Friday, August 22, 2008

Second Class Citizen

So, having passed the portion of the flight test that takes place on the ground, I head out to the airplane. You don't go flying unless you pass on the ground.

When we get to the airplane, the examiner surprises me by pointing to parts of the airplane and asking me questions about them. Not that I mind, I know the systems well; it surprises me that he thought there was a reasonable chance of an instructor candidate not being able to identify and describe the function of a wing root cabin air intake, the filtered air intake, the alternator belt and the underwing fuel tank vent. He is satisfied with my answers, although I have to think a moment about whether the overvoltage light will go on in this aircraft in the case of a broken alternator belt. I hold his door for him, let him know the seat is adjusted full aft, and start to explain how to get in, as if he were a student. That's okay, he says, just get in. "I take it you decline the passenger briefing?" I ask.

"Offered and declined," he says, a mental tick in a box. "I want to spend as little time as possible in these things."

I start up, get taxi clearance and taxi out. He asks for a soft field takeoff, my favourite, and I demonstrate one. Next he wants me to teach him straight and level flight. I show him how to use the trim, and chastise him for looking inside the cabin for it. He makes it easy to pretend he is really a student, as he's a good roleplayer, so I just relax and do what I am good at. He asks me to demonstrate some maneuvers, teach others and evaluate others as he does them. He demonstrates a beautiful perfect steep turn and I tell him he would get a four out of four for it on a flight test. steep turn pretty much perfect, Mine was not as good. I am hamfooted, if that's a word: hamfisted with my feet. The airplanes I fly for work need bootsful of rudder, whereas this little airplane needs me to merely think about the rudder for it to be too much rudder.

As we approached the airport he said that he would do the landing and that I should assess him, as I would before a first solo to see if he was ready to go on his own. I give him control and see that he is set up very high for the field. I ask him matter-of-factly (not with the "you might want to think about this" edge in my voice that an instructor uses when hinting) what flap setting he plans to land with, and what he planned touchdown point is. He says twenty degrees flap, and the beginning of the third centreline stripe. Both are reasonable choices, although I don't usually teach a student to land with more than ten degrees flap until after first solo. I look at his eyes to make sure he keeps a proper lookout, He keeps his hand on the throttle and makes small, necessary corrections around all three axes of movement and with the power. He is on track for a for a flawless landing. He carries it to the runway like that and at the last moment I realize what he is going to do. I brace and put my hand ready to grab the yoke, even though I know that he won't carry through and do what a student might do.

The airplane rounds out sightly and then meets the runway smack!. The nosewheel comes down at the same moment as the mains. It's a perfectly calculated bad landing. I'm not sure I could do a bad landing so well. I say nothing until we have taxied clear of the runway, then I take control and debrief him, praising him for setting up a perfect approach and telling him--as the student--that he will be rewarded for all his good work on the approach if he just holds the airplane off the ground a little longer. I tell him as the examiner that if I were supervising a new instructor with this student I would tell her that she could solo him as soon as he was holding the nosewheel off right through touchdown, and that if that was achieved in the next three lessons, I did not need to fly with the student again.

In the real debrief he tells me that when he does that stunt, many candidates will criticize him for landing long on that exercise. He always responds with "you didn't tell me where to land." So I have scored points for determining where the student planned to put the airplane. I criticize myself for my poor rudder work, and he agrees that that is the worst thing. I am praised for being articulate, adaptable, and am criticized for using trigonometry during the briefing. I admit that I put in the trig because he was pretending to be an instructor and am surprised when he says that knowledge is not necessary, even for an instructor. Not everyone agrees that trigonometry is a beautiful thing and should be exercised whenever possible.

It was one of the most enjoyable flight tests I've ever done, and despite my propensity for overusage of both rudder and trigonometry, I am once again qualified to be paid to tell you how to fly. According to Transport Canada statistics, as of March 2008 there were 302 valid class 2 instructors for aeroplanes in Canada. I wonder how many of them work as instructors.


Anonymous said...

First congratulations on your recertification.
Second congratulations on a rivetting and articulate post... fantastic.
Third, would you mind explaining the 10deg of flaps before Solo? Where I was tought they were teaching a full flap landing (where justified) before solo. I'm just interested in the different methodologies.

thanks as always for the fantastic writing.

Aviatrix said...

Most schools seem to have a policy on flaps before solo.

Some use none, to reduce complication for a beginning student.

Some use full flaps, because the manufacturer put them there for a reason, and the student should learn to fly the airplane as the manufacturer intended.

The theory behind the ten degrees before solo idea is that the student does learn the routine of setting and removing flap, but if the student is practicing touch and goes and completely forgets to retract the flaps, the airplane will still climb safely, and if they suddenly remember the flaps in ground effect after takeoff and snatch them up, the airplane will not stall back onto the runway.

Other arguments I've heard for no flaps before solo is that sets as primary and normal to the student the no-flap glide ratio for the forced approach, and it avoids steep approaches, frightening to some students.

I suspect some schools do it just to reduce wear and tear on flap motors and assemblies during the endless student circuits.

I'm not especially attached to any school of thought. If a student is doing full flap approaches only I want to see that he can do a flapless (in case of flap failure), but as long as he can land and take off and doesn't more than a quarter of the way towards the edge of the runway while raising flaps for the go of a touch and go, I'll sign him off.

I remember once on a rental checkout I was asked for a 'normal landing.' I set flap 20 on the approach, and when told that it was supposed to be a _normal_ landing, I said, "This is how I normally land." To that instructor, 'normal' meant flapless, but he accepted my version of normality.

Anyone have other arguments for and against flaplessness?

Anonymous said...

I have never landed without flaps... this is something I guess I should practice.

I normally use 20 degrees in the 172, and I've also practiced with 40 degrees with a full slip (talk about dropping like a rock !! ).

Congrats on passing your exam.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the ride & refreshed license. Whoo Hoo!

In my short experience, I've never heard of flight schools setting flap limits for solo students. I thought, like you I guess, that they're there to be used, with the possible exception of that last notch of C150 barn door.

It is good to practice no-flap landings, especially if you have electric flaps. I am flying a "johnson bar" single, so if I were to have no flaps I'd have to be really unlucky.

My instructor did make me do a no-flap landing even so. My 180-power off landing was going "too well" so she threw in an oh-oh, no flaps!! It was ok, but I did have 5000' of runway to use up.

nec Timide said...

I once witnessed a heated argument between a new instructor and a very senior instructor/airline check pilot about the use of flaps with a strong crosswind. This was while I was flying the approach, in the strong crosswind at the time. So some hold strong opinions. To be fair to the senior instructor, the new one (in the right seat) had just finished scaring the senior instructor nearly to death.

There are (or perhaps now it is were) also different schools of thought on how to handle flaps/pitch during a go around.

In a lot of these planes the POH/Flight Manual is silent on many of the finer points. I think as long as the student is aware of the thinking behind a procedure (so it isn't assumed to be the only way to do things) and everyone who may handle the controls knows what procedures/policies are being used then its all good.

Before I got my own plane I was getting a checkout at an new FBO. During my preflight I lowered the flaps for inspection. The CFI explained the FBO's policy was not to do that because of wear and battery voltage. Then he said, "but your the pilot."

To paraphrase Mel Brooks, its good to be the pilot.

Julien said...

Hi Aviatrix,

I was taught landings with full flaps as default, reduced flaps (20 degrees on the 172) for crosswind landings, with a few flapless landings thrown in as practice for flap failure.

I find full flaps on old 172s (40 degrees) really too much. Extending the last stage of flaps on final feels like pulling the handbrake, and a lot of forward pressure needs to be applied to the yoke on go-arounds to counter the nose-up moment. I feel a lot more comfortable with full flaps on the 172SP (30 degrees)

Reduced flaps teach a student to manage energy in the circuit so as not to turn onto final too high or too fast. At this game, flaps are nothing more than a cheating device.

I also noticed that the quality of my landings improved as a result of using less flaps. The shallower approach path makes rounding out and holding the plane in ground effect easier. And the extra few knots help with staying aligned with the centerline on crosswind landings.

That was my 2 cents as a student pilot. Thanks again Aviatrix for the great posts and talented storytelling.

Critical Alpha said...

First things first: Trigonometry is a beautiful thing and should be used at any opportunity! Spherical trig is an even more beautiful thing.

Another reason for limiting flaps through to first solo is to simplify the go around. If you need to go around and you are carrying take-off flap then all is simple.

I did a go around in a new type last week. Vfe was 57knots. I made a late go around because of a swirling gusting crosswind that went nasty at the last moment. Climbed out at Vfe and the flaps wouldn't retract! The only way to get them up was to reduce thrust and pitch down. With the throttle closed the flaps once again worked!

Not what you need for a first solo.

I tell my daughter that the two most important words in her vocab as a young aviatrix are "go around".

Congratulations on a nice check flight and as always a great blog.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very interesting answer to my original question. Your answer, and the resulting comments, actually add a neat addition. At the flight school where i learned to fly touch and go's were not allowed so there was really no argument against full flaps because all landings were to a full stop. That said though, we were trained to use both reduced and no flaps as appropriate so it wasn't all bad. Being a huge fan of the "go around" decision I disliked having touchdown as a limiting factor in that decision... just because I've touched the ground doesn'tmean I want to stay there. :) After I got my license though I had to go to another school and have another instructor teach me touch and go's.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment about flaps vs. touch-and-gos.

At my school, I was taught to land with 0,10,20,40 degrees of flaps before going solo.

However, there was a no touch-and-go policy for student pilots.

Some argue it's because the school wants to make more cash on the hobbs. However, I think its more because of what Aviatrix said with regards to forgetting to bring the flaps up before the "go part" of the touch-and-go.

Plus, I'm sure we could all use the radio/taxi practice anyways during that stage of training.

Anonymous said...

Nice post!
Oh, and by the way...about those all-gear at once touchdowns, someone opught to tell the US Marines flight instructors those are not the height of flying finesse!
(SMACK!-reverse-"First Wire!".