The FAA’s hand in this
When we start considering myths, the exercise becomes something like taking a sheet of that bubble wrap stuff and popping the bubbles one at a time. Because I just completed my CFR revalidation, I’ll use some subjects from that source. I have written about aviation myths before but doing it in relation to an FAA-approved course is, well, fun.
Two items of business first.
One, why renew a CFI if you are 82 and haven’t flown in seven years? I am just trying to stay at least a bit current and, also, cashing out with a current CFI might be a bit like the cowboys of old doing it with their boots on.
Two, the online courses are mostly good and the content is mandated and approved by the FAA. In other words, big brother speaketh to all pilots through the CFIs of the land and these might be considered as standardization courses to make sure all are on the same page. In the current CFI revalidation courses the FAA seems to be debunking some myths while perpetuating others.
The Big Lie
Those are the words used when referring to the old myth about the drive to the airport being the most dangerous part of the journey. That is a myth that has been around for a long time and I think it is good that the FAA is telling CFIs to dispel that myth.
The current discussion of safety is the most realistic one I have seen in a CFI course (I use Gleim) and points out that the accident rate has been stable since 1999 even though the FAA’s goal was to reduce that rate by 10-percent from 2009 to 2018. The new technology available to pilots and controllers is noted as not resulting in any safety improvement.
The material points out that from 1939 to 1969 the fatal accident rate dropped by 76-percent and from 1969 to 1999 it dropped by 55-percent. They offer no opinion on why it hasn’t improved since 1999 but the suggestion that CFIs need to work on this is pretty clear. Private flying is simply much more hazardous than driving as well as being more hazardous than it should be.
Talking About Accidents Is Bad
That is a popular thought among some pilots, but the CFI course points out that accident analysis is an important but often overlooked CFI task. The word seems to be that the accidents are what hurt aviation and that once they occur, pilots need to learn from the mistakes that others make. So, to those who just don’t want to hear about accidents or safety, the FAA seems to be joining many of us in telling pilots to get their head out of the sand and face the realities of flying. If you don’t do it correctly and carefully, it’ll kill you quickly. That isn’t a secret that can be kept from the public.
A Dangerous Driver Is A Dangerous Pilot
I don’t think this is true especially if a lousy driver is considered dangerous. The dynamics of driving and flying are entirely different, they are not done in the same context, and I don’t think facts could be offered to substantiate this myth. It has been my experience that some pretty bad drivers make excellent pilots.
One pilot/driver that I know learned to fly first. That went smoothly. Then he learned to drive and proceeded to leave behind a trail of thoroughly wrecked automobiles. The art of seeing and avoiding other traffic in a car and in an airplane bear little similarity. He never had any trouble in airplanes.
I’ll tell you another story that relates to this.
After my father sold AIR FACTS in 1973, he worked a while for Piper. One of the things he did was demonstrate airplanes at gatherings like the Flying Physicians Association had annually.
He had spent all day demonstrating a new Seneca to doctor pilots. At the end of the day, he offered old friend Ralph Hood a ride to the hotel. Ralph accepted.
Ralph told me that his father was about the same age (71) and where my father was out there demonstrating an airplane all day, his father couldn’t even drive. He then added that after a couple of minutes he realized that my father couldn’t drive either. It’s just a different discipline.
Stabilized Approaches Are Holy
I agree that the approach has to be properly stabilized as the airplane crosses the runway threshold but I don’t think that, in a light airplane, it needs to be stabilized on a long final.
A pilot needs to learn the deceleration characteristics of the airplane and once that is done it’s easy to fly an approach that starts at a higher airspeed than is needed at the threshold. I’ve done this in a C-5 simulator and a Gulfstream III as well as in all the light airplanes that I have flown. I don’t recall why they flew a decelerating approach in the C-5, but in the G-III it was a noise abatement procedure.
Face it, if every Skyhawk pilot flew long finals stabilized at 70 knots, that would sure clog up the airport. Keeping the speed up on final is something that every pilot should learn to do.
Boeing 757 Wake Turbulence Is Really Mean
Some years ago there were two wake turbulence accidents involving a loss of control of a private aircraft following a Boeing 757. They are still talking about this in the CFI course.
The accidents rang alarm bells because the 757 was not considered a heavy aircraft with correspondingly higher in-trail requirements for other traffic. The FAA fixed this by requiring more spacing behind 757s but many of us felt like the emphasis on the 757 might tend to make pilots worry less about jets like the 737, of which there a lot more out there spreading wakes that are strong enough to upset light airplanes.
It almost seems like the question is academic because there has been less emphasis on this in recent times and this has not resulted in any appreciable number of wake turbulence accidents. Maybe that is because where we used to often visit big and busy airports, private aviation has all but disappeared at most. There are too many better options and the convenience of delivering passengers to airlines in your private airplane has gone from convenient to bordering on impossible. (We used to actually have a dedicated gate for private airplanes at Newark and Dulles, among others.)
There has, however, long been a myth about wake turbulence in the FAA-approved CFI renewal courses. I pointed this out years ago and it is still there.
A quote from the Gleim course: “Emphasize that the greatest vortex strength therefore occurs when the generating aircraft is HEAVY, CLEAN and SLOW, etc., especially during takeoff.”
If ever you see a heavy jet taking off in a clean configuration, do give me a call.
You Must Learn Gimmick Checklists
There is the DECIDE model with six elements to use in the decision making process. The IMSAFE checklist is for your personal minimums. The PAVE checklist is for use when you are trying to perceive risks, especially in relation to weather. There are others and in every case the letters in the name of the checklist signal something to do or check.
If you wondered about the V in PAVE, it stands for enVironment. Of course.
I have always been a great believer in the use of checklists, but the way they suggest teaching this in the CFI courses is a bit much. The checklists we use on the ground are one thing, the ones we use in flight are another. To me, when something comes up while airborne, the only checklist you need is one that goes, What happened and what do I do about it. That is a natural reaction and serves the purpose quite well.
In an emergency, trying to remember what a bunch of letters stands for is a little like playing the fiddle as the fire rages.
Safety Is Available For Purchase
Here the FAA contradicts itself. On the one hand, it points out that over a recent 10-year period there have been great technology advances yet the safety record has not improved. On the other hand it suggests that buying angle-of-attack instrumentation could be good for your health.
There is always a little more gasoline to throw on the fire, though.
My first thought is that some see technology as trying to dumb-down the art of flying. It is quite true that pilots who rely too much on technology have done some incredibly dumb things in airplanes with all the latest and greatest equipment. That, though, is because they accept the equipment as something that it is not. Pilot-in-command refers only to living, breathing humans.
Make no mistake about there ever being true crewless airplanes, either. If ever an airliner flies with no pilots on board, there will be someone on the ground sitting in front of a big screen with the ability to operate the airplane. This is being proven constantly by our military while using drones for bad-guy suppression.
The question of buying safety has been around for a long time. I remember when the light twin came on the scene in the 1950s a lot of pilots flew one and said they would never fly a single again. To them the twin was magic and it was — until one engine failed and it turned into a totally demanding, unforgiving, altogether nasty airplane to fly.
Whether a pilot is buying a second engine or a panel full of finery, if it is used with the thought that you can do something in or with it that shouldn’t be done without it, trouble lurks.
Hi tech is wonderful but it is an aid, not a solution.
We Are From The FAA And We Are Here To Help You
That has certainly been a myth for a lot of years but it was not always so. It was most true when the FAA was still the CAA for a decade and a bit after World War Two.
At the airport where I started working in the early 1950s, we had an approved flight school. That was a requirement to provide government-funded flight training under the Korean War GI-Bill.
We had no shop or mechanic. The maintenance inspector at the CAA office that oversaw our flight school approval knew this and went out of his way to help keep us out of trouble and in business. His name was Quay Lyle and I remember him patiently explaining to an 18-year old kid how much work I could do on such things as a ring job on a 65 horse Continental and a recover job on a J-3 Cub. Basically he enabled us to maintain our own airplanes with only an occasional visit from an A&E (now A&P) mechanic to sign things off.
Some years after that, after it had become the FAA, they realized that they had lost the friendly touch and to try to regain it they started a dedicated program to get out in the field and help folks. They even bought white cowboy hats for the participating inspectors to wear.
That went by the wayside and today the FAA is, in many areas, a self-absorbed bureaucracy that is expanding to serve a dwindling number of users. The only exception is found in the operation of the air traffic control system where the job being done is both helpful and excellent. Of course that is what the politicians want to privatize. To twist the old saying, they seem to believe that if it ain’t broke, break it.
Learning To Fly Is Easy, Or, Is It Hard?
Learning to fly is wonderful, challenging, rewarding and demanding. I don’t think of it as being easy or hard.
Learning to fly is also unlike learning to do anything else. That is one of the reasons that I pick on the emphasis on the fundamentals of teaching and learning in the CFI revalidation courses. I don’t think that much of what makes a really good pilot can actually be taught. The attributes include the ability to think quickly without making mistakes, to understand the risks, to do the all-important stick and rudder part naturally and with feel and a gentle touch. Add to that an ability to grasp the big picture and where exactly the airplane is fitting into that big picture and you start to get a framework on which to build yourself into a truly good pilot. Sure, a CFI can be a big help along the way but there are a lot of times when he has to be content to protect the airplane while the student works it out for himself.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider that before intercoms there was little in-flight communication between the instructor and student. An old joke from the biplane days was about the brand-new instructor who confused the gosport tube with the relief tube. The latter worked better than the former but they did have entirely different purposes.
Today’s wonderful intercoms make communication effortless. The only time for normal conversation in those old airplanes was while gliding at idle power. When shouting over the clatter of a mighty 65-horse Continental, there is strong incentive to be a man of few words.
Despite this, a lot of really good pilots came out of those Cubs and Aeroncas.
My renewed CFI is good until 2/28/2018.