Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

It is amazing just how much information can slip through the cracks during a private pilot certificate course.

I remember once when a new private pilot told me that he had just "used up some of that 45-minute reserve." I found out that he actually believed that the airplane had a 45-minute fuel reserve built in after the gauges reached empty! Not only did he believe it, but he also had just bet his life on it. He had quite literally flown for 20 minutes after the fuel gauges hit zero, comfortable in the fact that he was well within the 45-minute "safety margin."

Remember, this was a private pilot, not a student. He had just graduated from an excellent school with a fine safety record. Today, he is an experienced pilot with advanced ratings, and he plays an important role in general aviation.

How did that happen? How did the pilot get that far with such gross misinformation? I don't know, but I have seen it happen many times, and it is something that CFIs should guard against.

How many of you have met private pilots who honestly believed that best rate of climb, rather than best angle, should be used to clear an obstacle? Then there was the private pilot who swore that indicated airspeed varied with tailwinds or headwinds. And the solo student who said that those little-bitty wheels on the landing gear must turn really fast to get the aircraft up to flying speed.

These things do happen, and not only with poor instruction. Things do slip through the cracks. Standardized courses help to minimize the problem but can be a danger themselves if CFIs assume that the student really understood everything on the video. Students come to us with different backgrounds, and what is obvious to most can be dangerously vague to others.

Early in our marriage, my own college-educated, school-teaching wife informed me that you can't see jets in the air because they move too fast.

Another student I knew, a grown woman, was surprised to learn that airplane wings don't flap. When students like this come to you, your instruction must somehow overcome their poor starting position.

Questions, of course, are a teacher's best weapon for uncovering gaps in education. Good CFIs ask questions during every phase of every flight. Don't just check the answer-watch the process by which the answer is determined. The person who can work weight and balance problems may not always understand what the numbers mean. Likewise, a student who can figure navigation problems may not connect the information to what is seen from the cockpit window.

Finally, please, folks, let's realize that ignorance and stupidity are two different things. I meet people all over the country who tell me stories about CFIs making fun of them. One such student told me that she was the laughingstock of the airport because her CFI spread the word about her stupid mistake. She quit flying and bought a motorcycle. A Harley. For more than $15,000. (She was, by the way, an engineer.)

Students are hard enough to come by. Let's try to keep 'em coming, and keep 'em informed and safe once we get 'em.

By Ralph Hood

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