Lessons Best Learned from Mistakes

20We’re all human, right?! Today, because I am human, I am ranting – at least sort of.

I was doing a flight in a 182RG with a CFI candidate the other day, we also had another CFI candidate riding along in the back. The guy in the back was a big know-it-all, and I had been ignoring his outbursts of “knowledge” injected into our lesson here and there but he finally crossed the line.

If you’re an experienced CFI (or student for that matter) you know there is NOTHING more valuable than learning from a mistake – if it can be done safely of course.

My moment with the CFI candidate was approaching.

We had just finished our turn onto final after flying an extended downwind and he was talking about something other than what we were doing. We were a little under a mile out with several hundred feet left to go – but I was convinced I had him where I wanted him.

It was then that the obnoxious guy in the back blurted, “Don’t forget the gear!”

Come on dude, really? Okay…so I’m not completely heartless…I get it, I really do. BUT, what may have been an innocent gesture on his part completely sabotaged my lesson. There would have been sufficient time had he waited and really been worried.

There could have been nothing more valuable to this CFI student than getting the go around call from me as we nearly committed to a landing. Granted, he could have possibly done his final check like he had been doing on all the other patterns, and realized the gear was indeed not down. We won’t know. We can’t know. I won’t ever know.

It would have been a great learning experience either way, whether he had committed to the landing in his mind (and never noticed the gear) or whether he caught how close he was to missing the gear with a final check. Either way, it could have been a learning experience, really, of a lifetime.

If anyone disagrees, it probably hasn’t happened to them.

I love those opportunities because I know from personal experience how valuable and changing they can be. I was doing my MEI training and had moved the gear lever into the down position. I called “gear down and locked” and did so again on short final, as trained. At about 100′ AGL my instructor called for a go around. I was a little perturbed, my approach was looking great, and I was excited to nail the landing.

“Why’d you make me do that?” I blurted.

“Are you sure you were ready?”

I didn’t get it until he pointed out I had never obtained three green. To his credit, he had pulled the circuit breaker on me. I had called “gear down and locked”, yet not ONCE did I check for the three green I was supposed to check for.

I have NEVER done that again, and I have always been grateful to him for teaching me that lesson…nobody else had. I was at, what I thought was the height of my flying career, I was training for my MEI! Big leagues eh?

I learned several valuable lessons:

  1. I needed to lose the attitude.
  2. I needed to realize and admit I didn’t know everything and I wasn’t perfect.
  3. Check for three green…always, always, always… essentially, don’t ever be robotic.

There is probably more I learned from that, but this was the lesson I so wanted to give to this future CFI.

On the bright side, I had a chat with the “guy in the back seat”, and told him how it could have been a great learning experience. Hopefully, he can teach one of his students the same lesson down the road and not all will be lost.

Don’t be “that guy”.

Check your bottom!

Up in the Air

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How to Study for your Checkride

If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to studying for your checkride, look no further.

21This is NOT a study guide.

This is your “compass”, and it focuses on the oral. With studying for an oral, I’ve found that most just don’t know where to begin.

With so much material spread out over the past 6 months, year, or two years, the task of prepping yourself to get ready to spit it all out on cue is daunting.

This is usually for one of two reasons:

  1. You were never given direction on where to start.
  2. You were given directions, but didn’t listen (which was me, way back when).

If you fall into #2 I’d be surprised, seeing as how you’re here. So for those of you who fit into #1, read on.

Start with the PTS, Practical Test Standards (it’s the skinny little book that has the surface area of a half sheet of paper and has an inch-wide dark blue stripe across the top). If you don’t have a copy of the FAA’s Private Pilot Airplane PTS, you can find one here.

If you’re looking for the rotorcraft PTS or others, just go to the FAA’s Practical Test Standards menu, here.

Special Emphasis AreasTo begin, makes sure you read the introduction at the beginning, focus on the special emphasis areas (these areas will more readily be applied to the flight portion of your checkride, but still important knowledge-wise).

The importance of doing this cannot be underestimated.

It is HUGELY important.

Ok…

Once you’re done, continue on to the Preflight Preparation section.

(I apologize for the emphasis, but if you knew me, you’d laugh…I hope)

Preflight Preparation ChecklistPTS Task A-B Preflight Prep Pronunciation

Start with the tasks that apply to you (each task is lettered with “A”, “B”, “C”, and so on).

For example, if you are testing for your Airplane Single Engine Land certificate, then you will want to study those tasks in which you see “ASEL” next to them. For example, in the above picture, letter “H” and “I” do not have ASEL in the parenthesis, you do not need to study those sections.

I like to call the PTS a pilot’s bible and there’s a good reason for it.

The PTS is your road map to pilot heaven, or rather, passing your checkride!

There is no way you can fail your oral if you go down the list and check everything off as you study it and KNOW it.

The Preflight Preparation section begins in detail on page 31 and continues on to page 35. Follow the objectives under each task, marking each item off the “list”, and you will be golden.

It’s easier said than done, because there really is A LOT to know, but this is your start, middle, and end-point for the oral. Heck, they even give you where to find more on all the material right under each task’s title (see right – I wish I had paid more attention to this as a student pilot).

I hope this helps you in your pilot endeavors!

Comment below with questions, concerns, or grievances!

To passed checkrides and happy flying!

Up in the Air

Time for Change

A lot has happened this past year.

I lost my medical. AGAIN.

My husband and I bought a house. FIRST TIME!

We had a baby. THE FIRST!

We’re learning all the ins and outs of owning a 60-year-old home. ONGOING.

We’re dealing with job insecurity. COMES-WITH-THE-AIRLINE PILOT-TERRITORY.

27

It has been a heck of year, stressful would be to say the least. But I’m not here to complain. I’ve decided this blog needs a little bit more. I’ve found it hard to stay motivated to write through it all. I was writing the other night when I realized I was missing something. I think I’m missing the personal aspect. What good am I doing writing something when you know NOTHING of the person writing it?

The best student-instructor relationships I’ve had (both as a student and as an instructor) have also been the ones that were meaningful on a personal level. I knew more about them, they knew more about me. We didn’t have to be close friends, but having a better understanding of each other is always beneficial. It’s easier to teach someone when you know how they tick, what motivates them, what they are struggling through RIGHT NOW, what can they handle. The same goes in reverse. It’s easier to respect someone, for example your instructor, when you know where they’ve been, where they’re going, where they want to be.

Any thoughts? Do you agree or disagree?

Up in the Air

Student – Instructor Relationships: Ones That Soar

One of my students earned their Private Pilot License today, making me so proud! He texted me this evening, it went something like “thank you for all your help, I was well prepared and owe it all to you.” Wow. It’s great to get a thank you and feel appreciated but really as an instructor we are only part of the equation.

To students:

  • Work hard and know that it wasn’t just your teacher that led to your success.
  • Your hard work and dedication is what will ultimately lead to success in your endeavors. No amount of pure instruction will lead to it. Read what you’re asked to read, study what you’re asked to study, and pay attention!
  • If you don’t care, your teacher probably won’t either.
  • Be thankful for a great teacher.

To instructors:

  • Know your shtuff (…and yes I meant shtuff), no person ever knows EVERYTHING.
  • Provide the tools for your students. Go the “extra mile”, I say go two. Or ten. Or one-hundred. Make your job a labor of endurance: just when it looks like you’re reaching the finish line, push a little harder.
  • Give your students all you can, they won’t care if you don’t.
  • Be grateful for a good student.

I will be the first to admit I am nowhere near perfect. Heck I probably don’t even pass as average (if that could be measured) and I think many instructors often lose sight of the real picture: We are students. I’m not the one who always thinks myself a student. I have to have those nudges that push me along or remind me who I really am so my pride can take a step back. This leads to my last (little) blurb: Please thank one another – it really does feel good! It’s always refreshing as an instructor to receive a thank you, and it helps us “keep at it”. It feels great as a student to know that your instructor appreciates the time and work you put into accomplishing something, anything! Plus, it inspired this post!

So let your relationship soar! 🙂

Do you have any stories of a great student or instructor? What made the difference? I’d love to update the two lists above to help others and I’d love to hear it because it helps me improve too!

To our studies,

Up in the Air

Is there a RIGHT way to change the runway?

I’m stubborn…very stubborn.

I flew into a non-towered airport today with two runways. It was mid-morning, so the wind had shifted at some point from calm to out of the south. The runways were 10/28, 18/36. Winds shifting between 170 and 200 at 6-7 knots. There were a couple other airplanes in the pattern for 1-0, and I imagine they had been there for the past hour or so since they were using that runway. And here I come, out of the Northeast, looking to set my struggling student up with the fewest worries. No tower, calmer winds, and so on. We set up the way we should for runway 1-8, calling inbound, saying our intentions to cross mid-field and enter back on a right 45.

One of the instructors already there jumps on and tells me “a couple aircraft are already using 1-0”.

What do I do? Of course this had to be on an off-day, a day I’m not in the greatest of moods (a whole blog could be made into why no one should fly in a bad mood!)…So I reply “Winds are at 1-8-0, at 7 knots, I’m trying to switch it up to the more favorable runway”…and I bluntly add in, “go back to [insert home airport here] airport and get your crosswind practice there!” Shouldn’t have said that, I know, but again…not off to a great start for the day.

“The wind is barely noticeable, you’ll be okay.”

Now we’re attacking my skills? “Just trying to teach my student right, trying to use the right runway.”

Eventually the couple of planes switched over and continued on as if nothing happened.

So I have a question today…did I take the right action?

I could have easily entered the pattern for runway 1-0 and dealt with the light crosswind/tailwind and gone on with the day. But at what point do we say there needs to be a change? Winds were forecast to be out of the south for the entire day, so at what point does someone finally say “let’s make a change!”

Whether my actions were right or wrong (disclaimer: I’m still learning, as everyone should be, especially when it comes to flying!), should someone be met with an angry voice on the other side of the mic? Is that really constructive? I guess with every “family” there are going to be confrontations, I’m just sad to hear it when everyone is learning. My student, his student, everyone.

I’ve had the reverse happen to me. Being at an airport, winds changing, and someone else coming in and changing to the new runway. It’s inconvenient, yes, but since when is an inconvenience a bad thing in aviation? Only when you don’t accommodate for it?

Please, opinions are welcome, I’m open to new or better ways to handle situations! We are only able to make decisions to the extent of our experience, training, and the experience of others! So…what would you have done?

To more learning experiences!

Up in the Air

Originally Written: April 20, 2012 // Rewritten: April 29, 2012

The Black Hole Effect

I can’t say that I’ve ever met a pilot who didn’t believe they were above average.

Any pilot who is reading this should know what I mean. Even I won’t call myself less than an above average pilot. I can admit my instructing skills can still use much improvement – but that’s easy to admit, I’m still relatively new to it (and we should always be working on improving).

When it comes down to my flying skills, I really do think I’m good.

I’m being honest too. I know deep down that it is entirely possible that I’m wrong and I’m not above average, maybe I’m just average or below average! Even in everyday situations in life – we feel that given a certain situation we can handle it. We can handle it better than most, so we say. Until you experience that difficult situation, you still believe you can handle it better than the other guy.

Have you ever heard of a black hole? I’m not talking about those holes out in space that scientists say we get sucked into and I’m not talking about internet black holes that drop clients (I really don’t know what I’m talking about there…), but I’m talking about the black hole in aviation terms. The black hole illusion you were warned about by your flight or ground school instructors. This is the illusion you encounter when flying into an airport at night that has little surrounding features (for example, lights!) to help guide you to touchdown. For those who have no experience flying this means there’s nothing around the airport to use to judge distance and height to the runway. Pilots don’t even realize, myself included, how much we use visual cues to judge our approach, that is, until they’re gone.  Take a look at the following short video.

The video was a landing I did at the Georgetown airport in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, after one of our famous trips to Willows airport and Nancy’s airport cafe for some good (greasy) food and chocolate pie (summer 2007).

There were absolutely no visual references to judge where I was at on my approach. Lucky for me, I had been there earlier in the day and had an idea of the layout of the obstacles (by that I mean pine trees!) – so the whole way down I at least knew I wasn’t going to hit anything. I was being so cautious that on the first approach I ended up coming in way too high. I was past the half way point and still floating (3000′ runway). At that point, I thought, well, I’ll just go around and do it again (a bad decision looking back). I added full power and began slowly retracting the flaps. I lifted the gear handle to bring the gear up. The gear wasn’t coming up.

My 1972 Piper Arrow had a gear switch that didn’t allow the gear to come up below a certain airspeed – a “safety precaution” that I wasn’t so happy with it at this point. You could choose to change that manually whenever you wanted (located just by the flap handle) – but it was hard to tell sometimes which way you had it set up. Apparently mine was activated and fun time to find it out. From earlier that day, I knew there were trees off the end of the runway, this time on the departure end, and I was worried. With my little Arrow fully loaded (all 4 seats filled), it wasn’t climbing out as fast as I wanted it to. I was nervous. For the first time, I was thinking, “what if we don’t make it”. With a little bit of light from the moon I could see the outline of the trees on nearby hillsides, but in the pitch black I had no idea where I was in relationship to the ones below me. To this day, I don’t know how close I came – maybe I cleared it by a lot, maybe just barely. I nursed the airplane to traffic pattern altitude. Maybe not the proper way to say it since it was my pride that was hurt and not the plane. In the darkness I hadn’t been able to find the override switch and had decided to focus on just flying the airplane. I leveled off and waited for the airspeed to increase, then brought the gear up.

When I finally landed the second time around, I was close to shaking, and my friends had surprisingly landed ahead of us (that’s another story I may have to tell later).

I had always been warned about the ominous “black hole”, but I had always wondered why anyone made a big deal about it.

After all, could it really be a problem for such a great pilot as myself?

Don’t let that happen to you, you may not be as lucky as I was.

The factors sure set me up for disaster – night time, in mountainous terrain, no lights, a full airplane, an incomplete knowledge of my airplane’s configuration, and my arrogance. Don’t be caught by surprise. Sometimes, situations are tougher than you think, and I’m still learning that!

To lend a word of advice from someone who has learned A LOT since then:

  • Avoid flying in the mountains at night (especially in a single engine airplane)
  • Don’t fly into an unfamiliar airport, in the mountains, at night
  • Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll be testing the limits of your airplane with friends on board (or anyone for that matter!)
  • Know the airplane you’re flying! (V-speeds, controls and knobs, etc)
  • FLY the airplane!
    • Just about the only thing I can be proud about from that night, if that, was the fact that I kept flying the airplane – I didn’t get too slow despite the terrain I knew was ahead, and I knew when to quit fiddling around with controls inside the airplane and just concentrate on the most important aspect…controlling the airplane.

Fly smart and you’ll be able to talk about it.

Have you ever been in a similar situation or ever doubted the outcome of a fight? What happened? Do you have any words of advice?

Fly safe,
Up in the Air

Originally Written: April 29, 2010 // Rewritten: April 25, 2012