I’ve decided that I don’t know a damn thing about airplanes and even less about flight instructing. I was at one of those mind-numbing 16-hour crash-course CFI refresher clinics over the weekend and came away a little shaken. I’ve more or less recovered today, but when I walked back in the door last night, I was trashed…so much “stuff” crammed into my brain in such a short period of time. I think I also discovered that I’m an analog pilot in a digital world.
Now, before anyone jumps up and says my “geezerness” is showing through, let’s get a couple of things absolutely clear: I’m as computer savvy as most kids and more so than almost anyone of my peer group. I practically live with a laptop, and my iPhone is out of my hand only when I’m taking a shower. However, I knew I was behind the times and maybe out of luck when an intense conversation on GPS (or was it GNSS?) featured the question, “Does your box have GNSS in it?” At that point, I knew I was definitely out of my comfort zone: You just don’t ask those kinds of questions in polite society. On top of that, I instantly found that an (RNP)Z held no attraction for me. Nor did an LPV, a PBM, a PTA or a BVD.
I suppose the moment that defined me in that room was when it was asked what navaids we had in our airplanes, and I asked, “Does a whiskey compass count?” I think I heard someone in the back whisper to his partner, “What’s a compass?”
It has been more than 30 years since I’ve owned a navaid any more complex than a whiskey compass. Since my cross-country legs are never more than about 1.5 hours long (only 23 gallons usable), I’ve never seen the need for a GPS. A current sectional, a plotter, a compass and a pencil almost never have electrical or battery problems. Nor are they knocked out by meteor showers, bad guys with lasers or satellite-eating aliens.
Oh, wait, I just remembered: I have GPS in my phone. I wonder if I should have told them that, yes, I have GPS in my airplane, but I’m usually sitting on it. Of course, I could just bring up MapQuest and follow those directions.
I suppose what told me that I was seriously old school was that I was acutely aware that we were spending enormous blocks of time discussing things that have nothing to do with teaching how to fly an airplane. In fact, there was a 15-second statement accompanied by a slick PowerPoint presentation that told us that stall/spin accidents still account for something like 15% of aviation fatalities. However, there wasn’t a single word said about what causes those accidents or what we, as instructors, should emphasize to reduce them. In the entire 16 hours, there wasn’t a word about the basics of how to fly an airplane or how to teach it.
I talked to the sponsoring aviation training company afterward and found that they don’t control their own curriculum. It’s drawn entirely from an FAA Advisory circular that clearly delineates what has to be covered and what to emphasize.
Looking back over the weekend, it’s easy to see what the FAA’s hot buttons are these days. Runway incursions apparently still haunt them, because I couldn’t believe how much time was being spent on runway signage and analyzing accidents on some of the world’s most complex airports. I had to grin considering that most of us fly off of single-runway airports. Plus, grass runways don’t have a lot of markings on them. I learned a lot during the discussion, but none of it would apply to my own operating environment.
Another hot topic was Aviation Decision Making, ADM, which I’ll admit is a fascinating subject. It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the audiovisuals of the computerized presentation, with a lot of major titles and pithy subheads. But, of course, you couldn’t actually digest all of the subheads because there were too many of them, and none of them were explained in a way that we could actually apply in our instructing. We soaked it up by rote so we could pass the little tests and then promptly went back to how we usually teach. This means we figure out what works for a particular student and custom fit our explanations and demos to the way he or she appears to learn best.
Incidentally, I’m hereby issuing a warning: Although nothing was said during the long discussion on airspace definitions and rules, I’m positive they’re going to change the airspace titles and definitions again. The reason I feel that way is because they’ve changed all of that stuff at least twice since I started flying, and I struggled with it every time. During the presentations, I realized that I already knew most of what they were talking about. So, since I’ve finally gotten to the point that I can discuss the different airspaces because I understand them, I can almost guarantee that they’re going to change them again.
Incidentally, and I know this goes back probably 75 years, but I don’t know what genius decided to use magenta and that faded blue (I think) color for low-level airspace boundaries. He apparently forgot that a lot of us are color-blind and can’t tell one from the other.
Everything about the weekend was regulations and mostly IFR-related, and not about flying. Neither the skill nor the passion that is flight was even mentioned. I was so terrifically glad that the non-flying public hadn’t been subjected to the torture that I endured over the weekend. Had they been, we wouldn’t see a single new student start for the entire next generation. It was a blizzard of requirements and complexities that would be off-putting to anyone not already an astronaut. It made flying look absolutely impossible to either understand or do.
There’s a lot to be said for a Cub and a grass runway. And, it’s comforting to know that part of the aviation world is still flourishing. That’s the nice thing about passion: You can’t regulate it out of existence.