Memorable TeachersIn the most recent issue, I mentioned my old CFI, Dick Branick. He read the column, and called me. We "did lunch" together and rehashed old times.
I got my multiengine and instrument ratings under Dick's tutelage in the mid-1970s, and he put me through the wringer both times. By the time he signed me off for each checkride, I felt confident. Indeed, both checkrides went without a hitch, and today I remember the stress of Dick's instruction much more than any checkride stress.
Yes, Dick was tough, but we did have fun together, and our recent luncheon was rife with laughter as we brought back the old memories. His teaching was high stress but never dull. Each flight was a contest during which I tried to do it right, and he tried to catch me goofing up. I still remember with mixed feelings his gleeful delight each time he caught me in error, but I also remember the day he gave me his highest accolade as he signed me off for the instrument checkride: "Actually Ralph, you're a pretty good instrument pilot."
One of my best memories, though, is of the time-oh, joyous day-that I caught him in an error. We were in a Cherokee, and he was flying. As he went through the checklist, I noticed that he had failed to turn on the electric boost pump. I was delighted. I distracted him in every way imaginable as we pulled onto the runway, and I sat back in absolute bliss as we took off. After takeoff he lowered the nose and, at the proper point, reached out to turn that boost pump off. I chortled in delight as I did my best imitation of him, asking if he intended to kill us, if he needed help reading the checklist, if he thought he knew more about engine operation than both Piper and Lycoming. It was one of my proudest moments. The older we get, the better-and more loudly-I remember it. Dick, on the other hand, says he isn't sure that it really happened and is beginning to wonder if I made the whole thing up.
I also remember the day Dick was teaching me aerobatics in a Great Lakes open cockpit biplane. I was in front; he was in back. He demonstrated each maneuver, and I tried to duplicate it. After a while I abruptly announced that I was airsick, and he would have to fly back to the airport.
His answer was short and simple, "Hell, no. You fly. If you're sick I'm keeping my head below this panel and clear of the slipstream." I flew.
I had more tailwheel time than Dick, and one wonderful day I lucked into a sensually smooth wheel landing in that Great Lakes. Dick was mightily impressed. I, of course, pretended that all my wheel landings were perfect.
Then there was the time we were test flying a brand new Piper Arrow, and the engine quite suddenly ceased to operate. The speed with which we got it running again was a testimonial to the value of proper training.
Most of all, I remember that Dick taught me things that kept me alive, and he insisted that I learn them right.
My wish for all young CFIs is that 20 years from now you might have lunch with a student who remembers you with the same respect and appreciation that I feel for Dick Branick.
By Ralph Hood