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

To Fly or Not To Fly: How Much Did Your Car Cost?

IMG_3750I’ve talked about some of the benefits of flying as part of a decision on whether or not to fly. If you haven’t read To Fly or Not to Fly: The Benefits, give that a read at some point.

With the economy still down in the dumps, fewer people are learning to fly. If you’re one of those that says you think it’s too expensive, I urge you to give it some more consideration.

If you’ve done your homework, you know realistically how much earning a pilot’s license is going to take from your pocketbook.

These days, when all is said and done (training, books and materials, exam fees, etc) earning your ticket to flying will probably run between $12,000 and $17,000, give or take a couple thousand.

The cost has gone up since my Learn to Fly post, but it is the current and most accurate number…after all, you probably don’t live in my city, so I’m not trying to reel you in as a customer! Be wary of those places that are, they will often quote the cost at the minimum training time and will many times leave out examination fees and costs of books and other materials – but that’s a side note.

Let’s just say learning to fly is going to set you back $15,000. Although you may be the exception, chances are your car, truck, or SUV COST MORE! These days, it’s easy to spend $40,000, $50,000, or more on a vehicle, I wouldn’t, but you certainly could, and many do (perhaps even you). Whatever you spent, you’ll probably buy another one in 10 years or less. Check out my other posts to compare costs of operating a car versus a plane (The Benefits).

Flying just isn’t that expensive.

If you spent $40,000 on your car, and plan to buy another in 10 years, you’ve just spent roughly $4,000/year for just the car itself (not counting fuel, oil changes, maintenance, and so on).

With disposable incomes seemingly dwindling, we certainly do what we can to have a nice car. Why can’t you do the same for flying? Now I’m really biased, because I LOVE flying, but if your budget is open enough to buy an expensive car but too tight to do much else, spend less on a car. Pay less for luxury and more for what you need to get from point A to point B. Or, if you’re one that still has plenty left over but couldn’t seem to justify the cost of flying (for whatever reason), I hope this changes your mind.

If I’ve offended any one, I can’t really apologize. I’m an aviation enthusiast and have been flying since I was 17. I was fortunate enough to not have to pay for the first $10,000 of my training, but I am paying now. I don’t drive an expensive car and I live well (my needs are met, I have cable TV, Netflix, a flat screen, a desktop and laptop, an iPhone (don’t judge), and I’m not starving!), but I’m paying for $80,000 or so in my aviation education costs. I haven’t gone on vacation since 2010, but I can justify the cost a little easier because it is my career.

Yet, for a fraction of that, and a fraction of what you spend on your car, you can fly too (for pleasure, for business, or both!). Think about it. How much is your car really worth and how much is the experience of learning to fly and earning your PILOT certificate worth? I can assure you, there are few things, if any, that are more challenging and more rewarding, both intellectually and emotionally.

I urge you to check it out. Do Something Magical: Learn to Fly!

To that first flight,

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

To Fly or Not To Fly: The Benefits

To fly or not to fly? If you’re me, that’s no question at all. I’d fly a plane until the wings fell off…of course, hopefully I’d have a parachute on and a prayer in mind, I’d also have to do it where no FAA guy would find out, and of course I’d have to either have enough fuel on board or refueled many, many, many………many times, in the air. But on to the entire point of this….

You’ve heard of aviation, pilots, airlines, air travel and such. You probably know a pilot, maybe a family member, friend, or neighbor. Maybe you’ve been interested in planes since you were little. Maybe you’ve been interested in flying. Maybe you’ve never had an interest in either or perhaps in something else… You might be thinking flying is too expensive for you, it’s an expensive hobby with not much to show in the end. Maybe not. Maybe your family doesn’t support the idea, maybe you don’t support the idea.

Believe it or not, these are extremely common situations, and I see it nearly every day. I was working just the other day and overheard a conversation on very similar topics (yes, I was eaves-dropping, but sometimes you can’t help it in a quiet building, so shhh…). A man who hangars his airplane at the airport, took some acquaintances flying. From the looks of it, they were not close friends, they were friendly with each other of course, but the only reason he seemed to have taken them flying was to show them how much fun it was and to be open to them. At the end of their flight they began talking about both the expenses and the conveniences of flying. It hit home for me. This man did a great job of being realistic about it all, remaining enthusiastic and encouraging the whole time.

What does it all boil down to? It boils down to worth. What is flying worth to you? Do you care if you spend and don’t receive anything back but the intangible, or are you the type that weighs the costs and benefits – looking for what you will get in return?

For example:

You need to drive somewhere that will take you six hours in a car. In a plane, say a Piper Warrior or Cessna 172 , you can get there in maybe two and a half hours. Not looking at anything else, is this worth it to you?

Lets look at a time table. You have a lunch meeting (business or pleasure, you pick) that will last perhaps 2 hours. You’re meeting everyone at 11:30am. In a car, you will need to leave at…hopefully 5:30am…planning on no traffic. Okay, so you make it on time, and everything is wrapped up by 1:30pm. You say your goodbyes, and after filling up on gas you’re on your way again by 2pm. With no traffic , and no stops, you’ll be getting hope around 8pm. Long day? I know I would hit the hay after that…but then again, I’m not a morning person. In a plane you might plan on being at the airport by 7:30 (to be safe) and taking off by 8:30am, giving you half an hour to get from the airport you’re arriving at (11:00am arrival) to wherever you need to be. Again lunch is up by 1:30pm and you’re on your way to the airport by 2:00pm. You take off by 3:00pm (being conservative) and arrive at your home airport by 5:30 pm. No sooner than you land, you’re greeted by your wife or husband when you walk in the door at 6:00pm. Dinner is on the table, and you’re hungry! Eat up, then go relax. If you’re me, you’d enjoy that – maybe get in a good movie before you’re off to bed, because after all, you didn’t get up before the sun.

Let’s quickly look at finances…Assume you own your airplane, I have never owned an airplane, and don’t deal with maintenance and insurance, so that would be something you would have to do your own homework on for now. This is what I do know: My car, if I’m not driving like a maniac, gets about thirty miles per gallon. Lets assume that six hour trip is 360 miles and I drive sixty miles per hour the entire time…that’s using twelve gallons of gas one way, and twenty-four gallons round trip. At $3 a gallon, that’s $72. I can usually lean out a Piper Warrior to burn six gallons per hour. On a two and a half hour trip that’s fifteen gallons. At roughly $4.75 per gallon, round $71.25 up to $72, and it’s the exact same fuel cost.

What is time worth to you? If time doesn’t matter, how about the fun? What is the enjoyment worth? What is it worth to your family to see you home for dinner? Is it worth maintenance and insurance? You may have another reason to fly, that I haven’t thought of just yet. Whatever your reason, think about it – what you come up with may surprise you (or I could be wrong…I admit I sometimes am, okay, I can’t admit that but you get my point…I think)! 🙂

Happy flying, and see you next time.

Up in the Air

Originally Written: April 29, 2010

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

Why the Rules?

Astounded. Frustrated. Concerned.

So many feelings running through my brain, and yet not one of them could I verbalize! What is there to do when the person whose life is entrusted to me calls the rules stupid?

Just as I think I can call myself an “experienced” instructor, I get a wake up call! Nothing really prepared me for what I heard, but perhaps out of stress from his impending checkride or perhaps out of honesty, my student exclaimed in the middle of our pre-checkride ground session, “These rules are stupid! Why do I need to know these rules? I did not study for my driver’s test, why do I need to study these rules for flying? What about the Pilot Operating Handbook? What is this? Why do I need this chart, and why do people need to know this?! I do not even know the horsepower of my car…” and so on.

It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had so far – to sit there and look at someone with the desire to scream at them, to yell something, anything that would make them see the light and not being able to. Not able to form the sentences nor the words needed to convey the important response. I wanted to smack myself! Okay him too…

This is my best attempt to answer, from the comfort of my computer chair:

Before I dive in, I’d like to take a side-road for a moment – if you lived where I live right now, you’d know that the remark about the driver’s license test/rules doesn’t mean much. Half the people don’t have a license and the other half seem like they neither like driving nor spend much time doing it…perhaps myself included?! Okay, whew I feel better…I hate days like these.

Yes, driving has it’s rules and often the importance of following these rules is undervalued. They of course should be followed, but to stay on topic…

Most, if not ALL Federal Aviation Regulations (the “rules” as my student so eloquently put it) relate directly to safety! To make it perfectly simple (and how I wish I could have put it for my student), not following the rules will kill you! In addition, knowing them and ignoring them is just as much of a problem as not knowing them. It scares me, more so saddens me, to think of the people that do not respect the rules. The rules are there for a reason, and they were created from the blood of others. They would not be there otherwise.

When I was first learning to fly I used to have a “competition” with a classmate in my ground school. We sat right next to each other and always compared our scores on our tests (he always seemed to do better!). He usually had a score in the high 90s, a very bright, smart young kid…he apparently “knew his stuff.” He went out one December night, on a night I vividly remember as blizzard-like, and went flying (some of us already had our licenses before attending this ground school). The next day in class he was not there and we all found out from the professor that he had gone flying the previous night – both him and a buddy of his were killed. What happened? This smart, knowledgeable classmate had killed himself and his friend. He would have been the last person I expected that to happen to. He knew the rules, he knew what they meant….why did he go? He couldn’t have gone…

But it did happen to him, and it can happen to anyone with or without the knowledge of the rules. With this knowledge there needs to be respect, and by respecting the rules one respects flying, and when one respect’s flying, one respects his own life and that of those who would fly with him.

I wish I had a good answer for every question – I know it will come with experience. Until then…

Flying can kill, but in my opinion a respect for ourselves and what we do is the #1 antidote. Knowing and following the rules is all part of it.

Fly safely,
Up in the Air