Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Austin: Lesson 1

Fresh off the intro ride, Austin met me at the airport today at the crack of dawn. It was a frigidly cold morning, although it will soon get a lot worse. But after eight months of clement weather, one can be forgiven for considering 28° F as an extremely low temperature to be out and about.

Today was to be our first "official*" lesson, by which I mean the first flight for which I had a plan. Austin was delivered to the airport by his dad since, while he is sixteen, Austin does not yet have a drivers license. He came bearing gifts as well, in the form of a hot caffeinated beverage and a box of Timbits, the latter being somewhat unfortunate as I really can't eat sweet stuff like that in the morning without incurring the risk of uncomfortable belly problems.

Hopefully they didn't go to waste.

It was a thoughtful gesture, and the more I get to know Austin, the more impressed I am by him, and by extension, his upbringing. The news these days is full of things like college aged young "adults" [cough] shrilly demanding things like "free" tuition, student loan forgiveness, and $15 minimum wages for menial jobs, without offering any justification for these demands other than "they want it," or any recognition of the fact that anything given to them for "free" means that it was taken away from someone else. Or, they fully recognize that someone else will be forced to provide the demanded largess and simply don't care.

Either way, to me that demonstrates an over-extended childhood during which the world was theirs for the asking, or more likely, theirs to be had under the soft extortion of a temper tantrum.

Austin, on the other hand, and at a very tender age, seems to know what he wants out of life, and also knows that the way to get it is with self-discipline, hard effort, and tenacity. He recognizes that it's not simply going to be handed to him just because he wants it. He isn't unique in this, of course, with another example being young Co-pilot Egg, who herself had a similar direction at that age, and is now a mere six months from graduating with a four year degree in Nursing.  No mean feat, that.

This is important for me to see. As with probably every generation before me, I've lost touch with the majority of the generations that follow. It's very easy to become blinded by the vocal, spoiled minority that the media love to focus on. Austin reminds me that perception is often not a perfect reflection of reality - there are millions of responsible young adults out there working diligently towards their futures.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that because those aren't the ones out there shaking their little fists and stomping their tiny little feet as they demand ridiculous concessions and handouts and/or the immediate firing of some authority figure that failed to immediately kowtow to their sensitive feelings.

With a full tank of gas (flying for $2.08/gallon now. Thanks Capitalism!!) and a little bit more time (Austin's French teacher graciously excused him from class so he could fly with me) to work, we went a lot more slowly through the preflight than we had when we went for our first short hop.  The wind was dead calm, as opposed to the 11G17 of the previous flight, so I was comfortable with letting him fly from the left seat, which is really just another way of saying that I was comfortable with my ability to takeoff and land from the other side.

The oil preheater had performed its job with its normal unstated competence, so the trusty little Rotax was ready to go long before we were. We spend some time talking about what the communications with the tower were going to be like ("Who we think we're talking to, who we are, where we are, what we want") but I ultimately made the transmission. It surprises some people to learn that one of the hardest things new pilots struggle with is talking to tower and air traffic controllers. In Austin's case, it didn't seem to be stage fright, which is good because that takes a long time to get over, but he was (understandably) having trouble memorizing the entire stream. This is one of the things that I imagine he will be thinking about for the next few days.

Here's what I was after:

"Bolton Ground, Experimental Two Eight Four Delta Golf, at the Tee hangars, ready to taxi, departing VFR westbound."

With the dead calm air, I expected, and received, the reply:

"Two Eight Four Delta Golf, altimeter three zero zero six, taxi to runway four via taxiways bravo and alpha, winds calm."

As a public service to anyone out there that's curious about this, here are some videos I found on YouTube to help out. As an indication of the difficulty people have in learning this, there were dozens more in the same vein:

The lengthy taxi out to runway four is something I usually consider to somewhat bothersome, but it was useful today for getting Austin used to steering the airplane with differential braking - necessitated by the lack of direct nosewheel steering like you would find in something like a Cessna - which is another of those things that's difficult to get used to whether you're a brand new student or a high-time pilot that has never experienced it.

After walking him through the end-of-runway pre-takeoff checks, I did the takeoff and turned us out towards the west. At about 2,000', I gave Austin the controls.

Other than offering instruction and advice, that was pretty much the last time that I had to touch the controls. Austin, as it turns out, has a natural feel for the control of the plane, and did a fairly good job of splitting his attention between the indications on the instrument panel and the real world outside the window. In my experience, it is both typical and beneficial for someone new to the idea of holding a specific heading and altitude to fixate on the instruments. It is typical because that's the only reference they can trust because that have yet to develop a good out-the-window sight picture and a feel for what the plane is doing. It's beneficial because it teaches them to trust the instruments implicitly while they're still very impressionable.

A lack of trust in the instruments versus what their inner ear is telling them has caused quite a few unnecessary deaths.

I had thought that it would take awhile before he was able to consistently hold both a heading/course and altitude, but it took almost no time at all. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I was combining heading and altitude changes by giving him ATC-style directions like "Two Eight Four Delta Golf, turn left heading three three zero, descend and maintain three thousand feet."

As part of his official training, he will be bouncing back and forth between a Diamond DA-20 and a Sport Cruiser. The DA-20 has a traditional mechanical "six-pack" of instruments, and it's the one that he will fly first, so I had him configure the Skyview for that presentation.

The DA-20 Katana and Sport Cruiser are excellent eye candy for the Aeromantic.

The DA-20 has an amazingly long wing. I've never flown one, but I'm tempted to rent one for an hour to see what it flies like:

This is the DA-20's panel. While there are four columns and two rows of instruments, it is the three columns to the left that comprise the traditional six-pack:

I am also curious about the flying qualities of the Sport Cruiser, but there is one based at Bolton that I hope to be able to cadge a ride in some day:

I think I've been remiss in mentioning that Austin is pretty much already in love with the RV-12, though:

It was a great deal of fun flying with him. It was a nearly perfect morning and my four layers of clothes were enough to keep me comfortably warm, and watching the rapidity with which Austin became calm and proficient at the controls was very gratifying. As much as I would like to take credit for my incredible instructing skills, I really can't. He's just a natural. That said, there is a lot more to flying that simply possessing the physical skills, but he asks very good questions, too, which indicates that he puts a lot of thought in this.  That bodes well for his future.

He wasn't perfect, of course - it takes quite awhile to learn to effectively multi-task and he had been controlling an airplane by himself for all of half an hour - but he was very, very good. With him already pretty comfortable with the fundamentals, I even challenged him a couple of times by having him change our direct-to destination in the Skyview.  The most important thing at this point is that he detects when he's going off course and/or altitude and makes a corrective action by himself. That's a fundamental skill/trait that will serve him well from here on out.

Austin has his first official lesson scheduled for tomorrow - whatever instructor he flies with is going to be very impressed!!

* Reminder: I am NOT a certified flight instructor, so nothing I teach Austin is anything more than an older pilot passing along tidbits of experience.

Follow-up after Austin's first REAL lesson:
My first lesson went great. It was just as fun but since it was my first time with the new instructor(Jeff) it was kinda a little tense more or less but we were both really comfortable and acquainted before take off. We flew for 1.1 hour(s) sharp turn 45 degrees then normal 30 degree turns. Climbs and declines. Accelerate declines, slow declines. Slow flight, flying the plane and what it would feel like in landing speed and lowered flaps. And ground reference.

He also said I was very talented for my first lesson and moved into more advanced procedures faster then he ever would have thought. Said I had a very natural talent for it and got a great connection really fast to the plane after [being] handed [the] controls.
I wish I could take credit for that, but alas.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Updated: Aviators vs. Pilots vs. Aeromantics

UPDATE: I don't often come back to update a post, but this is a special case. This is one of those posts where I sat down at the keyboard with no real plan for what I was going to write and just followed a stream of consciousness - I sometimes don't feel all that great about where they ended up.

I was undecided on this one.

On the plus side, it elicited a comment from Hugo, who has been with me for two blogs now, if not three:

Hugo said...
Aeromantic? To me, flying has always been a romance of soft touches and gentle caresses of the controls.

I think aeromantic is exactly the word I was looking for. I had a couple of votes for 'aerophile', but that doesn't feel right to me. To me, a 'somethingphile' is someone that has made a study to something to a very deep and broad degree. Putting forth that level of effort definitely indicates a strong and abiding interest in something, and perhaps some level of fondness, but not necessarily at a visceral level.

Conversely, 'romance' is typically equated more with 'love' - that's the level I was looking for.

So, for the remainder of this post, should you choose to endure it, just mentally substitute aeromantic in place of the other word (you'll know it when you see it).


I was looking for a word that would make a distinction between those who are attracted to airplanes because they can be a fast, efficient way to travel, and those that are attracted to airplanes because, well, because that is simply who and what they are. The former may look at a Cirrus SR-22 and appreciate it for its high speed, sophisticated avionics, and its potentially life-saving ballistic recovery parachute.

The latter? They see it completely differently. Yes, they too may have consideration for the aforementioned utilitarian aspects - the distinction that I am trying to make is by no mean mutually exclusive, but the second set of folks would be just as attracted to the graceful curves and elegant aesthetic balance of the Cirrus even if it plodded along at 90 knots, guided by a magnetic compass and an old Timex watch.

I used my pal, Dr. Google, PhD, to see if there is a commonly accepted distinction between the words 'pilot' and 'aviator', and the best he could come up with makes the distinction out to be primarily about natural ability. A pilot, in the definition I found, flies mechanically, while an aviator has a natural touch evidenced by smooth control and a way of making the whole thing look easy.

Going about the search a different way, I asked the doc about "people that love airplanes," and came up with a word in the Urban Dictionary that I'm not overly comfortable with: "Aerosexual."

While not fond of the word itself, I did find that the definition was pretty much what I was looking for:
A person having an avid love and sexual desire of aircraft beyond the average persons interest. They openly admit their love of aviation and all things air-related. They are often found prowling the fences of nearby airports watching planes takeoff and land.
There's even a Facebook page for openly aerosexual folks that seem to be primarily interested in airliners to gather:

So, despite my initial reticence, I guess I'm going to have to accept the word.

Now, as we all know, I absolutely love giving rides to [forcing myself to type it] aerosexuals. As hard to believe as it may sound, even the staunchest of us tend to start to take it all for granted, at least with regards to our own airplane. It's a fact of human nature that we can get used to just about anything, or at least anything that's really good. We still love it, but that initial infatuation can eventually be dampened by routine, One way to recover some of that early excitement is to share it with people for whom it's still brand new, for whom it's still a longing, still an unrequited love, still a passion.

It's contagious. It rekindles some of that early excitement.  And, it's fun!

A couple of days ago, I flew with an [I really, really, need a better word] aerosexual that I had flown with before, back in the RV-6 days,  That was seven years and twenty days ago.  Back then, she had taken a couple hours of instruction with the hopes of getting a license, but as it often does, the rest of life got in the way.  Work, kids, all of that day to day stuff - it has a way of pushing dreams aside. Still, there's an hour or two now and then that can be spent sitting on the road on the approach end of the airport watching. It's not just watching, of course, No, it's something much deeper.

It's longing.

Before I go on, I would be remiss of me to not at least offer you the chance to review that long ago flight. So.... here.

This time around, the only real difference was the airplane. Back then, I was aware of the RV-12, but had no idea that I would eventually build one. Other than that, it was pretty much a repeat: we met early in the morning at the airport gate, flew around doing stuff on the way to Urbana for a late breakfast, and flew back.

There is one big difference, though: with the RV-12, I'm as equally comfortable flying from the right seat as I am from the left. Another difference is cost: at a current $2.28/gallon for 91 octane Mogas, I can fly as often as I want without much consideration at all for the fuel spend.  The point of this is that while I can't do official, loggable flight instruction, I can let people fly from the left seat and give them sufficient awareness of how things work, how to use the fancy new avionics, how to enter an airport landing pattern, etc. so when they do go get professional instruction, they can get through to getting their license in the minimum hours required by the FAA.

That can be a huge cost savings!

On the other end of the spectrum, yesterday I flew with a 16 year old that has aspirations for becoming a military aviator. Austin has his eyes on the USAF, but like a true aviator, he would settle for the Navy if that was the only other option. (Don't get yourselves all worked up, Navy - I was in the USAF and just have a little bias on the subject of military branches)

Most of our time was spent on the ground getting acquainted, and with me asking him about his plans.  He's got a very good plan in place that starts with getting his license now - you may remember that Pete, my building partner on N284DG, has a son (Keith) that's currently learning in USAF T-1 Jayhawks down in Texas. Keith went the ROTC route, while Austin will be working towards an academy appointment with ROTC as a fallback plan, but I figure Keith will make a great adviser on the subject of getting a pilot slot.  My contribution will be to help Austin get his civilian rating in the minimum number of hours, something that's bound to look good to the military selection boards.

Our flight was brief (I only had 7 gallons in the tank), but it was enough to tell that Austin has a natural feel for flying. This, I think, can be attributed to time spent flying simulators, and time spent driving/piloting the family boat. Both of those may sound insignificant, but in my opinion they are not.

The contribution of the sims is probably obvious, but the boat? Not so much. Where the boat will help is in the cognitive understanding of current. Docking across current uses the same concepts as crosswind takeoffs and landings - one of the hardest things for new pilots to learn.

One thing that I will find interesting about flying with someone as young as Austin is our stark differences between the old school and modern conveniences.  I know I'm going to sound like that old guy that's always going on about how I had to "walk a mile to school through bitter cold snow storms" (because I did, in fact, have to do that), but the reality is that flying is far easier than it used to be. We had a ratty old paper speaker in the top of the old 172's cockpit and a hand microphone. Now we have ANR headsets. We had VORs, which were more or less okay for keeping us on course, but only the wealthy had any kind of distance measuring equipment.

This was brought home to me in a conversation we had through the text messaging on our iPhones. Austin wanted to know if there was a way that he could check the weather to see if it would be flyable or not. I directed him to an app called AeroWeather and showed him how to pull up the TAF from KCMH. Being the old "walking to school" guy, I texted that "This is another of those things that used to be a real pain, but is now super easy."

His reply was classic:

"How would you find this information before? Website?"

What a world we live in when having to actually go to a website seems archaic!!