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Training Tip: Flying factoidsTraining Tip: Flying factoids

Mythology can be a fun subject in high school, but beware aviation myths that can drag down your FAA knowledge test score, obstructing your odyssey toward pilot certification.

Fact or fiction? Take care to separate the wheat from the chaff (and keep the wheat, not the chaff) when listening to pilots dispense folk "wisdom" at the airport. Photo by Mike Fizer.

It’s tempting to pause here and list a few of the myths that make the rounds in hangar-flying sessions and sometimes snare student pilots into rendering wrong answers on test questions. Occasionally AOPA takes on some of the more widespread whoppers, and sometimes we get suggestions from the FAA for myth-busting matter, especially if any malevolent misconceptions have turned interactions between pilots and air traffic controllers into a Sisyphean labor.

The problem with repeating myths with the best of intentions, however, is that like lemmings that allegedly launch themselves from cliffs, the story lines passed along in myths may make more of an impression on the listener than their false nature. That’s when a myth becomes a factoid: “An assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.”

The FAA has pounced on this persistence of perverse postulations and doesn’t mind turning you to stone if you resort to rumor-mongering on your knowledge test.

That’s no fable: According to the Recreational and Private Pilot Knowledge Test Guide, “From the answer options given, it may appear that there is more than one possible answer; however, there is only one answer that is correct and complete. The other answers are either incomplete, erroneous, or derived from popular misconceptions.”

To help you avoid this Achilles’ heel, here’s one seasonally appropriate story to serve as an example of how such flights of fancy are fostered. We were at the airport before dawn, preparing to fly on a subfreezing fall morning. A light layer of frost coated the airplane, and as the sun rose, the frost layer appeared to thicken before our very eyes. Someone made the comment that the first rays of the rising sun always made the frost thicker.

A glance at a thermometer would have dispelled this logical fallacy, because it would have been possible to observe that although the sun was now (just barely) climbing the sky, radiational cooling that had begun overnight had not yet completed its epic voyage.

The sun’s warmth—it would be folklore to call it “heat” in Maine in late November—would soon prevail, but for now, Boreas (a mythic god of the Winter) still ruled the runway.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Weather
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