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#173 “Yer scarin’ me, Man!”

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written 9-6-16


It would seem to me that certain things SHOULD scare us when we fly airplanes and helicopters.  And certain things SHOULDN’T scare us.

As someone who teaches both those who should know the difference and those who haven’t had a chance to learn the difference, this fact has stared me in the face more than once and now I realize how important it is.

Those who have flown with me before have heard my dissertation on the spin which occurs on the turn from base to final and seems to kill someone every year.  They’ve heard me state that the usual victim was told by his flight instructor, “Never make steep turns close to the ground…” and they’ve probably seen me disprove that ridiculous admonition which has served as the fatal advice to the undertrained.  It may very well echo in their mental ear right before the crash which kills them.

The Tailwheel Town 140 on the way to practice the landing in a turn at a nearby airport.  Lana Tollas flying, Brian napping.

It was brought home to me just the other day as I was checking out an “Acme Trained” flier of very low experience in the Outlaw 172.  I was proud of the recent performance of a teenaged student (and Cessna 140 polisher) who, on her fourth flight lesson was performing a landing in a turn followed by slaloms.  Flushed with that accomplishment of hers, I gave the young man a demonstration of what she had done and, coincidentally, what so many commercial pilots and CFIs CAN’T do.

On final for that initial touchdown, we were skimming a few feet off the ground, approaching the runway from one side with the grass whizzing by underneath our tires.  I was explaining to the young man that one of the most common errors in performing the landing in a turn was failing to get low enough on that 45-degree final.  Because, if we are still trying to get down for the touchdown as we cross onto the runway, we will STILL be trying to get down when we should be working on the smooth touchdown.  His words in my headset were clear as a bell.  “You’re scaring me, man!”

Janet grabbed this shot of Lana in the Tailwheel Town 140 on short final for the landing in a turn. Janet’s in Steve Harris’ Bearhawk (Janet gets to ride in all the cool planes!).

Huh?  Why should a person be scared during a demonstration of that very fundamental maneuver?  And then it hit me:  That fright is very normal… if you’ve never been close to the ground before.  If you don’t understand the relationship of speed to gliding distance in the event of an engine failure, if you’ve always treated the normal landing as something on which we must concentrate because it is SO flippin’ difficult!

And, BINGO!  There it is!  It is the fundamental truth upon which is based so much of what we do here at Tailwheel Town.  Fear begets panic.  Understanding begets competence.  My old skydiving instructor, Zimmo, used to say, “We learn by doing.”  (Of course, he also used to say, “Fear dispels knowledge… or is it the other way around?”).   By performing maneuvers such as the Landing in a Turn, Flight around the Irrigation Pivot, introduction to Mountain Flying, we fly close to terrain.  We do it in a way which makes avoidance of that terrain a very simple task.  There should be no fear, simply respect for the closeness of hard ground.  If a flyer understands that he is simply managing energy and that there can be plenty of that energy with which he can avoid the terrain whether he is on short final for a landing in a turn, approaching a ridge while mountain flying, or simply rounding an irrigation pivot, then there is nothing to be afraid of.  But without the knowledge of that energy, there may be fear.  As my pal Jerry so often has said, “If you’ve got flaps down AND are adding power, you’ve made a mistake.  These things are so fundamental… and fundamentals are of paramount importance in learning to fly.  There should never be an occasion when the appropriate thing to exclaim is, “Yer scarin’ me, Man!”

And I haven’t even mentioned the dead stick landing yet…