So, hey, all you guys from back then who didn’t pass the first time, I’m sorry ... I guess.
Back to my check flight with a pre-solo Cirrus student. Phase checks aren’t required in a Part 61 school but Lunken Flight Training Center does them anyway, using an airline pilot/instructor and, in a pinch, me for these periodic checks during a student’s training. This was a smart, successful, middle-age businessman who had logged 33 hours dual without soloing because he was waiting on a special issuance medical. His instructor felt he was competent and that a solo phase check might be a confidence builder in the interim.
When we met, thinking he might be discouraged about all the dual time, I commented that the Cirrus was a challenging airplane for a new pilot. It was when I added that I thought initial instruction in the Cessna was maybe a better idea that he came back with the “living in the last century” remark. It was a little off-putting, and my immediate reaction was that this guy was a smart aleck. So I took a couple of deep breaths, calmed my bruised ego and sternly told myself to be sure I treated him fairly.
We went flying and he was fine with all the bells and whistles working but a disaster without the autopilot. There was no semblance of precision in airspeed and altitude control or even in straight-and-level flight. Steep turns and slow flight were painful, and my attempts to “teach” seemed to make him more uneasy, even resentful. Finally I said, “OK, just show me a plain vanilla, power-off approach to landing stall and recovery.” When he couldn’t or wouldn’t pull the power to idle, I put my hand over his to bring it back against the stop, and he came unglued. He wanted to go back to the airport, so we immediately engaged the autopilot and turned for home. I was amazed when, after a god-awful approach, he pulled off a pretty decent landing. Obviously I wasn’t the right person for this assignment and no doubt he wholeheartedly agreed.
When I issue a pink slip to private and instrument applicants in TAAs, many, especially on the private pilot tests, are related to basic aircraft control — or lack of. I’ve gotten beyond my steam gauge mentality and truly like these airplanes for their looks and for doing what they were designed to do magnificently — get you from point A to B comfortably, quickly and safely. But I question if these are the right machines for the early stages of a pilot’s training, when he needs a grounding in hand-flying skills. The technology is wonderful and here to stay, but I believe you first need to hand-fly an airplane with precision and develop proficiency in airspeed and altitude control, trim techniques, coordination, stall recognition and recovery, stabilized approaches and accuracy landings. And I believe the “stick and rudder” stuff is hugely important whether a person goes on to become a sport pilot, a private pilot or an airline pilot. Like the Airbus, G550s or the Space Shuttle, small general aviation TAAs are designed to be flown by an autopilot with the pilot acting as a manager, monitoring and interpreting a huge amount of information and making informed decisions. In my opinion, an automated cockpit is fine for transition or upgrade stages but maybe not such a great idea in the beginning.