Today’s Flight Plan
Ron Rapp of Rapp.org joins us to talk about a plethora of subjects. Why should you listen to this guy? He has incredible thoughts and ideas that impact us as pilots, some of which you can read on his website.
Ron has done all sorts of flying- aerobatics, tailwheel, crop-dusting, and owned his own airplanes, just to name a few. Now he is a Charter Captain on the Gulfstream IV SP, flying a wide variety of clients out of the LA area.
In this discussion we talk a lot about how to keep the passion alive as a professional pilot when flying ends up becoming ‘just another job’. As unrealistic as that sounds to prospective professional pilots, burnout is very real.
Also discussed are some aviation safety issues, the use of flight simulation as a tool in training, and much more.
Ron Rapp of Rapp.org
Thanks for joining us on the show, Ron. It’s apparent that you are the epitome of an aviator. Guys like you show us that in today’s world, we can still have that ‘old-school-flow-all-dat’ persona, without being a know-it-all. Your story and body of work continue to inspire. Please keep it up!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Chris: This is AviatorCast episode 37, riding a Gulfstream in the jet stream.
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I love the heart-pounding action of flying close to the trees, high power, with a glassy lake in front of me in the backcountry. Of course, all types of flying gets my engine going, not just backcountry flying. Flying for me perhaps like you is a near-spiritual experience.
I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion, and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So welcome to this, the 37th episode of AviatorCast. You know, when I was a young boy or rather a teenager, my number in football was 37, so that’s kind of cool, and we’re talking about the American type of football, not soccer if you will. Anyway, just kind of a random fact about me. So welcome to again the 37th episode of AviatorCast. I have an awesome show lined up for you guys today. As always, we start off with a review. This one comes from Brian Massex. He says “Amazing, honest, humble content that all aviator enthusiasts will love.” Thank you Brian. I really appreciate that review. You too can review this show by going to iTunes and reviewing it there. That would be much appreciated if you enjoy this. That helps others find out about this show.
We have a fantastic guest on this show today. We have Ron Rapp of Rapp.org joining us. That is spelled with two PPs. He is a fantastic author. He is a Gulfstream IV-SP pilot. He is an aerobatic pilot and instructor. He has a whole lot of hours and a great amount of airplanes. He is a super cool guy with a lot of thoughts and ideas that align very well with some of the topics we’ve talked about here on AviatorCast. So I’m overjoyed to have him on the show today and let’s dive in right into that interview. Here is Hangar Talk with Ron Rapp of Rapp.org.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have Ron Rapp with us today. How you doing Ron?
Ron: I’m doing great Chris. Thanks so much for having me on the show. I’ve been looking forward to being with you. In fact, I just got done listening to your last podcast with Eric Auxier and it’s funny, I just finished reading his book and literally I listened to the podcast with him on it.
Chris: Right on. Yeah, he’s a great guy. I think you guys worked a little bit together with blogging information, is that right?
Ron: Exactly. I haven’t met him in person yet but I’ve followed his stuff, he’s followed mine. We’ve written on common topics on our blogs, and I kind of feel like we’re old friends even though I’ve literally never physically met him before.
Chris: Right. Well, he’s that type of guy too that I think everyone kind of got that from the podcast. He’s very personable.
Ron: Absolutely, absolutely. You get that from him right away. I really was hoping I’d make it to Oshkosh this year because he was there and I think it would have been just the ultimate thing to go around Oshkosh with him in particular. He just gravitates to people. I doubt that I missed on that but that’s part of life especially when you fly for a living.
Chris: Maybe next year.
Ron: Maybe next year. There’s always next year. Absolutely.
Chris: Yep. And it’s probably never going to go away, so even if you’re 50 years down the road,
you’ll be able to go.
Ron: That’s right.
Chris: Alright. So you are, much like Eric, you are a blogger extraordinaire but that’s not all you are. You have a long career in aviation and a little, maybe a little bit is kind of an understatement, but a little bit of variety in there, so you’ve flown a lot of airplanes, you have a lot of different hours, and now I understand that you’re a corporate pilot, is that right?
Ron: Yeah. I’m flying for a Los Angeles-based charter company, captain on the Gulfstream IV-SP, and it’s been great. I’ve been able to travel the world and meet a lot of really great people. I’m really enjoying it. I was a contract pilot for a long time in this field but then I just recently made the jump to being full time and I’ve really been enjoying it. I wasn’t sure how I would take to it but so far it’s been great. I have no complaints and I’m looking forward to what’s come in the following year.
Chris: Great. So the first question I always ask our guests is, how did you fall in love with aviation? Now, I saw this picture of you on your blog in your About section at Rapp.org, and you are, let’s see, I think it was 1977, you’re sitting in the right seat of a 727, just a little tike with the captain’s hat on.
Ron: Yep, a very different age for aviation, for commercial airlines. I remember it like it was yesterday. I often tell people the pilot you’ll see in that picture was me, probably forgot about our encounter two minutes after it was over, but here I am, 30 years later and I literally do remember it like it was yesterday, and I think that was beginning of me falling in love with aviation. I was just a kid, and if you go on website in the About section, you’ll see the picture that Chris is talking about. I’m in a two-piece denim suit and I’m sitting there next to the captain and I remember, they really treat you like a VIP back then. This was on TWA on a 727. And they would bring you up into the cockpit in-flight, mind you, and they would give you a little set of pilot wings and show you around and everything, and then after the flight was over, when they left, they let you into the cockpit. I just sit in the pilot’s seat, they put a hat on you and they really take the time to, as a kid, expose you to aviation and give you some extra attention.
Nowadays, I think if you inquired about going into the cockpit, you’d probably be zipped tight to your seat before you knew what had happened. But a much different experience definitely and it kind of started me on the road to falling in love with aviation although ironically today, the thing I love least about the aviation world is airlining, so it shows you how much things have changed.
Chris: Well, we always need contrast here in the podcast, so we had Eric on last week and we have you here this week, so why not? Why not get a different perspective?
Chris: So was aviation in your family at all or are you kind of first generation?
Ron: Well, kind of first generation. My parents both died when I was pretty young. I went up and lived in Alaska actually which is where you’re at. So I lived in Eagle River which is near Anchorage, and I was living with my cousin who was an air traffic controller. He had been hired after the controller struck in 1981 I think it was. Anyway, Reagan fired them all and he was one of the thousands of people that were hired and put through training to replace some. So I was living up in Alaska and hanging around my cousin who was a pilot as well as an air traffic controller, so I got kind of exposed to it that way.
I didn’t really have dreams of flying for a living or anything like that but I knew it was something that I loved and enjoyed and as you know, you can’t even be in Alaska without being exposed to aviation because it’s like a driver’s license up there, everybody flies.
Chris: Exactly, yep.
Ron: So that’s kind of how it started. I do really have other connections to flying. One of my brothers was on helicopters in Vietnam and I’ve seen pictures, he was shot down I want to say three times and all three times, he was the only one on the helicopter that survived. I’ve got these little pictures. You know, they had a different format back then. The pictures were actually square. I forget what the format was called but somewhere I’ve got a black and white and all you see is a pile of wreckage about the size of desk, just real compact. He told me, he says “This is what was left of one of the helicopters.”
Chris: That’s unbelievable. So tell us a little bit more about your history, kind of you going up through your initial training, how you built your hours. I know that’s where things start to get really diverse for you, so just start to dive into that.
Ron: Sure. Well, I don’t know how it started. One day, I was driving down the road right past John Wayne Airport and for some reason, I saw an awning that said “Learn to fly.” I don’t even remember where I was going or what I was doing but I saw this sign and something clicked in my head and I just said “Yeah. Yes.” It’s almost like something I’d forgotten to do. I said yes and literally, I was slamming on the breaks of my car, I must’ve been doing 50. I left a big skid mark in the street, and I made this right turn into the parking lot and I walked in there and I just said “Here I am, let’s go.” You know, I never took a demo flight. I never checked out multiple schools, I knew the things I probably should’ve done. I was very lucky I happened to pick a very good place to learn and a lot of the things that I’ve done since then are an outgrowth of the fact that I learned at that particular flight school.
But anyway, I wanted to do it for my own personal edification. I wanted to just experience flying and become a pilot. No plans to do it professionally or anything like that and I went through the private program. I started in, I want to say like early August and I took my checkride on Christmas Eve. I went through it pretty quickly compared to how long it takes most people. I didn’t realize it at that time but I was moving pretty good, probably flying about three times a week on average.
Ron: I finished that and then when you finish, the flight school that I learned at that’s called Sunrise Aviation, they give you a free hour of aerobatics as a thank you for going through their private program so no problem. I should add that they don’t let anybody solo until they’ve had exposure to spins, so you’d go up in a Decathlon or a Citabria. Yeah, it’s fantastic.
Chris: What a great idea.
Ron: Practical spin exposure. And I really enjoyed that too so I went through the hour of aerobatics and said “Okay, I’m going to sign up for this aerobatic program.” So off I went doing that and then I would rent the planes, they’d rent the aircraft for solo flight. I’d take friends up, we’d go do aerobatics. And then I went and got my instrument rating. I ended up buying a Skylane, a 182 which is a phenomenal airplane. I had that plane for, I want to say about four years, I flew it 800 hours, never once had a mechanical issue or a cancelled flight for any reason.
Anyway, I was flying a lot. I was sort of volunteering for Angel Flight. I went and got a float plane rating, all those stuff. And then somewhere along the line, I started to realize what a hole this was eating in my finances. So I did the same thing a lot of people have to do which is make a decision. I got to either a) cut back, or b) find some way to make this less expensive. And so I thought about it for a while and I said “Well, you know, maybe I’ll just sell the airplane and use the proceeds to finance my instructor ratings.”
So I went to that. I went through an accelerated instructor program. And I really had my commercial at this time and a multiengine rating. So I started working as an instructor as Sunrise. And because I already had my instrument instructor rating and the multiengine instructor rating, I started teaching in a lot of the different airplanes that they had. The Cirruses, the Diamond Stars. I started getting exposure to the G1000, the composite aircraft, things like that, and I started teaching aerobatics.
And you start to meet people as all these happens, but if you live in Orange County which is a fairly wealthy part of Southern California, there are only two airports and there are about 4 million people in Orange County. So there’s John Wayne Airport and Fullerton. John Wayne is right near the ocean so if you’re in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, any of these wealthy enclaves and you want to learn how to fly, you’re going to go to John Wayne Airport.
So I started meeting some people and one thing led to another and next thing you know, I was in aerobatic competitions for fun and I was starting to fly different types of airplanes and experimentals, Warbirds. At one point, I realized that I’ve done a lot things but I didn’t really have much multiengine time and I didn’t have any turbine time, so a lot of us from Sunrise got multitime by going to a company called Dynamic Aviation. They ran a base at Los Alamitos on the army airfield there. And what they did was they used these ex-military King Airs to drop sterilized medflies all over Southern California.
Ron: Yeah, it was great. I did that for about 2 or 3 years, gained a couple thousand hours of multiengine turbine time, and then the opportunity came up to go into the Gulfstream. I managed to jump in and do that for a few years and here I am.
Ron: Yeah. I’ve been very blessed. I really have. I met a lot of great people, flown a lot of wonderful airplanes. I’d ferried airplanes. I got my glider rating. I’ve just done a lot of different things. That’s kind of the way I like it. Even now, even though I got a fulltime job flying the Gulfstream, I still find myself loving to fly in my time off other kinds of airplanes, extras and pits and all sorts of things like that.
Chris: So that actually kind of leads in to my next question, is how do you keep the passion alive, but I’m guessing that’s how you do it, you just kind of keep a diverse array of different kind of areas of aviation that you delve into, it sounds like.
Ron: Exactly. For me, that is exactly how you keep the passion alive. I can’t imagine myself just flying one airplane type because I’m challenged by moving from one airplane to the next and each serves to not only keep things interesting but also maintain or build on my own skill level in some way. So obviously in the Gulfstream, with the King Air, something like that, I’m flying a lot of IFR but on the other hand, from in the pits, I’m doing a lot of hand-flying, a lot of stick and rudder work, from hopping into a glider, obviously I’m using a different set of skills there. I feel like you gain something from each of those things, and that’s part of what keeps drawing me back and keeps the passion alive for me.
I really don’t want to become, I think we’ve all, if you’re a professional pilot, you’ve probably seen guys like this, whether they’re corporate guys or airline guys, for them flying has become nothing more than a job and I really wanted to make sure I did not go down in that road because I love flying too much for it to just become a job or something I hate.
Chris: Yeah. That’s hard for a lot of people to believe, that this thing you’re so passionate for can eventually just become something that’s a drag and kind of eats away at your life, but it really does happen to a lot of people regardless of how passionate they are about aviation, they kind of pigeonhole themselves into one direction and it’s all about work and it’s not about that core desire and that elemental fly, just going up and you and the airplane and kind of doing your thing. I think people lose that a whole lot so I can imagine for you, with the diversity that you have, you kind of have get back to your roots if you will by doing such things.
Ron: Absolutely. It’s funny. One person that I would see every now and then over at John Wayne
Airport is Kobe Bryant because he lives down here in Orange County but he would take a helicopter up to the Staples Center in LA because the traffic can be a real bear. But anyway, you just see him pass through there and no big deal. But I was pointing to him one day and talking to someone, it must’ve been a student or a friend and I said, “You know, that guy makes like a million bucks, probably not that much but he makes a million bucks for playing two games or three games and as much as he loves basketball, I’m sure there are plenty of days when it’s work, it’s a lot of work.” You’d rather be just doing something else. As much as you love it, it can become a job, and that’s definitely true of flying.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. You had a post on your blog, I’m sure you can name the name of the post so people can go there and check it out, but you’re talking about how kind of starting from the lower levels, you’re talking about the guy in the ground that was talking about how he wanted to be up in the Cessna and the guy in the Cessna talking about how he wanted to be up in the Turbo Prop that was flying 10,000 feet above him and then the guys in the Turbo Prop saying how they wanted to be in the 747 that was up above them, and then the guys in the 747 saying how they’d love to be down and be the guy in the Cessna down below and kind of do their own thing. I don’t know. There’s always that idea that there is something better to be doing or that you’re kind of stuck where you are but in a big way, we should all kind of be happy where we are and then delve into those different areas too. And I know that the original point of that post wasn’t necessarily this diversity that we’re talking about, but anyway, I digress.
Ron: No, I think you’re absolutely correct. And by the way, I can’t take credit for that story. I read it somewhere and I wanted to put it in a post, and I was looking and looking and looking, and I’m pretty good at searching stuff on the internet but I could not find the source for that. I’m sure someone out there listening will know I could not find for the life of me the source of that post so I had to paraphrase the entire thing. But I mean, the point is still valid and that’s that a lot of people are always looking to the next thing. They’re never enjoying where they are right now.
Chris: Right, exactly.
Ron: It’s funny but you’d think once they get to the airline cockpit or whatever or into that F15 or whatever it is they’re going to fly then they won’t be like that. But some people, it’s just innate in their personality, they can’t sit still. Even when they’re in this beautiful airplane, doing aerobatics up there or whatever, they’re always looking to the shinier object. That grass is always greener syndrome isn’t just found in aviation but aviation, it’s kind of precious because our time in the cockpit is limited. We have to be medically able to fly whether they do away with the third-class medical or not. We’re all going to achieve our last flight at some point and we never know when that flight is so my feeling is every time you get in an airplane, enjoy the hell out of it. Take every minute and every opportunity you can to really value what you’re able to do.
Chris: Right, and to take that point further, for those that are thinking of going into flying and they have some of these difficult barriers in front of them like finances and some health loopholes or hoopholes or whatever it is to jump through, that if you are in a position where you can actually achieve this, where you can become a pilot, it is absolutely worth it. Even your first solo or private pilot only or whatever it is, it’s absolutely an achievement that I haven’t heard a lot of people regret. Time is limited. You may not have the finances later. You may not have the health later. If you have the opportunity and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, then jump at it.
Ron: Exactly. I would encourage people to do that, I mean in life in general, but with aviation in particular because we live in a pretty homogenized world. I travel, I go a lot of places and you’ll fly all the way to Europe and you’ll end up walking down the Champs-Elysees or one of these legendary parts of Paris and you’ll see a lot of the same stuff you see here. Same chains, the same stores, the same things, the same phones. It’s kind of sad, and flying is one of the things that’s unique and fresh and as far as I’m concerned, always will be.
Ron: I tell you, a lot of people don’t do it because they just say it takes too much time and too much money but all I can tell you is it’s going to take more time and more money in the future than it does right now.
Chris: Yeah for sure.
Ron: Absolutely. I didn’t learn that long ago. I started flight training in 1998 I want to say and I think it cost me about 4 grand for my pilot certificate, and now they get that same rating at the same school in the same airplane, instead of 4000, it’s like 14,000.
Ron: It’s incredible. I mean if today if I was going to do it, I don’t know how I would afford it, but I learned to fly during a time in my life when I had both the time and the money and I don’t want to say abundance but I had sufficient quantities, and today I really did not appreciate what a rare opportunity that was.
Chris: Right. I mean, even you mentioning that you had a 182 and you went out and got 800 hours in it or that you got that aerobatic course or whatever and you could rent them and take up your friends. Just simple things like that that kind of seem simple in the surface to pilot folk if you will. To outsiders that don’t even have their private pilot license, that’s an absolute dream. That’s like “Oh my gosh, 800 hours on my own,” you know? So yeah, going to your point there.
Ron: Absolutely. I did spend myself into a bit of a hole, there’s no about that but in the end when I looked back on it, I mean everything happened for a reason. It built the flight time and the experience. Even flying for Angel Flight, I helped other people but it also took me to a lot of airports I never would have gone to and that was helpful for building my own experience.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. Alright so let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk about kind of your website before we get into, or not necessarily your website but kind of your media history because you are a very exceptional writer. It’s just very smooth and I love the way you write, but you don’t just write on your blog, right? I mean, that’s a great source to get your writing but you’ve also written and are writing for other organizations?
Ron: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to write for some other publications. I write a monthly post for the AOPA Opinion Leaders’ blog. If you go to Blog.AOPA.org, they have a ton of different blogs but the Opinion Leaders one is a group of 7 or 8 of us and we represent different segments of aviation. For example, Mike Busch, that is a name that a lot of people know. He is there writing about maintenance topics. You’ve got someone else writing about business aviation. Maybe someone is writing about aerobatics or lightsport or whatever it may be. It’s a pretty good cross-section of aviation and I was really very honored when they asked me to write for it. And I’ve also written for a few other things. There’s a great aviation publication that’s specific to the iPad called AirScape, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this but…
Chris: I haven’t.
Ron: Oh you should check it. If you have an iPad, you’d really love it because the imagery is absolutely spectacular. The writing is wonderful. You know, I feel like I know a fair amount about aviation but the guy behind it, he’s in, I want to say Australia, and he comes up with articles about aviation history and things that I just have no exposure to at all. He will pick some seminal yet not very well known name in aviation and have an article about their life and it’s really a wonderful, wonderful publication. I think he’s got like three or four episodes out so far or issues out so far but all of the photography is all Retina quality, occasionally there are videos or something on there, it’s great, great resource.
Chris: Great. I’ll check that out and link to it too.
Ron: Absolutely. There’s some others. I mean, I’ve had my stuff appear in the IAC magazine, the International Aerobatic Club magazine, and Sport Aerobatics, and I’ve published some stuff for Cessna Pilots Association back when I belonged to that organization. And I’ve been on podcasts and I did a Nat Geo thing once, so I don’t know, I just sort of appear in there.
Chris: Good. You built a little bit of a reputation and that’s why you’re here today I suppose.
Ron: Yeah. Absolutely. And the more you can reach out, the better. One of the things I loved about my blog is it’s put me in contact with a lot of great people. It’s funny, I write these things but I almost feel like if you look at the comments, sometimes you’ll see 20, 30, 40 different comments and we get a really good discussion going. That almost feel like that’s almost the most media part of the writing is actually the comments section because people chime in with their experiences, their comments, and things like that.
Chris: And they’re not short comments. I mean, I saw a lot of them and they are very well thought out, 300, 400, even thousand-word comments, so like you said, it does get pretty good.
Ron: It does, and I really appreciate the feedback from people too, let’s me know that not only are they reading but they’re getting stuff out of what I’m writing.
Chris: Right, exactly. That’s one of the amazing things honestly about aviation today and I think it’s one of the reasons why there is hope, that we can overcome some of the atrophy as you call it in aviation training and pilot skill, and some of the safety concerns we have and the cost concerns we have because there is this community, this grassroots community that’s really grown up in aviation and matured in the last 10 years that has taken it upon themselves to become that community and become a voice and I think people are really starting to get it and understanding and we’re making headway in things like the third class medical that you mentioned and I think the lightsport coming to life had a lot to do with that, and really how aviation training is going to change as a whole in the future and we’re going to get to talk about that in a little bit. It’s great that you’re a part of that. It’s great that even on this podcast, we get to do a little bit of that as well. There’s just this enlightenment period, almost the renaissance right now.
Ron: Absolutely. I’ve seen a lot of great podcasts, a lot of tremendous blogs and there’s a lot of people out there creating content just for free, putting their own time and their own passion into it. I’ve really been impressed with the stuff I’ve seen on the web.
Chris: Yeah, it’s gone well.
Ron: It has, and it will continue to improve. What’s that site, Boldmethod, have you seen any of their stuff?
Chris: Yeah, yeah, I know those guys are great.
Ron: Yeah. Some of the stuff they put out, it’s so professional.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, they really have kind of a corner on the passerby, absorb it quick market, the types that are scrolling through their Facebook news feeds and just want a quick dose of aviation knowledge or test or a great video, Boldmethod does a really good job of that.
Ron: Absolutely, yeah. A lot of the things that I write are long. My typical post is probably 1000 to 1500 words but some of the shorter stuff is brilliant too. Over at Jetwhine, they’ve got a thing called The Aviation Minute. I think it’s probably Mark that does this. It’s a little podcast that’s supposed to be, I mean I think they’ve gotten a little longer over time but I think the original idea was to literally make it a 60-second podcast. And they would take some topic in aviation and editorialize on it for one minute. I mean it’s great because as much as I love the hour and hour and a half long podcast, sometimes it could be hard to find time to sit down and digest one, so The Aviation Minute was always, anytime I’d see one, I would just listen to it because I knew it was just like a blur, if you know what I mean.
Chris: Yeah, super easy.
Ron: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: Great. So let’s kind of dissect your thoughts a little bit. We have two different subject areas. So in this podcast, we talk a lot about flight simulation and flight training and then we mix that together a little bit, so we’re going to be talking about flight simulation and flight training kind of separately but obviously they’ll be mixed together too. We’ll start off with flight simulation because I think that the majority of the media stuff is really going to be in the flight training section, so I kind of wanted to get your thoughts on the flight sim stuff because I know that you mentioned a little bit in your blog and I also saw comments come through along those lines.
So as an instructor, as someone that’s kind of been in the industry and seen it from a lot of different angles, how do you see simulation being used today in aviation training?
Ron: I see it being used especially in light general aviation. I see it being used more extensively and to greater effect than it has been in the past. And I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. You’ve got companies like Redbird that are making better simulators, the technology is improving with computers in general, but then the other reason too is that a lot of the airplanes, they’re technologically advanced and they lend themselves well to that type of simulation. Now we’ve got GPS and we’ve got FMS in these airplanes and we’re going to have ADSB and all the rest of these. It lends itself well. And the other thing too is there’s a need to use simulation more because the cost of flying is going up so rapidly, the cost of fuel and everything else. If we can bring high fidelity simulators into the picture, it’s going to help reduce the cost of flight training and that’s going to bring more pilots into the fold.
Chris: Definitely. Did you ever get any students in your time as an instructor, any students that were using simulators at home?
Ron: Absolutely. And it really helps a lot. The first time you get into an airplane, like for example I was training when I learned to fly in a plain vanilla Cessna 172. You get in this thing and it looks like mile after mile of round gauges. How am I going to learn all these stuff? I think for people who are used to using simulators at home, they get in there and there’s more of a sense of “Yeah, I know what this stuff is.” So I think right from the get-go, they’re a step ahead. I don’t think the home simulators or even the Redbirds necessarily respond the way a real airplane does but it’s a lot better than nothing.
Chris: Right, definitely.
Ron: We’re all used to saying what a terrible classroom an airplane is because of the noise and the vibration and the high cost and the distractions and everything else. Simulators have a critical role to play in flight training both now and in the future.
Chris: How much did you use it during instrument training? Did you ever have instrument students?
Ron: Absolutely, yeah, and we did use it a lot although the one I always used with them is a Frasca 131 which is analog simulator, round gauges and it’s very, very sensitive. It would drive people crazy trying to fly this thing.
Chris: I’ve flown one of those before and I’m still kind of angry about it even after however many years has been.
Ron: That’s right. Frasca, Australian for angry. Yeah, I totally get that. Actually, for some reason I went back to Sunrise a few months ago and I got in this sim there because I just wanted to get an approach in or do something and I got so frustrated with it too. It does not fly like a real airplane but the thing I always tell people is “Hey, if you can make thing work, the airplane is going to be a breeze.
Chris: Right. Totally. Yeah. That’s one advantage I’ve actually found the home-based simulators is they do fly much more realistically than those PCADS that are I guess certified, so you can actually log time with them. You can’t log time at home obviously but having those hours and just kind of getting familiar with some of the things that a simulator can be used really well with, familiarization for one example, knowing when they do checklist and procedures and all sorts of stuff like that. It’s not going to give you the feel of the airplane, definitely not or even the visual sense of what’s going on or those human factors that kind of lie to you as an instrument aviator, but they definitely do give you kind of a lot of things, so like you said before, once you get in the simulator, you have some barriers removed and you’re already kind of ahead of the game.
Ron: Exactly. And one of the things I used the Frasca for was because I was training a lot of glass pilots, so people were learning to fly instruments in a Cirrus or a Diamond Star, something, and what I would do is even though that Frasca is absolutely nothing like those airplanes, I would always spend some time with them in the sim because I said “Look, when you get your instrument rating, you will be legal to hop in an old steam gauge airplane and fly it but you’ll have absolutely no experience in it, and 90% of the airplanes out there still have the old style gauges.” So I said “I want you to see what these failures look like, what happens when an analog gyro slowly rolls over as it spins down. I want you to get used to the scan a little bit just to have some exposure to it and see what this is like.” It’s relatively low cost because it’s a simulator. Hopefully they got something out of it.
Chris: Yeah, some cheap insurance for those times where maybe even if they rented it as six-pack and just kind of expected it to be a VFR flight and things close in around them, they have that little bit of experience to draw from and to get out of the mess.
Chris: Just goes back to the experience thing, just diversity really important.
Ron: Right. And that’s the tough thing, right? It’s building up. That’s critical base of experience. What’s the old saying, wisdom comes from… I can’t remember the saying now. Experience leads to wisdom or something but wisdom comes from bad experience. It’s like a chicken and egg scenario. I can’t recall the exact phrasing of it now, but essentially, you’ve got to build up that experience without having experience to rely on and it’s especially challenging for people with instrument training because they’re never going to fly solo until they’ve already got their instrument rating on their ticket.
Ron: I tried really hard to expose people to at least some actual instrument conditions but some of them, you can’t control the weather. The first time they really go out and fly in extended time of IMC might be when they’re on their own.
Chris: How did you mentor your students along because I’m of the mentality that you teach instrument stuff not necessarily private pilot, at least not in this particular area, maybe a little bit but you teach instrument stuff to confidence and competence, not just the ticket, so how did you bring your students along to make sure that that sort of thing happened?
Ron: I didn’t really have a hard time with that because training here in Southern California, the airspace is very busy and you have to be very proficient in order to train and pass a practical check here in Southern California because for one thing, you’re going from airport to airport and airports are very close together so it doesn’t leave you a lot of time to get set-up, just got to be fast, just got to be accurate. And most importantly, you’ve got to have the wisdom to know when you’re getting vectored from that approach and you’re not ready, you got to be smart enough to tell the controller “Hey, I need a delay. I need a vector. I’m not ready yet.” That was one of the hardest things for people to learn. They rush and rush and rush and they feel like when the controllers is vectoring and they need to be ready and I said “No, no, no. You take all the time you need. If you’re not ready, just let the controller know.” You don’t want to shoot this approach when you’re not set up and believe me, the controller does not want you to do that either.
Chris: Right, exactly.
Ron: Because you’re going to be all over the place, they’re going to have to keep their eye on you. So just I think density of the airspace and the amount of operations that are taking place around this area forces people to really work at a high level. So that was one thing, just the natural ebb and flow of flying around Southern California. It’s going to force people to really have to be on their game.
Chris: I never considered that. That’s really interesting because I think the vast majority of people that go through training and maybe that’s inaccurate, I don’t have any data on this or anything, but we generally aren’t flying in very large cities where it’s tight like LA. LA is a unique area and so yeah, that is interesting, that just being in that environment and that area kind of forces your to proficiency rather than an area in the Midwest, in the middle of nowhere, not to say that the Midwest is the middle of nowhere but you know, if you’re out at some airport shooting an LPV approach in an airport that only gets 10 movements a day, there’s not going to be anyone there too push or nudge you in that direction of “Hey, you don’t have your stuff together,” like you need your stuff together in order to work within this airspace sort of thing, so that’s really interesting.
Ron: Yeah. I remember the first time I flew to the Midwest. I was going to do an approach. I don’t think it was even IMC, I think I just wasn’t familiar with this. I said “Yeah, I’m just going to take back just for the approach.” They cleared me. I mean, I must’ve been 60 miles from the final approach fix and they said “Proceed direct to whatever the fix is. Cleared for the approach.” And I was like, for a second I freaked out. I’m like “Oh my god, am I not where I thought I was?” And I realized “Wait, I’m like 15 minutes from being at the final approach fix. Oh yeah, it’s not nearly as dense out here, the traffic.”
Chris: Yeah. I’ve only flown into Southern California once. Well, I guess twice. I flew into Santa Monica and Venice and it is very, very different. You got to be on your toes. You have to be absolutely ready to comply or say that you can’t comply. Everything is just very much in line. There’s not a lot of personal freedom when it comes to flying in that area.
Ron: Right. Yeah, this airspace. I grew up in it from an aviation perspective. This is where I learned how to fly so I’m perfectly comfortable here but I have to remind myself that a lot of other people are not. In fact, I was flying with, well I won’t say who they are, but some people from Mohave, some test pilot types and people, NASA veterans and astronauts, things like that. I remember they wanted me to bring an airplane up to them and then they wanted me to take it back and I said “If you guys want, we can arrange it so we can bring you down and you can take the airplane up yourself.” They were kind of hesitant about it and then I realized why, I said “You’re not comfortable flying VFR in LA airspace are you?” and they’re like “Nope.” So it’s funny. You’d be in space. You would think this would be a very minor thing.
Chris: That’s crazy.
Ron: Yeah, eventually, now they do it and it’s no big deal for them and it’s no big deal for them but initially, again I had to remind myself “Oh yeah, the chart is intimidating.”
Chris: Yeah. Well, that goes back to the conversation earlier, just keeping things fresh and doing different things. There are limitless opportunities in aviation to continue to learn. That just goes to show that perfect example right there that no matter who you are, no matter if you’re Buzz Aldrin or whoever else, whatever other astronaut, you still have things to learn which puts things in perspective.
Ron: Exactly, and that’s another thing I love about aviation. It’s never going to get boring.
There is always something to improve upon or something new to learn, a new airplane to fly, experiences that you can have or people that you can learn from. I have yet to run out of experiences and I’m sure I never will.
Chris: Definitely, especially flying that Gulfstream around.
Ron: Yeah, that’s a real adventure too. A different kind of flying but I definitely enjoy it.
Chris: Great. Alright, so we already kind of transitioned to the flight training subject but let’s dive into that a little bit more. A lot of challenges today facing people that are starting in aviation, challenges that face us as pilots already, people that are already pilots that want to continue learning. A lot of challenges kind of in their way not only to become a pilot but to keep our skills fresh and answer to some of the things like automation and hand-flying skills, again, going back to skills atrophy. So with all that said and looking back at how aviation began as well and where we are today with all these new advancements, how should aviators of today prepare for their flight training?
Ron: I think they’ve got to prepare for their flight training with a lot more acumen than in the old days. And this just doesn’t go for the student by the way, it also goes for the instructor. As the cost of flight training rises, I think good instructors, I mean they start to feel the pressure as well to maximize their value of every hour, of every dollar that the student is spending, because these false starts, let’s say in a structure that doesn’t work out or a school that ends up being unresponsive to your needs or whatever, those kind of false starts can cost you so much money that it can wipe out your chances of ever achieving your dream of that pilot certificate, so I think it takes a lot of research and I actually wrote an article about how it’s actually incumbent upon the student to kind of manage their own training. And by that, I mean a lot of students, they take a pretty subserving role to the instructor which is certainly understandable, the instructor is an authority figure, but at the end of the day, the student isn’t just a student, they’re also a customer and if the instructor is not working out, if the aircraft is problematic, if there are issues, I think that it’s perfectly acceptable for the student customer to speak to the management and get appropriate response from them, you know what I’m saying?
Chris: Right, exactly. We had a guy earlier on the podcast, I think it’s episode 12 if I’m not mistaken. His name is Rick Durden.
Ron: Yeah, I know Rick.
Chris: Yeah, he was a lawyer for Cessna and a really diverse guy, a lot of like you. You remind me a lot of him actually with how many different airplanes you’ve flown and the diversity of your career. But one thing Rick said in his book, The Pilot’s Flying Guide, something like that, anyway, he said that when you go in and do your biannual flight review, your BFR, you should have a plan of action. You should have something new that you’ve never done before and you should go in and use that time to do something different. This particular example is for someone that’s already a pilot, but it just goes to show that yes, you absolutely do need to direct your own training. It’s very much a relationship thing honestly.
If it’s not working out and you’re just not getting what you need, just as in a relationship with a significant other, then you need to speak up and say your needs and your concerns and what’s going on and find a way to work it out. Because the majority of the time, you’re going to have someone that does care and they do want your success and they’ll try to adjust their teaching style or the situations they’re putting you in or whatever to try to overcome those challenges, to try to move you along in the correct way, because not all of us learn the same. That’s just part of human nature. So yeah, I totally agree with that. I haven’t read that article yet but I’d like to and definitely.
Ron: Yeah. I think it’s called, oh I can’t remember my own article, I’ve got like 600 in my site. I can’t remember the name necessarily but yeah, it’s very important because you’re right, the instructor wants the student to succeed. It’s kind of like a checkride. We sort of look at the examiners, the sort of adversarial person in a way but really they want you to succeed. They’re cheering for you.
Ron: At the end of the day, they’re the final gateway before you take passengers and so they’ve got a job to do and they’ll do it but inside, they want more pilots, not less so they’re rooting for your success but I think in the article, I actually told the story of how the first private pilot student that I ever had, I just couldn’t get this guy to land, it just wasn’t working well, and he actually went and ask for a different instructor. I remember that time, I mean, obviously your pride is hurt a little bit, but I tell you, he went with another instructor, he got the landings down and he went on and he became a pilot. I was like “Good for him. He made the right choice.” Not every student is going to be a good fit for every instructor. We all have our own style, our own way of doing things and teaching things. By the same token, I have finished off other students that just had a hard time with another instructor so it goes both ways and I figure what happened in that situation was the best for all of us and ultimately it was a great lesson for me.
Chris: So in speaking to preparation, there is obviously the knowledge end that they have to get. There is the new stuff that’s out today that could potentially become distractions but can also become tools like the TAA aircraft we have with glass cockpits. Now we’re starting to get smart phones and iPads and all sorts of things in the cockpit again. They can be tools or they can be distractions, so we’re kind of piling this on. Where do you see, and you have a great view on this because you’ve done a lot of aerobatic training, where do you see there being a lack of those important core skills, and you talk about that skills atrophy, what skills do you see being lost today in aviation?
Ron: The skills that I see being lost are the basic stick and rudder flying skills, just the absolute basic core of how to physically fly an airplane, how to handle a crosswind, how to handle stalls, high angles of attack, angle of attack awareness in general. Right now there is a big push toward installing angle of attack sensors in general aviation aircraft. I understand the reason behind it, I don’t agree with it. People point to the navy and say they fly by angle of attack and all these stuff. I say absolutely. If you’ve got to take a 50,000-pound swept wing fighter and put her on a 300-foot carrier deck, absolutely. You got to put that thing exactly where it needs to be every single time and you should fly angle of attack. General aviation is not like that. We don’t fly in the back side of the power curve, we’re not landing on a pitching carrier deck at night. We should be able to, for any single engine or even multiengine piston airplane out there, we should be able to figure out what the angle of attack is just by feeling the airplane. We should have a sense of what that is and if you don’t have that sense, it’s kind of like navigating with a GPS. Yes, it will get you where you’re going but if you can have the moving map going in your head, you can still get lost. I’ve seen people with a 10-inch full color display right in front of them and I’ll ask them “Where are you right now, just tell me where you are” and they do not know.
Ron: And so I think what’s being lost as we start working more with autopilots and glass and all these wonderful tools is we’re losing the hand-flying, the basic stick and rudder skills, and so as far as I’m concerned, I think the best strategy for a prospective pilot is to learn how to fly in a tailwheel airplane. There’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, and by the way I’ll add that I’m not anti-glass, I’m not anti-technology. I love these things. They’re wonderful. I mean, I hear these stories of like people dead reckoning their way across the Pacific and I’m like “No, thanks.” I have GPS, I use GPS, it’s wonderful. FMS, glass, these are great things. But at the end of the day, the pilot still has to be the guy in charge. We have to maintain those skills. So I say the easiest way to do that is to first and foremost make sure that you develop those skills to begin with.
And it’s not a foregone conclusion because I feel a lot of people don’t have those skills. I’ve flown people in the Gulfstream who don’t have, they lack some serious basic flying skills and that can be scary. I mean, no one I’m flying with now, I’m just saying in the past, I have flown with people like that. But I would tell people, learn in a tailwheel airplane because first of all, you can’t get away with landing with the airplane sideways. You can’t get away with as much as you can in the nosewheel. The second thing is those airplanes tend to be cheaper anyway. If you look at the price of a Cub, not a Cub because those can be expensive if they’re real nice, but a Citabria, a Champ, some of these kinds of airplanes. Man, they can be really inexpensive and there’s such fantastic trainers and most of all, they don’t have a lot of stuff in the cockpit. You got a stick, you got rudder pedals, you’re sitting on the centerline as opposed to on the right or left of the centerline as you would in a side by side cockpit, so it’s much easier to line the plane up on landing, things like that, and there’s just not a lot of stuff in the airplane to distract you.
Chris: That’s really interesting.
Ron: Yeah. I think you’ll learn better and you’ll learn faster and it will cost less on top of it.
Chris: It seems like that would be hard to do because it feels like, maybe not here in Alaska, but it feels like tailwheels are kind of a novelty. You know, everyone looks at a tricycle gear Cessna and they say “That’s a training aircraft,” or a Piper or whatever it is, they say “That’s a training aircraft. That’s what they look like.” You see a tailwheel aircraft, they say “Oh that’s a bush plane.” But really, I mean it goes your point that to fly a tailwheel aircraft, you have to have a lot more stick and rudder, you’re specifically talking about rudder, you’re using your feet a whole heck of a lot more in one of those. You can’t really get away with just putting your feet on the floor or not having enough action on your feet which is a great thing to have. So yeah, it’s unfortunate in that I think in a lot of places, it’s hard to find a tailwheel. Man, I’m of the thought that if there’s a tailwheel aircraft, that’s exactly what I want to fly. I’m still kind of on this high, I flew a CubCrafters’ Cub a couple of weeks ago. I’m still on this high from that flight. I love it. I love the whole idea of it but anyway…
Ron: Yeah. I just read an article that Sam Weigel, he writes for Flying now but he’s got a… I forgot the name of his blog, it’s fl250.blogspot.com or something like that, but he just wrote an article about flying one of the CubCrafters airplanes as well as he had a big long writeup about it and he actually has a Cub, an older Cub, so he was comparing the two, and the incredible performance he’s getting out of the newer one because they’ve lightened it so much and it’s got so much bigger engine and everything and it just sounds fantastic.
Chris: Right, yeah.
Ron: It’s funny you mentioned people looking at the tailwheel saying “Oh, that’s a bush plane.” I’ve got like 1100 hours of tailwheel time, I’ve never landed on grass or gravel. Actually take that back. There’s one airport, it’s got a paved runway. We used to land on the grass next to it. It’s not even officially a runway but I mean, honestly is all paved and I look at these tailwheel airplanes and I think “Yes.” And you don’t have to learn in it. I learned in a Cessna. The funny thing is, people shouldn’t need to learn in a tailwheel because the reason the tailwheel teaches you better is because like I said, you have to be better, right? You can’t land with a big sideload on the airplane, in the ground load, you have to use your feet. There’s no reason you couldn’t fly a nosewheel Cessna or Piper with the same level of accuracy and airmanship. The problem is you don’t have to and so you can get away with more and the instructors let the students get… I’m guilty of this too, you know what I mean? Before I solo someone, I have to ask myself how safe are they and as much as I should not hold someone to a higher standard in the tailwheel, I do.
Chris: Right. And that was one thing I was thinking, is that in a lot of these cases where you have a tricycle gear airplane, maybe it’s even G100-equipped, whatever it is, we’re kind of in a day and age where those core skills are going away and that’s why we’re talking about this, right? We’re kind of in the day and age where those skills were going away, and it’s very likely in today’s aviation training industry that your instructor has zero tailwheel time that he doesn’t really even know the incorrect ways of stick and rudder have been perpetrated to him as well and he doesn’t really know either. And that goes for a lot of different areas of aviation, just not stick and rudder. It goes into all different areas of knowledge and stuff too.
Ron: Absolutely. But those stick and rudder skills are so basic. At Sunrise, everyone there was a tailwheel pilot, all of them. And so it never really occurred to me until later that some people look at a tailwheel and they’re like, yeah, they look at it as a toy or something that’s not serious or not capable or whatever but there’s so many ways in which a tailwheel is superior to a nosewheel airplane. I mean, everything from the prop clearance to the fact that the turning radio sonic ground is so much tighter, the fact that you don’t need to towbar, to the fact that you sit in the centerline, the benefit is there, the visibility you get at both sides of the airplane, the fact that they’re lighter, simpler, cheaper. There’s so many advantages to the tailwheel that it’s too bad people don’t recognize all those virtues. Of course, being in aerobatics, there are so many tailwheel airplanes because it’s a lighter and a less draggy form of fixed gear and so that’s why they put them on a tailwheel airplane but some people, they’re really afraid of it. They’re afraid of the tailwheels. It’s too bad because I have yet to put one person in a tailwheel and have them go “Oh, that just sucks.”
Ron: Everybody comes away going “Wow. When can we do this again?”
Chris: It kind of makes me wonder about the history of the transition from tailwheel to tricycle gear, if that was all done because it was easier for pilots to train in that sort of aircraft. I don’t know, that’s an interesting subject that I think I’ll look into because there are a lot of advantages to it and they haven’t gone away. They’re still there and some of those skills have been lost. I remember in my private pilot training, I was in a 141 program and during my stage 3 check, so getting pretty close to my checkride, I was landing, sideloading the landing gear. I did it twice and the instructor said “Okay, we’re done.” We went in, that was the only part I failed, and in having a discussion with my instructor, it came up that he never told me that I had to use the rudder to line up with centerline. We just hadn’t had that experience where we had a crosswind that was big enough for whatever it was. And that just goes back to the point that even some of these guys don’t understand, and they think maybe it’s just common knowledge too but man, if I was in a tailwheel aircraft, you better believe I would have learned that much more early on and wouldn’t have got away with it that long.
Ron: Absolutely. I don’t think that’s an uncommon thing. For one thing, you can’t generate crosswinds when you want them especially if you’re in a smaller location. I don’t know where you learned it but around here in the LA basin, most of the airports are lined up with a prevailing wind and they can be very difficult to find across, whereas supposed in the Midwest where a lot of the airports, if you see them from the air, they look like triangles. You got three runways all on significantly different headings because of the shifting winds. They probably get a little better exposure to that kind of thing.
Chris: You know, a lot of those airports, this is something I learned a lot. Those airports are the old army airports and army and air force eventually kind of split up but the old army airports from World War II and the exact reason they have separate runways like that is so the pilots could practice crosswind landings. Otherwise, they may never be able to do it. So just kind of interesting that even then, they were thinking about “Hey, we need these skills on our pilots” and I can’t think of many World War II airplanes or at least the vast majority of them are tailwheel aircraft, you know, even the B17 is a tailwheel aircraft.
Ron: Right. Exactly. The C-46, C-47, the big ones as well, there are the little ones like the Mustangs and Spitfires and things like that. Yeah, there were a lot of tailwheel airplanes. I read somewhere that in World War II, more airplanes were lost to like landing accidents than things that were lost to enemy combat. I don’t know if it’s true or not but even during the war, I don’t know. It would’ve been interesting to live in a time if you blow up a Mustang, then they’d be like “Okay, don’t do that again. Now go take that other one over there and continue your…”
Chris: “Go take that new one up and try it again.”
Ron: Yeah, as opposed to “Oh, you just wrecked a 3 million dollar antique.”
Chris: Yeah. That’s man’s flying right there. Just kind of splitting off on that, getting some ADD here but what kind of Warbirds have you flown in?
Ron: I’ve flown a few, the T-6, SNJ-5, the Vultee Valiant, that’s German, and some other like the Travel Air 4000 which isn’t a Warbird but it’s of that era. The PT-22, what else, I’m sure I’m missing some of them. Anyway, yeah I’ve flown a few different ones and really, really enjoyed it.
Ron: Yeah. I really hope to do more of that because there is so many incredible… You know, you think you know some of these Warbirds and then crack open a book of historic airplanes and you just find page after page of planes you’ve never even heard of. Like Eric just did a piece about this thing called The Fairey Gannet I think it was. I’ve never heard of this airplane and it’s got a turbine engine. Basically it’s got two propellers on the nose but it’s been driven, the counter-rotating pillars driven off one shaft and these wings, they don’t just fold in one place but each wing folds in two places. I mean, just a crazy airplane. I’ve never even heard of this thing.
Chris: I think I saw that. He did that while he was at Oshkosh?
Ron: Yeah. He took a video of it and everything and interviewed the people who restored it and who owned it and really fascinating. I watched that video three times.
Chris: Yeah, I want to see that.
Chris: So kind of going back to this core skills discussion, one question that kind of popped in my mind and this is completely hypothetical, no one’s going to hold you to this, but say that you are in an airplane, ticket in the airplane, and I feel comfortable asking you a question because of your experience, but say you are in basically any airplane, let’s say all the way from the Gulfstream IV that you fly all the way down to a Citabria. If you lost all instruments in the airplane, your VFR, let’s say kind of okay day, no problem there as far as visibility, you lost all instruments, do you feel like because of your stick and rudder skills and how you know how to fly an airplane, you could basically fly that airplane within the envelope and basically just fly it by feel and by sight?
Ron: I do. Yeah, especially the smaller aircraft. I’ve never tried that in the Gulfstream.
Chris: Well I was hoping you haven’t.
Ron: I know right, exactly. But even in that airplane, yeah it’s swept wing and all these stuff but it’s still an airplane, right? I mean, pitch and power and you got to get certain performance out of it and you kind of know what the numbers should be. I’d probably head to an awfully long runway buy I’d be willing to bet I could do it. Yeah, without a problem. I mean, I’ve had that situation happen before. I was recently helping a friend sell an RV-6, actually I think it was a 6A and it has a Dynon panel in it and whatever. I’m not flying it at night. Just, I like to fly the plane periodically and make sure it continues to fly while it’s still for sale, it’s fun for me anyways.
So I’m out and I’m out over South Orange County and I don’t know, for whatever reason, the Dynon locks up and
basically nothing worked on it, airspeed, altitude, heading, the whole thing, the attitude indicator, all just locked up. So all of a sudden, I didn’t have any of that information. I was kind of like “Alright, whatever.” I kept flying for another probably half-hour and I came back and landed and it’s fine. I don’t know, I guess that’s a stick and rudder thing too but it goes beyond just the physical movement of the controls but also innate feeling for the airplane and then understanding and then the ability to fly at various angles of attack and be able to feel the controls and understand how much lift is left in that wing and how close you are to the critical angle of attack and what-not.
Chris: Yeah. It gets very elemental you know where you’re listening to the sounds and you’re even smelling things and feeling things and again, this obviously would not work in instrument conditions. We all know
that. We all know you get disoriented and kind of get mixed up but in a situation where you can see outside and then also feel the airplane in those different senses, if you have those skill and that experience and you’ve taken the time to really get to know aircraft and flying that way, then those are some of, kind of back to your original point, those were some of the best things I think you can do as an aviator. Not saying you go out and actually practice this but getting to know your aircraft in that way is just so important no matter what kind of airplane you fly really.
Ron: Absolutely. I’ll tell you. I have a theory about this and that’s that a lot of accidents, especially landing accidents, if you look at them, they’re caused because people are approaching too high of an airspeed and they’re trying to put the airplane on the ground when it’s not ready to land, right? It loses control, things like that. I think the reason they come in at such speeds is because they’re afraid of flying slow and the reason they’re afraid of flying slow is because they’re uncomfortable of high angles of attack because they never got comfortable with stalls, and the reason they’re not comfortable with stalls is because the wing drop scares them, and the wing drop is the start of a spin, and if they’ve never experienced the spin… I mean, it’s just natural. People fear the unknown right? That’s why people are afraid of flying. They look out at the window and they don’t understand how could this 50-ton airplane just levitate off the ground, they don’t understand it. Well, if people haven’t experienced spins, I don’t know how they could be comfortable with stalls.
Ron: Yeah, totally.
Chris: And if they’re not comfortable with stalls, how are they going to be comfortable with high angles of attack, you need that high angle of attack for takeoff and landing.
Ron: Yeah. I guess you would relate to this quite a bit since you have the tailwheel discussion and you’re a Gulfstream pilot, and that the airlines are talking a lot about some of these recent accidents being Asiana in San Francisco, the Air France 447 over the Atlantic, where this reliance on automation has led to a basic misunderstanding or rather those skills just going away for professional pilots at that level where they haven’t real stalls in a real airplane, they haven’t done it for years. Not to say that they actually ever get the opportunity to go up and fly a real jet and actually stall it, that’s something that’s pretty unique to test pilots or I don’t know, maybe even corporate pilots, but they’re talking about these days actually having airline pilots go through just single engine stall training and slow flight training which is quite interesting.
Ron: Absolutely. The Colgan Crash in Buffalo, New York, same thing. That wasn’t automation-related but it was a failure. I mean, the thing that all three of these accidents have in common is it was pilot error that caused the accident. Something else might have precipitated it, there may have been other circumstances but in the end, it’s nothing that the pilot shouldn’t have been able to handle, and yeah, this is again a failure of basic flying skills. I don’t know that the FAA has necessarily chosen the wisest path to fix this. They have increased the requirements for getting an ATP certificate quite a bit. It’s going to make it a lot more expensive for people having to go through this additional training and all these. I don’t know that that really would’ve made the difference at all. I think the answer is to get back to basics and have… I love it when airline pilots, they fly GA or they fly gliders or they get unusual attitude recovery training in aerobatic aircraft and things like that. I think that’s so helpful.
I mean, if nothing else, if the airplane ever ends up in some unusual attitude, I mean, who’s more like to respond promptly and correctly? Is it the guy who is used to being upside down or the guy who’s never been there before?
Chris: Right, exactly.
Ron: And I teach unusual attitude awareness courses to people and it’s not because they’re likely to ever get into that attitude, that’s not what this is about, but it’s about exposing them to the unknown. Kind of like spins. That’s the main benefit I see from spins. It’s not that I expect people to go out and do spins, it’s just that it’s exposing you to the unknown and it’s going to reduce the fear and its’ going to add to your arsenal if you will of pilot skill.
Chris: Yeah, definitely.
Ron: I love it when people do that. Your average airliner might never see more than 15 degrees of pitch from the horizon nose up or nose down and 30 degrees of bank and 12 years of just doing that. I’d be exactly the same way. I would just get used to that and that would be my normal. I’m a big fan of literally getting back to basics. It’s funny, I just get back from a current training on the Gulfstream and they’ve changed the way they do stalls a little bit. Before, at the stall, what they would have us do is simultaneously lower the angle of attack and add power and the nose wouldn’t even get down that far before the power would power you right out of the stall.
And now there are two types of stalls they have us do, one is they want the recovery primarily done by breaking the stall primarily with lowering the angle of attack and less with the power and the second thing they have now is they have us doing autopilot stalls. So in the Gulfstream, we have auto-throttles. We’ll turn off the auto-throttles, leave the autopilot on, and it’s not totally realistic because we know it’s about to happen but we’d let the autopilot continue to trim and trim and trim until the plane stalls.
Chris: Which is very similar to what happened with the Asiana flight where they kicked off the auto-throttle and just didn’t understand or actually they were just in the wrong autopilot mode altogether. Interesting.
Ron: Those auto-throttles, they make you lazy. I mean, the Gulfstream has them and when they don’t work, and they’re totally deferrable of course and you can fly without them, but when they don’t work, it’s almost like, I don’t know, as much as I fly other types of airplanes, you’re so used to having them that when they’re not there, you’ll miss it. And you shouldn’t, you really shouldn’t because first of all, it’s so easy to fly without them and second of all, you should be aware of what the auto-throttles are doing even when they’re on. And we are because you can see them physically moving but I can see how the automation dependency could very quickly become a problem.
Chris: Yeah. And it’s good that people are waking up to it. If nothing else, if just a bit of awareness that this kind of stuff is going on and we as pilots can work on it, that’s something to think about, and I think that goes to every type of flying you do. The weekend warrior private pilot gets into this same situation where he flies back and forth to his favorite hundred-dollar hamburger place and doesn’t really ever do anything different in between. He may not ever do slow flight or stalls on his own so I think we all have something to learn from these accidents, airline pilot, corporate pilot, aerobatic pilot, we all have something to learn in that those core skills are something that we need and we need to review and we need to be proficient at and we need to be comfortable in flying the airplane in all sorts of different envelopes because it will fly in all sorts of different types of envelopes and being able to fly it in whatever situation you’re in is absolutely essential.
Ron: Absolutely. Yeah, the skills are perishable and as you noted, awareness of the problem is half the battle. Once we’re aware of it and we acknowledge that it exists, that’s I think half the battle right there.
Chris: Great. We’re kind of running up against our time here. I think we covered a lot of great
stuff in the flight training section. I had a list of questions here but we kind of just roll through the conversation without even asking this specific question. We talked about automation, we talked about those skills going away and how to get them back and those core skills that we need as pilots. So with all that said, let’s wrap up the show. I want to give you the opportunity to share any last words based on what we’ve talked about or any encouragement that you want to give to the listeners here, both student pilot and current pilot alike, and yeah, so why don’t you finish out with your last words?
Ron: Absolutely. Well, first I just want to say thanks for having me on this show. I’ve really had a great time and I love talking about everything from obviously my blog and things but flight simulation, flight training, all that stuff, so I’ve had a great time here. Yeah, to all the pilots out there, the prospective ones, the ones just trying to hang on to their flight time and stay in the air, and I just say stick with it because it’s so worth it. I think if it was easy, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be as special. Somehow, in some perverse way, I think the fact that we struggle makes reaching that goal, that summit so much more worthwhile. You might have to get created, you might have to share time with people, you might have to fly a different kind of airplane, there’s a million ways to tackle the problem but however they do it, I hope people do stick with it, stick with their training, stick with the flying because it’s a great, great community. I echo something that Paul Poberezny always said, he said he built the organization because of the airplanes but he keeps coming back for the people. For him, it’s always about the people and I absolutely found that to be true.
Chris: Great. And along those lines and if I may add just a couple things, go out there and reach out and find different things in the community here. You have a fantastic blog in which it even gave me inspiration today when I was reading through some articles that I haven’t read before and just little things like that keep us going, if not also trying different types of airplanes and things. But yeah, it just takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of pushing through at the end of the day.
Ron: it does, and we all have those times when we’re down, when you just kind of question whether or not it’s worth to keep the fight going, but maybe that the time when you really do need those people around you and you need that little kick of inspiration.
Chris: Well, I appreciate you joining us today. It’s been an absolute blast. Hope to hear more from you. We’ll get this episode out there and touch more people’s lives hopefully.
Ron: Sounds great. Thanks again Chris, I’ve really enjoyed it.
Chris: I appreciate it Ron, take care.
Chris: Okay, so Ron and I could’ve talked all day about many of the flight stories that he has. I’m sure he’s seen many things over his years as a pilot and still sees many things every day. One thing that I really enjoyed that came from this conversation is this idea of flying a variety of airplanes and doing a variety of different things as a pilot to give you a better grasp on aviation as a whole. I think Ron is a great example of that. This guy has done everything from the high wing Cessna stuff that we’re all kind of used to in training to being a Gulfstream pilot but he’s done so much stuff in between, really loving the tailwheel stuff, really getting into the aerobatic stuff. This guy is top-notch. He’s a great example and I think we can all learn from this example of kind of doing those things.
Now, I’m going to pigeonhole Ron into this kind of one area that I’m discussing here. This is just one kind of thing that I gleaned from our conversation. Ron has a lot of great thoughts and ideas and this is why he is one of AOPA’s opinion leaders as they call it and he writes for them as well on their blog. This guy has a lot of great thoughts and ideas about aviation safety, about how to be better pilots, about a lot of the hot topics in aviation today, so he’s definitely someone worth checking out if you want some real information on this type of stuff and not just kind of misinformed opinions on things. So go check his stuff out. Again, that’s Rapp.org. Really great articles. There’s nothing I’ve read there that I didn’t really enjoy. This guy does a lot of fantastic stuff.
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