One of the great joys of this job is that I’ve been allowed to interview and get to know some of the most interesting pilots in aviation. All of these folks made their living in our industry, and all had insightful thoughts on the basic tenets of flying an airplane. Perhaps surprisingly, none of their concepts were all that revolutionary. Most of them were plain, simple truth and common sense.
1 Roy LoPresti—aircraft designer. LoPresti’s accomplishments weren’t strictly confined to the drawing board. He was best known as an aircraft designer with credentials stretching back into NASA’s Apollo Program of the ’60s. LoPresti truly was a rocket scientist.
He worked for Grumman on the design of the Lunar Module, and later, in the ’70s, when the space program was winding down, LoPresti redesigned the Grumman-American Traveler to
create the Cheetah and Tiger. Both airplanes were groundbreaking models with fixed gear that were universally at the head of their class. The GA Tiger was as fast as the early retractable Piper Arrow and Beech Sierra.
Later, LoPresti went on to upgrade the Mooney Executive to the 201, help get the Beech Starship certified, serve a stint at Piper and design the LoPresti Fury. Sadly, LoPresti died in 2002 before he could see his Fury design reach fruition.
Although LoPresti was an aeronautical genius, he was also an accomplished pilot with some firm ideas on how pilots could improve their flying. “It’s old advice,” said LoPresti, “but some pilots don’t seem to understand that they need to make the airplane do what they want it to do. A good pilot should be trimming in any steady state flight condition. That means on takeoff, climb, any change in speed or pitch, and obviously on landing and for any adjustment of power.
“It’s especially important to keep the airplane properly trimmed during landing and to maintain an appropriate approach speed. I’ve seen so many pilots try to force an airplane onto the ground at too high a speed, often resulting in a bounce or even a porpoise.”
2 Rod Machado—author, instructor. Certainly one of the foremost aviation instructors on the planet, Machado is a well-known lecturer and writer on the subject of aviation. He has owned and flown several airplanes, a Beech 36 Bonanza, a Cessna Pressurized Centurion and, most recently, a Cessna 150. Guess which one he calls the most fun of the three?
Machado and I worked together on the ABC “Wide World of Flying” series in the 1980s, and I’ve flown with him a dozen times in conjunction with that series and other editorial projects. He’s unquestionably one of the most knowledgeable pilots I’ve ever known.
I’m sure Machado could expound at length on virtually any aspect of flying, but his tip for pilots is a simple one: Keep the windshield clean. That may seem simplistic, but it’s a basic truth that’s especially important in Southern California. Machado always insists on cleaning the windshield and side windows on any airplane he flies.
“Traffic is so heavy in this area that spotting other airplanes is more than a casual affair. It’s essential to the safety of flight. You not only get rid of bug spots, you also reduce potential glare and improve light gathering. It’s a simple benefit, but an important one.”
X-15 test pilot Scott Crossfield was the first to fly Mach 2.0, but he recommends not running a general aviation engine harder than 55% power for cruise.
3 Scott Crossfield—X-15 test pilot. I met Scott Crossfield at the 1987 Sun ‘n Fun Show in Lakeland, Fla. Crossfield needed an engine overhaul on his Cessna 210, and I was consulting with Victor Sloan of Victor Aviation. Crossfield stopped by the Victor Engines booth at Lakeland, we talked and he wound up buying a Victor Black Edition engine.
Modern pilots may know Crossfield by his participation in the 2003 Wright 100th Anniversary Commemoration, but Crossfield’s credentials are much more substantial. At one time in 1955, Crossfield had more rocket-plane test time than any other man, he was the first to fly Mach 2.0 and may have been the first to survive reaching Mach 3.0. (Fellow test pilot Mel Apt was the first to actually exceed Mach 3.0, but he lost control and was killed while trying to recover.)
For a man who was famous for being the first to exceed 2,000 mph, Crossfield used to preach an unusual mantra. He believed that, “You make your own luck. When I was flying the rocket planes at Edwards AFB in the ’50s, I was being paid to define the upper limits of performance. Since no one had ever been there, we needed to see what would happen at the top of the envelope, and that was my job.
“Today, I never run my engine hard because there’s nothing to prove. There’s just no reason to run a general aviation engine harder than about 55% power for cruise.”
4 Bob Hoover—test/air show pilot. It seems everyone knows Bob Hoover, the dean of air show flying in America. After a distinguished career as a test pilot in the USAF, Hoover began flying air shows for North American Rockwell in both his yellow P-51 Mustang and the Shrike Commander. I’ve flown with Hoover in both airplanes, and anyone who has witnessed his amazing performances at Lakeland, Oshkosh, Reno, or any other venue can attest to his stunning facility with a flying machine.
Hoover’s experience and ability qualifies him to comment on virtually all aspects of aviation, but he confines his advice to one important subject. “I learned the hard way that spins are a bad idea in the P-51,” Hoover explains. “In fact, I believe they’re a bad idea in any airplane, and that’s one reason I never did them in my air show act.”
Hoover acknowledges that spins aren’t much of an event in a Pitts, Super Decathlon or Extra. Most of the time, they’re easily controllable and will recover almost immediately to proper control inputs, but Hoover feels there are still too many unknowns about spins. Variations of rig, CG, rough air and a dozen other irregularities can make spins unpredictable.
5 Max Conrad—ferry pilot, long-distance flyer. Conrad was one of the world’s most famous ferry pilots back in the 1950s and ’60s, and his long-distance flights remain practically legend. One of the longest he flew was in a Comanche 250 from Casablanca, Morocco, to Los Angeles in 1959, 7,668 sm in 58 hours, 38 minutes.
Conrad even had a personal connection to Plane & Pilot. He taught Don Werner, founder of this magazine, to fly. When I edited Plane & Pilot back in the last century, Conrad was one of my columnists on his column, “Ask Max.” Conrad claimed he had 50,000 flight hours (that’s three hours a day, seven days a week for 50 years), but whatever the actual number, he had a wealth of real- world experience.
I once asked Conrad if he had any universal advice for young pilots, and he said, “Whatever the airplane, always remember that the health of the engine(s) is a result of the cumulative effect of your treatment. If you make enough little mistakes, such as operating the engine too lean or too hot, forget to open the cowl flaps for climb, ignore the effects of shock cooling or get in the habit of running the oil level too low, you may eventually have to pay a penalty. In flying the ocean for 50 years on 180 separate delivery trips, most often ferrying new airplanes overseas, I always tried to keep in mind that the engine was my security blanket. I knew if I took good care of it, it would probably keep me warm and dry.”
6 Duane Cole—air show performer, author. Duane Cole was perhaps best known for his clipped-wing Taylorcraft BF-50 with his name written upside down on the aft fuselage.
That’s because Cole spent so much of his time inverted in the little, single-seat T-craft. Cole and two brothers, Lester and Marion, comprised the Cole Brothers Air Shows, and their performances were a staple of flight demonstrations all over America in the 1950s and 1960s.
So much of Cole’s life was wrapped up in aerobatics that he wrote two books on the subject, Roll Around A Point and Conquest Of Lines And Symmetry. Therefore, it’s not hard to understand that the air show pilot felt every aviator could benefit from aerobatic training.
Cole’s logic was irrefutable, and he proved that to me on that afternoon in Alexandria. Although I had done some acro in the Great Lakes area, I had treated it as an interesting diversion rather than a life-saving alternative. Cole’s command of the airplane was phenomenal, and he explained to me the very real benefits of learning aerobatics as escape maneuvers.
“If you fly around major airports, especially those with a mix of airline and general aviation traffic,” he said, “you’re bound to someday stumble into tip vortices off a big jet. If you react instinctively, and pull back on the yoke from inverted, you’ll almost certainly split-S into the ground unless you have lots of altitude. If you’ve been trained to continue the roll and recover to upright, you’ll have at least a chance of surviving,” Cole explained.
7 Richard Taylor—college professor, author. Of all the pilot/aviators who have written about aviation, Ohio State University assistant professor Richard Taylor may be the most lucid. Taylor’s primary qualification was his 24 years as an air force pilot, flying everything from KC-97 tankers to Lockheed T-33 trainers. In total, Taylor logged some 12,000 hours in the sky, and he translated much of that experience to his dozen or so books on all aspects of aviation. He brought years of USAF experience and a readable style to what had been predominately a cold, clinical subject, bringing stark facts to life.
Like many pilots trained in the ’60s and ’70s, I devoured everything Taylor wrote, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him back in the early ’90s. One of Taylor’s practical tips related to pilots who make everyone’s job more difficult by talking too much.
“Some pilots seem to be in love with the sound of their own voice,” Taylor explains, “and that can be a particular problem in busy airspace. It’s especially onerous during IFR when a given controller may be working a dozen or more aircraft, and needs everyone to act professionally on the radio by keeping their communications short and concise.”
8 Art Scholl—air show pilot. Scholl was so much more than simply an air show pilot that it’s hard to describe his career. In addition to his air show appearances in his Super Chipmunks, Scholl was the head of the Department of Aeronautics at San Bernardino Valley College and also a contractor to NASA, flying high-risk missions researching pilot G-limits.
He was also air boss on some 200 motion picture, television and commercial shoots. (Scholl was killed flying his Pitts S2 in 1985 in an inverted flat spin while flying and shooting second-unit footage for the movie Top Gun.)
Scholl was perhaps, first of all, a teacher, and when I used to stop by his facility at Flabob Airport in Riverside, Calif., he’d often be teaching aerobatic ground school to an advanced student or preparing for a flight lesson.
Although Scholl’s type of flying often didn’t lend itself to checklists, he preached the use of them. Like many of us, he studied accidents adamantly where use of a checklist might have avoided catastrophe.
“The whole point of checklists is obviously to make certain you don’t forget key items,” said Scholl. “That becomes increasingly more important as the level of complexity escalates with faster airplanes flying behind more exotic systems. Accident records are replete with stories of pilots who forgot to turn on electric fuel pumps or neglected to switch tanks for takeoff or landing, forgot to put the gear down and landed gear up or tried to go around with the mixture still leaned for cruise. Checklists let you sidestep all those traps.”
9 William Kershner—author, instructor. Bill Kershner was a freelancer for P&P 40 years ago, and I bought several of his articles in the late 1970s. He was perhaps most famous for his comprehensive training manuals on everything from the private-pilot license to the commercial and the instrument rating.
Throughout his instruction manuals, Kershner encourages pilots to take it easy on themselves. “It’s important to keep flying as comfortable and easy as possible,” Kershner explains. “Take it easy on yourself. Always keep the airplane in trim, plan ahead on fuel, descent, switching tanks. Make certain you have all the weather information you need, and never allow it to get ahead of you. In short, do everything possible to make flying fun.”
10 Barry Schiff—airline captain, author. Schiff worked with Rod Machado and me on the ABC show mentioned above. A former TWA captain and author of half a dozen books and hundreds of magazine articles, Schiff has virtually every rating the FAA offers, and he has flown more than 300 types of airplanes.
His advice to pilots is perhaps the simplest of all. “If I’ve learned anything in the last 50 years of flying, the most elemental lesson is to pay attention to your gut,” says Schiff. “If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Another way to express it is, when in doubt, don’t.
“It’s not necessary to have multiple ratings and thousands of hours to develop an instinct for detecting a glitch. Even if you can’t identify the specific problem, pay attention to your instincts. Accident reports are filled with stories of pilots who sensed that something was not right and continued their flight, anyway. Pay attention to what your senses tell you and act accordingly.”