May 1, 2004
By Alton K. Marsh
Pilots from six states have trained with Arthur A.C. (Tony) Markl in Marydel, Maryland. The majority simply want the most experienced tailwheel instructor they can find to help them earn a tailwheel endorsement.
Many others — from student pilots to ATPs — just desire to be better pilots.
Markl dispenses information about safety and handling emergencies in any airplane, but he does it from his 1947 Aeronca L-16A tandem-seat tailwheel. He jokes that the aircraft is fully restored but he "isn't restored at all."
Is the 68-year-old Markl qualified to challenge what seem like unalterable truths of pilot training? After more than 17,000 hours of flying in 95 makes and models of aircraft (40 of them tailwheel models), it would seem so.
Unlike many pilots, Markl didn't develop a passion for airplanes at an early age. Bored by his technical writing position at what was then McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, he joined the Air Force in 1956. He first learned to fly in a Beech T-34, a North American T-28, and a North American B-25 bomber.
He later transitioned to Boeing B-47s and -52s before volunteering for service in South Vietnam. There, in 1964 at Bien Hoa, he delivered the first Douglas A-1E Skyraider, a huge 2,700-horsepower radial-engine tailwheel bomber and attack aircraft.
He ended his Air Force career flying C-47s (the Douglas DC-3) over Europe.
Then came a job with Pan American World Airways that included a dream lifestyle. Markl lived on a boat in Marsh Harbor in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas. To get to work he'd row a dinghy ashore, pay $10 for a taxi to the airport, and ride free jump seats to Berlin to fly Boeing 727s all over Europe for 18 days. Pan Am died in December 1991, and Markl claims he hasn't flown a tricycle- gear airplane since, having devoted his time to tailwheel instruction and the aircraft fabric re-covering business that he operates on the Maryland-Delaware border with his wife, Pat.
The six engine failures he has had during his career are now woven into his flight instruction. He refers to one of those incidents as "my best example" of how to have at least half a plan. (He says you can't plan fully for emergencies.)
It occurred in September 1969 when he was checking out in a Grumman AA-1A. After the instructor declared him fit to solo, Markl wanted to try stalls, slow flight, and power-off landings. On the second takeoff the engine quit abruptly: Markl had 3.5 seconds until impact. He used his three-step "half a plan" technique — fly, find a field, and fix it.
First he flew the airplane at the appropriate pitch and bank angles. Second he found a field. His only alternative was to make a dogleg left to a field that was higher than the runway. While doing all that, he attempted the third step — fix it — but routine emergency procedures wouldn't restart the engine.
The airplane flipped over. Markl was unhurt but felt fuel dripping down his ears. Time to release the seat belt. Remembering a flight instructor who was uninjured when he crashed inverted in Vietnam but broke his collarbone when he released his seat belt, Markl extended an arm to break his fall, released his belt, and emerged from the aircraft unscathed. Markl uses that experience to get his students to think critically about commonly accepted practices.
He doubts that pilots should always track the runway centerline on climb-out. Yes, if airport procedures dictate, climb on the extended centerline. But if they don't, is there better terrain for emergency landings to one side? Think about it.
And what about turning base? Most pilots are taught to turn when the approach end of the runway makes a 45-degree angle behind their aircraft. "Their neck is turned aft of the direction they are going, and that could lead to a midair," Markl suggests. The method he uses is to count: He finds that a range from 10 to 30 seconds works well, and he adjusts the count to accommodate winds. That allows him to scan for traffic.
Markl also "debunks" this accepted truth of piloting: Always fly directly on the course line. What pilots should do, he says, is fly to one side of the course line in order to see the objects that tell them they are on course. Otherwise, the nose blocks the view.
To those who want to learn, Markl is a patient and giving teacher. In the words of his wife, Pat, "He likes improving things, particularly minds."
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
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