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#170 Bump on a Log

Written June 15, 2013


Most of my students have heard me say that a flight instructor has two roles:  To teach and to protect.  While I think that it’s basically true, I suppose that there are some other, not so obvious, roles that the CFI performs.  He also evaluates.  He does that constantly.  He does that at first so that he can figure out what he needs to teach and how much he’ll need to protect.  Part of that evaluation is to test.  When the flight instructor reaches over and fails that engine, he’s evaluating to see how the student will handle it.

Sitting behind him, I’m simply watching this guy (incidentally, he didn’t need much watching!)

Sometimes the best thing a CFI can do is nothing.  Sometimes he has to just sit there and let the student practice or to simply see how he performs a particular action without any input from the instructor.

My son, Hooper, and I were talking about a new role his employer had assigned him; to train other guides on a particular stretch of water.  His boss told him that there would be just one rule:  He was not allowed to “touch the sticks”.  For a guy who takes pride in his considerable ability to row and guide a boat through white water, this seemed terribly frustrating to Hooper.  But to me, it demonstrated that his boss knew what he was doing.   It occurred to me that he was being asked to do what I’ve been doing for years. A flight instructor so often “flies with his mouth”.  Except for an occasional demonstration, his job is not to fly; it’s to teach and to protect the student while he’s learning.  All my students have heard me whine, “I just hate demos!”.   There’s a reason.  What flying skill I have has been developed while I was flying, not while I was teaching.  That skill will gradually atrophy and that’s why I try to allow myself at least an


                         “…and that’s why I try to allow myself an hour a week in which to practice.”

hour a week to practice.  That practice helps keep me looking less like a moron when it’s time to demonstrate (I said it HELPS me.  I still look like a moron… just less of one).

I was flying with a guy who did well.  He was actually one of my favorite “types”: a guy who recognized that he had an area that needed improvement and who’d asked me to help him with it.  At one point, while blasting around the pattern, I told him, “I’m just going to sit back here like a bump on a log now”.

He immediately replied, “I’m not paying you to be a bump on a log”.

And that’s what prompted me to write this little piece.  You see, from time to time, I think they DO pay me to sit there like a bump on a log.  ‘cause I’m THINKING, you see!

I’m watching, feeling and evaluating.  And THAT is one of the things a teacher does.

I recently watched the impressive documentary, “Buck” on Netflix.  It deals with a guy who, it is said, inspired the story of the “Horse Whisperer”.  As someone who grew up on the back of a horse, I found it fascinating.  But what fascinated me the most was how horsemanship could be a metaphor for life.  Thusly, the things I learned from “Buck”, are things which I can bring to flight instruction.  You just may find me doing a bit more thinking and analyzing in the future!


8 comments to #170 Bump on a Log

  • D. Philip Comingore

    Don’t ever quit sharing your valuable tidbits of experience with us Bryon. I read all of them, think I’ve seen most of your video presentations and find both your writing and videos extremely interesting and educational. Thanks for sharing.


  • Kirby Mills

    Gotta say Bri, I wish all instructors had learned your lesson. Just finished mandatory insurance dual in my restored Globe Swift. Instructor is a great guy, never raised his voice, pretty good about “flying with his mouth”. But, he couldn’t keep his hands off the stick; constantly nudging and bumping it for corrections. I’m not even sure he was aware.

    In our last hour, he said I should take a break and he would “demo” an approach and landing. Instead, I got him to promise to observe, analyze, and NOT talk! I nailed it, and the point was made.

    Good subject for an expanded article.


    • brian

      If I have a “secret” it’s really simple: Approach speed is not really important. IF the flare is done smoothly with little G force, all we need to be is nice and close to the ground. Everything else takes care of itself. The airplane doesn’t know how fast or slow its approach speed is. See, I told you it was simple! We’ll fiddle with it in the 140 when you come out.

  • There’s definitely something to doing nothing. Some of the most memorable lessons I had as a private student happened when my instructor let me make mistakes (setting VOR or heading indicator incorrectly) and didn’t say a word until I figured out the problem myself. Had he corrected me right away the lesson would not have stuck nearly as much.

  • Jim Boeckl

    That photo of “my good side” reminds me of the many Champ flights I took with my dad, sitting in the back seat like a bump on a log, staring at the back of his head.

    I wanted to mention something about your influence, Brian, that goes beyond flight instruction which, by itself, is wonderful. A year or so ago, you recommended the movie, Sunshine Superman, the story of Carl and Jean Boenish, the pioneers of BASE jumping. I’ve never been interested in BASE jumping because of the risk, but those two people were fascinating and authentic! Their story was inspiring.

    Then, in your article above you recommended the movie, Buck, the story of Buck Brannaman, a gifted horseman and humble Zen master. I watched it last week and what a touching and meaningful breath of fresh air it was!

    Both those movies struck musical chords in my soul and I most likely never would have seen them if you had not recommended them. Thank you.

    • brian

      For those unfamiliar, Jim Boeckl is a talented pilot, who is currently a mentor and SHOULD be a CFI. He appears, uncredited, as the pilot in the photo in “Bump on a Log”. Thank you, Jim, for the nice words.

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