Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Professionalism, Antiquated Advice, and AOPA

I just received my copy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association newsletter for flight instructors, called "CFI to CFI." There is an article called "The Art of Professionalism" that purports to tell me how I can be a more professional flight instructor, and thus, secure more students.

Front in center is the idyllic scene. A new student stands, beaming, next to his new flight instructor. Our hero, the truly "professional" flight instructor is wearing epaulets (with 4 stripes no less), a uniform shirt, and a tie.

The article goes on to expound upon the virtues of basically being the sharpest-dressed guy at the airport so that you can get students. After all, you should "dress the part" even if that means wearing a uniform. Let me just stop you right there and say, "really?" And, God forbid you show up for work in shorts!

I'm all about looking presentable. I tuck my shirt in and I shave every day. But, my "uniform" consists of those Magellan button-up fishing shirts from Academy (they're inexpensive, they're comfortable, and they're practical) tucked into a pair of blue jeans or *gasp* khaki shorts. Then there's my ballcap (complete with company logo) and Red Wing boots.
Hey uniform-wearers: Guys like the one in the blue shirt are who your students are coming to when they get tired of you day-dreaming about flying ERJ's instead of teaching :).

And you know what? I stay busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. I worked 14 hours yesterday. That's the norm. What's my secret? I focus on flying airplanes. The kind of airplanes I teach in. That means Cessna 150s and 172s, mostly. No, they are not "lowly." They produce lift through the same physical process that a 737 or Airbus does. And, complexity of systems aside, require every bit as much skill to fly professionally. I focus on my students and how they're learning. I focus on the reputation I earn for the "product" I put on the market.

I DO NOT focus on what may be next. I've mentioned before that I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, and I'm serious about that. The options are innumerable in aviation, especially with the looming pilot shortage, and that's liberating, not frustrating. When it's time, it'll be time. Until then, this is what I do.

The skills I acquire as a flight instructor will serve me well no matter where I end up. So I don't try to fly a 737 final in a 172. I don't checklist the 150 to death like it's a G6. And although federal law does consider me the "captain" of civil aircraft on which I'm serving as pilot in command, I'll leave the epaulets to my friends who are airline pilots.

So, AOPA, if you want to help bail flight instruction out of the hole that it is undeniably in (and I've discussed in earlier blog entries), quit giving bad, antiquated, useless advice. We have much more to worry about than matching our ties to our slacks! And while you're at it---an AOPA wine club? What the f***? Get real. I'm beginning to wonder what it is you're doing with my $49 in annual dues.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kyle and Amanda

I can't sleep tonight, because two of my heroes are in hospital burn units. Kyle and Amanda Franklin were performing their famous Pirated Skies act at the Brownsville Air Fiesta when what seems to be a catastrophic engine failure prompted a forced landing and caused the airplane to be consumed by fire.

Amanda was on the wing when the problem started, but was able to get back into the plane (according to reports----video I've seen doesn't make me feel as certain that she did) before the impact. Kyle was not able to get her out. They were both burned on 60-70% of their bodies and as of this writing it sounds as though they are in stable, but critical condition.

For those not familiar with Kyle and Amanda, they are the latest generation of an airshow family both ahead of its time and impacted by tragedy. In 2005, their fathers Bobby and Jimmy were killed in a mid-air collision during an airshow in Canada. Kyle and Amanda, who had been teenage sweethearts, later married and soon afterwards their wingwalking act debuted. Their passion for aviation brought them together and kept them in the family business.

These two represent everything that is good about my generation of pilots. They're young, good-looking, they handle their celebrity with grace, and they've reinvented the art of wingwalking for a new generation. They're accessible superstars at the top of their craft. In my opinion, any pilot who doesn't fantasize about doing what they do for a living needs to re-evaluate his or her career choice/hobby. Two accomplished pilots, husband and wife, teaming up to travel the country like modern barnstormers and bring aviation to the masses. What role models!

I don't even know them well enough to call them acquaintances (although Amanda gracefully accepted my Facebook friend request some years ago and is quite accommodating to her fans), and yet I feel like my brother and sister are lying in those hospital beds tonight. Pilots who are passionate about their craft and passionate about life are kindred spirits like that, and I tend to take stuff like this personally.

We're all praying for a full recovery for both of them. In the mean time, the best way I can pay tribute to them and all of our fallen brothers and sisters is to keep doing what I do. Keep taking aviation seriously. Keep trying to get others to feel that passion. Keep leading by example and being the best, safest pilot I can be. As an aviator, I benefit from the legacy of a long line of people just like Kyle and Amanda Franklin. Aviation is an incredible community. We see it over and over again, in both our triumphs and our defeats.

God bless you two, and may you both heal quickly and completely.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Alisa looking like a bad-ass in my old Randolph Aviator sunglasses!

We changed airplanes for this one. Alisa is pretty used to flying the Cub, so I figured using a stick would be more intutitive to her and put her in our Symphony SA-160. She had her first unassisted takeoff, which is a far cry from the last couple of lessons. The cool part about it was that the takeoff was on runway 17 at Marlin, which scares a lot of my more experienced pre-private students.

It may be the powerlines on the departure end, or it may be the fact that Marlin apparently has more buzzards per capita than any other town in Texas. At any rate, it's a narrow-ish runway and she did a really nice job keeping the airplane straight and controlling her pitch during rotation and climbout.

She's come a long way. The first lesson was okay, the second lesson involved some tears and hand-wringing, and the third one saw her finally come into her own. The bug has bitten, and she's started to look forward to lessons. And, so far we're still married :).

On to slow flight, stalls, and landings!