In many countries, you can’t fly VFR without reference to the ground. This is applicable even to sport, recreational, and student pilots in America, but usually after you are a private pilot you can. But what if you need to land?
I became a flight instructor late in life (my mid-50s) and it has been fascinating after many years of “left seat” flying to take this next step in my flying career. Shameless plug and article spoiler: If you’ve ever thought about becoming an instructor after years of flying, you’ll be fascinated by what you experience and learn in the process of training toward the CFI and even more once you earn the certificate and begin your CFI flying.
In flight, assumptions are the Achilles heel in safety. One cannot press on with the assumption that all is well, when a crushing burden of mounting evidence is screaming against further pursuit. The fallacy of not knowing the unknowns ahead leads one to despair.
Both of our kids were in the backseat of our Mooney 201 headed off to visit one grandmother or the other before they were two weeks old. Stancie and I never really gave it a second thought. But that was 40 years ago. And much has changed—actually, almost everything has changed—when it comes to risk assessment for young children.
I agonized over this for a very long time before I bought my first airplane. It seems to be one of those endless hangar discussions that divides pilots into one of three camps that almost serves as a form of introduction. And so, “Hi, my name is Dan, I’m a high-wing guy. How about you? Oh, you like low wing aircraft because you can see the numbers as you turn base to final?”
While we were hanging onto the balloon to keep it on the ground, a group of high school age kids approached us. They were obviously super excited about being up and close with it, which is great—I love seeing it. But after conversing I realized that they didn’t understand general aviation at all. What I gathered from them was that everything with flying seemed out of reach.
If I were an airplane, I would be a Cessna 182. Because it “drinks” a bit, but it’s a trustworthy, sturdy airplane. If I were an airplane, I would be the Cessna 182 because it is simple and obvious but delivers what it promises and rarely lets you down. You can’t say it’s pretty, but it won’t scare you with its looks. It’s not nimble, but it climbs well and doesn’t need much runway to take off…
Most flying instructors will be familiar with the sight of student pilot nerves and most pilots can remember experiencing them. Learning to fly presents the student with all kinds of challenges. How each person reacts to these depends upon their individual strengths and weaknesses. For some, they must overcome a fear of flying itself.
The original intent of contemporary cockpit automation arose from the capabilities view of technology, in particular the capability to optimize aerodynamic efficiency while also optimizing airspace utilization. This was, and still is, clearly a machine in the service of man. The intent of automation began to migrate toward the cybernetics view with the notion that we could automate human error out of the equation.
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” This Leonardo da Vinci quote is everywhere — aviation books, magazines, websites, Instagram posts, coffee mugs, tee shirts, several science textbooks and some Smithsonian publications. Yet Leonardo da Vinci never said it; and it’s nowhere close to 500 years old.
Who would have guessed? Most pilots—notably airline ones—are flying less than ever since March, and the number of unstable approaches has skyrocketed. According to a recent report from the International Air Transport Association, the rate of unstable approaches per thousand flights jumped from around ten to fifteen monthly in the last two years to 28 in April and 37 one month later.
This 1,200-word piece is not intended to be a manifesto of advocacy for autonomous aircraft. Its purpose is to explain what autonomous control systems in general do, and—at a very perfunctory level—how they do it. It is not a blueprint for how to build one. But if nothing else, it shows that that real people like me actually have considered these things, and have figured out ways to do them successfully.
You have probably seen this before: a GoPro video showing a pilot struggling with large inputs on the yoke, giving the throttle a hard time with either high thrust or idle power, and after a fair amount of time focused on that demanding approach, a smooth touchdown followed by a reassuring smile. On the title of the video, something mentioning a high crosswind component, and below, the comments saying that the pilot nailed it like a boss. Did he or she?
A number of years ago safety and training experts realized few, if any, crashes were being caused by the events pilots spend training time for. Those action-packed simulator sessions were difficult, and we sweated through them, but in reality accidents were happening because of much more mundane aircraft failures and pilot mistakes.
With the honorable exception of the freighters, fighting the pandemic directly and covering for most of the belly cargo network lost due to the lack of passenger flights, pretty much everyone else in aviation has been flying less, perhaps not at all, during the last couple months. That is not healthy, either for humans or machines.
I’ve struggled with writing about this tragedy for a long time. I wanted so much to give other pilots a glance at this image, hoping a few might take a moment before a flight to see if there were any gotchas they missed amid their haste and distractions. But I recoiled against the prospect of telling a very personal, painful, and graphic story about a good pilot buddy. Finally I decided to just start writing.
Regardless of license level, elements of being a good pilot normally include skill at operating the airplane; book knowledge; situational awareness of everything going on around the airplane and what it means; and experience. All of these are, good, no doubt about it, but what additional elements can be incorporated to make an even better pilot? In effect, what would constitute an Honors Course in flying?
Very early in a pilot’s initial training the instructor will reduce the power, raise the nose, feel the airplane shudder, the nose drops, and the CFI releases back pressure on the controls and adds power. See, that was a stall. Not so bad. Nothing to be afraid of. Really? Stalls are the leading cause of fatal accidents in general aviation airplanes.
Airplane inflation has gone up more than wage inflation, but if my grandson wanted to learn to fly when he’s old enough, I suspect the money wouldn’t be an issue. The thing that has changed in his case—more than the money—is the logistics.
As pilots, we are all to familiar with the problems on the Boeing 737 MAX. We are being told that faulty software is the cause. Yes, there were or could have been problems with the pilot training, but Boeing is re-writing the software and when complete, the problem will go away and the aircraft will be safe. Or will it?