Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks


A Beechcraft Travelair


The last three weeks gave me the chance to learn new things and also enjoy a large serving of humble pie.

As an instructor, I feel like I do my job quite well in most areas and in others not so much. I find that my level of patience isn’t as elastic as it once was and even though perhaps my techniques for instruction are better I may be taking away from the joy of learning a bit by not being satisfied by my students’ ability to learn quite so quickly.

Learning to fly multi-engine aircraft put me in the left seat, which was a first in a very long time. Now it was my turn to be the instructed and to have an instructor and examiner sit to the right of me. I found myself relying upon them to teach me properly and to let go of my ingrained role as a teacher. I also had to leave my ego at home and be able to take on the criticism given to me. That was really hard. I knew that if I took it personally or disregarded it that my training would be ineffective and take much longer and at $350 an hour, I had to suck it up.

The morning of my flight test found me anxious and already exhausted from the short but intense road I had journeyed. It doesn’t matter how many flight tests I do. It’s the same old feeling of will I be able to show the examiner that I am skilled and safe enough to pass. I have to admit, it was probably one of the worst tests I ever did and the only saving grace was that in the end I had passed. And you should have heard all the excuses I was giving for such poor performance. It was like a small platoon of soldiers ready to sacrifice their lives for my battered ego. Of all the excuses I uttered that day, I would have to say that the lamest was that my age was a limiting factor on my performance. Ready excuses such as the above just show that I was willing to justify my poor performance rather than work harder. As soon as the excuses start popping up that’s the time to kick the studying into high gear and leave them behind.

Being a student again gave me a chance to see life in the cockpit from their point of view. It had been years since I had done that and found that I made mistakes, asked dumb questions, and needed lots of reminders and practice. All these things can add up to low confidence if you’re hard on yourself like I am. I think what you have to tell yourself is eventually you’ll get it and that being a student gives you the right to make lots of mistakes as long as you try hard to learn from them. Once you are free from the ever-demanding instructor though there is no safety net anymore. Those mistakes you made while training cannot be allowed to happen once you’re solo. Learn from them if you can but not all mistakes will the aircraft lightly forgive. As difficult and humbling as it was (even at my age), flying a twin around at over 180 mph was an awesome experience that every pilot should try!


Safe Flying,


The Silly Things We Do

Okay. Passengers loaded and seatbelts on, passenger briefing demonstrated and explained. Let’s go! Ah dangit! We are not moving forward under power. Must have left the parking brake on. Nope! Double dangit! Left the chocks on. Shut down. Explain to the passengers that their dumb pilot didn’t do a good walk around and leave it to their imagination while I am taking away the chocks on how well the rest of the flight is going to go.

Leaving chocks on and attempting to taxi is a relatively harmless mistake, but if I am that thoughtless about that what else will I eventually forget? Looking back, these things usually happened when I was really tired or had a lot of things on my mind resulted in a good ego thrashing as a consequence. Others aren’t so lucky though.

Some of the silly and stupid things I and many others have done could fill a book up I am sure, but I’ll list a few that I’ve seen. Leaving the tow-bar on the aircraft and attempting to taxi. Leaving a fuel cap off and going flying. Leaving the access panel to the oil dipstick open and having it flap in the wind. Attempting to cross a thick patch of mud on the taxiway and getting stuck. Pulling the mixture to idle rather than carb-heat on the downwind. Landing with brakes on. Leaving the engine tent on and taxiing. And the list goes on. 

Most of the above mentioned involved a poor walk around but the next two involve pilot decision making based on overconfidence and disregarding the training instructors have drilled over and over into our students brains.

There’s a fellow who flies out of the airport here at Morden that always seems to be in a rush. He also always seems to have an overinflated opinion of his aircraft and it’s herculean performance. The first time he did his intersection take off with only 800 feet of runway, I was astounded since I have always told my students to use all available runway even if that means taxiing all the way back on runway 10. I am not sure if over the months I was seeing a progression of his boldness but then I saw him take a 30 knot cross-wind rather than use the grass strip. The icing on the cake was seeing him do another intersection take off but this time with a 15 knot tailwind. He ran out of runway really quickly, went past the threshold and onto the grass. Without batting an eye, he turned around wreaked a threshold landing light and  fire-wallied the throttle for take off into wind. All this happened without him stopping to inspect the damage created by his extremely foolish behavior. Since then I have heard of a few other antics he has done but will leave it at that for now. 

Unfortunately he is not the only one to make light of extremely strong tailwinds. We were all sitting in the office enjoying our mid-morning coffee break when we heard on the radio that a King Air was inbound. We gave them a wind advisory that the wind was from the west at 30 knots and favouring runway 28. The captain said roger and then proceeded to make a traffic call saying he was going straight in runway 10. Out of morbid curiosity we all sallied outside to view the forthcoming landing that our much more knowledgeable and esteemed captain was going to do. He flared beautifully over the threshold of 10, floated over 3000 of the 4000 foot runway, and finally touched down with tires smoking and quickly throwing the props into reverse. He didn’t go over the end of the runway but there was barely any room to turn around for the shaky backtrack to the apron. We all laughed in relief but it struck me when the sole passenger got out the aircraft that it wasn’t so funny. In my opinion, if you’re going to be a jack-assed pilot, do it by yourself and well away from me. Unfortunately that’s rarely the case.  Remember there are old and there are bold pilots but there are few old bold pilots.

Safe flying!!!


Why Summer Flying Isn’t So Hot and Winter Is

One of the greatest aspects of being a pilot is the weather. Every season has its own particular bugaboos and some more than others. I love our short summers to death, but near the end of it, I am kind of glad to be saying goodbye. Being in a training aircraft 10 hours a day can wear a little thin after a while especially with 30 degree temperatures and humidity to go with it.  Sometimes it’s just plain uncomfortable. I really enjoy wearing shorts and a t-shirt but when students start dripping perspiration on you while in a steep turn it gets downright gross.

Another aspect of summer flying that I don’t find particularly agreeable with is poor aircraft performance. Because of the high temperatures and humidity and occasional low pressure days, aircraft performance can be brutal. I remember a few summers ago, when I weighed a svelte 190 pounds and could fit into a Cessna 150 reasonably comfortably that I was quite sure the makers of the 150 were a bunch of sadistic engineers trying to torture me. On that particular day, we had to do some Forced Approaches and needed to climb to 3000 feet AGL about 4 times. I knew after takeoff that this was going to be a tough exercise to practice under the existing weather conditions when it took us 5 miles just to clear circuit height, which is only a 1000 feet AGL. We continued with our climb and as we flew over unplanted black fields I looked at our VSI and noticed we were climbing at about 1500 feet per minute.  Needless to say, we took full advantage of the thermals that day.

Thermals though can be a royal pain in the butt as well. Try teaching straight and level while flying over a chess board set pattern of black and green fields. It’s very difficult for a student to gain a positive feel for flying level when they are doing everything correctly from a pitch and power perspective and are still climbing at 1000 feet per minute. On another forced approach training session, I had pulled the power signifying an engine failure, the student chose a field to land on, found his key points, had done his cause check and mayday call and passenger briefing and still hadn’t lost a foot of height. The student did everything he possibly could to make his field but on short final hit another thermal rocketing up and over his simulated landing area. Very frustrating.

Probably the most spectacular aspect of summer flying is the thunderstorms that pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes they are only individual cells that roll over the landscape, reminding me of Portuguese-Man-Of-War with their deadly tendrils cascading down from their bloated black bodies.  Other times squall lines due to the passing of a cold front are the cause. The former are relatively easy to avoid but bring all forms of hell if you find yourself in one.  Winds gusts up to 50 knots per hour, surface winds changing direction by 180 degrees, vertical downdrafts up to 6000 feet per minute, hail, lightning, icing and crazy turbulence. As an instructor with students out in the training area practicing their exercises this is a constant concern.

Last summer, a CB (Cumulo-Nimbus) popped up out of nowhere and was closing fast on the Morden Airport. I had a student practicing to the east, who hadn’t seen it and who seemed a bit disgruntled that I was demanding his return for no apparent reason.  As soon as he had landed however he had enough time to tie down the aircraft and run for cover before the big black monster hit us with all its might. If he had been a couple of minutes late or slow in returning, he would have been landing through this. See photo below.  

I guess the final disadvantage to summer flying is the mosquitoes. They are fine during the day but come evening and my last flight of the day, they can be absolutely brutal. It’s very difficult to do a walk around when you’re jumping up and down and slapping yourself silly doing the hokie-pokie. Thankfully, most days my students do the walk around and I watch. Haha. As much as I don’t mind killing them on take offs and landings, we still have to clean up the mess and find ourselves cleaning the leading edges and windows most days. We’ve even found them in our stall horn and pitot tube which causes further problems.

Once the summer has concluded and autumn has mellowed, we find ourselves discussing plowing and snow shoveling schedules once again. Winter is never truly looked forward to by yours truly, but it does have its advantages. If you can stay warm in the aircraft and have a relatively painless walkaround, winter flying is awesome. There are, however, certain cold weather limitations that we abide by. We halt all power-off exercises at -20C and below, we discourage cross country flying at -25C and stop flying altogether at -30C. The best advice I can give for winter flying is don’t fly in icing conditions and dress in layers and warm enough as if you had to walk for 5 miles on open ground.  

Temperatures and icing aside, imagine having twice the climb performance as compared to the summer. Air exercises such as the forced approach become less of a chore if you can be back at altitude in a few minutes. There are also no thermals to deal with which makes for a nice smooth ride most days. The landscape is all white, except for towns and roads, which to some may be boring, but I find beautiful and serene.

Dealing with other aircraft traffic can be looked at as a challenge and a good learning exercise, but I welcome the break from the summertime weekend fly boys and crop dusters with their defunct radios and straight-in approaches. Thanks to Old Man Winter, we have the skies to ourselves and I can get down to the business of instructing!  

-Lance Appleford, CFI