Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Smarter Than A Tow Bar?

It hurts when even the simplest things make you feel stupid

“Wait,” they’ll ask. “How did you do that?”

Again, I’ll answer, “You’ll figure it out. I just wanted to show you that it could be done.”

Yes, some of my students have threatened me with bodily harm. To avoid that, I generally relent and show them how to pivot the bar on the ground in such a way that the locating rods slide around the tailwheel in one sweeping motion. Another red spot in their forehead appears.

My all-around favorite test comes when we’re all done, the tow bar task is behind us, the airplane is in the hangar and covered up, and it’s “Miller Time.” The student is excited about the flying that he or she has been doing and is generally babbling away.

My car is usually parked inside the hangar, next to the right wing. I’ll walk to the other side of the hangar and pull that half of the door shut, and most of the students will walk over and pull the other one shut, meeting me in the middle. When I see them doing that, I would mentally set up the next IQ test.

Without saying a word (I have to work really hard to keep from grinning), I would stand there outside the hangar and watch as they pull the door shut. They’ll still be rambling on about the flying and are proud of themselves for helping, so we stand there and have a nice little chat. Then, anywhere from 10 seconds to as long as a full minute into the conversation, they again smack themselves in the forehead when they realize that they’ve closed the door with the car still inside the hangar and we need it to drive back through the security gates.

It’s not uncommon for us to talk for so long that it’s obvious they don’t have a clue as to what they’ve done. I’ll lean against the door and listen, while my student, who is feeling really good about himself or herself, chatters away. Then I burst the bubble: I have to remind him or her that it’s much easier to get the car out if the door is open. Another red spot.

You’d think that flying presents enough challenges without guys like me sandbagging our students. But, hey, if you can’t have fun with your students, who can?

And the tennis ball? You’ll soon figure it out.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his Website at

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