Dogfight | Three big wishes

June 1, 2012

We launched “Dogfight” in 2010 to offer opinions on aviation challenges that affect us all. Editor at Large Tom Horne and Senior Editor Dave Hirschman have led the attack. Our two combatants square off on their wishes for aviation’s future. In coming issues we’ll feature other editors and ask readers to contribute ideas too.

Spins, weather, and flying clubs

Editor at Large Thomas A. Horne By Thomas A. Horne >

I was going to blog about the three topics that follow. But I feel they are too important for such a casual medium.

Spin training. I used to do spins back when I was flight instructing and when I flew a Super Cub for a while. Then, for decades, I wasn’t really into aerobatics. I always wondered about what the guy before me did to the airplane, how many Gs he might have inflicted on the airplane, how much potential damage was concealed, and the quality and frequency of maintenance and inspections. So I played it very conservatively. Then, as you’ll read in this issue (“Confident in Chaos,” page 50), I went to Sean D. Tucker’s Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety for its confidence training course. It turned out to be a terrific reintroduction to
aerobatics. For me, the biggest key was the instruction. Ben Freelove was terrific. The airplane—an Extra 300L—was sturdy, certified to plus- and minus-10 Gs, and maintained and inspected to a fare-thee-well. It’s the kind of airplane you wear, what with its reclined seat and multipoint Hooker harness. You can, and we did, pretty much everything an aerobatic pilot with intermediate-level skills could do in that airplane.

Today’s private pilot practical flight test does not require that you demonstrate spins. That really ought to change. Knowing how a spin develops, and how to recover from one, is one of the best learning experiences a new pilot can acquire. It boosts knowledge, skill, and judgment the way no “approach to a stall” could ever hope to.

Of course, all spin practice should be done at a safe altitude, and with an experienced instructor. (Yes, many instructors are afraid of spins, and will call for a recovery well before a full spin is entered.) So I say, bring back the spin requirement. Or, at the very least, encourage instructors to introduce students to spins before their first solo cross-country flights—a practice that many already follow.

In-cockpit weather for all. I write about weather all the time. That’s because adverse weather causes most GA fatalities, and pilots are hungry to know more. What better reason to install a source of datalinked weather in each and every cockpit? Manufacturers of handheld/portable GPS units can help out there. One problem is the escalating prices of the newer, more sophisticated units. Meanwhile, older models are doomed to obsolescence through a lack of technical support or updates. Why not continue to support the older models, which still have value and still are available—at much reduced prices—on the secondary market? You don’t need the latest, greatest, and largest-screened unit to give you the kind of Nexrad imagery that can save your bacon on a convective day. Too bad that those on limited budgets have to take a backseat to the latest improvements that only appear in panel-mount displays or require outlays for iPad-based weather data. Yes, ADS-B is one answer, and it can provide weather as well as traffic information. Here’s hoping that this equipment comes as standard equipment in all new airplanes, and manufacturers do their best to make them affordable in the retrofit market.

Bring back flying clubs. Seems like the flying club idea died in the wake of the big GA manufacturing bust of the 1980s. Probably because the manufacturers, producing fewer airplanes at escalating prices, found less demand. In cases where manufacturers required dealers to inventory new airplanes, another dynamic was at work. Dealers—which doubled as flying clubs—sold the airplanes to owners who leased them back to be put on a flying club’s flight line. A 10-percent tax credit sweetened to deal for the buyers, who benefitted from deducting the costs of maintaining the airplanes they’d leased back. Those days are probably gone forever—and so, it seems, is the spirit of the flying club idea. Yet, this can be one of the most cost-effective ways to learn to fly, stay current, or fly for fun or business. AOPA’s Aircraft Partnership Program are showing the way to cost-sharing methods of aircraft ownership. The more sharing of the expenses, the better. And well-managed flying clubs do that effectively. There’s also the social aspect of the flying-club experience. I’d like to think that camaraderie still exists among pilots, but maybe we’ve become cynical and hunkered-down in the face of the economic downturn. I hope not.

Email the author at tom.horne@aopa.org.

Realistic GA sim training, purpose, and community

Senior Editor Dave HirschmanBy Dave Hirschman

My three wishes for aviation’s future aren’t all that futuristic since most of this stuff exists right now. But here goes:

Simulators for flight schools. First, I wish that every GA flight school could have a realistic, full-motion simulator that students could use on an unlimited basis throughout their flight training. Such simulators would enable students to learn at their own pace, thoroughly understand procedures, and master maneuvers before they ever leave the chocks.

The military, airlines, and companies such as SimCom and FlightSafety have proven the value of realistic flight simulation beyond doubt. Now, it’s time—past time—to bring those benefits to GA and create more, safer pilots. Broad use of GA flight simulation would produce better pilots, in less flying time, at vastly reduced cost. The combination of higher-quality training at lower cost has more potential to grow the pilot population and improve flight safety than anything else.

Cross the border. Next, I wish that every U.S. pilot could fly GA internationally at least once during their flying lives. Doing so would allow each of us to see firsthand how onerous aviation regulations are in some countries, and appreciate how precious and fragile the flying freedoms we sometimes take for granted at home really are. As a group, pilots would be that much more united in the ongoing fights against misbegotten fees, stifling bureaucracies, and punitive taxes. If each of us—and perhaps the regulators who keep dreaming up these things—could see the disastrous effects these choking vines have in those places where they’ve actually been made into law, we’d all be better off. The sad result of overregulation is that fliers get grounded, regulators fail to collect as much revenue as they expect, and valuable infrastructure investments are wasted.

America is a special place to fly. We export airplanes and aviation dreams around the globe. Flying exemplifies the very best aspects of our character (independence, craftsmanship, technical achievement, and teamwork), and we must show the way forward by keeping aviation vibrant in the place of its birth. Appreciating the uniqueness of our inheritance is a necessary first step.

Join a community. Finally, I wish every new pilot could be part of an active community of accomplished aviators. Mentors who, through their own life experiences, show aviation’s tremendous possibilities—as well as providing a timely word of encouragement, a well-earned accolade, or a sharp rebuke, if that’s what’s called for—are essential for any pilot to fully realize his or her potential. Lessons learned hangar flying, or at the elbow of a respected aviation elder, reveal insights and ways of thinking about flying that no amount of checklist memorization can ever match.

The best way to honor and repay those who help you over the years is to carry on their example and pass along their practical, hard-won wisdom. Approaching our shared passion in such a way would go a long way to ridding our aviation community of some of the petty, small-minded meanness that too often infects our dealings with each other.

We are at a crossroads in aviation history. Modern GA cockpits are equipped with avionics that show weather, traffic, and terrain that previous generations of pilots couldn’t imagine. We have reliable engines, new materials for making airframes, and the talent and resourcefulness of hundreds of thousands of dedicated people who are committed to advancing the art of flying. The possibility of creating new fuels from renewable resources like algae holds tantalizing prospects for future energy independence.

The essential elements for a new golden age of flying are here. Let’s let the genie out of the bottle.

Email the author at dave.hirschman@aopa.org.