Inflight Student Pilot Blog
Student Pilot: 8.0 Hours
Out with the old… Good luck Matt! In with the new… Hello Drew!
It’s not me, it’s you. We’re going our separate ways. While this might sound like a bad break-up from a rom-com, the reality is that I will be working with a new instructor in the very near future as my CFI (Matt) just accepted a job with a regional airline and will be leaving Inflight to start training and pursue his dream of becoming an airline pilot. Matt is a great guy, and I am 100% happy for him to get this opportunity. However, as a student pilot, the thought of getting a new instructor after just getting comfortable with your current one was a little discouraging. Matt assured me that he would find me a great next instructor to learn from, and after a couple “test run” lessons with my new CFI, I would say he delivered. First of all, my new CFI’s name is Drew, so at least we know he has a good name. Second, like Matt, he is a down-to-earth guy and I can tell he has a passion for aviation, which as a student makes learning and being excited about lessons much easier. Third, his teaching style so far seems to mesh up well with the way I learn best. He is able to explain the theory behind why we do things the way we do, how things work, and is comfortable letting me have control of the airplane to “figure things out”, minimally intervening only if needed to make sure we stay safe. With us both being named Drew, a nickname for us as a student and CFI might be in order. Maybe something like ‘Two Drews and Cessna’, or ‘Drew Squared’. Or more realistically, those are terrible nicknames and I need to go back to the drawing board…
On the training front, CFI Drew and I pick up where I left off with Matt and continue to make progress on the syllabus, introducing new maneuvers that will hone my skills as a pilot and be the building blocks for future phases of flight. The first new one we tackle is steep turns, aptly but uncreatively named because it is a turn made at a steeper angle of bank than a standard turn. For this maneuver, we bank the airplane to 45 or more degrees of bank using the ailerons, and pull back the yoke and add power to maintain altitude through the turn as the steep bank angle reduces vertical lift. We practice doing a steep turn in a 360 degree rotation, and this is the first time flying the airplane I’ve felt a pronounced g-force effect, being pushed down in to the seat as the airplane makes a tighter radius turn. At a constant 45 degrees bank, the g-force felt is ~1.4 g’s. Imagine the feeling of going around a sharp curve in your car at a higher speed, only the car is banked so the force pushes you down in the seat and not outward. It takes a lot of coordination to be able to execute the 360 degree turn while maintaining a fixed 45 degree bank angle, holding altitude flat, and rolling out of the turn at the correct time to make sure you end up back on the desired heading and don’t under or overshoot. We do 4-5 steep turn 360’s and eventually end up feeling a little bit like we just took a ride through a blender, but it is still a good feeling to learn and be able to execute another maneuver.
In the next lesson Drew introduces me to ground reference maneuvers, which are really three separate maneuvers referred to as S-turns across a road, turns around a point, and rectangular pattern. These are a new concept to my flying as they are focused on ground track, or the line the airplane flies relative to the ground. The biggest point to master for these maneuvers is the ability to correct for wind drift to maintain the airplane on the correct ground track. The winds were light that day at roughly 5-7kts, so I didn’t get the full effect of trying to maintain a desired ground track in heavier winds, but even in light winds you can really feel how the airplane drifts off ground track unless applying proper corrections. The ground reference maneuvers are the building blocks used in learning to fly the traffic pattern at an airport, and how to establish proper “crab angle” to compensate for the wind. It will be interesting to continue to practice in heavier winds, and I’m sure the difficulty will increase along with the windspeed.
Finally, on top of all the stick and rudder maneuvers being learned, I am also starting to work on radio communications with ATC. Flying Cloud Airport is an air traffic-controlled airport (and a reasonably busy one at that), so learning to proficiently communicate with ATC will be an important building block in my training. My new CFI (Drew) has a bit of a different approach than my prior CFI, in that his philosophy is to “throw me to the wolves”, so to speak, when it comes to radio communication. From our first lesson together, he challenged me to cast the paper radio communications cheat sheet aside and just do my best. I don’t think I am unique among student pilots in that radio communications are one of the more intimidating parts of learning to fly. One, it feels a little bit like public speaking with all the planes in the area listening and nobody wants to sound like an idiot on the radio for all to hear. Two, radio calls can be high stakes in flying. Missing a runway call, an ATC clearance, or another direction from ATC can lead to consequences, either from the FAA, or worse, a collision with another aircraft. Finally, radio communications are tricky at first. Notice, I said “tricky” as opposed to “difficult” on purpose as there is nothing inherently difficult about radio communications, but they do take repetition and practice to get down (or so I’m told).
I have no problem admitting that I was pretty bad at radio communications my first couple lessons after that responsibility was passed to me. For example, ATC might have given me a ground taxi clearance that went something like this “7-3-7-Juliet-X Ray; Taxi via Alpha following a Cessna; cross runway three-six for runway one-zero-left”. However, because the folks in ATC are professionals and many of the pilots they interact with are professional or experienced pilots, they sometimes convey a lot of information very quickly. Initially, it felt like this is what I would have heard instead – “7-3-7-Juliet-X Ray; Taxi via Alpha for Charlie Delta Bravo, follow a plane, cross runway three-zero, niner, Cessna, como estas”. Did I catch some Spanish and a niner in there? Must have been calling from a walkie-talkie (bonus points if you get that reference!). Being less familiar with the airport, typical ATC instructions or responses, and not having a firm grasp on all the aviation “code words” makes hearing, processing, and responding to ATC a real learning exercise. For me, the hardest part was listening to a long call from ATC, processing it, remembering it, and responding with the correct read back. I’m not sure if I am below average at picking up on this, or if this is how everyone is, but now I think I understand those times when my wife says “you aren’t a good listener!”. She might be on to something there… BUT maybe becoming a pilot will make me a better listener since I’ll have to become one to talk to ATC! As I gain confidence and experience with radio communication, I’ll probably do a student pilot tip of the week on improving radio communications. I’ve started doing few things that I think will be helpful in picking it up, so assuming I am able to be more proficient in radio comms I will pass along any advice or tips I pick up along the way.
Student Pilot Tip of the Week: Instructor Changes
As I mentioned above, I am transitioning to a new CFI following the departure of my prior CFI for a job at an airline. Transitions can happen for many reasons, such as your CFI leaving for another job, scheduling conflicts, personality or learning conflicts with an instructor, or other reasons. These transitions (if they happen) should be viewed as very normal in the course of your training. Here are a few tips that I picked up or read about during the transition that can help make it a smooth one.
- Remember who the customer is. As a student pilot, you are the paying customer and it is ultimately the flight school’s responsibility to provide you with a quality and safe learning experience. If your CFI or the flight school are not able to do this, then it is your responsibility to speak up and communicate that in an appropriate way to the CFI or to the flight school directly so they can help resolve the situation. Notice the emphasis on the word appropriate. CFI’s have feelings (at least the ones I know!), and nobody is going to want to take you on as a student if you are rudely insulting people. It is absolutely fine to try a new instructor if you are having difficulty learning from and meshing with your current CFI. Luckily I have not had to deal with this situation in my training as Inflight and my instructor(s) have both been top-notch.
- Catch up your new CFI. When you start working with a new CFI, try to give them an honest assessment of areas you are strong in and areas where you need work. Your prior CFI will likely do this as well, but it will move things along quicker and more efficiently if your new instructor is brought up to speed directly from you.
- See the positives. Losing your instructor can be a disappointing feeling, especially if you felt like you were really clicking with him or her. However, try to see the positives in the situation in that you will likely get a new perspective on how to approach aspects of flying. This can make you a better and more competent pilot in the long run as you take the best tips/tricks/ideas from all the instructors you work with and apply them to your skillset. In fact, at many schools, they will require you to work with a different instructor for some of your training to make sure you address any “blind spots” from only working with one instructor.
- Give your new instructor feedback – Communication flow should be two-way during training. The same way your instructor gives feedback to better calibrate your flying, you should also give feedback as to what is working for you or what isn’t so he or she can calibrate their teaching. If there was something your prior CFI did that you found very helpful, let your new instructor know. Or conversely, if there was something that made it difficult for you to learn that you prefer your new instructor not do, let them know that too. Even simple feedback like “thanks for a good lesson” at the end of well-taught lesson can go a long way.
This does it for blog post #3 of the Inflight Student Pilot Blog. Until next week, live life in the left seat!
Disclaimer: This is a student pilot blog. While I strive for accuracy when communicating concepts or elements from my training, this blog should never be relied on as being 100% accurate. My experience as a student pilot may also differ from what others experience. Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect opinions of Inflight Pilot Training.