Editor's Log

April 1999 Issue




Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t let old skills go bad, even if you think you’ll never need them

There’s a couple of maneuvers you’ll never use again,” a friend told me recently.

We had been discussing various maneuvers required on practical tests, and this reaction referred to the chandelle and lazy eights required for the commercial test. My friend, who flew briefly for American Airlines until concluding that flying for an airline wasn’t her cup of tea, expressed disdain for the hoops all levels of pilots must jump through for no apparent reason other than to improve the standard of living for flight instructors.

I had to differ on this one. Besides the fact that I think chandelles and lazy eights are fun, they also serve a useful purpose. By learning to handle an airplane at the edges of its performance, the middle ground gets much broader.

In my younger days I was a motorcycle enthusiast who spent more time riding motorcycles than I did studying in college. This conversation reminded me of a maneuver my buddies and I used to practice on our high performance street bikes. Someone would place a, uh, beverage can on the ground. We’d ride up to it with the aim of scooping up the can, drinking some, and putting the can back on the ground without spilling a drop. Bragging rights went to those who could pick up the can at the greatest speed and return it to its original spot in the shortest time.

Foolish? Maybe. Frivolous? Definitely.

But it did teach very fine control of the machine. Which is exactly the point of the flight maneuvers as well.

You may never need a chandelle to get out of a valley airport, for example, just as you’d never need to scoop up a can while riding a motorcycle. Eights on pylons might be a good way to annoy an ex-wife, but there are better ones. But learning the maneuvers is important to establish your command of the aircraft. Practicing them is just as important.

We all remember things we “used” to be able to do, but can’t now – maybe playing a band instrument in high school or chipping a golf ball to within a few feet of the hole. Not using a skill is the surest way to kill it.

So why practice a maneuver that bears no resemblance to the kind of flying you do? The easy answer is that you need to know what you and your airplane are capable of doing, just in case. For example, you might need a high performance climbing turn to avoid terrain and a potential mid-air collision.

A pilot in January was landing his iced-up high performance single at 110 knots. He hit hard and damaged the airplane. Fear of stalling led him to keep his approach speed high, but abnormal fear of stalling forced the speed far higher than it should have been.

Practice what you’ve learned. Unlike the mindless drivel you may have sat through in high school, this stuff you will need later.


-Ken Ibold