Friday, May 16, 2014

Instructing the Instructor

I haven't provided any updates on my Make a Pilot project, mostly due to having hit a wall on making any progress. That's not to say that Jeff isn't progressing along - the opposite is true: he gets better every time we fly together. On our most recent flight, I began the difficult process of weaning his eyes off of the instrument panel. They were there in the first place at my behest; it was high time that he began to keep his heading and altitude within reasonable boundaries. Early on, that is best accomplished by a slavish focus on the instruments. Back in the days when young Co-pilot Egg was flying with me in the Tampico, she had no choice but to use the instruments as her sole reference: she was too short to see out the front window.

You could to that, of course. You could fly along staring at the panel, completely oblivious to the rest of the world out there in front of you. You probably wouldn't do it for long, though, because that world is a cold, hard place, and if you intend to touch it in an airplane, your strong preference should be that you meant to.  They don't call the type of flying we do Visual Flight Rules for nothin', you know.  You have to watch where you're going!

This is typically accomplished by having the preponderance of your attention focused on the outside of the airplane. But... if you're looking out the window, how do you know if the airplane is maintaining the desired altitude? More importantly, how do you know that you are keeping the plane with in the proscribed +- 100' altitude required to satisfy an FAA examiner? After all, when you are thousands of feet above the ground, a 200 foot difference in altitude is not discernible.  That's easy: you use the instruments, but you use them sparingly. Because while that altitude drift isn't noticeable while looking out the window, it does show up on one of the rate instruments, specifically the Vertical Speed Indicator. This little gem has a needle that shows you at a glance whether you are climbing, descending, or level. All you have to do is glance at it now and then and correct for any non-level indication.

To reduce the number of times that you have to look at that gauge and to minimize the amount of deflection that you might see when you do look at it, you have to learn the "sight picture" of level flight.  This is basically where the nose of the airplane will be in relation to the horizon. It takes awhile to learn, and it changes with every make and model of airplane, and its accuracy will depend on the current speed of the airplane, but it is possible to very accurately determine whether you are in level flight with only periodic glances back at the panel. I have enough time in the 12 now to be pretty good at it; it will take longer for Jeff.  That said, progress is definitely being made.

So, why the lack of motivation on my part? Well, mostly because until very recently I had been unable to find an instructor for myself. To be fair, my standards were pretty high: you had to respond to an email sent to your published email address. Yeah, twenty-first century requirements, but still. The only response I had received was from a guy that wanted the job, but had relocated to Florida without updating his contact and location info on the internet.  With no CFI in sight to provide the mentoring and FAA-mandated three hours of flight instruction, I had no motivation to even study for the written exams.

That has now changed. While it took almost a week, I did get a reply from a local instructor that was interested in working with me. His name is Eric, and we had our first flight together today.

I wasn't sure how the seating arrangements are normally done when a CFI is training a presumptive CFI, but his experience is mostly in Cessna airplanes so he is totally unfamiliar with the RV-12. Not surprising, that, considering that 99.9999999% of the world's population shares that trait. In any event, we cleared up the question of which seat the instructor applicant flies from (the right side - good thing I've been practicing that) and I was able to demonstrate a little of the teaching acumen that I have picked up from working with Jeff (and, to be honest, just about anyone that I've ever given a ride to) by showing him how a pre-flight inspection is done on an RV-12. This is always interesting to people that know a lot about "normal" planes because of the design considerations that went into making the wings removable.

Once in the airplane, I continued my role as faux instructor by walking him through the checklist and coaching him through starting the engine and programming a destination into the Dynon GPS. I even let him taxi us out to the runway. He picked it up quicker than Jeff did, of course, what with having thousands of hours in small planes, but it still took a few zigs and zags before he got it settled down.  At the end of the runway, I had him do the engine run-up. Although I had mentioned to him that the RPMs we use with the geared Rotax would seem astronomically large to him, I think he was still slightly astonished at being instructed to run the RPMs up to 4,000 to test the ignition systems. The use of separate physical switches rather than the normal off-left-right-both-start key caused a brief pause as well.

After explaining that the takeoff would seem very much like a Soft Field Takeoff to him, (because we want to limit the stresses on the nosewheel, we hold the stick almost full back as we start the roll so it will lift as soon as possible, similar to what's done when taking off from a soft grass runway) I proceeded to do just that.

I gave him the airplane at three or four hundred feet, high enough to safely let him go through the brief Cessna-itis over-controlling of the exceedingly light-footed and nimble RV-12 before settling down to the light stick pressures used in such a light plane.

It didn't take long for him to get the right feel for it, nor did it take long for the inevitable praise for the generously unobstructed visibility to start. If you've been flying high wing airplanes for any length of time at all, it's like throwing off visual shackles to make a turn and still be able to see what you're turning into in a low-wing plane. With the wing on top of the airplane, your view in the direction that you are turning is always blocked to some degree by the big slab of aluminum that drops into your line of sight when you bank the airplane. To me, that constitutes a massive design flaw; I cannot see myself ever going back to a high wing airplane.

The point of the flight was to review the air maneuvers that I will have to demonstrate to future students, and for me to practice them myself to the much tighter standards of a CFI check ride. For example, I will have to do two steep bank turns (55 degrees of bank) of 360 degrees each, one to the left and one to the right, while maintaining altitude with +- 50 feet, while only looking outside. Remember that sight picture concept that I'm teaching to Jeff? It's that on steroids. Steroids, and the sci-fi nuclear mutation that created Godzilla, et al.

It is going to be a tough, tough test.

We also worked through a couple of stalls and other maneuvers. I haven't done some of these things in a quarter of a century, so I'm going to have to go out and practice them.

The flight back to Bolton was routine straight and level. It was a nice chance to unwind and enjoy a little chit-chat. Back at the airport, I made one of the better landings that I've made from the right seat, although I did carry a little too much speed into the flare and overshot my intended touchdown point by a hundred feet or so.

Sadly for me, 100' further down the runway is a hella lot easier to discern that it is in the air at 3,500 feet.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so bold about telling him precisely where I planned on touching down.


Steve said...

This Eric of yours wouldn't happen to own a Pitts, would he? Just wondering if it's a mutual friend.

DaveG said...

I'm not sure. His full name is Eric Howlett.

Steve said...

Ahh, nope. There's another Eric who just got his CFI (I think...) and flies down at Stewart, tho he's based out of Hamilton.

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