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Ground Reference Maneuvers

My Longest Lesson

I’m pretty sure my instructor is addicted to the sound of the stall warning horn.
This was the longest flight lesson, I’ve had so far, at 1.9 hours. And we did it ALL. Steep turns, slow flight, power-off and power-on stalls, S-turns, turns around a point, rectangular courses, forward slips, no-flaps landings…

Sometimes, this stuff feels a bit esoteric. I’ve absorbed everything I could¬†about flight training for years: read books, websites, blogs, watched videos. I understand that, theoretically, all of these practice maneuvers are designed to teach you about how airplanes fly: how they are affected by speed, winds, angles, power, etc. They are all supposed to lead to a student pilot being able to fly up to the level of the FAA’s Practical Test Standards *cue ominous music*. Well, I work with the federal government in my day job, and to be honest, this felt very…federal government-y. Something that might look good on paper in a boardroom full of people from Headquarters, but that falls flat when implemented in the real world.

So, does it work? Well, I’m certainly learning a lot. During steep turns, I’m learning that feeling a little bit of extra G-force is OK. I’m learning that the airplane can do a lot more than I thought it could. When I nailed my altitude in the second 360-degree steep turn, and felt a bump as I passed through my own wake, I learned a little bit about how an airplane can disrupt the air it passes through. When I trimmed out the airplane in slow flight, with the stall warning horn BLARING, and flew it hands off for a few minutes, I learned that this airplane is capable of all sort of types of flight, and it’s not necessarily dangerous or scary, just different.

Is this what the FAA wants me to be learning? Maybe.

Is this what I need to learn to be a better pilot? Probably.

Could it be a better system? Probably. And this year, the FAA is making some big changes. Goodbye Practical Test Standards, hello Airman Certification Standards. What does this mean, and will things be better? I don’t think anyone¬†really knows just yet.

I do feel like the motivation behind it is a good one: the FAA felt like the current system had become bloated with “things like overlapping or redundant tasks, and a long and growing list of largely undefined ‘special emphasis’ items in the introductory material“. It happens when a system is in place for years, I understand that. Additionally, they felt like the written test had suffered from the same kind of bloat, and in doing so, had become less and less related to the actual art of flight. As I am studying for the written test now, I COULDN’T AGREE MORE. The material is kind of a mess.

But, getting back to the point, I have been getting a little hung up on whether or not I was learning the correct things, or the things that the FAA wanted me to learn, from each required maneuver. Thanks to this 1.9 hours in the air, and an awesome instructor, I’m realizing that experience doesn’t follow a syllabus. An hour in the airplane is never an hour wasted; I’m always learning something.