Posted by: Chris Davis | December 7, 2009

Planes, Training, and $100 Pancakes

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! The alarm sounds so much louder at 05:30 on a Saturday morning than it does during the week, but what a sweet sound it makes. Today is the 3rd Saturday of the month and that means pancakes for breakfast. I ease out of bed, get dressed, kiss my wife goodbye and head to my sons room. Jacob is only 2 ½ , but he loves pancakes almost as much as he loves to fly…combine the 2 elements and it will wake him up faster than a double shot of espresso.

Jacob loading up

The sun begins to rise over the hills as we arrive at the airport to drag our steed from it’s hangar. We begin our walk around and the chilly morning air sends a little shiver through my body. Prop; check…Tires; check…Leading Edge; check…Fuel; clean and free of water…Control surfaces; free and correct. My dutiful co-pilot follows my every move, double checking each item on the pre-flight walk around. He faithfully asks the inevitable question at every item we check. Daddy, why? With all items satisfactory we enter the aircraft and strap in. Master switch: ON…Mixture: FULL…Boost pump: ON…as I lean my head out the window to check for prop clearance my co-pilot beats me to the punch “Keer Pop” he yells, with a grin so big his headset falls down around his chin. As the Maule breaks the morning silence, we turn on the avionics and enter 3M5 into the GPS. “Let’s go to Moontown and get some pancakes daddy!” I wiggle the rudder a bit to lock in the tailwheel and we begin our journey.

Our trip to breakfast usually takes about an hour and (thanks to my co-pilot) is filled with many steep turns, stalls, and floaters…the floaters are Jacobs favorite since he gets to be weightless for a few seconds. Often times we will join up with a few buddies for our breakfast journey and we use the trip to brush up on our formation flying maneuvers. All too quickly we make it to Moontown and enter the increasingly busy pattern to land. After demonstrating the proper soft field landing techniques to Jacob we taxi off the active runway and proceed to park. Breakfast seems to hit just the right spot as we sit around the picnic table and play “name that plane”. I talk shop with other pilots as Jacob finishes his second round of pancakes and then we proceed to walk down the growing flight line for some more hands on education.

Hidden amidst the tailwheels, trikes, amphibs and warbirds are a multitude of questions just waiting to be answered. Daddy, what kind of airplane is that? Why? What is the little wheel on the back for? Why? What makes it fly? Why? Why does it have two wings instead of one? I answer the questions one by one, often repeating the same question multiple times. Upon reaching the end of the current flight line we sit in the shade of an old Stearmans wings and watch the new arrivals as they land. How appropriate that we rest beneath an old trainer as I teach a future pilot.

The phone rings…a call from my wife signals that our kitchen pass will soon expire. The time has come for the men of the house to return home, the ladies have made plans for our afternoon. On the return flight my co-pilot reaches his duty limit…eyes closed and leaning against the window, his headset slowly begins to slide down. It is a quiet trip back to the hangar. This has been a fun trip and a very educational one for both of us…only 4 more weeks until we get to do it again.

Often times I hear light aircraft pilots complain about their insurance company requiring completion of an annual Flight Review or X number of dual hours prior to solo in a new aircraft. Just like my son, I have to ask why? Why are pilots complaining about having an excuse to fly? Many of the pilots who complain about the training requirements are the same ones that I will see at a pancake breakfast or local fly in. If I was a CFI and Jacob was older, he could receive his flight review endorsement each time we head out for pancakes provided we follow a few simple guidelines.

FAR 61.56 states: a flight review consists of a minimum of 1 hour of flight training and 1 hour of ground training. The review must include: (1) A review of the current general operating and flight rules of Part 91; and (2) A review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.

Get a little creative. Find a local CFI and offer to pay his way to a fly-in breakfast in exchange for a flight review. Combine free breakfast with free flight time and most any pilot will jump at the chance.   If a fly-in is not your thing, consider getting some tailwheel training or some formal formation training. Both of these areas will greatly improve your situational awareness as well as hone your flying skills. You will learn to anticipate and lead the aircraft to where you want it to go instead of directing its actions as you ride along. Tailwheel training will improve your precision on landings as well as focus your attention during ground handling. Formation training will teach you to plan ahead and to fly very smooth and precise as well as teach you how to pay close attention to detail.

No matter what form of training you choose, it is only as good as the effort that you put into it. Why continue to dread the flight reviews and proficiency checks only to forget what you learned before your next flight? Make the training something to look forward to…plan your next flight review around an upcoming event and enjoy the training. I guarantee you will get much more out of it and you will find yourself looking for more excuses to train.

Every time I take Jacob flying he is learning and asking why. In some ways he is my best little instructor. He reminds me that I should always be asking “why?” as I too am still learning to fly.

Clear Skies & Tailwinds

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  1. I wish I’d been a pilot when my son was young. I like your idea on the CFI part. Unfortunately, I need a CFI that lives in my area that knows my plane. Guess I need to find one that wants to learn and practice together : )

    Merry Christmas!

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