Safety Publications/Articles

My Way Is The Only Way

Or is it?

I was talking to a newly minted private pilot the other day who was a bit discouraged about an experience he had just encountered. This new pilot had scored a 98 on his knowledge test and passed his checkride the first time with flying colors. The examiner had complimented him on his excellent flying skill. Now he was losing confidence in his ability to fly. I soon learned why.

Before the ink was dry on his certificate, he went to a local flying club to be checked out by one of its instructors. Full of confidence and enthusiasm, he strapped himself into the left seat of the Cessna 172, anticipating nothing more stressful than the checkride he had already aced. When he gave the airplane three shots of prime, the instructor said, "Why'd you do that? One shot will do fine in this airplane. Now you've probably flooded it." The engine started without a problem, and he taxied to the runup area.

Using the checklist, he methodically went through each item. When he got to the ammeter check, he reached over and shut off the left side of the master switch that took the alternator out of the circuit and then turned it back on to see if it was working. "Where'd you learn to do that?" the instructor shouted. "Don't you know you could collapse the whole electrical field?"

By this time the new pilot was getting the feeling that things weren't going well and it was going to be a long day. As they took off, the new pilot climbed out at Vy as he had been taught. "Your climb angle is too steep. Lower the nose," barked the instructor.

During the power-off stall demonstration, the new pilot gradually raised the nose while reducing power to idle and continued increasing back pressure on the yoke until the airplane stalled. "That's not the way you do a stall. It's power to idle, lower the nose, and then gradually bring the nose up until it stalls." Much of what the new pilot did in the practice area was met with a "Where'd you learn that?"

They returned to the airport, and on downwind the student began his landing checklist by turning on the carburetor heat. "Why'd you do that?" asked the instructor. "Don't you know that makes the engine run too rich? Wait until you are on base!" The student lowered the flaps 10 degrees just before he turned base. "Where'd you learn to do that? Don't put in any flaps until you are on base." The pilot was at 70 knots on approach. "Too fast! Too fast! You should be at 60 knots. Every landing should be a short field," chided the instructor.

Back at the tiedown spot, with the engine shut down, the instructor turned to the pilot. "Well, I guess you'll do. Just remember those things I taught you today." As the pilot was tying down the airplane, the instructor said, "Who taught you how to tie down an airplane? Here, let me show you." Despite getting the signoff for the club, the new pilot decided this wasn't the sort of flying club he wanted to be in.

This instructor is one of those who believes that his way of flying is the only way, and any other flying technique is wrong. There's no question that if a pilot does something to compromise safety, the instructor should correct that deficiency on the spot. But if it's a matter of where in the pattern you turn on the carburetor heat or lower the flaps, that is an individual choice that pilots should be free to make based on the conditions as they see them.

During flight reviews, I've observed that every pilot I fly with uses a slightly different technique and various ways in which to accomplish different tasks. If the method works for them and, most importantly, if it is safe, I don't try to change it. I might suggest another method, but I don't consider their way to be wrong.

Pilots should understand that not all instructors are the same. Except in a Part 141 flight school, instructors are not standardized. They use different methods of teaching and have favorite techniques that they like to convey. Even at Part 141 schools you'll see small differences in the way instructors teach. Pilots can take advantage of this by flying with different instructors and trying to pick up on new ways of handling the airplane or making precision landings, for example. Occasionally pilots might find themselves with an old curmudgeon in the right seat with a zillion hours who is very opinionated. Much can be learned from these types as well; a lot of wisdom was gained in those hours.

This checkout was a good, if painful, experience for this new pilot. He had one instructor during his primary training. He will fly with many others during his flying career. He now knows there is diversity in flight instruction, and each time he flies with an instructor he is bound to learn something-even if it's only never to fly with that horse's patoot again.

By Richard Hiner

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