Landing the Cessna Skywagon and Related Mythology.

185-landing
Yes, it can be this easy.

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:

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Buy Learn Fly

Some new or aspiring pilots know what they want: Big tires, a tailwheel and being “off airport” just as much as “on airport.”  If you land on the water, or are a helicopter, you’ll get used to the tower saying “land at your own risk.”  This is music to the ears of those who chose a slightly unconventional learning path.

What do you seek? (In your aviation dreams?)

The cookie cutter flight school program? Or do you value critical skills early on that are often not taught until you fly your first seaplane or gravel bar landing tundra tired Super Cub?

It wasn’t too long ago that we all learned to fly a tail dragger in a field somewhere near a bigger airport.  Most also turned out to be really good pilots for the simple reason that they had to use their feet (i.e. rudder) and an intuitive connection and approach to much of their flying.  Just ask Sully.

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CIGAR TIPS

cub(aka CCIGGARR TIPPS)

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with my methods, let me offer this:  If you fly many different aircraft, whose checklists can be absent, inappropriate, out of date, etc.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.)

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Pattern Work

US Navy F-18 Landing Typical Profile

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:

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NOTAMs: “What if, instead, the Authorities had simply written what they meant?”

Routes of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Singapore Airlines Flight 351, including airspace restrictions

 

Mark Zee’s statement above is sticking in my mind as I prepare for the IFR add on to my CFI.  Mainly because I see it leaking into how we learn.

Archaic CFII and IFR prep questions remind me that much aviation is more about a right of passage than learning.

Becoming a rockstar at decoding weather outputs should make you wonder.  And on a more crazy note, let’s look at the rafts of NOTAMs we’re all asked to process – before each flight.  Then consider that a NOTAM’s obvious urgency could have saved Malaysia MH17.

What if the crew knew what the NOTAM meant, that would have saved their lives?

Continue reading NOTAMs: “What if, instead, the Authorities had simply written what they meant?”

No Coffin in My Corner – Airplane Talk Demystified

One of the strangest flight characteristics to the uninitiated non-pilot types, or even fixed wing private pilots, is that jet aircraft have aerodynamic qualities in the upper flight level that are a design limitation: They can both overspeed and fall out of the sky, at pretty much the same speed.

Coffin corner is a great concept to explore since it is both the yin and yang of flight. Or put another way, it is a strange intersection of where too slow meets too fast. The most noteable accident that was a stall that started near coffin corner was Air France 447, which is a good example because after suffering the effects of it, the crew wasn’t able to diagnose that a stall had even happened.  Continue reading No Coffin in My Corner – Airplane Talk Demystified

BFL and why it matters

BFLFor those pilots out there this post will cause you to wonder “why is he writing that?” followed by: “I know about that.”

I know you do – this isn’t for you.  It’s for everyone else.  With the high profile accident at Bedford, MA (KBED) this past weekend with a Gulfstream G-IV N121JM running off the departure end of its runway, it at least warranted a post.  While the cause of the accident is yet to be determined, a lot of our non-flying followers and members queried us about what happened.  While we can’t answer, we thought it at least appropriate to have a balanced field length or BFL explanation since when everything works as advertised, balanced field length is what makes every departure, or aborted take off go smoothly.

The good news is that BFL is all about safety.  And while a non-pilot will never have to compute it, knowing what it is will at least make you feel better about those hot and heavy take offs on days when you think that the airplane is working extra hard.  Continue reading BFL and why it matters

Staying Relevant as an Astronaut or Bus Driver

900px-Astronaut-EVAGlamor fades.  Whether it is the sun, radiation, or just the sum total of alcohol consumed by pilots, the trend is that we are on our way out.  And many of us don’t like such talk.  But this article on Sully and the Miracle on the Hudson really brought it home for me.  Learning years ago was harder since you had to do more of it yourself.  With a pen.  Or pencil.  And an E6B maybe.  Oh, and a watch.

The best quote from the article might have been: “Twenty-five years ago, we were a step below astronauts,” says one veteran pilot. “Now we’re a step above bus drivers. And the bus drivers have a better pension.” Continue reading Staying Relevant as an Astronaut or Bus Driver

Boeing’s 787, Batteries and Growing Up Fast

787-battery2-c-NTSBThe problem with new technology is that …. well… just so damn new all the time.  New, as in, you don’t recognize that battery running down the street.  Even though you thought you knew what a battery was, you actually don’t know enough about science stuff, like chemistry (and physics things, like ions) to realize you are using a new or dangerous battery that has little compartments (cells) that can actually fall off a potential energy cliff, set fire to their neighbors, and give you a fire, that, well… not even a certified aircraft can put out. Continue reading Boeing’s 787, Batteries and Growing Up Fast

Do Glass Cockpits Make Us Safer?

The topic of “does glass make us safer?”  caught my eye while reading this month’s BCA magazine.  (A related podcast here.) In the intelligence section there was a blurb on how the NTSB can’t correlate any improvement in safety stats with increased use of and prevalence of glass cockpits. This is a significant lesson for humans regarding our use of and approach to better technology: We are a greedy species.  We take, but find it hard to give. Continue reading Do Glass Cockpits Make Us Safer?