Sunday, August 02, 2009

Straw Man

Listen and you'll hear the voices of folks who say they have the solution to the shrinking GA pilot population. Some voices say we need initiatives that will encourage people to learn to fly. Others say that sport pilot training and low-cost sport aircraft are just the ticket. My belief is that we need more career instructors, flying late-model aircraft that are up to the task.

The soon-to-be-released Cessna Skycatcher would have been great, were it not for the marketeers who messed it up. Instead of a viable replacement for the aging fleet of versatile 150s and 152s, what is being offered is a glass panel two-seat aircraft that isn't even certified for IFR. Kinda makes the plane's glass panel seem silly, doesn't it? I don't think anyone honestly cares that the Skycatcher is in the sport aircraft category, though that seems to have been Cessna's primary goal.

Adding insult to injury, which new plane probably cannot be used for intentional spin training? Why the Skycatcher, of course. And which certificate is the only one that requires instructional training in spin recovery? That'd be the flight instructor certificate. And which aircraft are the subject of an Airworthiness Directive (which I think was necessary, by the way) that has resulted in many of them being placarded "Intentional Spins Prohibited"? That'd be the Cessna 150 and 152, the very aircraft that the Skycatcher is supposed to replace.

I've written before about the shortage of complex single-engine training aircraft suitable for initial flight instructor practical tests, so I won't belabor that point. The question remains: Who will teach all of the new GA pilots (not to mention the next wave of future airline pilots) and help the current pilot population stay current and proficient? Well that'd be flight instructors - the very group that has been mostly ignored in these solutions to growing the GA pilot population.

One of many reasons that GA is in this mess is that the people in a position to make things better, the people who could have made the right product choices, the people who could affect and change policy ... well, they did something no pilot should ever do: They lost situational awareness. They lost the big picture.

So here's my dream - a conscious and cooperative effort between the various alphabet pilot groups, the aircraft manufacturers, and the FAA to help grow the population of competent, career flight instructors.

Until something happens, those of us who are trying to teach the next generation of flight instructors can sing this song, with apologies to the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

We could while away the hours
while you teach us pitch and power
and why right rudder is germane.
You'd be ready for your check ride
Before the ink on your last check's dried
If we only had a plane.

We were teaching folks in Pipers
while you were still in diapers
To us instructing's not a game.
If your right seat landings are iffy,
We could fix that in a jiffy
If we only had a plane.

Oh, we would tell you about
stalls and spins galore.
And why our clothes are so tattered
and we're so poor.

Regarding our friends at the FSDO
You'd learn to do it 'cause they said so
Even if it seemed inane.
With every logbook you'd be signing
For the airlines you'd be pining,
If we only had a plane.


Ron said...

As it regards the spin training requirement for the instructor certificate, I am a big believer that everyone should get that during primary training.

As for the CFI candidate... well, in my opinion, the CFI candidate doesn't just need an airplane that can be spun. They need an airplane that can be spun until it reaches the fully developed (aka "auto-rotation") stage.

They need an aircraft which will allow them to see what effect power and aileron have on a spin. Aggrevated spin modes are likely when an inadvertent spin is encountered.

They need an aircraft which will allow them to see what improper recovery (ie. attempt to un-stall the wing prior to opposite rudder) will do to a spin.

They need an aircraft which will allow them to see an inverted spin. Preferably a cross-over spin as well.

You never know what a CFI will end up flying. If they're going to teach, and spin training is for safety, then let's really do some REAL spin training. It doesn't take that long. It's not that expensive. Heck, most of it is ground instruction anyway.

Unfortunately, *thorough* spin training can't be done in a Skycatcher, 150/2, Skyhawk, or other airplane of that ilk. It requires something like a Decathlon. Airplanes like that are cheap and in good supply.

Instructors who can teach that kind of spin training, however, are not so readily available. That's what we really need to be building.

John Ewing said...


I know you are active in aerobatics and I agree with you, to an extent, but spin training is only one part of the equation.

It's easy to say that suitable aircraft are cheap and plentiful. That all depends on one's perspective and just because this is the case at your local airport does not mean it is true across the nation.

The number of trainer aircraft that are suitable for flight instructor spin training has been reduced by the recent AD for C150/152. Many owner/operators feel the AD is too expensive to comply with so they are using the alternate means of compliance - placarding their aircraft "Intentional spins not allowed."

Cessna has created a new trainer that is not suitable for IFR and apparently won't be certificated for intentional spins. This makes the aircraft unsuitable for smaller flight schools since it has far less utility than the aircraft that it is supposedly replacing. Cessna could have helped GA's cause by introducing what really was a modern replacement for the C150/152. By focusing the Skycatcher on the sport airplane market, Cessna blew it (in my opinion).

Complex training aircraft are also in short supply and few are being manufactured. These factors do not facilitate the development of new instructors.

To grow the population of GA pilots, the number of instructors actively teaching also needs to grow.

The FAA either needs to change the flight instructor training requirements and practical test standards or the manufacturing industry needs to do a better job of stepping up to the plate by producing aircraft that will further the ends of flight instruction (including the training of flight instructors).

That's the bigger picture for which I'm arguing.

Steve said...

I can't disagree with any of the above points. As someone who learned how to fly last year in a Champ, Cub, and 150 I feel these are the sort of aircraft we need to train a new generation of pilots and instructors.

Want to see what adverse yaw really is? Yank the stick to one side in a Cub. Want to understand the meaning of stick and rudder skills? Go land a taildragger in a crosswind. Want to see what coordination is? Put your foot on the rudder right at the point of stall in a Champ and watch the ground spin below. (Even for a Private, I had to do spins where I learned and I'm definitely glad I had the experience)

Anyway, back to the original point... I'm firmly in the camp that we need some basic, classic sorts of aircraft to learn in. Don't get me wrong, technology is wonderful and helpful in many ways, and I bought a portable GPS for backup navigation on XC flights. But what comes first in, 'aviate, navigate, communicate?' 'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cessna intended the SkyCrasher - er, SkyCatcher primarily as a lower cost entry point for new pilot training. Secondarily, it fills the sport pilot/LSA market segment which I think will be substantial. It does not need to be spin approved or IFR certified to meet either of those needs.

And while I would also certainly like to see more active CFIs around, I don't think the lack of suitable spin-approved aircraft is preventing anyone from getting their ticket. There are plenty of 172s around for that.

Since high-performance fixed-gear singles seem to be the way of the future (Cirrus, Columbia, Diamond), I think the FAA will eventually have to allow commercial/CFI candidates to take their checkrides in this type of aircraft. RG could just be another endorsement like tailwheel, high-altitude, etc.


John Ewing said...


I agree with some of your observations, but the assertion that the LSA market "will be substantial" assumes facts not in evidence.

The light sport initiative might not be dead-on-arrival, but then again it can't seem to get off life support either.

The burgeoning number of sport pilots and LSA that we were all promised just haven't materialized.

One significant contribution that LSA and sport pilots have made is in their representation in the NTSB accident and incident reports. If you need further evidence, go to the FAA's preliminary accident reports for any Monday during the months of June, July or August. You'll notice that experimental and light sport aircraft account for around 25% of the reports.

Ryan Ferguson said...

I'm not understanding your gripe.

There are but very few 150s/152s certified for IFR and there might be fewer pilots/instructors willing to take them into the clouds. The Skycatcher appears to replace the functionality of the 152 with a modern version. Neither ship is a good IFR bird. That's not what they're designed for.

As for spin training, the standard method of accomplishing this is finding the local Citabria or Decathlon and the requisite grizzled CFI who does the spin endorsement. I have done many myself. You generally don't want to use an IFR machine for spin training anyway -- at least it was hard on the mechanical gyros. Not really sure if that's the case with the solid state stuff.

What bugs me most about this new breed of LSA is that we're talking about dropping the prices back to what they were 10-15 years ago for airplanes which offered a great deal more utility in size, useful load, etc. I remember renting Cessna 182s for the prices these things will likely rent for. We're not really reducing the cost of flight training, we're just holding it static for a little while.

It's too expensive even on the bottom end. That should be the biggest complaint.

John Ewing said...


The 150 and 152 were indeed certificated for IFR, though not that all of them are equipped or have the requisite inspections for being legal to fly IFR. The Skycatcher will not be certificated for IFR, period.

Though the majority of 150/152 are not equipped for IFR training, quite a few of these aircraft are so equipped and used exactly for this purpose. You might not want to fly them on an IFR cross-country in hard IMC, but they can be economical for teaching instrument flying in benign instrument conditions.

For a training aircraft to be really usable in my part of the country, it needs to be IFR capable. Micro-climates are the norm in my area and you might depart VFR only to find that you need an approach to get back into the airport. I used to teach in a Diamond Eclipse, which was also not certificated for IFR, and I lost track of all the flights I cancelled because the weather looked iffy.

Certainly a Citabria or Decathlon can be spun, but they have tandem seating and most of the trainers that instructors use have side-by-side seating. The flight instructor spin endorsement states that the candidate demonstrates instructional proficiency in stall/spin awareness, spin entry, and spin recovery and to my mind that means it should cover scenarios like how to quickly assume control from a terrified student pilot who has a death grip on the yoke and throttle. These sorts of scenarios in aircraft with tandem seating just don't translate to side-by-side trainers.

As for the cost of flying and learning to fly, I, too, feel the pain. Yet the best advice I can offer to people who don't want to spend a lot of money is to stay the hell away from airplane and helicopters.