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#143 Safety

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In case you hadn’t noticed it, I feel that modern flight instruction fails miserably in developing much skill in those who are taught in the vast majority of flight schools.  Why is this?  There are several reasons.images

For one thing, in aviation we have this unique situation where teaching is the job which new pilots can slide right into in order to build time and eventually land that airline job after which they’ve been lusting.  That leaves those who are just entering our little flying world to learn from those who know the least.  Gee, no wonder general aviation is in such a pickle!

scan0076JimMarisFlightClass1943DouglasGA (1)
A class of pilots at Douglas, Georgia during the second world war. Many years later I recieved valuable training at that same airport.

Modern flight schools are also consumed with safety.  That’s pretty understandable and, in many cases, commendable.  A desire to be safe often causes the pursuit of the most conservative actions.  Unfortunately, the practice of conservative operations often deprives the student of the opportunity to learn to fly skillfully.  The long, straight-out departure is just one such example. The stabilized approach is another.  What do those two maneuvers have in common?  For one thing, THEY ARE NOT MANEUVERS!  In fact, the powers that be have actually decided that “maneuvering flight” is a type of flying in which there is the most risk.  Duh.  I think they’ve figgered that as long as we don’t do anything but fly straight, we’ll remain safe.

A modern military pilot and graduate of a superb training system.

Modern flight instruction has another “Achilles Heel”.  Civilian flight training, as a rule, doesn’t “wash out” any students.  Compare that with the military, where a large percentage of those who pursue flight training are judged not good enough and are washed out to pursue another activity.  I’ve long been a fan of military training and that’s one reason.  I guess you might say it’s “Darwinian”.

If we want to produce safe pilots, we’d better train pilots who have a much higher skill level than is currently found in the majority of pilots.  We can do that by upping the difficulty level of those operations and maneuvers (yes, “maneuvers”) we teach.  But in order to do that safely, we must provide those student pilots with teachers who have the ability to keep them safe as they practice those maneuvers.  As Macbeth said, “Aye, there’s the rub!”

Military pilots receive formation training. Good luck finding that at Acme!

I can teach my students to execute a landing in a turn which will save their butts if they’re called upon to put a powerless airplane into a tiny little spot with no altitude remaining for that nice, long approach they were taught at the Acme Flying School.  But I can only do that because I’ve taken the time to get reasonably competent at it myself.  I’ve been teaching that maneuver since I had about two thousand hours, much of that time spent practicing exacting maneuvers and aerobatics.  It’s not me, it’s the experience.  Create a way to provide that experience to more pilots and you’ll find a way to provide better instructors to those who want to learn to fly.  Easy for me to say, huh?  I doubt if it will ever happen.

If you ever wonder about the evolution of the relationship between The Tailwheeler’s Journal and Oregon Aero, consider that Oregon Aero has devoted untold time, effort and expense to the development of products which provide increased safety through the design of the interface between the pilot and the aircraft.  Oregon Aero founder Mike Dennis has probably done more testing with sleds and other devices than any other individual since Col. John Stapp.  He may not have ridden the sled and subjected himself to as many G’s as Stapp, but his dedication to testing shows in the increase to safety which his products bring to aviation.

Safety will always be the paramount goal of all of us who teach flying (except for a few schools where profits are actually paramount).  Some will pursue safety by teaching low-time students to fly in a manner  that will require less skill through less maneuvering, shallow banks and very conservative technique.  Others of us will continue to increase safety by demanding a higher level of skill from those who fly with us.  We will develop that skill by protecting those students while they practice operations and maneuvers which require a higher level of skill.  Which method is better?  Well, mine, of course!

Oh, and if you are looking for a primary flight training course where you’ll solo in ten hours, you better go somewhere else.  I seriously doubt if any of the few primary students I take will solo in less time than the FAA feels is the “minimum” to get a private pilot’s certificate.  That’s forty hours.  The FAA invented “minimum standards”.  I’m afraid we don’t teach to that level at Tailwheel Town.  And that’s just the way it is…

Happy Swooping!