Vintage Instructor THE
BY Steve Krog, CFI
Do You Know What You Don’t Know? Flying is a lifelong learning experience!
everal days ago, late in the afternoon, two young pilots stopped at my hangar. Introductions were made, and then both expressed interest in obtaining some tailwheel instruction and earning tailwheel endorsements. I asked each to tell me of their flight experience. One had about 80 hours in a Cessna 172 and an Ercoupe, while the other said he had about 120 hours in the 172 and a Piper Arrow. He added that he knew about everything there was to know about flying a 172. These enthusiastic young men brought back memories of my early flying days and my good friend Step. You may recall that I’ve written of my friend “Step” (Stephen DeLay) and our flying adventures together, especially our flight and learning experience on the way to California. Within several weeks of obtaining our private pilot certificates and a round-trip flight to Southern California, we both wanted to get checked out in every different available airplane based at the airport. After all, we were new young “hotshot” pilots and had a piece of paper in our pockets to prove it! But with so little flight time accumulated, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know!” All of our flight training was done in Piper Cherokee PA-28s, -140s, and -180s. Naturally, we both wanted to fly a high-wing airplane. Al Nelson, Nelson Flying Service, was our first stop. Al, an old barnstormer from the 1930s and, at that point in time, a recently retired crop duster, had a Cessna 172 for rent. It didn’t take long for either Step or me to add that airplane to our respective logbooks. With the checkout came the opportunity to fly for the local college sky-diving club. Several days later I was called and asked to fly for the club. The old 172 served as the jump plane; the right door was removed, as well as all seats except the pilot seat. After a quick preflight inspection, I jumped into the left seat and three good-
sized guys with full parachute packs piled in on the bare floor in the back. The jumpmaster sat on the floor next to me. Before I could start the engine, though, Al appeared out of nowhere and tactfully asked me to join him in the office. It was there that I learned a valuable lesson, explained in some rather salty language. Al made it very clear that I must first calculate a weight and balance before flight. No big deal, I thought. After all, the sky-diving club had done this in the past. Sure there was an extra body on board, but all the seats had been removed, as well as the door. That should about equal out, shouldn’t it? After doing the calculations, I realized a serious error was about to be made. Over gross weight with a far aft CG, I could easily have harmed us all! In my haste to fly, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I learned a valuable lesson that day, and old Al probably saved my life! The FBO where Step and I learned to fly also had a Piper Super Cub PA-18-150 used for primary training in the Aerial Applicator curriculum. We both wanted to get checked out in the Super Cub, and after much cajoling, the FBO finally relented. Some flight hours and days later, both Step and I were signed off to rent the Super Cub. Several weeks later we rented the Super Cub for one hour, each getting 30 minutes of flight time. After making two full-stall landings, I tried a wheel landing. It was beautiful, probably the best wheel landing I’d ever made. Then I turned my head to make sure Step recognized my perfect landing. In doing so, the Super Cub decided to teach me a lesson. Instantly I was doing S-turns before exiting the runway. Before coming to a complete stop, the nearly new aluminum prop had become a “Q-tip” prop. After moving the Super Cub to the shop, the FBO took me into his office and gave me a few minutes to
Al, an old barnstormer from the 1930s and, at that point in time, a recently retired crop duster, had a Cessna 172 for rent.
36 JANUARY 2012
collect myself. I was certain I was about to get the best butt chewing I’d ever had and would be banned from ever renting airplanes from him. In a calm voice he asked what happened, and I explained my stupidity. Continuing in his calm demeanor, he explained that when landing a tailwheel airplane, never, ever take your eyes off the edge of the runway until the airplane comes to a stop. I didn’t know what I didn’t know! But I learned a very valuable lesson. After the discussion, he then took me back to the shop, provided me with the proper tools, and told me to remove the bent prop. Step helped, and we had it off in minutes. Then the FBO provided us with another prop and told us to install it, which we did. I sheepishly went into the FBO office and told him the prop was on, and the airplane was ready for a test flight. He responded, “You broke it, you fixed it, you go test fly it.” With Step as my passenger, I proceeded to make three uneventful landings. How they could be so good I don’t know, because every muscle in my body was shaking during the entire test flight. In hindsight, the experienced FBO knew exactly what he was doing. It reminds me of this old adage: When you get thrown from a horse, the best thing to do is get right back on the horse and ride! I was back in the air within an hour of damaging the prop. Lesson learned. I’ve taken what these two FBO/pilots taught me and put it into practice in my own flight school. For example, I recently sent a student pilot out for his first full hour of solo flight without first riding around the patch with him. He was instructed to do three takeoffs and landings, then leave the pattern practicing air work, and then re-enter the pattern for three more takeoffs and landings. While the student was away from the airport, a wind direction change occurred. The student re-entered the traffic pattern for a landing on turf Runway 36, the crosswind unnoticed by him. On touchdown the left wing rose and the onset of a spectacular ground loop was underway. Fortunately, the student recognized the situation, added full power, and lifted off. The second attempt at landing was more the norm, and he taxied back to the hangar. I met him at the airplane and asked if he knew what he had done. In a shaky voice he responded that the wind must have changed. After giving him a moment or two to regain his composure, I called for mags hot and prepared to spin the prop on the Cub. The student asked what I was doing, and I replied that I was starting the engine so he could complete his flight with three good landings. “But this time look at the windsock on final, confirming the wind direction; then set up for and make a crosswind landing.” The three landings were quite good. The student has continued with his flight training and learned two valuable lessons that day. First, he got back in the airplane and calmed his fears. Second, he learned to always look at the windsock. He didn’t know what he didn’t know.
But he does now! Step and I had many fun, and sometimes challenging, flying adventures together during our last year of school. One of the more frivolous flights involved a short flight to an airport about 20 miles away. To make it interesting, we planned to see how many continuous loops we could make in that distance. Beginning over the top of our departure airport and at a safe altitude, we pointed the nose southwest and began doing loops. At 26 loops we both decided this wasn’t such a good idea, as we had only covered about two miles horizontally. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but we were learning something new every day. Had it not been for Step, I may not have chosen to advance my flying career. Alone I wouldn’t have made some of the flights, but together we supported one another and did a lot of flying to expand our flight experience. Those experiences made an indelible impression and made me want to share the thrill of flight with others. Flying airplanes is a constant learning process. It is vitally important that pilots, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, remember this. The young pilots mentioned earlier have both made appointments to begin tailwheel training. I hope I can share some of my knowledge and teach them a few things they don’t know! Learning together will make us all better, safer pilots.
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VINTAGE AIRPLANE 37