Cost is definitely a factor when taking flight lessons. But have you ever given any thought to the value of really good flight training that will help keep you from becoming a statistic?
My main goal in writing this article is to further aviation safety by addressing the poor standards I used in selecting a multiengine instructor, and going forward with the lesson even though red flags were popping up both before and during the flight. I set aside my common sense and was swayed by very low-cost training by an instructor I had not flown with in years.
It was the late 1980s in Rio Linda, California, and this was my first multiengine lesson. I was as excited to get up into the air in this Piper Twin Comanche as I was when I had begun my flight training some 12 years earlier.
At the time of this flight, I was a dual-rated commercial pilot, but did not have an instrument ticket. My total flight hours added up to approximately 1,500. My MEI, “Fred,” had been flying since World War II.
Fred had a lot of knowledge and skills to pass along, and I enjoyed flying with him when I was working toward my commercial license, years earlier. Although I had not seen nor talked to Fred in a number of years, I called him to inquire about multiengine lessons. He said he “knew a guy who had an airplane he could use fairly cheap,” and his “bargain rate” was less than half of the price quotes I had received from three reputable flight schools I had contacted in the area, so I went for it.
I was taken aback when I met Fred at the airport. He seemed frail. My first indication that things might not go so well was when he asked me to physically pick him up onto the wing because he could not step up that high due to his arthritis.
After engine start, we did an abbreviated checklist for run-up and takeoff. Fred told me we had to get up in the air and didn’t need to run the entire checklist. He said this flight was just to get me familiar with the feel of the airplane by doing some air work.
I had flown the airplane for about 20 minutes when Fred suddenly, and unexpectedly, announced he was going to cut and feather the left engine and prop. He wanted me to see what it would be like to fly on one engine.
After about 15 minutes of single-engine maneuvers, Fred said “Start the engine.” I pulled out the checklist to restart the engine.
After three attempts, the propeller was still not turning. I told Fred that the engine wouldn’t start, as if he didn’t already know that.
His response shocked me. He asked me “Well, what’s wrong with it?” I replied, “How the hell should I know? You’re the instructor!”
My confidence in Fred started a descent faster than a helicopter doing an autorotation.