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Pilot training versus flight training....

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Frank Giger
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#1 Posted: 12/6/2010 04:10:45 Modified: 12/6/2010 04:28:12

As a soon to be ex-student, I thought I might share some observations on what makes a CFI a teacher rather than an instructor.

My current instructor is actually my second; I switched from my first after two hours.  The biggest reason I dumped the first one was purely physical - I didn't want to train for one license (Sport Pilot) in an aircraft designed for another (172, and therefore Private).  But a large part was the sense that he was teaching me to fly a plane in a purely mechanical way, with little context of the why.  Do X, get Y.  He also was very quiet with little by way of feedback, trying for aloof but coming off as bored.  I got the impression he might be logging time as a CFI on the way to other career goals, and it didn't really matter who was in the left seat for this hour.  He also sniffed at the notion of Sport Pilots.

In other words, a perfect case of instructor/student mismatch on a whole lot of levels.  He's competent and I don't want to sell him too short in one paragraph, especially since I only had two lessons with him; but at around 200 bucks an hour I don't have the fiscal patience to build up report.

My current instructor, however, really impressed me from the get-go.  He asked why Sport Pilot rather than Private, but in a way that came off as wanting to make sure that it fit my flying desires.  The answer is simple - I have no desire to fly when I can't see out of the aircraft (night, bad weather, mist, etc) and so learning a bunch of skills that would simply evaporate over time due to disuse seemed wasteful.  Likewise, I'm building my own plane which will fall under LSA qualifications, so it's a fit.

He took that at face value and then asked a few general medical questions - just small talk around the edge sort of stuff that eventually lead to "do you have any reason to believe you would fail a flight physical?"  It sounded pretty weird, but he later explained that some people think of Sport Pilot as a doctor dodge, and if you're not well enough to fly a 172 you shouldn't be flying a CTLS (I agree).  I didn't get the physical, though.  Not because I'm afraid of it, but because it's one less thing I can fail to go get at the appropriate time (I'm infamous for failing to get my car tags and driver's license renewed on time).

And then he laid out the syllabus, including a rough timeline by hours with a lot of caveats ("if you have trouble with something, we'll spend more time on it until you can do it safely," and "it also depends on how often you can fly.").  While my first instructor was more than willing for me to just show up, fly my hour with him, pay, and be on my way, my second asked if I had ground school study materials ("No." "Order some tonight - I have some recommendations.").

Oh oh.  This guy's serious about this, and expects me to be, too!

Plus he had an LSA available to train in, so I'm using the right gear for the right task.

During my first pre-flight with him I got corrected quickly for grabbing the checklist and starting right in on it.  "Whoa, what are you doing?  Before you get six inches to the airplane, come back here about ten feet and just look at it.  Does it look right?  See any bird crap on it, which means maybe one got in the hangar and is trying to start up a nest somewhere, or dirt daubers flying around?  Are there oil stains or gas slicks under it?  Is it sitting level?  The check list is a guide, but it's not an inspection."

My whole experience with him has been like that - one doesn't enter into the pattern at a 45 at the correct altitude because that's the book answer, one does it because that's where other pilots will be looking for you.  Don't rely on the radio - look, look, LOOK around; not everybody has a radio (we fly in uncontrolled airspace) and pilots are people (this demonstrated itself to me quite literally when on my second hour of solo a fellow was one airport over from where he thought he was and went right pattern on a left pattern strip, without a radio and matching me on the downwind on the other side!  I went long to base and let him have it.).  Follow the rules not because they're the rules, but because almost everyone else does and that makes things safer....and most of the rules actually are there for very good reasons.  But always watch because it's only almost everyone else.

So I've been getting PILOT training - how to think as part of the whole of aviation rather than simply flight training operating as one guy in a finite universe the size of the aircraft.

The funny thing is that the why and the context really help out on the mechanical operations.  Why the pattern?  Because it's consistent, and if you fly consistently you'll get fairly consistent results.  Why was I all screwy after my turn to final?  Because I cut my turn in to base too soon; and I cut it too soon because I was too high on the pass of the numbers and fell into the trap of using a landmark instead of paying attention to the aircraft and adjusting for it ("Learn landmarks and you'll land here; learn distances, altitudes and airspeeds and you'll be able to land anywhere.").

I'm pretty typical for a Sport Pilot student - 45, bald, and motivated.  I'm used to learning things within broader context, and really do need to know the why of things; not to challenge them, but to understand how it fits into the larger scheme.  I actually do the homework assigned, and don't mind the pop quiz to find out what I don't know, so give them both to me.  I can take it when I'm not making the grade and need more training on something (I think I'm gonna get a bumper sticker that reads ASK ME ABOUT CROSSWINDS), and I appreciate an acknowledgement when I get stuff right.

And I don't need a friend.  I don't need a driving instructor.  I need a teacher and mentor.  Lucky for me, I got one.

 

 

 



Rod Witham
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#2 Posted: 12/7/2010 04:07:03

Frank, yet another insightful post - thanks. You know, people are gonna expect this from you all the time now...

 

I wish we had more instructors like the second one you described.

 



Lee Tenhoff
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#3 Posted: 12/10/2010 11:24:14

Well said Frank.Please give us your angle on crosswinds.You are already teacher to your readers.cheers,lee



Michael Gerard
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#4 Posted: 12/10/2010 13:46:48

Frank, thanks for this post.  I'm 35, working on a bald spot, and motivated.  I'm planning to begin Sport Pilot training next summer, and your post gave me much to think about as I begin my search for an instructor.  Best of luck as you finish up!



Keith Sanford
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#5 Posted: 12/10/2010 19:35:09

Great post, Mr. Giger!

I'm 47, balding and very motivated. Your account of your process is a great help to me. I too, will be building an LSA and choosing a CFI this Spring for Sport Pilot lessons. Keep us posted on the aircraft build as well. It all serves as motivation to me.



Frank Giger
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#6 Posted: 12/11/2010 02:00:55
Lee Tenhoff wrote:

 

Well said Frank.Please give us your angle on crosswinds.You are already teacher to your readers.cheers,lee

 

Well, one always read about how grand the rite of passage the solo is, but it was probably the most unclimatic part of my training - popping around the pattern was relaxing and fun, particularly since I didn't have 160 pounds of simulated engine failure removed from the right seat.tongueout

Due to a maintenance issue with the plane (somebody did a hard landing and tweaked the gear), I had a two month break in training.  We went from big turbulence and gusts that exceeded whatever the horizontal winds were by six knots (I swear) to fall winds that were a perfect 90 degrees to the runway with mild turbulence.

To make matters worse, I decided very early on that I would have my instruction in the afternoons, usually at 1:00 p.m., so I got the worst of it.  The idea was that while it is more challenging to learn then rather than first thing in the morning or late in the evening when the air is better behaved, I want to have it thrown at me with an instructor handy and get those skills as early on as I could.  Lemme tell you, it pays dividends!  Give me zero gusting at two and I'm literally chuckling with how fun and uncomplicated it is....not that I'm an ace that greases it in, but it sure is nice to put a plane on the center line and not have to do anything to keep it there other than fly straight.

So, anyhow, my first taste of meaningful crosswinds were a terrifying 7 knots gusting to 10 - but at 90 degrees to the runway.  I'd of taken another one if the airport had been so kind as to lay one out for me.  The CTLS is not very crosswind friendly, and there was A LOT of instructor "help" in landings.  I stank so much at it that everything in the syllabus went on hold until I could get ahold of this, as crosswinds happen.

Part of my problem was that I was afraid that I'd break the airplane (there are several students flying it, so it could have been any of us that torqued it).  If you don't fly confidently, you can't fly well.

I was scowling after that first hour.  Two days later was a repeat.  Just couldn't maintain the centerline and was yawing at the flare.  I could hear what the instructor was saying but just wasn't comprehending what to do.

"Dagnabbit," he said (or words to that effect), "aileron left, rudder right, and keep it straight all the way down.  Keep flying the airplane all the gosh derned way to the runway and while on the runway.  Give me the controls, I'll show you again, you follow through on the controls."

"You have the controls/I have the controls/You can have these blankety-blank controls."

Lightbulb.

"It's a slip," I exhaled, "it's just a *******' small slip that you hold, letting one wheel come down first, using the rudder to counteract the turn to keep it straight.  And then let the other wheel come down as the airplane stops flying."

"Two hours and it finally sank in, huh?  Let's do one more and then put her up in the hanger; you're whipped, and next week you'll be able to come out and land these no problem."

We did two more, and on both I didn't need any assistance even though they were ugly.  I was pretty disheartened, though.  Everything up to that point had gone really well, and I was struggling.

"How many of these have we done?" my instructor asked.

"Twelve.  Twelve *******' disasters."

"The last two were all you."

"And they stank."

"Landing is all about the last ten seconds," he explained, "which means you have one hundred twenty seconds - two minutes - of actual experience in real crosswind landings.  And this plane is the hardest plane I've ever had to deal with on crosswinds." 

Well, I did a head check that weekend.  If the plane breaks, it breaks.  Worrying about it won't keep it unbroke - flying well will, and that means doing "the thing with the thing" and concentrating on what I'm doing and doing it as I've been taught.  I knew there was going to be something that was going to hang me up, and this was it.  Darn it, I've been getting too much satisfaction from flying to let this whip me. 

I let the words "I am piloting an aircraft" roll over me.  How cool is that?  I am piloting an aircraft!  Me!

So four days later we had a break - a sixty degree crosswind - and sure enough I had the measure of the problem.  Part of it was having the task click in my head, but a big piece was not worrying about this, that, or what might happen and just go for it as it came, one turn and flare at a time.

Final prep for check ride on Monday and then the Big Test as soon as I can schedule it.



Jerry Rosie
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#7 Posted: 12/11/2010 13:01:54

Frank - I know that I wished you good luck on your checkride a few messages back, but if you can fly one quarter as well as you can write, I'm gonna withdraw that wish as you won't need it.  Have you ever considered writing a training manual/autobiography?  It would be very helpful to all student pilots to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences.

 

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Frank Giger
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#8 Posted: 12/12/2010 00:10:16 Modified: 12/12/2010 00:23:55

You're too kind!

I thought about writing a short book going hour by hour through training (I kept a journal of sorts), but to be honest I don't think there's much a market for it....nor is it exactly virgin territory in literature.

The only thing that really frustrates me about the current "sales" of flying is that it's made out to be far too complicated and difficult to do.  Honestly, learning to fly a plane in daylight VFR with good conditions at an uncontrolled airfield (using the golf rule*) is really not any harder than learning to drive a car.  Some stuff - crosswinds and short field landings - could equate out to learning how to drive on slick roads or in traffic.  Anyone in good health and average intelligence can do this.  And no, one doesn't have to have a zillion dollars saved up or a corporate CEO to afford it.

What I have thought about is a book about the airplane build, since I'm starting with just basic knowledge of the skills required for a tube and gusset fabric covered plane.  Building the rudder was the first time I'd pulled a rivet.  And I haven't installed a carburator or set timing in close to thirty years.

More importantly, it's killing me that there is a lot of stuff about which forms to fill out in building a plane and comments about showing builder's logs to the AD, but nothing about how to make the log, what one looks like, and exactly when in the build what paperwork gets done.  Ditto engine and airframe logs.  I know there's no exact way of doing it, but there is an acceptable standard - and I'd appreciate at least one example of a passing builder's log.

Anyhow, I scheduled my check ride for this Friday, weather permitting.  Monday is final prep, but winds look iffy - might have to push off to Tuesday, when they look better if the schedule allows.

On instructors, a caveat:  my instructor is a great instructor not just because he's experienced and set up his one man school because he loves to fly and wants to teach others.  He's a great instructor because our styles and demeanor match pretty closely and he has a really good read on what people respond to.  I'm sure somebody else might not respond as well as I have to him.

I think he picked up pretty quickly that I've got thick skin and that subtle hints don't really work for me.  And that while I will never lie in the air, I will occasionally crack wise.  It's a big measure of his professionalism that he never breaks composure; maybe a dry remark, but he makes sure it's all business.

I think the closest I came to making him break up was when we were doing emergency procedures at take-off.

"What would you do if we lost power here?"

"Pitch forward to glide, aim for that dirt field to our left front, and say 'you have the controls.'"

* If you wouldn't play 18 walking on the course in this weather, don't try to fly over it.



Jerry Rosie
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#9 Posted: 12/12/2010 07:44:18

Quite true - many books have been written for the student pilot, but, are they all as readable and interesting as your two offerings on this forum?  Beating the competition is not all about being the first but about being the best.....  Let us know how your checkride goes..

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Frank Giger
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#10 Posted: 12/12/2010 23:44:07

Well, unless my weather dance works out, it will probably get pushed off.  Sigh.  Heck, looks like my last hour of prep tomorrow will be a no-go due to winds.  I still make the minimums of three hours, but we agreed that one more (or two) is in order.  I'm sticking three of four short field landings; I'd like to make it eight of ten.

You might be right that it could be worth the effort.  For all hundreds of tomes on flying, the best I've read yet is still Stick and Rudder!  Go figure that the guy in 1944 would be able to put it down in a way that has stood the test of time.

Though the parts about crosswinds didn't sink in for me after reading it TWICE, obviously.

And there's a few things that I do that might not be "book correct."  For ground reference manuevers I don't really look at the ground reference, other than turns about a road.  I pick out a landmark and fly to it.  So when I'm circling around a point the last thing I'm looking at is the barn or whatever....I'm just keeping the right bank to put me over the top of something the right distance from it and then move to another a third the way around.  Okay, it wasn't my idea but my instructor's to pick them out and use them, but I only look towards the point as part of ensuring I'm not going to fly into another aircraft.

The fancy such-and-such degrees on downwind, such-and-such crosswind, etc., are imaginary for me, other than not to perform knife edge turns.

On turns about a road one obviously has to use the road as a waypoint in the manuever.

Oddly enough, I got a big jump start on a lot of stuff by being a combat flight simulation weenie.  I was pretty convinced that just about zero would transfer to actual flying, but a lot did.  I'll post the link to the article on it I wrote for SimHQ tomorrow.  The theory of flight, gauges, instruments, language, and sightlines on angles of pitch and roll were already in my noggin, which was a plus.

Not that loads of stuff wasn't alien to me.  Oh, am I crappy on the radio!  I've got it to where my poor instructor isn't embarrassed to be in the same plane with me, but it's a huge area of improvement for me.  I finally broke down and practiced the same way I used to teach my guys to call close air support - arms outstretched ("I'm an airplane") and walk from radio check with UNICOM, taxi, takeoff, exit pattern, come back into pattern, pattern, and exit of the runway.  Sure it looks stupid and the neighbors who can see into my back yard think I'm an idiot or on drugs, but I'm credible in the air now.

I stink at remembering numbers, so I made up a set of flashcards on 3x5 cards with our plane's statistics and some other important stuff on them.  At work when time and circumstance allows I flip through them, trying for 100%.  For the few that I just couldn't get I finally just wrote them each down fifty times.  Who'd of thought that ninth grade history class disciplinary measures would be worth something as an adult (and for the record, I will never forget that "writing notes and throwing them across the room is not allowed."  Bah.  It was worth it.  That redheaded gal I was trying to impress married me fifteen years later.).

So I'm kind of a goofball and unconventional on how I look at not only flying, but most everything.  I'm not sure how much will transfer to normal people.



Jerry Rosie
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#11 Posted: 12/13/2010 08:40:40

winkFrank - Goofball may just be the right approach.  Your method of doing turns around a point was the way I was taught to do it.  Looking at the point you are either too close or too far away before you recognize the fact.  I still think you have a saleable book in you....




Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Frank Giger
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#12 Posted: 1/19/2011 01:04:07

Sorry to bump my own thread, but passed my checkride without a hitch.  Almost anti-climatic, other than I blew the first approach to the short field landing and had to go-around.  Nearly did the same on the second but went for a big forward slip to landing and erp'ed her in okay.  Since both are part of the eval standards no harm done.

Other than the weather, which caused four reschedules!  The plus side is I wiggled in some extra solo time when the weather reversed itself after a cancellation....and it's never a bad day when one can take to the air.

The funny thing is that it hit me that I now know just enough to understand just how much I don't know....and that's a lot!



Jerry Rosie
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#13 Posted: 1/19/2011 09:41:05

Major Congrats, Frank.  We knew you'd do it.  And that go around was not counted against you but showed the examiner that you had the good judgement to go around rather than try to salvage a 'muffed' landing.  Now you can continue your own instruction without paying anyone....have fun!!

Oh -- a PS type thought.  Now that you are legal and recognize the need for continuing training, consider getting involved with the FAA's WINGS program.  Good way to structure that training and meet the BFR requirements at the same time.  Details are available at. http://www.faasafety.gov/Default.aspx

Blue Sky...

 

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Greg Schultz
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#14 Posted: 1/19/2011 15:19:28

Congratulations on your cert.  I'm currently seeking an instructor for my Sport Pilot and hope I can find an instructor as competent as the one you found, because like you, I need to know the Why behind the rules.



Frank Giger
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#15 Posted: 1/19/2011 16:59:39

Thanks all!

I'll pick up on WINGS next year.

As I put in my status, I view myself as a "zero hour" pilot.  Fortunately, I'll be under the supervison of a CFI for some time yet during what I consider my most important hours at the stick, since it is in the next fifty or so that the habits and true approaches to flying will form.

The beauty of the Sport Pilot license is that it is bare bones. 

I'll be back to see my instructor for my Controlled Airspace endorsement.  While there are some friendly Class D, low traffic fields within reach, my CFI has balked at the idea of using them with a robust Class C airport within a quick half hour's distance (if that, we're at the 20 NM range).  "I won't endorse you for the minimums; go find someone else if you want to half-a** it."

Plus tailwheel training, which is a must for the Nieuport I'll be building this summer.  Fortunately, the local school that offers it uses the J3 Cub, meaning I'll get two endorsements at once (conventional gear and the AP-2 set of aircraft).

Figure five hours for airports and ten for tailwheel (I always highball for accounting purposes), I'll have almost as much in concurrent training after my license as I took to get it!

One of the good markers of a quality CFI is a willingness to continue training.  Even if I didn't go for another endorsement and stuck with what I got, a standing offer to take a quarterly or biannual refresher to ensure I haven't picked up bad habits or forgotten how to do skills I won't normally use (short and soft fields, for example) wasmade.  It's not that he's trying to keep a stool handy for the money cow, he's rightfully concerned about the very few hours required before the check ride.

Muffing around and grabbing extra time after I was okay'd for my check ride, I wound up with about 26 hours from first flight to license.  That's pretty scary in some ways, and logical in a lot of others.  Since it was uncontrolled airspace with very little traffic, I could (and did) log 10 to 12 landings in an hour.  At check ride time I had over 150 landings under my belt, and yes, I did need to do every single one of them!



Brady Lane
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#16 Posted: 1/20/2011 15:07:47

A big CONGRATS to you Frank!!  

I've enjoyed your posts here very much.  I'm in line right behind Jerry to purchase your book once we can convince you to write it.



EAA 808095 Multimedia Journalist
Doug Snead
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#17 Posted: 3/4/2011 02:18:20

" "Landing is all about the last ten seconds," he explained, "which means you have one hundred twenty seconds - two minutes - of actual experience in real crosswind landings. "

 

Yeah, that's tough only getting 10 sec of 'real' x-wind practice per landing.  My first (and one of the best I know) instructor solved my crosswind problems with this technique:   fly a normal pattern....then instead of pulling power going into the flare, add just a touch to keep it level (5-10 feet above).  Then fly down the runway with crosswind controls in.  Being so close to the centerline, you get instant feedback on any drift or yawing.  Do this the entire length of a 6000' runway and your 10 sec now turns into 60 sec per pass.  I like instructional tips and tricks... I wish there were a good list somewhere.   

v/r,

Doug



Bill Greenwood
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#18 Posted: 3/6/2011 13:18:14

Frank , to be pilot is mostly about the student's attitude . 

Yes, a good CFI helps and may make it more fun, but you are the real factor.

I'll bet you $20 that if you do 3 lessons a week without fail, you'll have that rating inside 3 months.




Bill Greenwood
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#19 Posted: 3/6/2011 13:26:45

Asking "why about everything can be overdone and slow down progress. Focus on learning the basics., don't make the CFI stop teaching the rules and procedures every time to explain why.

If you come to Colo and want to learn to snow ski ( very fun and not too hard), do you really need to know how nylon and fiberglass are made and the glaciers formed the mountains? Or do you need to keep your head up, eyes looking ahead and turn with your knees?

Sometimes why can enhance memory, like keep your pattern banks to about 30*. Why? Because the stall speed goes up so much over 40* and the overbanking tendency. 

But above all, don't bank steep when low and slow like in the pattern.




Bill Greenwood
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#20 Posted: 3/6/2011 15:08:47

Congrats.

Students should remember that as for as solo you have already done all the flying the last few hours with the instructor just sitting there, so you know you can do it.

Almost as true for the flight test.

I have tried to write some better posts on this, but keep having trouble with the computer going off, so that's why this is choppy.



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