What are you waiting for - it's free!
While I am confident some of you may disagree with me on this subject, it is my firm belief there has never been a greater time to be a pilot than the period we are enjoying right now.
True, energy prices are not quite as palatable as when I learned to fly in the early 1970s. However, there are so many other advances that we can—and should—enthusiastically embrace today.
First, we can all agree the affordability of numerous models of pre-driven General Aviation aircraft are within the financial grasp of most everyone. On a weekly basis I canvass familiar publications such as Trade-A-Plane and Barnstormers.
When compared to other modes of transportation, there truly are some aviation bargains to be had. (I freely admit I have a character flaw that provides a bias toward airplanes.) But consider this for a moment: my wife Karen’s lifelong friend recently shared with us the cost of a new Harley-Davidson trike. One can get a lot of airplane for the same price.
Learning to fly can be achieved on a budget as well. And with the advances in technology we all have at our disposal, if you are already a rated pilot there is no reason you can’t remain current without breaking the bank.
In fact, there is a lot of free flight instruction available for all of us if we just look for it.
An explosion of shared information on the internet has provided both students and instructors a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn and refresh their skills. The route to maintain currency has become seamless as well.
When I measure against what I had at my disposal 40 years ago, the learning process for earning a private pilot certificate (as well as those seeking advanced ratings and certificates) has become an easier and more enjoyable path.
If you would like to gain some insights as to what I viewed four decades ago—in contrast to what is available today—just go to YouTube and enter “Density Altitude with Harry Bliss” in the search box. It will take you back in time! (And in all candor, if you are like me, you will most likely enjoy the retro component.)
I can still vividly recall the Sanderson Private Pilot Course. Back then, the industry standard was a state-of-the-art comprehensive package consisting of books, a plotter, an E6B computer and a workbook.
I fastidiously poured over those books, and during breaks from listening to Grand Funk Railroad and Chicago’s Greatest Hits on the eight-track, Karen would quiz me. When I was confident I had a working knowledge of the material, I took a series of practice exams that were then graded by my instructor.
When he thought I was ready, I went to the local FAA Flight Service Station to take the written test. I remember going into a small room in the facility, and having a test booklet and a number-two pencil. We were warned to be careful and precise in our effort to fill in the entire circle, or the answer may be graded as incorrect.
Once the form was completed, the FSS sent the file by snail mail to Oklahoma City. It took two weeks from the time I walked out of the FSS to the time I received my results in the mail. Today, we find out instantly if we passed!
Self-paced, continuous learning
All of that is now behind us. John and Martha King paved the way for learning at our own pace in the comfort of homes. With VHS tapes from King Schools, Inc., we figuratively had an instructor in our living rooms. Rapidly we moved from our television sets to our computers, and then to our smartphones. Now we can study just about anywhere!
John and Martha King are what many pilots think of when they consider self-paced ground schools, and I will always be grateful for their help as I climbed the ladder of certificates and ratings.
However, the internet has opened up a plethora of other options, too. I recently read where YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. I use it for a number of reasons, ranging from entertainment to teaching tools.
As a CFII/MEI, I enjoy watching and learning how other instructors teach. (I am of the mindset that if a student is not learning, it is not the student, but the instructor who is at fault.) If I can pick up something from another instructor simply by viewing a YouTube video and observing his or her ability to impart knowledge, I am not above giving it a try.
I also direct pilots to use YouTube videos to rehearse maneuvers. As pilots, we adhere to the principle that we learn on the ground and we practice in the airplane. Getting the basics cemented in our gray matter for a complex maneuver such as a chandelle or a steep turn while in a relaxed atmosphere greatly enhances our ability to perform the maneuver when we are in the airplane.
Plus, the video always provides the option to hit REPLAY! And it doesn’t cost a dime to watch until there is no confusion or ambiguity in any area of any maneuver.
As a flight instructor, I have a duty to promote flight safety at every opportunity. This is accomplished in a number of ways. The most obvious method would be leading by example. Another way to encourage safety of flight is to remind pilots to never let their guard down and always keep procedures fresh in their mind.
No easy answers
I am certain any flight instructor reading this will agree—we have all had questions asked of us we could not answer. When I was earning my initial CFI, there was a standing joke that flight instructors were nothing more than commercial pilots with librarian privileges.
It is true. We have all had to hit the books at some point to answer a question engendered by a student.
And some questions have no easily identifiable answers; for example, the Young Eagle I gave his first ride in a light aircraft.
Two years ago, five of us old guys eagerly volunteered our time and aircraft for the day. We had been flying kids since 9:00 a.m. Karen was doing her part assigning and grouping my flights all day, and it was now midafternoon.
The load she assembled next included a dad, his son, and the boy’s friend. I should have had a premonition of what was coming when the line of questions trended toward an area I had not experienced with all the previous flights that day.
As soon as Karen released the group to me and we began walking out to the airplane, the conversation went like this, with a red-headed kid firing questions at me like a machine gun:
“Can we fly upside down?”
“Why can’t we fly upside down?”
“Because this airplane is not capable of it.”
“Other airplanes fly upside down…”
“They have systems this aircraft does not.”
“Can we do a loop?”
At this point we had crossed the short distance to the ramp and approached the nose of my Cherokee. The dad had already established dominance with the boys by declaring he would sit in front.
I passively noticed the 10-year-olds were whispering to themselves, and I assumed they were grumbling about sitting in back as that was a recurring theme all day.
And then the question came I could not answer.
“If I rubber banded my hamster to the prop, how far would it chuck it when the engine starts?”
I am usually pretty good at thinking on my feet. However, I was stumped.
I punted and said, “We are not going to find out!”
Answering with confidence
When we were putting the airplane back in the hangar late that afternoon—keep in mind I am moving toward the end of my fifth decade on this rock hurling through space—I turned to Karen and said, “I wonder if there are any hot dogs left... I could rubber band one to the prop and simulate a hamster being chucked…”!
And this is why we earn our flight instructor certificates. We endeavor to be front-loaded and acquaint ourselves with all available knowledge and information so that when the questions do come, we can answer them with confidence.
As tenacious and diligent as I was, I could not find an answer to this kid’s question using the internet. I did, however, stumble on other resources for pilots—that is the impetus for sharing with you what I believe to be a gold mine of material begging to be watched.
A piece of the gold mine
Recently I came across a series of videos that truly impressed me. They are hosted by a young flight instructor named Jason Schappert of MzeroA Flight Training. This individual is the embodiment of what we should all reflect as teachers and mentors. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he always solicits feedback.
I was attracted to these videos for a number of reasons. First, this is free flight instruction! You read that correctly—free! When I learned to fly, I paid cash for all my time spent in ground school.
These videos are also a great tool for maintaining currency. Schappert has assembled 31 videos into a “31 Day Safer Pilot Challenge.” It’s an idea that immediately impressed me. I do not want to see anyone hurt themselves in an aircraft, and I believe these videos will help in that respect.
Each segment runs about six minutes and is designed to keep important safety of flight information fresh in your mind. The videos can be viewed anywhere, anytime. I have watched all of the Safer Pilot Challenge videos and I can tell you that several of these videos were enjoyed while sitting in the local mall with a cup of coffee while I waited for Karen to finish shopping.
That component of flexibility is what to me is so appealing about these videos. Surely, we all can find six minutes in our day to click on any of the 31 clips—whether we’re on our computer, a tablet or our smartphone.
As an instructor, I also need to take time and head to the practice area on a regular basis. And I find videos like the ones on YouTube to be a great tool for keeping procedures fresh when the weather does not allow me to fly.
Additionally, I enjoy observing the teaching techniques of other instructors and learning from them. Schappert perpetually reminds us at the end of each clip that a good pilot is always learning. That statement is so true!
We do not have to look too far to find someone in the aviation community asking how we can stimulate more interest in General Aviation. Jason Schappert is—and I commend him for it.