Safety Publications/Articles

Teaching Passengers To Fly

A Rewarding Opportunity For CFIs

Several years ago Reader's Digest, published a story titled "The Flight of 2387 Mike." It recounted the experience of a woman who was flying with her husband when, soon after takeoff, he became stricken and passed out in the cockpit. The article described how she took over control of the plane and landed successfully, with the help of a helicopter pilot and a number of people on the ground. As luck would have it, she had taken the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Pinch-Hitter(r) Ground School the day before the incident. Remembering some of the things that she had learned during the course, she asked her husband before the flight to show her how the throttle, radio, and flight controls worked. Her initiative probably saved her life.

Fortunately, the incident described in the Reader's Digest, article is a very rare occurrence. The Air Safety Foundation continues to offer Pinch-Hitter courses twice a month around the country as well as at airshows, and under contract to various aviation organizations. In the course, we discuss the possibility of the pilot becoming incapacitated while in flight, but our main focus is on the notion that knowing something about how the airplane works and what makes it stay in the air increases the enjoyment of flight.

When the nonpilot is well-versed in the operation of the aircraft, it enhances safety as well. If the passenger knows something about weight and balance, he or she may be inclined to say something when the pilot loads 300 pounds of luggage in the rear baggage compartment. Since passengers are now aware of fuel burn rates, they will know enough to question the wisdom of flying nonstop to a location that stretches the reserves. The passenger can learn to operate the radios, read the charts, navigate, and perform other tasks that reduce the workload of the pilot.

For all of the Pinch-Hitter ground training that we are able to provide in the classroom, nothing takes the place of actually getting in the airplane and flying. We recommend that Pinch-Hitter Ground School graduates go to their local FBO and get a few hours of flight instruction. This instruction not only improves the flying skills of the nonpilot, but actually encourages many to pursue a private pilot certificate of their own. We view teaching the flight portion of Pinch-Hitter as an opportunity for flight instructors that has gone largely untapped

Teaching the flight segment of the Pinch-Hitter course is not the same as the first few hours of private pilot training. The Air Safety Foundation has published the Pinch-Hitter Instructor Guide that's available through Sporty's Pilot Shop ( ). The publication contains a recommended syllabus for a four-hour Pinch-Hitter flight course. The syllabus stresses that students should fly from the right seat and be given instruction in controlling the airplane, interpreting the instruments, airspeed control, operating the radios, basic navigation, and landing. The ASF Pinch-Hitter ground school student manual and videotape also can be purchased from Sporty's. Editor's Note: The Pinch Hitter materials are no longer available; however, there is an online course that you may take from any Internet-connected device that supports Flash.

Instructors should understand that nonpilots have different reasons for wanting to obtain some Pinch-Hitter training. "I want to be able to land the airplane in an emergency" is the most frequent reason mentioned. Others want to know more about the airplane so they can be more helpful and feel a part of the flight crew. Others say, "Because my husband made me." Making flight safer and more enjoyable is our objective for the course.

These nonpilots exhibit various levels of anxiety about flying, ranging from breaking down in tears at the notion of banked turns to taking on the persona of a Patty Wagstaff. One of the most important aspects of training these nonpilots is the instructor's sensitivity to how the student feels about flying. If a high degree of anxiety is detected, the instructor must be careful how he or she approaches the training. "Yank and bank" maneuvers are not going to lessen the anxiety level. Nice, slow, gentle control of the airplane without overwhelming the student with technical exposition is the most successful way to reduce the anxiety level. Each step in the training must be a positive one.

As a graduation exercise we recommend that the instructor change roles and shift from being a pilot/instructor to an air traffic controller. While at altitude have the student see if he or she can control the airplane while getting instructions from the instructor playing ATC. Have the student find an airport, descend, enter the pattern, and land. The landing is often not very pretty, but the objective is a landing under control. I had one experience where the wife made better landings than her pilot husband did. He is still getting over this.

As an instructor there is nothing like the rush you get when you have taken a neophyte and in four hours have given him or her the ability to get the airplane safely on the ground. Flying with Pinch-Hitter students is the most satisfying kind of instruction there is. Go out and see if there are opportunities in your area for Pinch-Hitter flight training.

Richard Hiner is vice president of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

By Richard Hiner

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