By Jim Pitman
Texas Flight is located at David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport (DWH) in Houston, Texas. They have contracted with flight instructor and airshow performer Wanda Collins to help teach fundamental stick-and-rudder skills in an exciting new training program.
Approximately 450 people are killed each year in GA accidents, and loss of control is the number one cause, according to the FAA. Texas Flight’s new program adds tailwheel and aerobatic training, designed to provide pilots with additional skills that might help them avoid such accidents.
But tailwheel and aerobatic training is not required for basic pilot certification. So why do it?
“Because it’s fun,” Collins said, “and it’s a skill with great rewards to your confidence level as a pilot.” She noted that It makes pilots much safer having this skill in their back pocket; they know they can use what they’ve learned if the situation calls for it.
“I often tell people that earning an instrument rating and doing basic aerobatic/tailwheel training are the two most valuable skills to help you become a safer pilot. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum. One you are looking completely inside the aircraft; the other completely outside the aircraft. Both skills are important and can possibly be the skill that saves your life one day,” Collins said.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in an abbreviated upset training course with Aviation Performance Solutions in Mesa, Arizona. My training included a thorough briefing on aerodynamics and upset recovery procedures, followed by flight training in an Extra 300. That experience made me a believer in the value of upset prevention and recovery training for pilots of all experience levels.
Jerry Beckner, manager of Texas Flight, said the school has a Bellanca Decathlon that is used for tailwheel and CFI spin training, and is in the process of obtaining approved parachutes to expand training to include upset prevention and recovery as well as basic aerobatic maneuvers.
“Think of it as recovery from extreme unusual attitudes, including inverted flight. These are life-saving skills and our customers really enjoy the additional training,” he said.
Ron Prince is working on his initial flight instructor certificate at Texas Flight. “I had always wanted to get my tailwheel endorsement and the Decathlon was a great plane to do it in,” he said.
“When it came time to do the spin training for my CFI, having the Decathlon was especially nice. I’ve heard that airplanes like the 152 and 172 are sufficient for spin training, but have a tendency to come out of the spin after just one or two rotations, even with full aft elevator. In the Decathlon, we were able to practice fully developed spins with five or more rotations at a time,” Prince said. “My instructor was extremely knowledgeable and professional and made the training a lot of fun.”
An aerobatic airplane and approved parachutes are required to perform aerobatic maneuvers beyond the spin training required for the initial CFI, Beckner said. “A Cessna Aerobat can work, but we really like having the Decathlon to provide the tailwheel training and endorsements,” he admitted.
Having an experienced aerobatic instructor, or having one train at least one of your regular flight instructors is important. If you can train a full-time instructor who is planning to stick around for a while, that instructor can then provide training and checkouts for other instructors, he said.
“We are certainly blessed to be working with Wanda. She has been an active flight instructor for almost 30 years and now specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic training. She is also a captain and line check airman for a major U.S. airline as well as an FAA designated pilot examiner,” said Beckner. “If you are lucky enough to find your own ‘Wanda,’ that’s great, but it’s not required.”
For a basic aerobatic course, Collins teaches spins, rolls, loops, and the like. “If one becomes proficient in handling a plane throughout these basics, they are much better prepared should a major upset, like a wake turbulence encounter, be experienced. Most instructors can become proficient with the basics within just a few hours,” she said.
Collins said that learning recovery skills in an aerobatic plane such as the Decathlon is great, but those skills also will translate to other, non-aerobatic airplanes.
“If you get flipped upside down by wake turbulence, it’s doesn’t matter whether you’re in a Decathlon, 172, Citation, or a regional jet—the control inputs to recover are the same. And the correct response is not intuitive for most people, so it must be practiced in a controlled environment,” Collins said.
He said that if you’re considering this type of training, that you find a local expert like Collins to guide you through the program development and initial training. “The concept and training program are simple, but the instructors who are involved need to have a healthy understanding of their own limitations and the limitations of the airplane,” he said.
Flight schools that are not in a position to provide this type of training may want to consider partnering with a company such as Aviation Performance Solutions. “Whether it’s performed in-house or outsourced, I highly recommend that every flight school provide some level of aerobatic and tailwheel training,” Collins said.
“When done properly, anything is better than nothing. These are skills that help avoid the loss of control accidents that are still so prevalent. And the muscle memory pilots build when they practice this kind of flying will stick with them for life,” she said.
Visit the Texas Flight webpage to learn more about its training programs.
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He currently flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).