While working as a waitress at the local airport restaurant, I met and married the owner of CP Aviation, Clay Phelps. One of our first flights together was a camping trip. It was a wonderful experience, but I didn't like just being a passenger. The feeling of sitting in the right seat knowing absolutely nothing is what motivated me to take flying lessons.
My father-in-law was also my primary flight instructor. In fact, Bob Phelps operated the very first flight school from Santa Paula Airport in the 1930s, flew the Hump during World War II, and retired after 40-plus years working for the FAA. I couldn't have asked for a more knowledgeable, sincere and caring flight instructor. Even so, I didn't seem to have found my passion for flying yet. It took me five years to get my private. And, I was the pilot who absolutely hated stalls, terrified of the thought of doing one by myself.
But CP Aviation also happens to be the home of Rich Stowell's Emergency Maneuver Training Program. I decided to enroll in the program in 2001 to address my fears. That experience so ignited my passion for flying that I plowed through my instrument and commercial, and earned my CFI in 2003. I now knew what I wanted to do in aviation: I wanted to teach! Not only primary students, but also emergency maneuvers, aerobatics and tailwheel. I even checked out in a Pitts S-2B, and began competing in aerobatic contests.
Although emergency maneuver training is sometimes confused with aerobatic training, the majority of the pilots I train in the program come with the same objective I had: to gain confidence. Interestingly, many become so hooked with their newfound skills, and the freedom that comes from knowledge about and experience with the full flight envelope, that they continue on with basic aerobatics. Here's what pilots who train with me can expect.
In addition to learning new techniques, you'll probably be flying an airplane that you've never flown before, such as a Citabria or Decathlon. During the first lesson, you'll get familiar with the airplane by doing turns, slow flight and stalls. This may sound basic, but is necessary anytime you transition to a different airplane. This also gives me an opportunity to evaluate your skills and comfort level with stalls. We add in other exercises to the standard turn and stall exercises, as well.
Next comes the meat of the program: entry and recovery from one- and two-turn spins, aggravated spins, skidded turns, spirals, rolls, inverted flight, simulated wake turbulence, overbanked conditions, recoveries from unusual attitudes, simulated control loss and more. By the time you've completed the full training program, not only will you be able to recover from unusual attitudes but, more importantly, you'll also be able to recognize and avoid potentially bad situations before they escalate to something worse.
Motion sickness is a common concern for many. And why not? Unusual attitudes introduce the pilot to visual and physical sensations that are new and that are often magnified by normal levels of apprehension. Though each person responds differently, the overwhelming majority of trainees don't become airsick. Typically, on the first few flights you may feel "different." With each flight, however, your tolerance builds quickly, so don't let the psychological aspect of airsickness discourage you—chances are great that you'll be just fine. And if you do start to feel uneasy, we'll cut the flight short. Remember, you must always save enough of yourself to fly back to the airport and make a safe landing regardless of the type of flight you're doing.
Also remember that I'm there for your benefit. We'll plan the flight beforehand, and we'll fly the plan. Each lesson will build on the previous one. I'll be there with you every step of the way, talking you through the various maneuvers, answering your questions, and helping you perfect the techniques.
It's important to conduct this training in the appropriate aircraft with a qualified instructor. There are other schools throughout the country that provide spin, emergency-maneuver and unusual-attitude training safely and competently, as well. A directory of schools is available on the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) website at www.iac.org. Click "How to Begin" on the menu tab, and select "schools." Do some research, and find a program and instructor suited to your needs. The IAC website also provides a link to a scholarship for the Emergency Maneuver Training course that I award each year during AirVenture.
If you're uncertain about your piloting skills, you're looking to expand your envelope, or if your flight review is around the corner, consider taking an emergency maneuvers course. It's a great way to significantly improve your awareness and skills in only a couple of hours. And if you're like me, the experience just might change your life!
Judy Phelps is the 2011 National Flight Instructor of the Year, and is the only female Master Aerobatic Instructor. Along with her husband, Clay, Phelps owns and operates CP Aviation, Inc., in Santa Paula, Calif. She has given more than 5,200 hours of dual flight instruction.