We humans are kinda special. We have opposable thumbs. We also have the ability to communicate knowledge to each other. We can pass it on. It speeds up our learning. Caveman Grock didn’t have to experiment in order to know that a rock hurled at his head would hurt like hell. His pal, Urg, explained that when HIS mate, Urgette, smacked HIM on the head with a rock, it really smarted.
And so it is with us. When one of the airport bums advised, “always turn the fuel off when yer proppin’… it’ll keep the plane from going too far if it gets away from you!”, he had put that uniquely human capability to use.
I was flying with an advanced student and we were working on his forward slips. It’s a maneuver that can be much more complicated– and useful– than most pilots think. that’s why most pilots can’t do forward slips very well. We’d entered them from turns to the left and right. I was explaining to him how the forward slip can not only be used to steepen an approach without increasing airspeed but, because it uses drag to perform its magic, it can also be used at “the bottom of the hill” to slow an airplane while it’s in the landing flare. You can land a lot shorter if you stay in the slip until right before touchdown. He told me that he was afraid of that technique… he didn’t want to touch down in a slip. “Hey”, I retorted, “no guts, no air medal!”
I’d done it again. Without even thinking, I’d quoted another flier. “No guts, no air medal” was a favorite saying of Bill Warren.
My thoughts turned to all the knowledge that’s been stuffed into my head by others. It often takes the form of quotes. I started to add them up in my noodle. Yikes! I’m constantly spouting out these little gems.
When I’m in the cockpit, acting as a flight instructor, much of what I’m telling my students originated with others. If I talk about “G” force and its little-understood role in stall speed, I’m usually quoting T.J. Brown or Mike Van Wagenen. One of my favorite examples is “the pilot’s pilot”, Bob Hoover. I can’t think
of how many times I’ve used Bob’s routine of pouring a glass of iced tea in the middle of a slow roll to reinforce the importance of practice.
It was Tom Jones who once
said, “Never do a stunt for the first time in front of a crowd”. It seemed simple, but I’ve seen violation of that little rule really mess a performer up! I’ve certainly passed THAT little piece of advice on to others.
When a flier is moving his controls like crazy and accomplishing little, I’m inclined to ask him, “are
ya churning butter?” and refer to glider instructor Kat Haessler, who used that term to describe useless control inputs. By the way, her somewhat snarky question was aimed at me.
When my friend, Tom Jones, was killed, his spirit came to me and confessed, “I just f—d up!” That confession hammered home the importance of admitting my own mistakes. To this day, when I object to a student’s offering of excuses for his screwups, it’s Tommy I’m thinking of. It’s his truth and honesty that I’d like to emulate and to encourage others to as well.
When a tailwheel student observes that he can’t see straight
ahead, I usually quote Steve Oliver. “If you can’t see the runway to the left and you can’t see it to the right, it must be right in front of you!”
I’m often exhorting my students not to skid their turns because the skid, combined with the stall,
results in the spin. More and more I find myself quoting glider instructor Dale Masters, when he does his best Frankenstein Monster impression and intones, “Slip GOOD; skid BAD!”
I suppose it’s because I spent so much time with ol’ Bill that his words make up the bulk of my recalled quotes. His pet peeves have also become mine. When a student is wandering to an airport and we can both clearly see it… way the hell to one side, I often quote Bill: “If you’re goin’ to the airport, Go to the flippin’ AIRPORT!”
To the student complaining that the inclinometer has a piece of tape over it, I quote ol’ Bill once more: “Feel yer butt! That’s how you coordinate, not by looking at that stupid ball!” (To many female students, Bill would also add, “better yet, let ME feel yer butt!”. I will confess that I am occasionally tempted to use that phrase myself!).
And it was Bill from whom I first heard the old wheeze, “a guy goes to the doctor and says, ‘doc, it hurts when I go like this’ … the doctor says, ‘then don’t go like that’”. I use that one all the time when I urge fliers to simply change their ways instead of committing the different screwups that people make when controlling airplanes.
And it’s not just quotes that have stuck with me. Don Madonna gave me an example of comportment… he was just so damned
fun to be around. He was the only guy I knew who had a camo tuxedo. He also provided me with one of the best examples of the fighting man’s point of view when we once discussed the war in Viet Nam, which I was much against. “They were killing our guys!” Don exclaimed, and in so doing explained why he fought. I understood perfectly. I’ll pass some of Don’s wisdom on to my kids.
Tom Sanco used to describe various aerial adventures and use the phrase “… and the stall warner was playing ‘nearer my god to thee’”. That one always cracked me up.
And, of course, there’s my pal, Earl Cherry, who so beautifully understated the role of a pilot and
demonstrated humility. When a reporter, fresh from interviewing Earl’s wife who was the wingwalker in in his classic wing-walking act asked Earl what role he performed, Earl answered, “I just fly da plane.”
Don’s gone now, killed in a Foland Gnat. Tommy Jones is gone now, killed in an SU-26. Bill Warren is gone now. He keeled over while slurping a beer after a day of flight instructing. Mike Van Wagenen and T.J. Brown have both gone West.
But many of my pals are still around and I’m still absorbing their words as well as their philosophies and passing them on to my students. The number of people who’ve influenced me is simply too large to include here in this article.
I’m still impressed by our opposable thumb… and our ability to pass it on.