Features

March 2009 Issue

Night Flying In The Mountains

Most flight training doesn’t prepare us for what can happen when we venture beyond the practice area.

Our current flight training regime does a pretty good job at getting people with little or no aviation knowledge or experience through a checkride. However, it does a really lousy job of preparing people for the "real world" of operating personal aircraft. The popular way to express this characteristic is to label a private certificate as "a license to learn." The same can be said for the commercial and flight instructor certificates, also. As but one example, it took me a long time after earning my private before becoming comfortable with the quality of my flight planning before I could launch on a cross-country flight with confidence. That confidence had less to do with whether I’d reach my destination than it did whether I had the tools and knowledge to deal with problems cropping up along the way. Relatively fresh pilots with whom I’ve met recently remind me of those days, so it’s easy for me to conclude things haven’t changed much. One example: So little of our flight training is spent climbing to cruising altitude and establishing an efficient cruise configuration. It took me forever to figure out that 2200 rpm in a Skyhawk at 1500 feet MSL was a lot different in power output and speed than the same 2200 rpm at 9500 feet. The former is a great way to putt around and train; the latter is a waste of time if you’re trying to go somewhere and paying hourly rental fees. Another example is brought to the fore this month: How to predict and handle in-flight turbulence. Except for an elementary understanding of a VG diagram, there’s very little in current curricula to help new pilots understand and predict where there will be major turbulence. Even relatively experienced pilots—at least by dint of certificates—haven’t picked up this knowledge nor have they learned what to do if they encounter it. Exhibit A of our evidence is offered herewith.

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