A flight instructor sat recently in a King Air Equipment Qual Course. He was tasked to do a flight plan, an exercise that would take a student pilot 30 minutes or so to finish.
After an hour, the ex-instructor was still toiling. The poor fellow, once a factory of future pilots, couldn’t convert gallons per hour to gallons per minute, and compute for fuel burn in his flight plan.
That’s a conceptual gap. He never got the concept. Memorizing formulas substituted for learning.
Another student in a big city flying school was taught to compute wind correction angles with an E6B computer, for VFR cross-country flights in Luzon.
But the way to navigate visually cross-country is by pilotage — flying from landmark to landmark — towns, bridges, rivers, airfields.
You have visual contact with your route. If the wind pushes you sideways, you crab into the wind so that your course takes you to your next landmark. E6B computer?
Even in instrument flight, you still hop from waypoint to waypoint, guided by the CDI or flight director. Keep the needles centered, and you’re already on course. No need to compute for wind correction.
Wind angles are best used in dead reckoning — flying by stopwatch with no landmarks in sight or navaids in range, eg. over water. You plot a heading and now you need to carefully compute a wind correction factor to correct for forecast winds. Else you hit the Spratleys instead of Palawan. If you don’t run out of fuel.
But when you can see the ground, home on a VOR, or see your GPS ground track, you already have course guidance: your eyes.
Aerodynamics, also, is best learned visually — watching where the nose goes when you roll with adverse yaw, seeing where the airplane skids as p-factor messes with your climb.
The problem is that too many pilots still in flying school already have gold stripes on the brain. They’re already practicing that button-pushing cool dude hunk look that sends flight attendants swooning and passengers in awe.
Then they find out about manuevering flight, exams, checkrides. Good heavens! Mental arithmetic. Navigation. Weather.
Turns out flying school is like college! It takes years to earn those gold stripes, sir.
So they try to memorize formulas, AOs, CARs, and cheat sheets. Then they get lost a mile from the longest runways in the country.
Zero visual skills.
Don’t miss the journey, Captains. Learn to fly. Know Gapan from Mexico by their rooftops, and the thunderstorms above Zambales, and the windshear over the grass runway at Corregidor.
Know the complete confidence of knowing the airplane, and the humility of working with the wind, not against it.
A student pilot at Clark asked me about crosswind landings. I used the word “flare” during my explanation, and he asked me what that meant.
He genuinely didn’t know. I had to define it for him. Flare? What’s that??
Oh yeah, Sherlock. Flying is easy. It’s landing that’s hard. Ask the gold stripes who fly to Caticlan, prang an airplane full of people, “then whine about the hill and the wind”.
Because it wanted to learn how to fly. Properly.
Posted July 12, 2009 from Manila