12 min read

The lieutenant that would almost kill us both walked into my office on the second deck of Hangar 23 at Naval Air Station Alameda early on a sunny afternoon, wanting to get checked out in one of the aero club’s Cessnas.

“I want to take my family flying,” he said.

I looked him over—his gold flight wings, pressed khakis, brown shoes—and thought, “Here is a skilled naval aviator.” His polyester khakis along with his brown shoes spoke to me… I wondered how the polyester uniform would behave during a fire: would it melt against the skin, worsening the burn depth, or would the cotton khakis provide a better environment to escape the flames? I think like that sometimes, always wondering, “What if?”

I had been hired two years earlier by the board of directors of the Naval Air Station Alameda Aero Club to be its first full time manager. Now I know many naval air stations have a “flying club,” but Alameda’s was an “aero club.” It was a “non-appropriated fund” activity, which meant that the revenues generated within the club would maintain the club’s activities—no tax dollars could be used to support the flying club. All revenue from the rental rates and dues would have to support the activity.

When I was hired, the aero club had a Citabria, a PA-28R, two Cessna 150s, a Cessna 172, and an old Mooney M20 with the Johnson bar for gear retraction and extension. I had earned my Certificated Flight Instructor rating through the GI Bill and spent four years on active duty with the United States Coast Guard across the bay at Yerba Buena Island. I was interested in the job, as it was something to do with airplanes and my big dream of sailing away as a professional yacht skipper had been scuppered due to a bicycle accident that broke my collar bone.


Those wings can lead you to make some assumptions.

“Have you much experience in general aviation aircraft?” I asked.

“Just during basic flight training,” he replied.

“Oh, OK,” I said. “Let’s get you started. First I’ll need to make copies of your naval aviator credentials and you’ll need to take an open book written exam on the airplane you wish to get checked out in.”

“A, Bee, Dee,” he said.

“What?” I replied.

“Already Been Done—ABD.” He held out the two page, double-sided written exam on our Cessna 172.

I looked over his written answers and could tell from times before that he had filled in the questions accurately and precisely… Dimensions, engine particulars, performance, weight & balance, operating limitations, V-speeds, emergency procedures, etc. He was nothing if not thorough, I thought. Pretty sure of himself, too. Oh, well, you can always tell a Navy pilot, but you just can’t tell him much.

“All right then, when would you like to schedule a flight check?” I inquired.

“I’m available all afternoon. I just finished checking into my new squadron this morning,” he said as he jerked his thumb in the general direction of the entire flight line.

OK, I thought to myself, is he a transport pilot, helo driver, an attack guy, or a fighter pilot? It was hard to ascertain without him wearing his leather jacket where aviators added their squadrons’ patches, which screamed their affiliation.

Naval Air Station Alameda had a naval air rework facility (NARF) on station that took in all kinds of Navy aircraft for repair, upgrades, and engine overhauls so it was common to see all types of aviators walking or strutting around the flight line.

“I’m available if you wish to do it now,” I said. My lunch hour was approaching, so I could finish this checkout within an hour and still get something to eat at the cafeteria.

“Great, let’s Gee Eye Dee,” he said.

“I’m sorry, what?” I replied.

“Get it done—Gee Eye Dee.”

Oh, brother, I thought, not acronyms all afternoon I hope.

“Okay, let’s go see an airplane,” I said as I motioned him to walk with me out of the office. I put the phone recorder on to take calls during my absence and grabbed the airplane’s keys from above the squawk sheet clipboard hanging in the ready room next door. We walked out of the office, along the mezzanine, and down the flight of stairs to the hangar floor.

Our flight line of general aviation aircraft was between Hangar 23 and the field operations and tower building. We were located here, well away from the taxiway, to prevent any jet blast or rotor wash from blowing the little airplanes around on their chain tie-downs. It was about a 300 yard walk to the tower to file our VFR flight plan, enough time after our preflight for me to get to know this aviator a bit more.

Cessna 172

It’s just a Cessna—how hard can it be?

I approached the Cessna 172 with the Navy Aviator in tow and opened the pilot’s door and motioned him to take the seat and inquired, “Look familiar?”

“Oh, sure, a basic trainer, you got your ‘peanut’ artificial horizon, in a basic six-pack arrangement, radio stack, com one and two, nav one and two,” as he touched each radio in turn. “Plus an ADF and transponder at the bottom,” he finished.

“Take out that control lock and I’ll refresh you on the preflight procedures,” I said. Grab the owner’s manual from the seat pocket.”

As he was climbing out, I picked up one of the small yellow wooden chocks we used to chock the left main gear and held it behind my back. When he wasn’t looking I placed it gently on the top of the left wing and left it there.

“Okay, open the owner’s manual there and follow the steps as we go around this machine,” I instructed.

He gamely opened the owner’s manual to the correct page, held it in his hand, and started the walk-around. Of course, when he stepped up, correctly, the first time to inspect the top of the left wing and open the fuel cap, he immediately spotted my “Easter egg,” said, “This doesn’t belong here,” and handed the chock to me. OK, he can see the forest and the trees together, I thought.

Completing the preflight, and finding no issues, we began the walk across the tarmac to the tower building to get a weather brief and file a VFR local flight plan, planning on just flying around the Bay Area, seeing some local VFR reporting points he’d need to successfully fly this little “lawn-mower of the sky” (as he called it), as opposed to the jet aircraft he normally would pilot.

Paperwork complete, weather brief in hand, we returned to the Cessna, untied her, and I took a final walk around to inspect the machine once more. When I climbed in on the right side, the naval aviator had already positioned himself in the left seat and was gently closing and latching the door.

Oh, good sign, I thought, he knows this isn’t a Ford and just slam the door. At least he respects the machine.

Engine start and taxi out to runway 25 was as expected from a professional: proper phraseology, gentle taxi speed, minimal use of brakes, even proper control placement to counter the strong afternoon breeze coming off the Bay. Run-up was by the book and everything was looking good.

“You ready?” I asked, fully expecting another catchy acronym.

“I’m ready,” he replied, getting all serious instead.

“We’ll make this intersection takeoff here to avoid the arresting cable over there,” I said while pointing to the arresting gear about 1200 feet from the threshold. We had a 7400 foot runway and with the wind straight down the runway the remaining length was more than adequate.

“What about landing?” he inquired.

Always thinking ahead. Good man, I thought, staying well ahead of the airplane.

“We avoid the gear on takeoffs and landings by using the runway between them,” I replied while pointing to the far end of the runway where the other set of arresting gear resided, waiting to catch a tail hook to prevent a naval aviator from the waters of the Bay. The cables could be ridden over in a Cessna but if you were at speed, they would snap back up from their “donuts” that held the cable about three inches off the deck and would damage the wheel fairings—just easier to avoid them today.

“Got it,” he nodded.

Bay Bridge

Taking in the sights—what could possibly go wrong?

Off we went, straight towards downtown San Francisco, a right turn out towards the Bay Bridge and the toll plaza, a reporting point before entering the NAS Alameda control zone (I pointed this out). Out to the west of Treasure Island, climbing to 3000 feet, out over the middle of the North Bay area, with the Golden Gate Bridge off to the west. After doing about 30 minutes of air work, I was impressed at how well and precise this naval aviator was on holding altitude and headings, all the while pointing out landmarks for future reference for his family to see and be impressed with.

“All right, looks like you know your stuff. Let’s head back to the air station and make three touch and go landings, first a no flap, then a half flap, then a full flap landing last to get you signed off.” I smiled. This was good; he was capable and prepared.

“Roger that!” he exclaimed, also smiling.

Calling the tower, we were told to “Report the toll plaza; expect right downwind for runway 25.”

Reaching and reviewing the placarded checklist, the naval aviator reported, “Descent and approach checklist complete.”

I glanced down at the fuel selector valve and confirmed it was still where we left it prior to takeoff, on both, then at the fuel gauges, still good. A casual look at the right gear wheel strut and wheel fairing confirmed the gear was still “down and welded.”

“GUMP check complete,” I mused. Nice day to fly, I thought, then I started thinking about what to get for my delayed lunch.

Calling the tower at the toll plaza and requesting touch and goes, we were instructed to enter and report right downwind for runway 25. Descending to pattern altitude and entering the downwind, I casually said, “Remember the arresting gear.”

The naval aviator nodded.

Base turn was looking good and we were on speed. The headwind might be a factor I thought, and could push back the aim point. I placed my hands in my lap, getting ready to… to what? He’s good, let him go do it.

Turning to final, I thought, yeah, that wind has definitely picked up.

Over the numbers, on speed, no flaps, looking good…

Just then the windshield filled with runway! What the F***!

My hands went to both the throttle and my yoke simultaneously, pushing the first and pulling the second faster than a thought. JEEEbus!!!

Splaang! The whole airplane shook and bounced flat back up into the air. I got the nose up I thought just enough to not catch the prop… I hoped.

“I got it, I got it, I got it!” I yelled. The airplane was still shaking. Did we get the prop after all?

We were flying and shaking, 15 feet off the runway. A quick glance at the right gear shed some light on the situation: the shaking and the gear were in time together; the Cessna leaf spring landing strut was correlating with the airplane shaking and as noticed and comprehending that, the shaking was diminishing along with the strut, assuming its rightful place, at peace.

How much runway ahead? What’s our speed? I can get her back down on the runway ahead, I don’t think flying anymore is a good idea.

I was back on the throttle, eased on some flaps, got her down, nosed up, a little flare, and touchdown! Do we have brakes? A pressure on the rudder tops revealed back pressure—slowing, slowing, stopped!

“Tower, we’d like to taxi clear and check our aircraft.” It was me talking on the radio. I hadn’t started shaking yet.

I finally looked at the naval aviator—he was wide eyed and looking straight ahead, hands at chest height. He was saying something. I couldn’t hear.

Clear of the runway now, I pulled to the side of the taxiway, leaving plenty of room. Radios off, brake set, mixture idle cutoff. The prop stopped, and didn’t look bent. Mags off, ignition off, I took the keys. I opened my door and stepped out under the strut to look closely at the prop.



It’s not an aircraft carrier.

I ran my hand along both sides of the blade—no damage that I could tell. I inspected the sides of the airplane, hoping the firewall wasn’t bent. I crawled under the plane to look for leaks. All looking good. JEEbus! WTF?

I went back to my door, where the naval aviator was still repeating something. This time I could hear him.

“I don’t believe I just did that!” He was getting louder each time.

“I don’t believe I just did that!”

“I can’t believe it either… what did you do?” I had an inkling, though: naval aviator!

“I saw the cable and I prepped for a trap,” he admitted.

“OK,” I said,”Let’s go through that.”

Still sitting in the pilot seat, hands mimicking a single seat jet jockey position, coming over the fantail, left hand on a throttle and his right hand on the stick, he went through the motions of landing his jet on the boat. His left hand went full forward, his right hand came aft.

He looked at me. He was slowly, sadly, shaking his head “no.”

“Well, there, you have it, a case of negative transfer! Just don’t do that again in these airplanes,” I cautioned, trying to rally my emotions.

He was still shaking his head “no.”

I asked, “You want to try that again, now that we got it figured out?”

He looked at me, didn’t say a word, but kept shaking his head, “no.”

He pointed to the hangar line. I understood.

Andrew McDonough
Latest posts by Andrew McDonough (see all)
44 replies
  1. cornelius cosentino
    cornelius cosentino says:

    Thanks, good story…
    USAF has only 15, Navy 4 and US Army 2…


      I agree, when this flight occurred, there were four military flying clubs in the Bay Area alone.

    • Mike McGinn
      Mike McGinn says:

      Mil aero clubs are a dying breed. The liability insurance is “through the roof” expensive (way more than you’d pay in the civilian world) which makes it nearly impossible to survive and the base commands no longer support them (even if they claim they do).

      As for mixing up the left hand and the right, I did that on one of my early GA flights (after 1,500 hrs of flying F/A-18’s). My CFI gave me a simulated go around on short final, but I quickly caught my error and reversed my power/flight control inputs before anything bad could happen.

      For those that don’t understand tactical military aircraft, the left hand controls the throttle and the right hand controls the stick. The instinctive “muscle memory” for a go-around (or a trap in the wires) is left hand forward [full power], right hand back [rotate to on-speed/climb attitude]. In GA it’s the opposite…left hand back [rotate to climb attitude], right had forward [full power, mixture rich, carb heat].

    • Chris Isler
      Chris Isler says:

      Mr McDonough
      Good read. I was interested in your Bio. You mention your Dad twice. I too became a pilot behind my Dad a naval carrier pilot and in my endeavors always mention him as my inspiration. Where it got more interesting was a parallel to that seeing where you went from navy to Eastern he went to Western and you both ended up at Delta. He retired about 10 years before you. Did you ever fly with Joe Isler?

        ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

        Chris, I searched for your Father’s name in my logbook, unfortunately it did not appear.

  2. JimMacklin
    JimMacklin says:

    I was a CFII-ASMEL at Wichita accords town from McConell AFB. Most of the military pilot’s were excellent once they learned ground control didn’t have their ram] location or flight plan. Then they had to find the VFR grass strip 25 miles away.
    One F4 pilot came to me after failing his ATP flight test with the FAA. He wanted a sign off so he didn’t have to wait 30 days for a retake.
    We used. BE76 Duchess. He could control fine but his mind ignored the SE SERVICE CEILING and worse, he didn’t intercept the GS and manage speed.
    I did not sign him off. THE FAA INSPECTOR thanked me saying the oral shouldn’t have passed.
    One bad egg.

  3. Randy L Barnard
    Randy L Barnard says:

    I prefer when flying a new plane with an instructor, the instructor makes the first landing so I can get a feel for the plane. Maybe the young “Fighter Jock” would have benefitted from a “let me show you” approach on the first landing. Breaking what had been hammered into him for months prior to this flight.

  4. Scott
    Scott says:

    I found the story a little perplexing. Theoretically, a naval aviator should be the “best of the best,” right? Almost astronaut? On the extreme end of trainability? And yet he totally lost situation awareness at the precise moment he needed it, and in a totally different cockpit environment. All of the cues—sights, sounds, feel of the aircraft, the instructor sitting next to him—were utterly different, and yet he loses the “right stuff” and becomes a rigid, one-trick pony? What did the military training do to his brain?


      Scott, I can only speculate that the Naval Aviator saw the cable go by and none ahead and not slowing down and “reacted”; wrongly it turned out. That’s what “Negative Transfer” is all about.

    • Greg Fowler
      Greg Fowler says:

      Scott, what military training did to his brain was teach him how to fly an ultra-high performance aircraft. You start, as the Lieutenant mentioned, in general aviation aircraft. And, at the end of years of training, you are fully qualified to fly incredible machines. But it is a completely different world from light aircraft. Things happen very fast and habit patterns become critical and ingrained. Habit patterns that keep you alive in one aircraft, but will kill you in another. That is why in both the airlines and military you can only be qualified in one type of aircraft at a time. There have been numerous accidents of very experienced pilots that did the right thing in the wrong airplane.

      • Mike McGinn
        Mike McGinn says:

        Even that first “GA” aircraft (if he flew the T-34) was “wired” the other way…throttle in the left hand, stick in the right hand, so the “muscle memory” is backwards for a military pilot transitioning to GA.

  5. William Hunt
    William Hunt says:

    Did he get back on the horse? After a colossal screwup like that, I’m thinking he probably learned his lesson.


      William, on the taxi back to the Aero Club’s flight line, the Naval Aviator lamented that had his family been aboard, it could’ve been a catastrophic accident and he wished never to allow that to happen. I did not sign him off for solo that day, his name occurs only once in my logbook and I never crossed paths with him again.

  6. Chris Wolf
    Chris Wolf says:

    I find this hard to believe. We have military pilots that have never flown a small plane before? God help our country.

    • Mike McGinn
      Mike McGinn says:

      Chris, Having never flown in my life prior to going to flight school, I went from 68.8 hrs in a T-34C (a 550 hp turbo prop that can fly 250 kts) to 95.5 hrs in a T-2C (a twin engine jet which I landed on an aircraft carrier after just 163.9 hrs of total pilot time) to 115.1 hrs in at TA-4J (a single engine jet from which I dropped bombs, did “dog fights”, and again landed on an aircraft carrier) to earning my wings. I then went on to fly my fleet aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet (a twin engine, super sonic jet). That’s 279.4 hrs from never having flown to flying the hottest jet in the fleet back then. I didn’t fly my first “small plane” until 5 years after I got my wings. By then I had 1,300 hours of pilot time and I’d flown an F/A-18 from South Carolina to Japan…twice. Learning to fly “small planes” would have been a waste of time. As a matter of fact, those who came to flight school with prior GA experience had a “leg up” only for about 2-3 training sorties after which everyone was about the same performance wise (otherwise you washed out).

    • Mel Function
      Mel Function says:

      As an experienced high time B767 pilot proved to me that a C172 was difficult for him to land. His landings were ARRIVALS!

    • Chris, to the contrary, the Navy now has a program where prospective Naval Aviators go through a sor to pre-Flight training with a civilian contractor flight school.
      Chris, to the contrary, the Navy now has a program where prospective Naval Aviators go through a sor to pre-Flight training with a civilian contractor flight school. says:

      I’m a former Navy Flying Club Chief Flight Instructor with the NAS North Island Flying Club. Nicholas (Nick) Pipitone.

      Earlier years on active duty, stationed at NARTU Alameda maintaining and crewing Lckheed P2 Neptunes.

  7. fdryer
    fdryer says:

    Great story and even more so with the aviator admitting mind set in the wrong aircraft. Declining to continue is admission of a traumatic event. Hopefully this was just another hard lesson on complacency(?) and he returns to continue and complete his check ride to enjoy casual flight with family someday.


      fdryer, That flight was our only one together, I did not sign him off for solo nor did we cross paths again.

    • john
      john says:

      Agree. Negative transfer is so darned unexpected. This article is another EXCELLENT reminder of the many gotchas in aviation (or elsewhere).

  8. Richard Cassel
    Richard Cassel says:

    This is a great illustration of pilot perspective; everyone approaches a situation with their own background and experience. Assuming that the pilot’s last several hundred landings were carrier style, it is not surprising that they influenced his attempted landing in a 172. We might all be quick to say unthinkable given the pilot’s extensive training but consider that every year there are multiple stall-spin crashes on base-to-final turns. We are all trained to disregard our natural tendencies to pull back on the yoke when low and slow, but somehow, pilots continue to do it. Bottom line: it is almost impossible to know how someone’s prior experience will get them into a bad situation.

  9. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    I learned to fly with the Aeroclub at Elmendorf AFB, from November 1972 through February 1973. One of the things my instructor ingrained in me was that military aviators are not necessarily good GA aviators, just because they have thousands of hours in high performance airplanes. That’s not an indictment of military aviators at all; just a recognition that airplanes are different, and we have to respect the differences.

    One of my ground school compatriots was married to an F-4 pilot, who was giving her a whole lot of erroneous advice. We both had the same flight instructor. One day, she was questioning him about her husband’s advice, which was markedly different from our instructor’s. His answer went something like, “do you want to learn to fly Cessnas, or do you want to learn to fly fighters? I don’t know anything about flying fighters, but I can teach you to fly Cessnas.”

  10. David Abate
    David Abate says:

    I learned to fly at an Air Force aero club in Lackland, TX in the 70’s. My CFI was a Major, a fighter pilot, who volunteered his time. We went up in a Cessna 152 and he almost killed us twice. First he allowed me to come within 100′ of a guy-wire supporting an 800 foot tower. On a second occasion, ATC blew me out of my seat with a panicked shout to “descend immediately to avoid oncoming traffic…”. Two seconds later my windscreen filled with pointed noses and canopies heading right for me; a training flight of four jets then broke left and right to go around us and left us buffeting in their wake. I was 19 at the time and trusted my life to this guy because of his title. Years later I realized he must never have consulted the sectional to learn of local obstacles and restricted zones! Jock mentality can be dangerous, indeed.

  11. Steve Mosier
    Steve Mosier says:

    Without details I am acquainted with a mishap were a pilot habit transferred 737 procedures to a fighter on takeoff. Net result loss of An aircraft and death of a spectator.

  12. HAK
    HAK says:

    I’m a flight Instructor and this is strange. Why did the instructor let it escalate to this level? I’ve flown with both excellent and terrible sky jocks! Navy was the worst because they leave their feet on the floor and do not know how to take off or land in a crosswind to save their souls, because of he ship is always pointed into the wind. Those wings of gold are actually wings of mold.! Their brass has them all pumped up to think they are the best of the best until they enter the real world.

  13. Larry Sietsma
    Larry Sietsma says:

    I can understand totally. In Naval flight school, we were trained for 3G carrier landings from the very beginning in the T-34. Later, when I joined the airlines, I had never been exposed to the concept of flaring. In the simulator, it did not become evident. However, in the actual DC-8, when I shot my first approach, it became a problem. The aircraft was on rails from the outer marker so the instructor was at ease. As we approached the runway, I didn’t dive for it but simply didn’t even think of flaring. After we , the instructor turned and said, “Why did you do that?” On the next approach and the many thousands afterward, I always flared.

  14. Rivegauche610
    Rivegauche610 says:

    I left this story very sad for that aviator. He was obviously an excellent pilot. I’m sorry he wasn’t able to overcome what happened and make it good for himself.

  15. Kent Faubion
    Kent Faubion says:

    I’ve never flown anything more exotic than a Cessna or Citabria, but I can totally relate to the negative transfer. After several hundred hours flying nose wheel aircraft, I decided to get rated for tailwheel aircraft. After all my previous time in typical Cessnas, Pipers, etc., with left hand on the control wheel and right hand on the throttle, I was training in a tandem seat Citabria with stick in the right hand and throttle in the left. For 99% of the flying, the transfer was fine, but when learning to wheel land, with the little nudge forward right after the wheels touch, I had a terrible time NOT pushing the throttle forward instead of the stick. It gets you when there is no time to think – you just react.

  16. John Whitson
    John Whitson says:

    A sort of similar experience;
    Sitting around the FBO at El Monte with no students scheduled I was listening to a small group hangar flying. It was a hot summer day with most dressed accordingly. One guy in flip flops, T shirt and shorts was telling about his days flying Corsairs (the F4U gull wing types) off of carriers. Everyone was impressed. After a while he said addressing me, “I’d like to go up”, I of course said Ok thinking I might learn something from his experiences.
    So we headed out to the Cessna 150 flight line, no need to check for medical or licenses he just wanted to fly again. After the pre-flight, cockpit familiarization and a little instruction on how to start the engine he started the engine, set the RPM and checked oil pressure satisfactorily. The flight line was pretty crowded with a couple of feet between wing tips so I took over to taxi us out of the cramped quarters to the taxi-way (little did I know at the time what a wise move that was!). Arriving at the taxi-way I turned it back over to the Corsair pilot. He taxied out to the end of the runway for the run-up – Ok but with very definite control authority. After an Ok run-up I called the tower “Cessna ___ ready for take-off”. Tower sez “Cessna ___ cleared for immediate take-off traffic on short final” So I told him to go ahead and take the runway which he did, adding a lot of power and about the right amount of left rudder to get lined up. When lined up and nose wheel centered he went to full power then after rolling a few feet he slammed in full left rudder which spun us around 180 degrees and gave us a good view of the landing aircraft at about 100′ altitude directly ahead through the windshield. Appreciating this wasn’t a good place to be, I said “I’ve got it” added a lot of power and ran back to the run up spot. At this point tower sez “Cessna___ Taxi back to tie-down?” I said “affirm”. The remainder of parking and walking back to the FBO was as I recall without comment or discussion as the Corsair pilot was embarrassed and quickly left. I’ve occasionally wondered why he did what he did; A BSer who never flew anything? Unlikely. I could see the habit of putting in a lot of rudder in a Corsair when full power was applied – but LEFT rudder?? Looked up direction of Corsair prop rotation – nope that wasn’t it, it is clockwise. Maybe he confused his left from his right in being rushed. In any case I do recall thinking “I sure am glad he did that on the ground instead of at 100 or 200 feet altitude.

    • Kent Faubion
      Kent Faubion says:

      Or he got his toe too high and hit the brake when he meant to apply a little rudder. It sends you quite suddenly towards the runway lights (or worse). Ask me how I know…


    Dear Andrew: Interesting story. As one poster suggested, you might have considered demonstrating the first landing without flaps and a second with flaps , since the naval aviator had long forgotten the techniques employed in a Cessna 172. I also feel that as a CFI, you should have insisted he use the prelanding checklist regarding speeds on downwind,base and final. A mental picture of your landing technique would have negated your “Holy S—t, what just happened!”


      Hi Michael, I did just that along with our half hour or so of air work, practice “ pattern flying”, giving the Naval Aviator the “magic numbers” of pitch and power for the C-172, descending throughout in a simulated pattern at altitude, with a go-around after each one so the Naval Aviator had the “picture” of what to do at each leg of a real pattern. He was doing just that on the first real landing, everything looking good…..until the last. I had placed my hands in my lap, just inches from the controls, because it’s my nature not to trust anyone, and was able to react swiftly enough to avoid digging a hole with the spinner.

      • Nicholas Pipitone
        Nicholas Pipitone says:

        Greetings Andrew.

        So many new upstart students are introduced to landings when instructors start them of with flaps, thus complicating the issue and prolonging the progress. ZERO flaps to start keeping it simple until acceptable landings before introducing flaps.

  18. Jon K
    Jon K says:

    Great story, pleased the pilot was humble enough to realise and explain their error and not get defensive but sad they didn’t continue to overcome it (at least with you).

    A similar thing I have experienced (and more than once) is with pilots flying Citabria’s. The throttle on the Citabria is high up and the trim, a similar knob, lower down near your hip. New pilots at some point sometimes will drop their hand onto the trim knob and leave it there and mentally think their hand is on the throttle. Time comes to apply power and they push the trim fully forward. The first time this happened was on late final and I called for the pilot to do a go-round. The aircraft bunted forward and the pilot released the controls yelling “handing over engine failure!” as he had been applying more and more throttle (trim in actual fact) for no response (other than the controls getting very heavy). It woke me up as the pilot had been flying nicely up to that point and I was relaxed and pattering the approach, I was not prepared for the sudden pitch forward and filling of the screen with the piano keys.

    After that (happened many years ago) I always guard the stick for a pitch forward now on late final. I have caught that mistake several times since then with pilots, even after briefing the possibility.

    Have to admit I suffer from similar negative transferrance – I rarely fly Citabrias from the front seat and am used to trimming with my toe (no trim knob in rear seat, so have to use my foot to reach the front seat trim) so on rare occasions I am in the front I sometimes catch myself going to trim in general flight, lifting my foot off the rudder!

  19. Jorge Alvarez
    Jorge Alvarez says:

    I have a friend who is an A320 pilot with more than 10k hours and he struggled to get back into the C172.


      Jorge, it happens, I retired off the A-320, and my first flight in a DA-40 after that, my instructor was curious why I was flying such a “wide pattern”…. I had to get used to GA speeds and distances all over again, my sight picture was used to twin-jet speed and distance.

  20. Ian Hollingsworth
    Ian Hollingsworth says:

    Great story. Many years ago a former A-4 pilot was transitioning from being a co-pilot in (if I remember rightly) a Sabreliner belonging to Eastman Kodak Corp. He had many hours with the left hand on the throttle. I wish I could find the motor-drive images taken by a by-stander when they removed the landing gear from the airplane after the exact same kind of event. Someone got the whole sequence.

  21. Timothy M.
    Timothy M. says:

    I find both this story and the comments interesting. I recently retired from a long career flying high performance, fast moving jets. I did solo a C172 before joining the military in 1981, but it’s been all jets since then.
    I have a desire to fly light aircraft as a hobby in my retirement so I am taking lessons with an instructor. While the learning curve is certainly shortened by my decades of experience, I am learning there are so many things that are counter to my instincts. I didn’t realize how many habits were deeply ingrained during my years as a fighter pilot, and now I need retrain my brain. To me, it’s like taking lessons in a foreign language. Sure, I have been speaking at a high level for decades. I understand syntax and proper grammar. But, this is a completely new language, so we are starting our journey with elementary grammar and the basics.
    Funny, when I first met my CFI, she remarked, “What can I possibly teach you with my 710 hours total time”… after my last lesson, when I marveled at her crosswind, gusty day landing.. she said, ” Remember, I have 688 more hours in this Cessna than you”. It has been work, but I learn something new every lesson. And most of all, it’s fun.

  22. Alan T
    Alan T says:

    Do you have any pictures of the Aero Club here at NAS Alameda? We have the museum for NAS Alameda set up in bldg 77, the former Air Terminal at 2151 Ferry Pt Road. Like to check out what you have and see what we can post and contribute to the history here. I never knew there was an Aero Club here. I learned to fly at Travis AERO club when it was on base, now it is in Rio Vista.

  23. RichR
    RichR says:

    Even as an NFO (think Goose, but less cheerleader, and not dead) there were cues/environmental things to unlearn. The GA sight picture on final equates to about 3000 fpm descent in TACAIR, I just couldn’t point the nose down on final until I asked my CFI to demo it and follow me along after. Then there was the GA flight at altitude doing power off spins…when I hear “DEEDLE-DEEDLE…!!!” WTF?! how did I get that low to trip the radalt?!… better spin recover…scanned pressure altimeter, 4000’…ok no issue, reset the…I DON’T HAVE A RADALT!!! (DEEDLE DEEDLE continues) what else could be squawking at me? doesn’t sound like a stall horn I DON’T HAVE A STALL HORN…mist starts to clear as I add back power…CELL PHONE!! I had programmed my wife’s ring tone as a somewhat comical crisis ring, never realizing its similarity to our old radalt tone…combination of forgetting to turn off ringer and perfect timing of call during power off completed the set up.

    The most dangerous negative transfer to GA is the assumption that the throttle will get you out of trouble anywhere near what it would do in TACAIR. Max power GA climb rates equate to an emergency in TACAIR…and you aren’t going to effortlessly top weather or icing in GA. GA does have safety advantages, no one is shooting at you, no mission MUST be flown, the runway is where you left it, gas is available everywhere, and if you just don’t feel like it, you don’t have to…think carefully before giving up those advantages!

    Flying as an NFO and flying GA the vast majority of pilots in each are responsible adults, though there are $&@es in each, a broad assessment of either as idiots is probably more a reflection of the opinion holder.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *