My adventures in the right seat

After an initial stint of flight instructing for pilots who were either owning or renting, my father, zealously attached to his Cub, met a fellow at the airfield, and conversation revealed he owned a Commander 112 and desired to begin instrument training. Dad obtained his phone number, I called him, and soon after I was in the right seat of this pilot-oriented aircraft.

Our first instrument flight was his last, as a student. He lasted less than 5 minutes under the hood. I never got him positioned under it again, although we flew many flights together, several cross country, with me as the instrument rating if needed.

My first beginning-to-license student was a colleague of my other employment. I contacted an FBO at in Columbus (CMH) and utilized their Beech Model 19 Musketeer Sport. My friend was a good student, first or otherwise. After work our offices often became a ground school. He passed his private checkride in fine style. I later instructed another work colleague, our director of engineering. I had to repeat no technical explanations; he was also quick learning to flying the Cessna 172

I neglected some requests; a few VFR pilots requested to fly instrument approaches under the hood. I never said no – just had them attempt steep 360s and a few other activities such as holding a heading with speed changes. They never repeated the request. I would not provide the first stride to someone’s illicit flying.

CFI in airplane
You’ll meet all types of people as a flight instructor.

A friend of a friend’s son had been accepted to the US Air Force Academy, and he desired to find out if he liked flying. I contacted a colleague and CFII who was instructing at The Ohio State University Flight Training Clinic. He inquired and there was room for me. I began instruction in Cessna 152 N190SU; I learned to fly in Cessna 150 N19OSU. This “new” model had a rear view mirror which Cessna listed as a $17 extra. Unless one wanted to shave in the plane I never found any use of it.

My student was a senior in high school, a football and basketball team member and fit easily into the student–teacher relationship. He did not make a significant mistake from first flight to license sign-off. He never made an approach or landing that I had to correct. I would take control of the Cessna on base, flying too low with the nose not heading in the correct direction, then return the control to him – and he recovered and landed. I never followed up if he entered the Academy. If he didn’t, the Air Force missed a good pilot.

Later after flying with many others I concluded the positive response to instruction was approximately inversely proportional to the age of the student. Many intricate factors are involved, such as: what if I crash (wife and kids); I should be at the office (apprehension of not being able to perform, especially BFR flying); other expenses. I found less variation in instrument students than private students with the exception of my friend not “fitting” under the hood.

I did not utilize a hood for instrument flying during my private lessons; a plastic panel when detached from overhead was positioned behind the front window which allowed only one color through. Goggles were worn which only allowed a different wave length thus no forward visibility. This was similar to actual in-clouds flying. This was good for scanning, however, it provided a limited view outside the cockpit.

Instructing at the OSU Flight Clinic was a mixture of friends and students assigned to me by the very capable flight coordinator. A student, a friend of a friend, was a psychologist at a state penitentiary. He mentioned several different thought patterns he had experienced, and he was a very good student exhibiting considerable enthusiasm.

A relative of his was scheduled to marry, at a location in Alabama. He determined we would fly to the wedding and the flight school had a Piper PA 29 (counter-rotating Twin Comanche) with four seats. He shook the family tree and found two distant relatives to fit in the back seats. The not-to-miss event was scheduled for late Saturday afternoon, and I filed up and headed south to Alabama. This flight was a good experience for the shrink. The total attendance of the wedding was less than 15, and I sat right side first row with the groom – otherwise he would have been alone.

Another student was a friend, PhD-type, very aggressive and eager to get in the air. I mentioned the medical exam, including the student certificate, was required. The next day he presented me with his student certificate, ready to fly. We flew in winter. I sent him on his first, short cross-country returning to land at Columbus then the short distance to OSU. He slid off the runway at CMH into the snow bank at the edge of the runway. This was an accident because the nose gear was pushed back, bending the firewall. No problem. I sent him off on his long cross-country, the same CMH to OSU leg for the last two locations. He again slid off the runway into snow at CMH, just an incident this time. This was the only accident or incident of my teaching career.

First solo student
There’s not a better feeling in the world for a CFI.

A young fellow drove some distance to begin his commercial, and he flew whenever he accumulated funds for the next lesson. His tenacity was rewarded; he flew gas pipeline patrol low and slow in a Cessna 152. The most frequent (and at least potential) problem he encountered was digging near the underground pipeline. He’d call the office and they would send someone to advise the line was near.

I had three students who did not complete the course. The first was the emotional hood conflict previously described, and the other two were private students, both professional gentlemen. One was a financial type. After the first lesson, I walked with him to his car – and saw my first and only student driving a Rolls Royce. He operated from two offices: one in Columbus, Ohio, and the other London. He had a few Rolls Royces, note plural, at both locations, as he “collected” them. I flew with him for four lessons, and prior to the scheduled fifth lesson, he told me he would not continue, as he now understood flying did not fit into his lifestyle.

The other student was somewhat the opposite. He owned a business, as I came to understand with a partner, and my new student could not wait to get in the air. I won’t attempt to classify his emotional profile, only to say he was very excitable. I admit I did not react to this vibrating personality by discussing the need to slow down and smell the roses rather than to trample the vegetation. My first mistake came when it was time for his dual cross-country. I gave him three airports to which we would fly. He wanted to take his partner with him to “demonstrate” flying.

I should have rejected this, but didn’t. I scheduled a Cessna 172, the instrument trainer, and took off from the first airport, Findlay, OH (FDY). The next destination was east, and an east-west interstate highway passes near the airport but there is also one going south. Our pilot made the map fit the ground and headed south. I attempted to get the compass to head in the direction of our desired destination. Finally I pointed out the different directions the government had constructed the highways. I should not have allowed a passenger on a first cross-country flight, as it most likely increased his vibration frequency.

Our final flight came not too long after his southern aberration. After some dual in the pattern, he was high on short final. He applied full flaps and pointed the spinner at the numbers, about 200 feet above the middle of the runway. Just above stall I commanded, “go around” and he dropped the flap handle all four notches and raised the nose of the 150! I grabbed the wheel, added full power and lowered the nose – stall warning chattering. The wheels did not touch, however they were very close when we began to climb.

I lost it. I “chewed” on him until I had the plane back on the ground. I never heard from him again. It was my responsibility, the instructor, to keep students from stumbling into this precarious situation, let alone get out of it. Later I considered contacting him, but my conclusion was to leave it alone since I might save his life some flight in the future.

Right seat adventures continued with pilots owning an aircraft without an instrument rating. An evening flight to Illinois and dinner with the pilot’s brother, a professor at The University of Illinois, was a typical “Can you fly with me?” trip. A longer trip to which I added vacation days was the flight to Homestead (X51), Florida, with a friend visiting his brother at the Air Force base next to the Everglades. I flew on to Key West the next morning and then to The Bahamas. This was off season, and on short final at North Eleuthera and I called the resort on their Unicom for a room – there was no one else staying there at the time. I had an interesting return flight to Miami, landing at Bimini for lunch where two fellows were waiting at the airport for a ride to Miami to return with a boat. They rode in the back to the US; all of us through Customs and Immigration friendly and quick.

Pilot in cockpit with instructor
Sometimes quick action is called for.

My second student to fly into a profession was the friend of a friend. My friend had a Cessna 172, an in-between model. This was a 1960, first of the swept tail and, as Cessna labeled it, “revised” landing gear. The back window appeared in 1963. The rear window fit close to the functionality of the rear view mirror. Anyone ever hear of a pre-1960 172 landing gear collapse? The student was a Columbus policeman, previously with the narcotics squad and now vice. He had interesting encounters to reveal. The Columbus Police flew Hughes helicopters, and he decided obtaining a fixed-wing license would increase the probability of being transferred to the flight department. It did, and he became the left seat spotlight operator.

The department procedure was to remove the left cyclic, leaving it at the office. He was promoted to pilot, then sent to The Ohio State University flight department for his training. Before the first flight, the instructor inquired, “What do you know about flying a helicopter?” He answered, “nothing.” In the air after the demonstration, the student was given the controls, which he flew not as a know-nothing pilot. The instructor landed and asked, “Now how much do you know?” Later he became an instructor.

I was instructing at the Flight Clinic seven days a week, five evenings, if not on a business trip and weekend mornings, at least. My orientation was flying. That would change; a position in the international division of the company was available, and my decision was to see the world rather than continue in the pattern. I was soon located in Ireland, followed by South Africa. I finally ended up residing in the Philippines, and I had flown in each place. I even had a Philippine private pilot license, a story for later. Now with the ailments of age, the sound of an aircraft passing overhead pulls my gaze upward. Jets don’t have the aural captivation of propellers.

2 Comments

  • Thank you very much. I enjoyed your stories, and look forward to reading about getting your Philippine pilots license.

  • George,

    I like your Jack Webb “just the facts ma’am” style.

    By the way, I did find a use for that rear view mirror on one occasion. After turning onto the wrong taxiway at Atlanta’s PDK I told the controller I’d turn around. He replied:

    You got one of those mirrors in that 150?

    Affirmative.

    Look in it.

    There were two King Airs right behind us.

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