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Make a lasting impression on the invincible

Hangar talk. Sometimes it provides valuable information. Sometimes it is absolutely dangerous, and young students can be particularly vulnerable to information thus derived.

More than 30 years ago an old-time instructor told me of a teenaged student who had heard older pilots talking about "popping up on top" of clouds. The student was much impressed and several times mentioned the idea to the CFI. One day, when the CFI was keeping the student in the pattern because of scattered clouds just above VFR minimums, the student asked, "Why don't we just climb between the clouds and pop up on top?" "OK," said the CFI, "but I'll get us an IFR clearance first."

The student was delighted. He was finally going to pop up on top like the big boys.

Well, looking up between scattered clouds and climbing up between them in a loaded Cessna 150 on a hot day are two entirely different things. The student grew more and more nervous as he jigged left and jagged right. Finally, sweat pouring down his face, he said something to the effect of, "I can't make it. What should I do?" "Just pop up on top," was the CFI's answer.

You know the rest of the story. Student got into clouds. Student lost it. CFI recovered. Student never took popping up on top lightly again.

Drastic? Yes. Sometimes it takes drastic to get through to a bulletproof youngster.

I knew another teen -- knew his family and his girlfriend, too -- who buzzed his girlfriend's house when he was a solo student. The girlfriend told me; I told the student's CFI. All hell broke loose. The student was so mad at me that he wouldn't speak. I wrote him a letter saying I was sorry he was mad, but I'd rather have him mad than add him to the list of people I knew who had been killed doing stupid things in airplanes. He got over being mad. Today he flies a corporate jet.

Then there was Tony, who the week after getting his private certificate filed special VFR to leave an airport to come home. He got hopelessly lost but luckily stumbled onto an unknown airport, landed, and -- wiser by far -- waited on better weather. His CFI chewed him out royally, informing him that a special VFR was to be used to land, not take off. Tony went on to become a CFI and aircraft owner.

All CFIs have had or will have a student who wants to exceed his or her own envelope (and by the way, males are more prone to this than females). There may be a time and place where you can bring that student into real life and leave a lasting impression.

Once upon a time when I was one of those students, I saw no reason why a solo student shouldn't fly on a business trip, and I found someone who would -- unbeknownst to my CFI -- rent me an airplane for just such a trip. I screwed everything up. Scared myself so badly that I remember it to this day. My CFI found out and said if he was going to continue to teach me I was not to ever again -- until I got my private certificate -- do anything in an airplane without clearing it with him first.

I agreed. Today I am grateful.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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