Written on 2-24-14
It’s occurred to me that a lot of people view me as a bit iconoclastic. One ignorant aviator has long referred to me as an “outlaw”. Would you like to know WHY I’m that way? I think it’s because at some point, and with the help of my early aviation mentors, I became aware of all the misconceptions that are not only held by so many pilots, but that are also TAUGHT at an amazing number of flight schools. Here are a few:
“High angle of bank increases stall speed”. Nope. If you are making a LEVEL banked turn, you’ll have to apply back elevator in order to hold altitude. That will increase “G” loading and it’s “G” which increases stall speed, not angle of bank. That’s why,
The Tailwheel Town Cessna 140 pulling “G”s in a climbing turn (The Lansburgh Collection, photo by Bert Garrison)
although we make a steeply banked turn in order to avoid terrain on some departures,. We usually make no effort to climb during that steep bank. As a result, we don’t even come close to stall speed. “Don’t bank steeply close to the ground” is a refuge for the undertrained because it is assumed that you will haul back the stick AND stomp on the inside rudder pedal, setting yourself up for a classic spin to the ground..
“A stall results in a spin” is one of the most popular aviation misconceptions. Most airplanes will simply buck when their stalling angle of attack is reached IF they are properly coordinated. Since most pilots are never taught proper coordination, they tend to skid their turns (too much inside rudder). That sets them up for a spin, since most airplanes will only spin if they are both stalled AND SKIDDING.
“The key to a good landing is a good approach”. It’s true that a good landing is best assured if a good (and often stabilized) approach is made. However, if you can’t make a good landing out of ANY approach, including a short approach or an emergency descent, then you better go back to some fundamentals. A good pilot can make a good landing out of ANY approach. A marginal pilot needs a stabilized approach in order to pull off a decent landing. There is a good reason that airliners almost always make a stabilized approach. It has nothing to do with the skill of their pilots. Are you flying an airliner?
“Call every position in the pattern, even if you’re the only one in it”. As with much of radio communications, this is a bit subjective. However, we should remember that many flights are instructional. Every radio call is heard in every aircraft within listening distance. So your multiple calls may be interfering with an instructor’s guidance to his student. Keep ‘em to a minimum, especially if they are un-needed or if English is your second, and marginally understandable, language.
“Since you might end up flying an airliner, fly airliner-sized patterns”. Wrong again. Since the main purpose of a flying school is to be profitable, doesn’t it stand to reason that fewer landings per hour will result in the most time and profit in order for a student to gain proficiency? That’s just one reason why the pattern at Tailwheel Town is so small. If we combine our small pattern with multiple landings, it’s possible for our students to get ten times the landings per hour as their counterparts at the Acme Flying School. And, as a bonus, they are gaining more proficiency because they are using a shorter, more difficult approach.
“Use the stabilized approach in your little beater; that’s what the airline guys do!” The airline guys have an average of 200 passengers in the back and a lot to lose if they screw up an approach and landing. That’s one reason they use a stabilized approach and have certain parameters to meet at certain distances and altitudes. If they are not at that altitude, airspeed and configuration, they must execute a go-around. That works for them, but they are not nearly as maneuverable as we are. Although every general aviation pilot should be able to make a stabilized approach, in the vast majority of cases, we should wad that technique up and toss it out the window.
“Slow down five miles from the airport and don’t bother learning how quickly your airplane can go from cruise to landing configuration”. Most pilots never figure out how long it takes their airplane to slow to approach speed. So, as a result, they slow down WAY out and then take forever to get to the runway. Do you know how long it takes to slow to approach speed from cruise descent at 500 fpm in the plane YOU fly? In the Cessna 140 it takes 15 seconds. In the 172 about 25 seconds. So we can descend like a bat out of hell until we have that much time to final power reduction. I’ll bet we’ll be having coffee in the airport café while the Acme guy is entering the pattern!
“Carry power until touchdown… after all, modern engines are very dependable and will never quit”. This one drives me nuts. Every power-off accuracy landing we do prepares our pilots for the day when that engine may quit. In addition, our power-off accuracy landing takes less time and gets us on the ground just that much sooner. I was taught a long time ago that once you are in the pattern, you should be able to glide to the runway. The average power-on approach, especially if you are number two or three and suckered onto a long downwind, will make that impossible. I don’t know about you, but I’m not falling for it. I’ve been accused of “cutting people off” in the pattern, but I’ve never actually caused anyone to change their stupid, long approach… they just can’t stand to see someone get in front of them. Human nature.
“Never extend flaps in a turn”. I really don’t know where this one came from but, as with the forward slip, if you wait to extend flaps until you are not turning, you may be unintentionally allowing yourself to land longer. The extension of flaps during a turn has absolutely no ill affect unless you’re pulling max G’s at the time, which is highly unlikely during normal operations.
“If you’re going to forward slip, do it with the upwind wing down”. This is one of my favorites. It actually seems to make sense… until you simply ask “why?” The answer you’ll always get is that if there is a crosswind, you’ll already be set up with your upwind wing down, so that the wind won’t get under it (by the way, “the wind getting under it” is rarely a problem). The reason this is nuts is because you may not be in a position to put that wing down if you’re way up there on base. Because the beginning of the base leg (which is the “key” position) is where you first decide if you are high. That’s when you’ll want to start your forward slip. If you are in left traffic, your left wing needs to be down because you are banking that way and all you have to do is input top rudder. Then you’ll be in a turning slip to final. You DO know how to turn and slip at the same time, don’t you? If not, you’re poorly trained. Even the slowest rolling plane I’ve ever flown could easily change from one bank to the other at the last minute in order to land in a crosswind. So, “sorry, Acme”. You’re wrong again.
“Don’t use flaps in a crosswind”. This is a real popular one. The only time a crosswind messes with an airplane’s heading is when the airplane is on the ground. There’s no reason not to use flaps in a crosswind. Just raise them toward the end of the flare in order to raise the stall speed and keep the durn thing on the ground. Is that too complicated for you? Then take up Parcheesi (don’t bother sending me your objection to this one… I’ve already heard most of them. My answer is “don’t retract your landing gear on the ground”).
“Brian is nuts”. (I just slipped that one in).
Jeez, I gotta stop! I could just keep listing ‘em!
I guess my point is that the majority of items taught at the Acme Flying School (not the VAST majority) make sense and are useful. But not all. Intelligent student pilots must constantly question what they are taught and see if they can sift and sort the good stuff from the ridiculous (some of this philosophy is contained in “Brian’s Flying Book”, but since very few people read it, I figured I’d repeat it here).
Every two years I must renew my Flight Instructor Certificate. I do the online Flight Instructor Renewal Course and every time I do one, I find myself tearing my hair and seriously considering hanging it up. Why? Because in all of these courses there is next to nothing about teaching a person how to fly an airplane. Instead, the FIRC is filled with regs (think about who decided that we had to DO a FIRC), Crew Resource Management and other subjects which are designed to teach the pilot how to think. I believe they already know how to think. It’s my job to teach them to fly. But the FIRC epitomizes how the modern CFI is taught to teach… and WHAT he is taught to teach.
A strip of tape covers the ball of the turn coordinator in the Tailwheel Town 140. Very few of my students have ever seen the ball. I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again. Virtually 100 percent of my tailwheel students report that their first flight instructor told them that, to coordinate their turns they should learn to “step on the ball”. That advice is crap and it is symbolic of all the other misconceptions that are taught at the modern flight training institution. The upper body of the pilot will tell him if he’s coordinated… and he can use that while looking out the window, where his attention needs to be. That tape in our airplane is more than a training aid… it is a symbol of how we fly at Tailwheel Town.
Just as the number of CFI s who can teach Tailwheel Flying is steadily shrinking, the number of those instructors who inject a generous amount of common sense and who teach power-off approaches is also increasingly tiny. My heart goes out to the person who wants to learn to fly and must find a teacher. Good luck to you….
…and Happy Swooping