September 2009Commentary

Since You Asked

Get back on the horse: Regaining confidence in the cockpit

Dear Rod:
This weekend on my cross-country flight, there was a lot of turbulence as I was approaching to land. This made controlling the airplane a bit difficult, but not impossible. The runway was a narrow 40 feet and I got a bit nervous, but I thought I could handle it. There was a bit of a crosswind, perhaps about five or six knots, with gusts. As I was about to flare, I pulled the yoke all the way back but didn't see the nose coming up. I touched down on three wheels and bounced because of my speed, which I couldn't bleed off. Then things got out of hand as the airplane rolled to the right. I pulled back and rolled left but was unable to stop as I ran off into the grass. The airplane was OK and my passengers and I were OK. I really felt dumb, especially since I'm a new private pilot. Now my ego and confidence are shattered. What should I do?


Greetings Stephan:
Here's the one thing you have to get through into your mind. Flying is not always about things always going right. Sometimes, they have to go wrong for a significant jump in learning to occur. What you hope for is that they don't go so wrong that someone gets hurt. Most of the time, no one does. You and your passengers were undamaged, right? I'm hoping, however, that you did learn a lot from the experience. Here's some of what I hope you learned.

First, you need to find a good instructor, then search for the tiniest, skinniest, most emaciated little slip of a runway and land on it until you're sure you can do it on your own. Just to be clear, I want you to find a thin runway for practice, and not find the tiniest, skinniest, most emaciated instructor with whom to fly. Get that one right.

Second, there are times to be dainty and elf-like on the flight controls. But this wasn't one of them. This is a time to be a bully with those controls in order to make the airplane do exactly what you want it to do. It seems to me that you weren't flying your airplane as much as you were being flown by it. Not good for you. So, bully up here. They're not called flight controls for nothing. Use them to control something, such as the airplane. If the airplane is being battered around by turbulence during landing, then immediately return the wings and nose to the attitude you want. If the airspeed varies, then do something immediately to return it to the target value. Accept nothing less. The pilot makes the airplane do what he or she wants it to do. If you don't know how to do that, then you need to learn how.

Third, you felt dumb and had your ego bruised. Well, welcome to the club, of which nearly every person who has every flown is a charter member. Membership renews frequently, but without prior notice.

Can a CFI log these landings?

Dear Rod:
We all know that as CFIs we can't log (for currency) the takeoffs and landings of our students. As a result, all of us end up getting in extra time to maintain our legal day and night currency.

Here's what I don't get. I fly as an instructor, five days a week, full time, and on average, I do three or four demo flights in a week, in addition to my regular students. Here's what confuses me: When I take a demo flight student up (brand new, never flown) the only hope the clients have of coming back to earth again is me. So, I am doing the takeoffs and landings even though they may have their hands on the controls. Why shouldn't the takeoffs and landings count toward my currency in this scenario?

Name Withheld

Greetings Name Withheld:

The FAA partially responded to a question similar to yours that reads, "Certainly, an instructor could use a takeoff or landing for currency if it is being demonstrated and the instructor is the sole manipulator of the controls." This, of course, tells you nothing you didn't already know. So you have to use some common sense here to make sense of what's commonly not mentioned.

In the movie Transformers, Optimus Prime says to Megatron, "It looks like it's just you and me," to which bad boy Megatron replies, "No, it's just me." When you're with someone who doesn't know how to land an airplane, then, like Megatron, it's just you (and only you) who is responsible for getting that airplane down. It simply can't matter if another human hand happens to be on the controls, following you through the landing, while you skillfully land that airplane.

That's why the currency regulations say that you must make three takeoffs and three landings the sole manipulator of the flight controls. The dictionary definition of manipulate reads as follows: To operate or control by skilled use of the hands.

Since the FAA expects you to act logically in all matters aviation, it's hard to imagine how anyone, much less the FAA, could deny that you deserve to log a landing during a demo flight to a "non skilled" person who follows you through the landing on the other set of flight controls.

Tailwheel or tricycle gear?

Dear Rod:

I'm beginning flight training and have a choice to learn in either a taildragger (Citabria) or any one of several tricycle gear airplanes in the fleet. I'd like your opinion on which one I should use for flight training. Money is not a concern to me at this point since I've budgeted big time for the private pilot certificate.


Greetings Daniel:

OK, you asked for my opinion and I'll give it to you. Do keep in mind that this is an opinion and I can't lead you to any known scientific study to make my point. That's because there has never been a scientific study (to my knowledge) regarding the best airplane for training purposes. I can, however, try to make a logical case for one airplane over the other.

I'll qualify this by saying that if money is an issue, you should train in the airplane you can afford to fly. Period. Nothing else matters more where money is concerned. Clearly, it's better to start flying in an airplane you can afford and finish your training than to fly one you can't afford and never complete your training.

If money isn't a concern, then fly something that you think you'd enjoy flying. If you're not sure what you'll enjoy, then fly a few different models until you become absolutely giddy about one. Stick with that one.

In your situation, you apparently have no preference in aircraft but you do have a wad of money saved up to fly. Without knowing anything else about you, your ambitions or likes and dislikes, I recommend training in the taildragger. Why? The chances of your stick-and-rudder skills improving beyond the norm are larger in a taildragger than in tricycle gear airplanes. In no way am I saying that you can't attain similar stick and rudder skills in a tricycle-gear airplane. You can, as long as you have an instructor who emphasizes those skills in that airplane. In a taildragger, however, you can rest assured that your instructor will emphasize these skills, because he or she needs to emphasize those skills. If he doesn't, then you and your taildragger are likely to spend more time in the grass on the side of the runway than on the runway itself.

Rod Machado is a flight instructor, author, educator, and speaker. A pilot since 1970 and a CFI since 1973, he has flown more than 8,000 hours and is part owner of a Cessna P210. Visit his Web site.