Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Matter Of Perspective...

In a typical day at work, I have between 3 and 5 flights. Of these, over 90% are with primary flight students. Some of the clients have been assigned to me, for others I am just pinch-hitting for their regular CFI. There are so many of them, but only one of me. Lately, I've been thinking about the way I experience a typical day at the airport vs. the way a flight student is likely to experience the airport. I am not much of a writer in the artistic sense, but I'm going to try a journal-like style for this post. I hope it works.

For the record, all of the people, events, and opinions described herein are entirely fictional. This is just a literary experiment. I hope it doesn't sound too pessimistic.

Tuesday, 7:22am
I glide my car into the usual spot in the shade by the FBO building. Just finished eating a peach and drinking a cup of coffee. I grab the flight bag, stack of papers, phone, sunglasses, and water bottle that make up my usual equipment for a long day. The morning fog is mostly gone, which is good. I have a student, a doctor learning to fly before clinicals each day, scheduled eight minutes from now, and I need to unlock the building, gas pumps, and get a flight briefing for the day before he arrives. We are both on a tight schedule this morning.

Tuesday, 8:07am
The doctor is here, and we just arrived in the practice area at 3,500'. He has had about 4 flight lessons so far, and today we are starting power-on stalls and recovery from them. After a steep turn and some basic maneuvers as a warm-up, I coach him through the first power-on stall. "Bring carburetor heat on, then bring power to 1500 RPM and add back pressure to maintain altitude, just like the slow flight we did two days ago. When you get an airspeed around 55 knots, bring your power to 2000 RPM, hold the back pressure on the yolk, and let the nose pitch up. Then, continue to bring the stick back until the stall occurs, the nose gently falls to the horizon, where you will relax the back pressure and pitch for a 70 knot climb." Sounds basic, tame, even monotonous to me. I know how the plane will react and am comfortable with it. I am also confidant in my ability to recover from anything could do to us. When we try the first stall, however, I can't convince him to bring the nose up enough to stall the plane. "Keep adding back pressure" I say. Finally, I add a gentle tug to finish the maneuver. The good part was that his instinctual reaction was to relax pressure on the stick. The bad is that he was a bit overzealous, and we are now in an accelerating dive. After returning to straight and level flight, it occurs to me how intimidating, even scary, this could be for a new pilot. Who am I to coax him into making the plane fall on purpose, what foolishness is this? Whats more, he is probably wondering if this kid next to him who is young enough to be his son can save the plane if something goes wrong.

Tuesday, 11:43am
Just finished a short cross-country flight with a college student learning to fly this summer. During the de-brief, I am thinking about how nice the AC feels, and feeling a bit hungry. Just another flight, to that same airport, 54 nautical miles away. My client, however, is really excited, remembering all the sights along the way, and asking a ton of questions. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do - teaching and flying, but sometimes it is easy to forget how blasted lucky we professional pilots are to see the things we see and do the things we do. Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective to make us remember that. Sometimes, this is what I think about after that student has gone home, and I'm on my way across the street to grab lunch.

Tuesday, 2:18pm
Many afternoons around the airport are hot and boring. A lot of people who can afford to learn to fly are at work. The rest often don't want to fly during the hottest, stickiest, bumpiest part of the day. This is usually when I wander down to the maintenance hangar to relax in the air conditioned office, chat with the airport regulars, or volunteer some work time in the shop (refurbishing spark plugs, putting oil in motors, reassembling basic parts, etc.). This is also the time when I sometimes wish I was flying any of the planes in sight other than the Cessna Skyhawks. After over 400 hours in the front seat of a particular plane type, anything else (bigger or smaller, faster or slower) looks like paradise. Then again, I'll bet the small business owner won't look at the trainer plane in quite the same light when he arrives at 4:00. He walks in and sees an actual airplane. It is a Cessna, the brand that everybody has heard of but probably never touched. It is one of those beautiful "little" planes that his co-workers and family see as either dangerous or pointless. To him, it is the most fun he has had in years, a challenge, a tool, and a path to the dream of learning to fly.

Tuesday, 5:37pm
The chief pilot just called and asked if I have time to sub for one of the other CFIs who can't fly with his regularly scheduled student. I have a break in the schedule, and was planning on heading home for a couple hours before my night cross-country trip this evening, but I can stay. I'm looking forward to meeting someone new, seeing if I can help them hammer out the landing flare, and maybe looking forward to the extra hour on my paycheck, just a little.

Tuesday, 8:58pm
Now I'm flying with a middle-aged professional. He is almost done with flight training, and we are finishing the last of his night-flying requirements. I've now been at the airport or in an airplane for thirteen and one-half hours. I have made about 7.5 billable hours. We are almost home from a short cross-country destination. I'm drilling him on flight by reference to instruments, night-time optical illusions, emergency procedures, navigational chores, and nagging about using that checklist again. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about getting home to my girl, how tired I am, and the disparity between the hours I work and the hours I get paid for. Again, I love my job, but we can all imagine something a little better, can't we? During takeoff on our way home, I noticed that the landing light burnt out, but I don't think the student did. Oh well, he will figure it out soon. I hope it doesn't cause him too much concern when he does, I was going to have him land with the light off anyway, the landing lights burn out so often on these old planes that landing lights out is just another maneuver, just a training exercise. Still, as we plow on over small towns along the interstate home, radio chatter at a minimum, the air still, the world seeming to slow down and almost stop; things are peaceful, and beautiful. Without a word spoken, I realize that we are both admiring the beauty of the earth at night as only aviators can. For the first time all day, I think we are seeing things the same way.


  1. Great post, love the writing style! I really don't even have anything else to add except to say I really enjoyed this one.

  2. Thank you! I thought it was a good one, put a lot of thought into it.

  3. Enjoying your blog! Keep up the great work!