ATP trains students for their multi-engine rating in a fleet of Piper Seminoles.
Once in a while, you’ll hear someone ask why they should take training past what’s required to get a PPL. This is especially true of getting ratings that they know for a fact they’ll have little use for in the future. For instance, what good is getting a tailwheel endorsement if you never intend on flying tailwheel airplanes? Or, why fly floats if you live in the desert? Why get an instrument rating if you plan on spending your life in Cubs?
The answer to the above questions is simple, yet at the same time complex, because each new experience of any kind leaves something aeronautical behind that you may never have developed save for this experience. Each of the processes involved, in their own way, implant nuances that make you a better pilot whether you realize it or not. Over and above the increased skill, some advanced ratings and training also allow you to broaden your horizons by giving access to airplane types and experiences that otherwise would be beyond your grasp. Besides that, most are just “plane” fun.
It could easily be argued that no form of advanced training imparts more high-value basic skills than the tailwheel endorsement. Through the simple processes of flying the pattern, approaches and landings, the rudimentary nature of many of the tailwheel trainers force the student to increase certain skills that apply to all types of flying:
Visual acuity. You’ll learn to see so many more details of what the airplane is doing that you’ll be amazed. For instance, at the beginning during rollout, the nose will have to be 10 or 15 degrees left or right before you see it move. However, your visual acuity increases rapidly to where you see it the instant it begins to move.
Rudder awareness. Both in the air and on the ground, the pilot learns what his feet are really for. Most tailwheel airplanes are of an older vintage, so their aerodynamics haven’t been dumbed down in an effort to remove adverse yaw. So, even making simple turns, the airplane demands that the pilot coordinate much more than modern aircraft do. And of course, on the ground, the pilot’s feet are the only things that keep the airplane straight. This will make other aircraft easier to fly.
Landing alignment. Because the airplane is intolerant of even minor alignment on touchdown, the student quickly learns to use his newly acquired visual acuity to line his airplane up precisely. This requires first-rate coordination in the air, so the pilot can fly a good approach that results in a good setup just before touchdown.
The best part of the six to eight hours required to get a tailwheel endorsement is that they open the gates to a whole new world of airplanes for the pilot—J-3 to P-51.
Budd Davisson uses his Pitts to teach essential stick and rudder skills.
Aerobatic And Unusual Attitude Recovery
Aerobatics and learning to recover from unusual attitudes are where safety and fun become so intertwined that they can’t be viewed separately. Plus, the training is short term and is therefore relatively inexpensive. All of the skills gained add to a pilot’s ability to fly safely.
Judging roll rates. The oft-quoted example of, “… in case you’re rolled on your back by a B-747,” assumes you don’t see the initial roll rate as it develops and don’t try to stop it early enough. The recognition and ability to stop unwanted roll rates are key to the training.
Develop the willingness to use full controls. The theoretical inverted-behind-a-B-747 scenario can usually be stopped at the onset, but they demand that maximum controls be used immediately. However, very few pilots have actually felt the ailerons against the stop in the air. The right training fixes that for use in emergencies.
Greg Koontz takes aerobatic students inverted in his Super Decathlon.
Understand speed/G relationships. Pure speed, if it isn’t truly excessive, doesn’t normally damage an airplane. The damage comes from the greatly increased ability to pull G as the speed increases: It takes much less elevator to overstress an airplane at high speed. For that reason, the training focuses on the relationship between speed and G-force, and the pilot learns to be gentle with the elevator when the speed is high.
Short way around. Recognizing which way to roll in a bad situation only comes through intelligent repetition. In some situations, rather than fighting the roll, it’s better to use the inertia built up to continue the roll in the same direction it started.
Break the urge to pull. By far, the biggest advantage to the training is to break the natural urge to pull when things are going wrong. In almost every upset situation, just pulling is the wrong thing to do, but it’s a hard tendency to overcome without proper training.
Of all the advanced training a pilot receives, this is the one that will generate more grins per dollar. Better yet, the pilot comes out much better prepared to deal with emergencies.
This is another training package that’s huge fun and priced within reason. Being on water would make this seem to be limited in what skills will transfer to “normal” flying, but that’s not the case.
Heightened “planning ahead.” Docking a seaplane, which obviously has no brakes, makes the pilot aware of his inertia and forces him to plan every move far ahead of time. At the beginning, it feels as if you have zero control, but quickly, the student learns to anticipate what’s needed and what isn’t, and how to control the situation.
Runway height judgment is enhanced. Feeling for height during the flare is the crux of seaplane landings, and that judgment will transfer to other airplanes right from the beginning.
Nuances of wind are better understood. A seaplane is half airplane, half boat and is always subject to the whims of the wind, and that forces the pilot to be constantly compensating. Every landing made in every airplane from that point on benefits from this wind awareness.
Float training in a J-3 Cub at Jack Brown’s.
There are lots of folks who say that a pilot should first learn to fly a glider and only then transfer over to powered craft. And, they’re right because the basic skills learned in gliders are generally stronger. However, just because you didn’t learn in a glider doesn’t mean you can’t stop by your glider port and see what in that training can be applied to all forms of flying. This is also where the improvement of basic skills is one of the major benefits.
Raw coordination improvement. Sailplanes have two factors that demand the pilot masters the basics. The first factor is that because of their long wings, they have tons of adverse yaw, which gets your feet solidly into the equation. The second is that the elimination of all extraneous yaw is critical to getting even remotely satisfactory soaring performance out of them.
Develops performance sensitivity. A sailplane is all about performance, and performance is all about efficiency. Nothing counts except distance and endurance, so a seemingly minor detail that hurts those goals, such as weak coordination, not monitoring airspeed, etc., is something the instructor will work to eliminate.
Helicopter training teaches better eye, foot and hand coordination.
Helos aren’t cheap. They’re the most “different” rating you can get, because there’s a significant amount of patting-your-head-rubbing-your-stomach type of coordination that demands more from the student than other “normal” airplane ratings.
More eye, foot and hand coordination. Helo pilots almost always have better eye/hand coordination than other pilots because their aircraft demands it. With the third dimension added to the control inputs and very little tactile feeling in the controls, the student is continually challenged to get his brain, eyes, feet and hands working intimately together.
Increased demand on mental processes. Of all the ratings, this is the one that will challenge what your brain knows about flying because only a little of your normal skill transfers. There are concepts involved that, although not terribly complicated, require relearning skills, so the brain is constantly on high alert.
Better feeling for local, low-level winds. Whirly birds spend more time dealing with low-level winds, and countering them becomes an intuitive part of the mix.
Oddly enough, a multi-engine rating is a fairly quick process, with many schools doing it easily in two days. This is also a rating that exercises parts of the brain that aren’t often exercised.
Stretches the brain in different directions. For many, the step into a multi-engine trainer involves their first introduction to more complex systems (fuel, landing gear, etc.), so there’s a lot of extra mechanical understanding involved than usual. More important, since there are two engines to run and monitor, the loads on the brain double and triple because each engine has its own systems. The student comes out of the process with a much more capable thinking apparatus.
Greater focus on emergency procedures. Few pilots spend as much time as they should reviewing emergency procedures in whatever airplane they fly. The majority of multi-engine training, however, is spent on learning how to handle things going wrong. If an engine is lost in a single-engine aircraft, the focus is on finding a place to land. If an engine is lost on a multi-engine bird, the focus is on maintaining control, so the second engine can successfully keep the aircraft in the air. Depending on the aircraft and the situation (speed, load, etc.), a lost engine requires instantaneous action on the part of the pilot to maximize the aircraft’s performance. The importance placed on emergency training can’t help but spill over into a pilot’s single-engine flying.
AFIT offers accelerated instrument rating courses at locations around the U.S.
If a person is doing a lot of cross-country flying, it could be said that having an instrument rating is good insurance. It’s not a necessity, though, if the pilot is willing to live with the limitations of always having to steer clear of questionable weather. However, although it’s probably the longest, most arduous rating to attain (it’s almost on par with the PPL), it yields great dividends in terms of skills that will transfer to other types of flying.
It separates the senses from the processes. Since vertigo is the constant enemy of the instrument pilot, he learns quickly to divorce what he’s seeing on the panel from what he’s feeling in his brain.
A habit of constant cross-checking is developed. A VFR pilot is well served by a cross-check that continually goes through the windshield and the surroundings, and back through the instrument panel, so nothing gets out of limits without him knowing. The same thing applies in instrument training where the windshield is replaced by the artificial horizon. The more constant the cross-checking between the various instruments, the more in control he is of the situation. If there’s a danger in getting instrument training, it would be causing a pilot to stop using the windshield as the primary instrument when VFR and spending too much time referring to the AH, which is secondary in VFR flight.
Situational awareness is developed. An instrument pilot stays in contact with his world by mentally visualizing where he is in space. Rather than mechanically performing his tasks, he builds a world in his head that shows what maneuvers he’s performing, and how they relate to his route and approach. This is a skill that benefits all pilots, regardless of what they’re flying.
Advanced Ratings Pay Off In The Long Run
It’s impossible to sit in a cockpit in the air and not be absorbing “something” that will stick with you and teach you something, no matter how small. Improvement of flying skills is built on being exposed to new situations and experiences on a regular basis. And, this is what going for advanced ratings does. It puts you into new situations in new airplanes with new instructors. You’ll be the better for it.