As you read the accident report, try and accept the fact that a mere 22 years ago, pilots often did things that were questionable at best. To keep the job, to get your foot in the door, or to conform to norms in your company and culture you did silly stuff. Never mind the customized approach to that god forsaken airstrip that you’d been sent to, you’d succumb to things that, technically, may not have been on the up and up with the FARs.
What is even more striking is that all of this “off script” behavior was rarely the stuff that got you hurt. What killed my teachers, was a lack of simple risk mitigation, awareness, and plain old decision making that got the swiss cheese holes to line up. In aviation we recognize that it is a series of things that typically lead to an accident. Our job, to live and be safe, is to constantly be thinking the stacking of bad, vs. the stacking of good. (I wrote about this once upon a time for the turbine crowd here.)
This story is about the day I stopped flying, sometime in 2001, when enough of my mentors had died that I thought, at a minimum, I could take some time off to reflect. I should take a good luck at my own suspect judgement, sub-par skill set and poor choices in equipment, destinations and jobs to fly.
Mostly, it was time to give thanks for the large scoops of good luck that had fallen on me in years where I was doing the riskiest stuff.
Let’s admit that all taildraggers are different. Some way way different. Some are easy and some are mean. I have not landed a Douglas DC-3, but I bet it is easier than a Super Cub on a cross-windy day.
Regarding the cult of the Skywagon and related 185 / 180 obsessors, I can offer this from 47 years of breathing, 25 of which I’ve spent teaching flying things: The Cessna 180 / 185 Skywagon is an easy thing to land, to land well, with grace and aplomb, when you master key principles:
The beauty of mnemonic devices is that they allow the tail wheel, seaplane or helicopter pilot do a checklist without the use of both hands. While there are checklist purists out there who may disagree with my methods, let me offer this: If you fly many different aircraft, whose checklists can be absent, inappropriate, out of date, etc. it is best to develop your own. A good way to build that base, for everything from a J-3 Cub up to t Beech 18, is to use, what I’ll term, “the classics.” CIGAR TIPS and GUMPS (more on GUMPS in another post.)
I’m near certain that umpteen zillion posts have written about this subject. Nevertheless, here I go with my addition to the pile.
How do you teach students to land safely, who didn’t know how to fly a mere 10 hours ago?
The answer, to me, is 100% about feel, energy management (à la glider teaching), looking, sensing and adjusting as necessary. A trap that I, and many of my colleagues, have fallen into is thinking that landing is something a student will embrace if they are given firm numbers, power settings, checkpoints etc. Any type of recipe that emphasizes standardization exclusively does two big disservices to the student:
As a new, old, or “returning” (in my case) CFI, a nagging question might be: “WTF should I charge?” And stumped you should be, since general aviation can be an opaque place that doesn’t love you back as much as you love it. So you ask yourself, “How can I do this for a living?” The answer is you can, but it takes a few key ingredients, rumination and simple action.
What a flight instructor is paid has a huge range and your question might be, where do you belong? And how can you belong, appear, smell or act in such a way that you can ask for sustainable income?
If you live in northern California (or are passing through), and seek to be a more well rounded aviator, consider the wonders of a PA-18 Super Cub on straight floats. It is mild mannered, reliable, honest and peppy enough to get you on the step and taking off in no time.
If you’re not a pilot, fear not – we can do an intro flight / scenic flight where you are at the controls and able to feel what airplanes used to feel like before runways became a thing. Yes, you can be your very own Indiana Jones! Accomplished commercial or airline transport pilot? That “SEL” (Single Engine Land) on your ticket is lonely! Make room for the “SES” (Single Engine Sea).
If you want to book a flight or get some rates, zip me a note.