwheel Town, won’t exist anymore either. They’ll be driven from town by a government agency and its dupes with their pitchforks and torches.
Learn it while you can and never stop asking “why”.