Airshow University

Next time you go to an airshow, keep the credit card stowed and learn something


The arrival of spring heralds an important change in the attitudes of pilots. No, were not talking about the sudden and uncontrollable urge to wax wings and fuselage, but the start of airshow season.

Airshows are great. You can gawk at airplanes youll never be able to afford. Check out some youd never be allowed to fly. Watch pilots demonstrate things that in any other context would only be described as foolish.

Yet for all their wonder, airshows often hold an attribute most attendees routinely ignore: education.

A pilgrimage to Sun n Fun this month or AirVenture this summer cannot be considered complete unless you check out the wide variety of seminars and presentations put on by safety organizations, type clubs, manufacturers, alphabet groups, the FAA, NASA and just about any other organization allowed on the field.

Broad programs focusing on engine operation or spatial disorientation are worthwhile, to be sure, but dont limit yourself to formalized seminars. Avail yourself of the expertise that sits in the exhibitor booths and you may be surprised at what you find.

For example, one former airplane of mine had a Frankenstein autopilot installed. Combine this unit with that servo with this add-on and pop off into IMC. It appeared to work flawlessly, but the documentation was incomplete when we bought the airplane and I never really knew how to operate some of the features I knew must be in there.

My partners and a few instructors flew the thing repeatedly trying to figure it out, but to no avail. Enter an airshow. I consulted someone working in the booth of the manufacturer of one of the components. I described what I had and what my problem was. He quickly diagnosed the situation and told me how to deal with it. On the flight home, I tested his advice and it was flawless.

But thats not the end of the story. Two weeks later a package arrived containing complete documentation for my system, even though it involved equipment from other manufacturers, and a letter of thanks from the representative for using their product. No charge.

And before you claim that this is an indication of the power of the press, let me also say it came before my involvement with any aviation publication.

These are the kinds of issues that make airshows valuable beyond compare. If you just want to do some load-testing on your Visa card, you can do that over the Internet or at a local pilot shop. Airshows have vast resources at your disposal for just the price of entry. Sure, try on the new ANR headsets. Watch Sean Tucker work his magic. Then show how smart you are and go get smarter.

-Ken Ibold


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