Return on Investment

Occasionally in life we have a dream or goal and every once in awhile we are so moved by it that we dig down deep and find the balls to go after it. Any of you that have gone after such a thing know that to be committed to the mission requires substantial investment of time or money and possibly both. My journey to become a pilot, then a certified flight instructor, and then to follow my heart to create Captain Drake’s Family Aerial Adventures (a flight training resort), has indeed sucked up great deals of time and considerable resources. Frankly, it could not have come as far as it has without the love ,help, and support of Veronica and other special people in my life. As we chase our dreams there are myriad twists and turns leading to choices that must be made. One major choice I personally had to make was whether or not to get the additional flight training to qualify for my motor glider CFI certificate in addition to just the airplane CFI certificate. In the end I did choose to invest in that.

Yesterday I was training a student in his own aircraft at my favorite airport in the world (3S4 Illinois Valley). His aircraft is an E-LSA ,tandem seat, long wing Challenger aircraft. Bob (my student’s name) had never flown this airplane, or any other for that matter.He simply decided he wanted to learn to fly , bought the airplane, removed its wings and put it in a trailer to bring it home. Bob is proving to be an exceptional student. He does his homework and is very driven to succeed. I enjoy his attention to detail and his humble approach to his lessons.

Our lesson yesterday was about the third or fourth we’d had together and we are both getting a fair feel for the challenger and her somewhat unique flight characteristics. Bob was getting a handle on straight and level flight, basic turns, climbs, and descents. We had discovered one of Bob’s quirks along the way. Bob does not like to put the nose down. The pitch down attitude bothers him. We’d talked about how, while it is possible to descend an airplane with a nose high pitch attitude it’s not always the safest technique to use for long descents. Reminding Bob about maintaining a margin of safety against running head long into the the wing’s critical angle of attack and the ensuing aerodynamic stall thereafter. Once I was reasonably well assured Bob grasped this concept we went up to fly the pattern and work toward making his first landings.

Bob was doing a fantastic job and soon was flying the pattern well and even making the take offs relatively unaided. As is my usual manner I was sneaking other bits of important information in on him. Hoping he wouldn’t notice and become overworked. One of the biggest things I was imparting on him was the special way I fly airport patterns. I was showing him how to position the aircraft so as to always be within gliding distance should the engine fail.

I try to use humor in my lessons. My story goes something like “ if you go to all the trouble to acquire an airplane and weather briefing, fly it someplace , navigating and burning fuel along the way, it would be bad form to crash not on the runway once you arrive. So always enter the pattern and position your airplane at distances and altitudes that would allow you to glide to the runway if you had to declare an emergency and land without the use of your engine.”

One Example I like to use to highlight how not to do things is what you can observe at nearly any airport around the country on a daily basis. A C-172 driver will extend his downwind leg, add flaps to slow the airplane and then add power to unceremoniously drag the poor little airplane back to the runway on final. I tell Bob ,”NO! Come in too high if you have to and then use flaps or slips or dutch rolls or S-turns or whatever you must to lose altitude but this way you will have the runway made even if the engine quits.” This is how I do it and that’s how I teach it.

After just a few patterns Bob was flying the pattern this way and feeling quite in control of the airplane. Now I was having him descend the airplane to just about thirty feet above the centerline and then leveling off and flying down the length of the runway until we reached our preselected abort point .Then he was to execute the missed approach go-round and climb back to pattern altitude. On one of these passes we had climbed back up and were setting up for our base turn from down wind, Bob was making his base to final radio call when the engine did in fact quit! It had been running perfectly and suddenly there was a deafening silence in our cockpit. At this point I was flying the airplane and was slipping it to lose altitude. It couldn’t have been a more perfect learning moment! I flew the airplane to a nice gentle engine off landing and we rolled to a quiet stop on the centerline. I was so excited and happy. I began to laugh while thinking about how Bob had looked when he looked back at me somewhat frantically waving and pointing to the tachometer and proclaiming “Wolf, you do know the engine is not on right?” Yes bob I kind of noticed that but thank you. I was patting bob on the shoulder telling him how perfect this was and he asks me “ what’s perfect and why are you so happy?” I say to him “ Bob, you’ll never forget this moment and you’ll always remember what I was teaching you about how to fly the pattern and never drag the airplane in!” He then laughed and said “Yes! we are safe and sound and my airplane is not bent up in the least!”

One funny thing that happened before we went back up was that Bob caught me looking over the airplane very thoroughly and he inquired “ Wolf, are you worried about the safety of this airplane now?” I said “ no Bob , I’m so not worried about it that i’ve decided to slow down and take a moment to check things over to be certain I’m not missing something.”

Digesting all that I learned on this flight , I’ve decided that the extra money I invested in my motor-glider training was money well spent. This little episode was one hell of a return on investment. My instructor Jon Thornburgh, did a hell of a job preparing me to meet these challenges. To be honest, flying that challenger engine off was a piece of cake and felt just like flying the Samba that I’d trained in while in Torrance with Jon.

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