Safety Publications/Articles

Instructors speak out

The subjects are sumping and TAA

Who says there's only one right way to do something? Two articles in recent editions of the ASF Instructor Report roused CFIs from around the country to contribute their observations on the state of flight instruction today. The first article was "Sump Samples" (June 2006 AOPA Flight Training), in which a California flight instructor confessed that she had been unwittingly passing along an incorrect preflight procedure learned early in her own training. With refreshing candor, she related how that failure to closely examine fuel drained from the engine's fuel strainer caused an accident that left both her and a student hanging from their seatbelts in a muddy field, and how she used the experience to make herself a better instructor.

"For some of the smaller guys and for most of the women we train, it is a very awkward and difficult process to catch that (fuel) sample (from the engine fuel strainer)," wrote Florida CFI and flight school manager Dick Kruse. "But they figure out how to do it." He added that one of his former students uses a short length of vinyl tubing slipped over the fuel strainer, dumping the sample into a GATS jar, which separates clean fuel from any contamination and allows re-use of the good fuel. "With fuel prices what they are...pilots appreciate our efforts to help conserve their flight dollars."

"Properly sumping the gascolator... would not have prevented this accident," wrote CFI Dusty Carnahan, of Dover, Delaware. "The airplane started, taxied, did a runup, took off, climbed to cruise altitude...had there been any water in the gascolator, the airplane never would have made it through these phases of flight." He described the experience of a friend, a long-time designated examiner who experienced a similar engine failure, and later discovered water in the tank. The pilot had fueled on an uneven pavement, leaving the contamination away from a fuel drain.

"Perhaps someone should have let her know it takes time for suspended water to fall out of gasoline...(and) work its way to the sumps," said Tom Lee, of Prescott, Arizona. "It is our responsibility as pilots to check what we are given. GA fuel suppliers often ignore, or are ignorant of, proper fuel handling."

CFI Al Uhalt of Colorado Springs, Colorado, added his concern to that of other instructors who commented on fuel system design, which on many aircraft make it difficult to properly sample fuel from the engine drain. He pointed out that some aircraft are built with a sump lever in the cockpit, which makes it physically impossible to catch a sample of fuel as it drains from beneath the engine. CFI Gene M. Wilburn of Frederick, Maryland, describes such fuel systems as "a vile monster that should have been smothered at birth. Or maybe it should have happened to the designer."

The second article, "A Head Scratcher" (September 2006 AOPA Flight Training), was written by noted independent thinker and CFI David Dewhirst. He argued that "special TAA training is nuts," and said that pilots of Technically Advanced Aircraft would be better served if all instructors were allowed to give TAA checkouts and other instruction, rather than restricting such instruction to CFIs who are factory- or insurance company-certified.

"I agree...special TAA training is a myth," wrote Martin Sobel of Sarasota, Florida, a CFI and retired TWA captain. "Manufacturers have created a myth that it takes a special person to fly these (technically advanced) aircraft, and people with little experience believe the myth. (A chief pilot for a TAA operation here) did not know that currency in a 'single-engine land' airplane also met the requirements for the Cirrus SR22. God forbid if I told (him) that if the airplane had two wings and an empennage, I could probably fly it."

Military instructor Eric Greenblatt of Albuquerque, New Mexico, didn't agree. "Sounds like Mr. Dewhirst has some of his feathers ruffled by the perception that someone else is telling him what he needs to instruct," he said. "Given what I've observed of civilian CFIs, I'd propose that the requirement for advanced training is overdue. When it comes to managing and mitigating perspective is that civilian aviation is doing a poor job (and)....the insurance companies and airframe companies are forcing the community to do it more wisely. Making specific TAA training a requirement is actually a step forward."

"We don't need more new rules, we just need to use our heads and apply common sense where any type of flying is concerned--not just TAA," said veteran CFI and flight school owner Jean Runner of San Diego, California. "I feel that the training requirement would really depend on the experience level of the individual CFI. A newly certificated CFI with minimum hours and trained exclusively in TAAs would obviously be qualified (and would be) challenged in a standard (analog-)gauge airplane. However, if the new low-time CFI was trained in aircraft with the standard gauges, then he/she would not be qualified to teach in a TAA."

Insurance agent John Helms of St. Louis, Missouri, who handles insurance for more than 700 Cirrus aircraft and helped to create the Cirrus Standardized Instructor Program in 2003, understandably defended specialized training. "Cirrus worked very closely with the insurance companies in creating (CSIP) make Cirrus training better and more available. It succeeded in that goal. Does the program cost money? Yes, of course, but it saves a lot of time and money by eliminating the need for a CFI to prove himself or herself to each and every company individually."

CFI J. Robert Moss of Santa Monica, California, is a factory-certified instructor for both Cirrus and Columbia Aircraft, and also believes in the value of special CFI training for TAA. "I think the issue we are seeing is people are going up with veteran CFIs but...lots of tricks of the trade (PFD failures, MCU failures, alternator-crosstie operations) that owners really need to know can only be gotten from a well-taught TAA CFI." He goes on to say that there are CFIs who have the academic knowledge but are not good instructors. "I look at this area like finding a doctor. If you need a specialist, you seek out a specialist. The same applies here."

CFI Fred Longhi of Sarasota, Florida, took the opposite side, writing that manufacturers and insurance companies requiring special TAA training "have certainly done a disservice to their customers. A student of mine...flew the required 25 hours with a 'super instructor' to meet the insurance requirements (but)...wanted to complete his (instrument) training with me. His insurance company wouldn't allow it. The first 'super instructor' was not available to complete this training. I have accumulated over 2,000 hours of flight time as an instructor (and) I am certain I could have provided comprehensive and safe flight training to my student in his aircraft."

As always, CFI views are welcome in ASF Instructor Report. E-mail your comments.

Kevin D. Murphy is director of safety education for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. He has been an instructor for more than 30 years and has logged more than 5,000 accident-free hours.

By Kevin D. Murphy

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports