License to Learn

Oshkosh 2011

October 1, 2011

Rod MachadoElectric airplanes, synthetic vision, and iPad accessories—these things, and much more, were abundant at this year’s EAA AirVenture. Having just returned from the festivities in Oshkosh, I’m here to say it was an exciting year. But it’s the people, even more than the advanced technology and sexy airplanes, who make the experience particularly interesting to me. Everyone has a story to tell, and I take tremendous pleasure in listening to these tales of know and woe and sometimes ho-ho-ho.

At the beginning of the show, a flight instructor approached me and offered a warning to all those training new students. “Always make sure you ask if they have any physical disabilities before you start training them,” he said. “If you don’t, you might get a big surprise aloft.”

“How so?” I asked.

Apparently this instructor had one student show up for his first lesson, which was 30 minutes of ground school followed by a 45-minute lesson. During the flight, the student looked over at the instructor and asked, “Excuse me, do you mind if I remove my leg?”

They didn’t cover that in CFI school. The instructor told me he said, “Well, that depends. What other parts are you planning on removing?”

It turns out that the student was wearing a prosthetic leg and hadn’t found a way to comfortably adjust himself in the seat. Unfortunately, the student didn’t inform the instructor about the prosthesis before the flight. Of course, there’s no reason that this would prevent someone from flying, but it did take the instructor by surprise. So it’s certainly wise to do a little leg work and ask your students about any disabilities beforehand.

A fellow pilot from my neighborhood in Southern California told me about testing the brakes on his new Pulsar. He had been working on the airplane for a while and finally had the brakes connected and ready for a taxi test. He hadn’t yet installed the wings on his airplane, which was about to bother someone else more than it bothered him. He taxied out at one of our local nontowered airports to do his taxi test. A student pilot in another airplane spied him, picked up her mic, and yelled, “Don’t take off! Don’t take off! You don’t have wings!”

He laughed and told her about his taxi test. Of course, I promptly scolded him for missing a golden opportunity to say, “Oh, my gosh, I need to do a more thorough preflight next time.” Had he done that, this young lady would have had an amazing story to share with her comrades in flight.

One young man who flies Beech 99s for a commuter airline told me about a paying customer he had sitting in the co-pilot seat on a recent flight. She was nice enough until right after takeoff, when he reached over to her side of the panel and set 123.65 in the auxiliary communications radio. At that point she started fidgeting and giving him the evil eye. He thought he might have offended her, but he just couldn’t figure out how. Upon landing, he taxied to the gate, shut down the engines, then looked over at her and said, “Ma’am, is anything wrong?”

She pointed to the frequency in the communications radio, looked over at him with a scowl and said, “They quoted me $85.50 for this flight and I ain’t paying that amount.” Apparently she took the idea of air taxi literally.

One of the things that always strikes me as fascinating are the confessions nonrated spousal passengers make about their nervousness aloft. These are typically individuals who have never taken a flying lesson or an Air Safety Institute Pinch-Hitter® course. It’s not hard to imagine how nervous someone might be without at least a basic understanding of how and why airplanes fly.

One lady told me that on an early flight with her newly rated husband he mumbled, “Oops” right after takeoff. Now, there are two places that you don’t ever want to hear the word oops uttered. One is in a tattoo parlor; the other, an airplane. For the next 45 minutes she sat in her seat contemplating every danger scenario that her fertile imagination could cook up. Finally she couldn’t stand it anymore, so she looked over at hubby and said, “Ahh, sweetie, has that oops expired yet?”

Another nonflying spousal partner told me that when her husband does something scary in an airplane, she grabs her rosary and gets down to business. She said that she occasionally gets so nervous that those beads move through her hand faster than an ammunition belt through a machine gun.

I always ask these individuals if they’ve ever taken a Pinch-Hitter course. Most say they haven’t, or that they were concerned they might be asked to physically fly an airplane when they really didn’t want to. I can certainly understand their concerns. On the other hand, a good course can decrease the nonflier’s anxiety by providing her or him with a sense of control over their environment.

So excuse the shameless plug here, but I hope you attend this year’s AOPA Summit in Hartford, Connecticut. Aside from being another exciting aviation gathering, AOPA will be offering a Pinch-Hitter program taught by a highly skilled and personable instructor named Susan Parsons. You (and your nonflying friend or partner) will love her and the course. I promise. I hope to see you in Hartford.

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