From the Flight Deck - June 2013
Roy Evans II
We’ve all heard stories of how tight-knit the aviation community is. And, even with the number of pilots out there, chances are you’ll run into someone who you know, who you’ve flown with, or who knows somebody you know, much like the ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’. This last month I was at a job fair and put this theory to the test. To much amazement, one fellow attendee had been a roommate of a good friend of mine in grade school, went to flight school with another grade school friend, and flew for a charter company with another friend from college. I guess I should warn those friends he’s got some dirt on you now, so play nice.
Just like in the aviation community, we are even more tightly-knit to the aircraft we fly, and I’m not talking about seat belts. Airplanes not only provide us a medium in which to win the war against gravity, they do so communicating with us the whole time. This communication is typically taught to the pilot through the panel, where instruments relay values of airspeed, altitude, heading, and many others, to the pilot to help build the big picture of what the aircraft is doing. However, just like in everyday conversations, your aircraft talks with you through nonverbal communications.
Studies have reported that up to 80% of communication is fed through nonverbal means. If that’s true in humans, how can it be true in airplanes? One of the techniques I use when instructing new students, a method taught to me by many of my flight instructors, involves covering all the flight instruments for the first few hours of instruction, and periodically covering the instruments through their training. Showing students the ability to fly an airplane without using the 20% of the aircraft’s communication methods allows them to fully grasp the fundamentals of flight, and lays down a foundation of solid aircraft control that aids in mastering the control of the aircraft throughout their flight training curriculum. Plus, it forces them to enjoy the view, and helps alleviate any potential nausea when you’re teaching people to fly in the summertime over the mountains.
The 80% of communication can come through many of the other senses. Primary students are taught to feel the aircraft through the flight controls, and how trim can alleviate those pressures. We take these students through the stall regime to give them the experience of feeling the aircraft stall, and through maneuvers like steep turns to feel the acceleration of the aircraft, and what a coordinated turn feels like. We teach them to hear the aircraft slice through the air, and translate the noise of the aircraft to it’s velocity. In some instances, we teach students to smell things before they present themselves as problems, like burning insulation or leaking fuel.
I remember flying with a commercial student doing pattern work. Sharp kid, a great pilot, but he had a reputation of being uncoordinated on the departure leg. So here we are, heading on our first circuit when I feel the typical lean in my seat as we climb in uncoordinated flight. A quick glance to the inclinometer ensures me I’m not sitting on a wallet full of hundred dollar bills. “Hey, it feels like we’re uncoordinated,” I say to the student. “No, we’re fine,” he says. “You sure? I think the ball’s out of the gate.” “Nah, I can tell by the seat of my pants we’re fine.” “Look again, your butt’s broken.”
Gaining a mastery of controlling the aircraft doesn’t have to be reserved to the commercial applicants flying the performance maneuvers, nor does it mean you have to have a perfectly calibrated butt. Just like in everyday conversations, knowing what to look for and listening to both verbal and nonverbal communication, you will have all the information you need to correlate your aeronautical knowledge and put it to use. Last I heard the Air Force has fixed my previous student’s butt. Then again, there’s not much P-Factor in an F-16.