Right up front I should post a very clear caveat: Myths within any technological field almost always have a grain of, if not truth, at least enough fact that they have some ardent supporters who swear by them. (They “know” it’s true and can prove it because a friend of an uncle knew someone who had it happen to a cousin.)
Complicating the discussion even further, some so-called myths aren’t actually myths: They’re differences of opinion. This means some of you are going to read the following and immediately shout “Aha!” before firing up the e-mail machine. That’s cool. Bring it on. There’s nothing we like more than a little reader interaction.
Myth 1 If you make a sudden turn from upwind to downwind, the airplane can stall.
The theory is that if you suddenly turn from a headwind to a tailwind, the airplane will see a reduction of airspeed and there’s the possibility it will fall from the sky and smite the ground. Unfortunately, this subject will never die, nor will it ever be conclusively proved or disproved to the satisfaction of all concerned.
There are two distinct schools of thought on the matter: One says it’s pure bunk because the airplane is like a canoe in a moving stream, and it doesn’t change speed (airspeed) in relation to the water, only in relation to the river bank (groundspeed). However, there’s a very verbal school led by crop dusters, among others, that says, if you’re low and make a tight turn from headwind to tailwind, the inside wing (which is lower than the outside wing) will experience a shear effect because of the horizontal wind gradient: At ground level, the wind is zero, but it builds up to the measured velocity at some height, possibly as high as 100 feet. So, if the airplane is in a steeply banked turn, the airspeed on the two wings is different during the turn to downwind and there’s no “canoe effect” because the airplane can’t accelerate quickly enough to balance out the difference. Is this true? This one we can’t answer because only those who operate in the specified environment can report their findings. So, the myth is neither busted, nor verified.
Myth 2 You can buy a fixer-upper airplane and save money by restoring it yourself.
This is possible, but will only work if the following are true:
• The engine is far enough from TBO that it shouldn’t need work for 400 to 500 hours’ minimum.
• The airframe has no damage or corrosion.
• You have a friendly A&P willing to inspect and sign off on your work.
• You have the appropriate skills to do the work required.
• You have a workshop/hangar in which to do the work.
This definitely won’t work if you have to hire someone to do any major work other than shooting the final coat of paint (you do all the prep).
Myth 3 Tailwheel airplanes require much more skill and are inherently dangerous.
False, busted, not true! It’s called “conventional gear” for a reason: It was the standard configuration through most of aviation’s history and is easily conquered with six to eight hours of dual instruction. What’s true, however, is that it can’t be flown with the same lackadaisical approach to aviating that the nosewheel (unconventional gear) allows. It’s also true that the majority of history’s most interesting airplanes have had tailwheels. Wouldn’t want to miss out on all of them, would you?
Myth 4 Extending flaps while turning base or final can cause the airplane to stall.
Busted! This is true only if you pay no attention to the nose attitude or airspeed. Lowering the flaps causes a nose-up pitch in some airplanes and, if it’s left unchecked and the airspeed is ignored, the speed will degrade and you’ll have a problem. Nevertheless, the same thing is true of lowering flaps straight and level. If, however, normal techniques are used and airspeed is maintained, there will be no problem. So, this myth’s only true if you make it true.
Myth 5 A few hours of aerobatic training will save you if flipped upside down on final.
A huge “maybe” applies here. A little aerobatic training breaks the urge to pull when things go wrong, but, if you’re actually upside down on final, it’s going to take more than a few hours of training to save your butt. Plus, most airplanes aren’t capable of the required push-and-roll maneuver, although they’ll come close. If you’ve had akro training, however, as the airplane is in the process of being upset, you’ll see the roll rate building and you’ll instantly go to full opposite control deflection to stop it, so you won’t get upside down in the first place. That’s the real advantage of aerobatic training: It makes you more aware of attitude changes and more willing to use full control. Plus, it makes you more precise, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.
Myth 6 Short-field approaches require hanging the airplane on the prop from a mile out.
Wrong! Short-field approaches require you to control the speed, gradually slowing and transferring glideslope control to the throttle as the speed decreases, so you arrive over the threshold at a predetermined speed (stall plus five knots) with your touchdown point picked out. Dragging it in is dangerous. Besides, it’s better to roll off the end of the runway at 5 mph than to land 10 feet short (old bush-pilot proverb).
Myth 7 Flying approaches at higher approach speeds is safer.
Busted! Any speed above or below POH recommendations wastes altitude and carries its own disadvantages. A fast approach means you’re going to float longer and leave more runway behind on touchdown. In addition, while you’re floating, the crosswind has more time to mess with you and the extra speed promotes ballooning, a popular cause of landing accidents.
Myth 8 2,000 feet is a short runway.
Busted! According to their POH’s, the average general aviation airplane has a landing roll of 500 to 750 feet, and this includes everything from C-152s to Bonanzas. That being the case, what makes a 2,000-foot runway short is the amount left behind on touchdown. Hit the runway in the first 600 feet, and you’re in fat city.
Myth 9 Pumping brakes is more effective and easier on brakes than steady pressure.
Busted! Pumping brakes rather than using a steady pressure goes back to the old days of drum brakes, which loved to heat up and fade. Disk brakes don’t. If, however, the runway is wet or slick, gently pumping or a very light touch may be necessary to keep from locking them up.
Myth 10 Wear lighter-than-normal shoes for increased rudder sensitivity.
Sort of busted! Wearing super-thin-soled shoes can offer you more feel of the rudder, but it’s a different feel than normal, so you have nothing to compare it to. It’s more important to make sure the heels of your sneakers are not the fat, shock-absorbing kind that extend back behind your heel and give an offset pivot point.
Myth 11 A calm day is safer/easier than a crosswind day.
Mostly busted! Although a calm day is definitely easier, it’s safer only if your crosswind technique stinks. With the exception of 90-degree crosswinds, there’s always a component down the nose that’s making your groundspeed slower. Since practically everything having to do with landing is a function of the square of the speed, knocking off a few knots definitely makes the landing both safer and easier.
Myth 12 Power-off landings shock cool engines.
Busted! This is somewhat controversial. Larger general aviation engines may have a problem with power-off shock cooling in approach, but these are usually airplanes most people don’t land power-off anyway. The amount of time an airplane spends cooling off during a power-off approach is short and the temperature lost is small. Long, power-off descents from altitude, however, can do some serious shock cooling.
Myth 13 GPS is all that’s needed for cross-country flying.
Busted! From a practical point of view, you’d be placing your entire enchilada in the hands of the GPS and, should it fail (dead batteries, meteor hits one of the satellites, etc.), you’re in deep guano. So a map, compass and course line should always accompany the GPS. None of them have batteries to run down.
Myth 14 Ice only occurs in clouds.
Wrong (although usually right). Ice is found wherever moisture and freezing temperatures occur. Usually that moisture is visible as haze or cloud mist, but it’s not always clearly visible. Moisture can be hanging in the mist just under an overcast and, if it’s in a supercooled condition and you fly your chilly airplane through it, you’ll pick up ice almost instantaneously.
Myth 15 Stall-spin accidents always start with a nose-high attitude.
Totally wrong and then some! A stall only requires that the critical angle of attack be exceeded, and that can happen going straight up or straight down under certain conditions. On many airplanes, in a normal, flaps-down approach, it’s quite easy to exceed the critical angle with the nose below the horizon. This is especially true at full flaps. If you have the ball well off-center at the same time, you not only stall, but can also possibly spin. Both mistakes are totally avoidable with basic flying techniques: Monitor the nose attitude/airspeed and keep the ball in the center.
Myth 16 Running up your engine on the ground once a month prevents rust.
Busted! Under normal conditions, it’s nearly impossible to get an engine hot enough on the ground to cook the moisture out of the oil and drive it out of the breather. You usually can’t pull high enough power settings on the ground long enough to get the temps up to true operating temperature, especially on cool days. Generally, it takes at least two laps around the pattern to get the temps high enough to even begin to clean out the engine. Yet another excuse to go flying: “But honey, if I don’t go flying, the engine will rust.”
Myth 17 On takeoff, it’s safer to leave it on the ground until fast, and then rotate off.
Busted! This is wrong, if for no other reason, because the definition of “fast” is nebulous and it means the pilot is deciding when the conditions are right for the airplane to fly, rather than letting it make the decision. Plus, it’s ugly aviating. Pick the small wheel (whichever end it’s on) off the ground, and hold a slight positive angle of attack throughout the takeoff run and the airplane will leave the ground when the conditions are good for both a clean liftoff and a positive rate of climb. It compensates for everything from weight to density altitude.
Myth 18 Power-off landings are unnecessarily difficult.
Busted! Yes, power-off landings require that the pilot develop both the judgment to know where his or her airplane is going to power off, plus the skills to control the glideslope without power. If the engine ever quits, however, these might be handy skills to have, don’t you think?
Myth 19 Only licensed mechanics can do mechanical work on an airplane.
Busted. 14 CFR Part 43, Appendix A, Section (c)(1-32) “Preventive Maintenance” offers a comprehensive list of maintenance items that can be performed by the holder of a private-pilot license on an airplane he or she owns. The key is that the work done can’t require the disassembly of any major structural or operating component. The list includes everything from changing oil and tires to doing brakes, as well as a myriad of other mechanical tasks that many assume can only be done by a licensed mechanic.
Myth 20 Once you fall off the “step,” you must increase power or lose altitude to regain it.
Although you’ll get a lot of folks to say otherwise, this is busted! The so-called “step”—where an airplane falls out of the proper attitude like a speedboat falling off the step when the speed decreases—doesn’t exist. It’s a true aerodynamic myth. Don’t, however, get it confused with either the “drag bucket,” which some airfoils exhibit, or being on the “backside of the power curve”—these are different phenomena and actually do exist.
What’s very true about the “step” is that some very subtle pilot-technique issues can make it appear to exist. If an airplane is given enough time, and the angle of attack isn’t played with, it will always accelerate to the speed of which it is capable for a given amount of power. In aircraft with lower power-to-weight ratios, however, or aircraft in approach configuration (slow and dirty), it’s easy to put just the tiniest amount of backpressure on it and cause the airplane to gradually slow down, while gaining what appears to be zero altitude. The trick then is to gradually release that backpressure at the rate the airplane accelerates without losing altitude at the same time. Losing altitude to get the speed back is cheating, but for some airplanes, much easier.
Considering that aviation is really nothing more than a mechanical activity that’s governed by the laws of physics, you’d think there would be no myths or points of disagreement. Get any two pilots in a room, however, and they’ll find something to disagree about.