The public tends to believe, and most General Aviation pilots also tend to believe, that military and airline pilots have special skills that the average pilot does not have. They do have type ratings and advanced training that most of us will never get. However, we all start the same way, with basic training, advancing to our first solo flight, our first cross country flight, and finally to a check ride that put that Private Pilot Certificate into our pockets. During wartime, the military would take a person with no experience and train them to be a fighter or bomber pilot, with the training focused on combat situations and not on flying for pleasure. Not all applicants made it through the training. During and right after WWII, many pilots were lost in training accidents.
After the war, training changed little. The public was beginning to use aviation for travel much more. Many airline pilots were former military pilots, so much so that the public still thinks that most airline pilots are retired military pilots, or that you had to be a military pilot before becoming an airline pilot. Of course, we know that is not the case today.
Great changes have been made in all aspects of aviation since the end of WWII. Most significant is the reduction of fatal crashes of airliners and general aviation aircraft. All of us are thankful for that. Of course, it took a lot of hard work to get to where we are today. The job is not over.
Trying to find the root of aviation issues and to correct or educate is not easy. Aviation safety people look at trends, but may not go back to the initial beginning of a problem, specifically, knowledge. The education and training at the beginning may be the same, but beyond that, military and civilian airmen are different. The end goal for both is flying safely, but military pilots have additional goals of achieving and maintaining air dominance during combat operations.
The military pilot’s formal training courses can be long and arduous, incorporating technology such as radar, data links, and electro-optical targeting devices, and G suits. Producing military pilots is a costly and time consuming investment that varies by military service and aircraft type. Producing a mission ready fighter pilot can take up to 5 years and cost between 3 and 11 million dollars.
In the many years that I have been instructing, both civilians and military, I have found that there is a gap of knowledge on airspace and the performance of civilian aircraft. This is not to say that military pilots are not outstanding, but the challenge of airspace knowledge and civilian aircraft performance knowledge is deficient. Military pilots who want to fly in something as small as a Cessna 182, may not have a good understanding of the airspace and performance characteristics of the 182, now flying low and slow, as compared to an F-16 or an A-10. The military and airline pilots are guided under some parts of ATC almost from engine start to engine shut down.
Flying VFR in a “lowly C-182” may be something that would require a bit more training. They must now think about the airspace they are flying in, and about having 3 other passengers, and full fuel in that 182. These may not be subjects of great interest, but when the Arizona temperatures are 100 degrees or more, they take on great importance when you are not flying at 17000 feet and 400 knots with 10,000 pounds of thrust (or more) pushing you along.
To fly that Cessna 182, the CAP, and most flight schools, or places that will rent a C-182, will require a check ride with a qualified instructor. This is the time that the instructor can uncover those gaps in knowledge. Anytime you are transitioning into a different aircraft, a thorough review of the POH performance section should be mandatory. Failure to do so could be hazardous to your health. As a Sergeant in the Air Force once told me: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
By Barbara Harper and Howard Deevers