Training… You Need It

When we as pilots first started flying, the attitude wasn’t, “I know what I’m doing.” We showed up at the airport eager to learn something new, and our instructors and schools had a plan to keep us safe. Throughout the flight we’d be trying new tasks and making mistakes followed by corrections with the help of our instructor. Our growth as aviators happened relatively quickly because of that guided instruction, and safety net of having that expert in the airplane with us.

For those who pursued and obtained jet jobs, the process continued. Learn these systems and flows. Get in the sim and practice emergencies. Here operate with this experienced Captain while there’s paying customers in the back. Next thing you know it’s time to upgrade or maybe change airframes… the training continues. Flying is the safest form of travel because of all of this training.

But recently I have seen some things that concern me. And by recently, I really mean from my very first administered Flight Review. A gruff elderly pilot whipped open the door of the small airport that gave me my first instructing job. “You an instructor I need a biannual.” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement that I would be doing his flight review. We scheduled a time and after he left, the senior instructor cautioned me about flying with him as the pilot had crashed 2 airplanes in the last several years and had scared other instructors.

Going into the Flight Review armed with this information, I made it a point to talk about these accidents to get to the “why” did they happen. The root cause in my humble opinion was lack of training. He bought two airplanes he had never flown before, didn’t know the systems, didn’t know the performance or limitations, just sort of… flew it.

In a couple hours of ground he was fuel and performance planning, and had the Vspeeds and power settings written down. During the flight I would ask him to show me a maneuver, then I would give some instruction and have him try again. His most repeated phrase during these flights was, “no one’s ever shown/said that to me before.” I flew with him several more times before I left Ohio and he thoroughly enjoyed flying armed with the knowledge of his airplane.

I believe that this and similar situations are a two way street though. Buying/flying an airplane you’ve never flown, or a different type of flying like aerobatics, a pilot should seek qualified instruction rather than just try to “figure it out”. I remember going to an aircraft auction and a pilot won an auction on a pristine Pitts S-1. My mentor asked if he had any time or needed any instruction before flying it. My surprise when the pilot answered, “No I’ll figure it out” was justified a day later upon hearing he ran off the side of the runway on his first landing and totaled his new airplane. Had he waited a couple days and gotten some instruction, he wouldn’t be out the cost of the airplane nor have risked his life.

With the advent of social media and action cameras, our type-A personality combines with the need for acceptance from our peers, and I’m seeing lots of flying videos. Some are good examples with some interesting techniques, and those with decades of experience like to weigh-in to help improve maneuvers. I see this same behavior at Aerobatic contests/practices/coaching sessions and pilots are eager for the feedback.

The scary ones though, are when videos are posted with flawed technique, dubious outcomes, potential overstress of the airframe, threat to life and limb, safety issues, and the reactions to comments from those really trying to help are defensive and dismissive. Further questioning reveals they’ve purchased an airplane with training in takeoff and landing, basic aerobatics, and emergency procedures. But after that, this particular professional jet pilot has decided he’s just gonna “figure it out.” In what other flying regime would this be acceptable?

Assuming training is $100/hr for the instructor, for the cost of the earlier Pitts pilots $18,000 airplane, he could have bought 180 hours of training. 5 hours may have been all he needed to be safe for takeoff and landing. A $500 insurance policy to protect you and your investment.

Every time I see this particular social media user make a new post I have 2 thoughts:

1: He’s not hurt himself yet.

2: I wish he’d just get some training.

Fly safe.