Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Learning To Fly 2.0: Cooler, Safer And More Fun Than Ever

Big changes in technology, manufacturing and design have changed the way we learn to fly

But the real “wow” factor with LSA is how fun they are to fly! Because of their weight and innovative construction materials, as well as evolutions in flight control design and cockpit ergonomics, most LSA are a blast in the air. Touch the stick (many LSA have sticks rather than wheels, or “yokes” as we call them in aviation), and a quick, heart-stirring bank rewards your feather touch. Finger pressures rather than broad arm movements do all the flying. Traditional trainers feel leaden by comparison.

These new trainers also can make you a better pilot. Put a sleep-footed pilot who thinks crosswinds are no big deal into an LSA, and better techniques will emerge. A 1,200-pound airplane in a crosswind behaves quite differently from its heavier ancestor. Ultimately, the one who benefits the most from improved technique is you.

Flying Gets Safer

According to the NTSB, 2008 was the safest year for GA since official record keeping began. This has been a measurable trend since 2005. For comparison, in 2007, there were 685 fatalities in recreational boating, 496 fatalities in GA and 40,174 fatalities on U.S. roads and highways. Even adjusting for exposure and other statistical factors, flying a GA airplane isn’t the death sentence the media makes it out to be.

There are several reasons for the consistent increase in air safety. An important one is the advent of airframe parachute systems: Ballistic recovery systems were invented in 1982 by Boris Popov, a hang glider pilot. The basic idea is that a pilot in trouble can deploy a large parachute that supports and is attached to the entire airframe—it lowers the plane to the ground with minimal injury to the occupants. According to BRS Aerospace, these parachutes have saved 242 lives, and BRS has installed over 30,000 systems.

Air bag–type restraints have made their way from cars to airplanes, and so have seats that can sustain high G-loads, cocoon-type cockpit enclosures, collapsible structural components that absorb impacts, new composites and flame-retardant materials. New designs reroute fuel lines, put fuel tanks within protected areas in the wings and make emergency escape easier with more, easier-to-open doors.

Better ground schools and a variety of free online courses have made pilots more aware of factors that traditionally bring airplanes down. Pilots are attending safety seminars and taking courses that bring knowledge and increased safety to our skies. Though aviation isn’t entirely risk-free (nothing is), modern innovations have made safety a hallmark of learning to fly.

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