Teaching Spins: Are You Competent?

My article on teaching spins was published in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) Mentor magazine. This article is a good read for anyone interested in learning spins and especially for those who want to or do teach spins. It also pertains to all CFIs and teaching stall/spin awareness.

On average, the current state of spin and stall/spin awareness training leaves a lot of room for improvement. I implore all CFIs to make improvements. Read the article (linked below) to find out why and how.

Teaching Spins article graphics

Teaching Spins – JanFeb20 MENTOR

Recurrent Training is For Everyone

At my day job we give our customers recurrent training. Owners of turboprops and jets get annual recurrent training as it is usually required for insurance. Besides insurance requirements, recurrent training gives pilots a refresher on needed knowledge, profiles, procedures, etc. and provides challenges to a pilot’s flying skills (or at least it should). Recurrent training makes for a safer pilot (which is why insurance companies require it). So if this is so well known why don’t pilots of light GA aircraft get annual training? Because they get a Flight Review every two years? Well, yes, but is that enough for a pilot to be reasonably safe? I say not necessarily, and often no.

Think of the pilot who is a fair-weather only pilot, lives in the Northern latitudes and flies well less than 100 hours per year. This pilot may have several months of no flying due to winter weather, then once the good weather comes, he or she decides to start flying again, having barely thought about flying since the last time they flew. This is not a good recipe for safety, especially for the low time pilot. Of course this is only one of a thousand scenarios that create the reasons for one to get some extra training.

The thought of getting more training beyond the required biennial Flight Review should not deter anyone as the benefits can, and usually do, far outweigh the costs.  An annual “tune-up” of one’s skills and knowledge can do a lot for proficiency and therefore increase safety. So find an appropriate instructor and get an annual flight review. When doing this, I recommend using a different instructor each time (or at least occasionally), therefore getting emphasis on different subjects. If you use the same instructor, at least ask them to give you a challenging workout. Unfortunately, I have seen many pilots who want to only do the minimums for a flight review. When your first concern is: can I get a flight review done in the minimum 1 hour of ground and 1 hour of flight, then I say your priorities need some improvement. When a customer wants to do only the minimum I will tell them that I will try to keep the review as short as possible but it may go longer if their knowledge or skills need work. Often the case is that the customer’s knowledge is lacking and we have to spend more time in the ground session to cover the required items and items I find necessary for safety.

At my day job when one from the pilot group gives a Flight Review or Instrument Proficiency Check to another (we do it annually), each of us sees it as a challenge. We like to play “stump the chump”, which is, can you come up with a question that I do not know the answer to or provide a flying situation that will challenge my skills (as long as it’s safe, of course)? This way we have an opportunity to learn and grow as a pilot. Often we learn or get refreshed on some knowledge item as each of us has our areas of deeper knowledge or specialization where we can share some interesting tidbit with the others.

Non-professional pilot should never think of flying as a hobby or just as a means of transportation, but as a second profession. The responsibilities of being a pilot are too great to not take it very seriously. Lives are at stake, literally.  The sacred trust that passengers have in any pilot they fly with should never be in question. The general aviation mishap rate shows that there is still much room for improvement. There are many causal factors in aircraft mishaps but the most common factor is the pilot. I believe knowledge, training and better decision making can overcome many of the pilot-induced mishap factors and significantly reduce the accident rate. Luckily, much of that can be done at a very reasonable cost.

There are other ways to go about this idea of more training to increase your safety beyond spending some time with a CFI annually. How about enroll and participate in the FAA Wings program. This can be a great way to log some safety or skills related learning or training, and as I understand it, the FAA looks favorably upon pilots who participate in Wings when it comes to mishaps and violations. Someone who participates in the Wings program is showing that they care about safety. The FAA likes that.

Along with completing free online courses through Wings or the AOPA Air Safety Institute you can  attend local seminars or work on some various skill-building challenges when you fly. A GA version of a Part 121/135 currency program would be great for safety (use the Wings program for this?). Of course not many pilots want to do a 6-month currency flight if they don’t have to but why not institute your own study program that has some milestones listed in it, such as: I will spend 30 minutes to 1 hour each in the POH, PHAK and FAR/AIM every 3 months. Couple that with a training flight every year (or even better, every 6 months) and eventually your knowledge and skills will likely be much better than they would have been otherwise. If you are not continually working to improve your skills, they are degrading.

All too often the excuse of “I don’t have time” is used. Really? How much TV do you watch? Watch 2 or 3 hours less per quarter and complete an online course or crack open the FAR/AIM, aircraft POH, etc. Regardless of the “I don’t have time” or I can’t afford it” excuses, you really should be asking how much is your life and the lives of those who fly with you worth?

Our First Airshow Performance!

By Mike “Cuckoo” Kloch

Who wants to be an airshow performer? The aggressive flying, cheers from the crowd, the chance to promote aviation and spreading joy are just a few of the benefits. Sean “Junior” VanHatten  and I were given the chance to perform a routine in jet warbirds at The Airshow of the Cascades on August 25th & 26th, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. This is our story.

I was at work one day in July and received a call from the Air Boss for the airshow, someone Sean and I both know. He asked if Advanced Flight Dynamics (AFD) would be interested in flying its jets in the airshow. “Of course we would!”, I said enthusiastically. “But I have to find out if it is possible”, I said as I did not have the final say on the matter. So began the process of working out the details, of which there are quite a few. I won’t bore you with those but realize that it does take some planning and work to get ready for an airshow, especially the first time around. We have 2 Fouga Magisters and access to an L-39 Albatross. It was decided to fly a Fouga and the L-39. My thanks to Sean as he saved the day taking care of the jets and paperwork necessary to get us ready for the airshow.

Sean and I do not work at AFD full-time so this was an extra-curricular activity for both of us. Even though we have both done some pretty cool things in aviation, neither of us have performed in an airshow before. Sean flies in aerobatic competitions, so there is some similarity with the flying procedures. I have taken F/A-18s to a few airshows when I was in the Marine Corps, and I would get to do a fast overhead break and/or flyby when coming and going, but that was about it. Now we were being asked to fly a “routine” in front of the crowd.

Unfortunately neither Sean or I had Statement of Acrobatic Competency (SAC) cards, so we were limited to 75 degrees angle of bank and 60 degrees of pitch. A little more than the standard allowed for non-aerobatic maneuvering, but still limiting. I didn’t have a formation card so formation flying was out this time. Even though I am a capable formation flyer, without a current approved formation card no formation can be flown in waivered airspace. So we planned a routine where we took turns doing various passes during our 10 minute window allotted.

Friday is an evening and night show with the performers brief at 4 p.m. Sean and I tried to arrive before 2 p.m. but unforeseen circumstances delayed us and we arrived in Madras at approximately 2:45. We arrived in formation and performed a climbing Fan Break, which looks really nice. This is an overhead break where both aircraft start turning at the same time and separation is created in the turn downwind. When we arrived we had to sort out fueling and get our ramp check by the FAA representatives. Thankfully that all went well since as soon as that was done we were off to the performers brief. Lessons were learned here, such as being as early as possible so you won’t be rushed trying to get everything done. Any paperwork or airplane issues could have prevented us from performing Friday evening as there wouldn’t have been time to fix them.

The performers brief went well and then we had a little time to mingle at the airshow. I had a lot of family attend so I greeted them and others, and before I knew it, it was time to get ready to fly. Sean and I went over the routine again and then started up the jets when it was time. Next thing we know we are being told its time to taxi and then cleared to takeoff earlier than planned. That all went much faster than anticipated due to darkness rapidly approaching. The moral of the story is be ready early! Thankfully we were able to keep up with the accelerated pace and take off as soon as we were cleared by the Air Boss. This prevented an unwanted lull in the action for the crowd and allowed us to get our routine flown before complete darkness.

We flew our routine without a hitch and it looked pretty good, especially since it was done with no practice. After landing we shut down the jets at show center and received a great applause from a happy crowd, which was much appreciated. After flying it’s great to get back in the crowd and be available to talk to spectators.

Saturday was the day show. We were there all day. Show up at 8:30 a.m., breakfast at 9 a.m., and a 10 a.m. performers brief. Next hang out by the jets on static display as much as possible to talk to spectators, take pictures with fans, etc. Then we prep the jets and fly in the late afternoon. After flying, go to the performers desk to sign autographs (if anyone wants one) and talk to more people. Everyone has great things to say and is envious of what we get to fly. We appreciate all of the kind words and hope to inspire others to fly, especially children.

After the show ends at 4:30 it’s time to start thinking about returning the jets back to Redmond, Oregon, a whopping 25 NM away. We run into another pilot we know, a flight instructor and former student of Sean’s named Austin. It’s Austin’s lucky day as he ends up getting a ride home in the back of the L-39 with Sean. I fly lead and we join up and do a low formation pass over the airport to say goodbye to the Airshow of the Cascades 2017. Even after leaving the airshow we are able to inspire a fellow aviator with  new and exciting experiences flying a warbird in formation.

So we had a blast being airshow performers! I felt like I was constantly going 100 miles an hour on the ground since I was always busy doing something the entire weekend. Flight preparations, briefings, talking to spectators, family and friends, finding time to eat, etc. kept us very busy. After the show comes party time. This all makes for long, busy, fun and tiring days. Don’t forget to get some rest.

Everyone at the Airshow of the Cascades, from the committee to all of the volunteers we encountered were fantastic. Everyone is very friendly and willing to help in any way they can. We are thankful for all of the support and great company. Thanks to David Robinson, CEO of AFD, for letting me fly his Fouga in the airshow. I am grateful for the opportunity.

What’s next? Well we certainly want to do that again! The airshow committee was very happy with what we did in the air and on the ground and wants us back. So I will get my formation card and hopefully we can manage to get our SAC cards. That takes money and time (as all things in aviation). Hopefully we can make it happen then we can do much more in our performances. Maybe David and possibly a fourth pilot will join us and we will do a 3- or 4-ship routine? There is much to figure out but why not dream big? We have the talent in our group to do bigger and better performances so who knows. Airshows are great events and attending one as a performer is a bucket list item completed.