Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty
Visit the shop

# 177 Misconceptions


Written on 2-24-14

It’s occurred to me that a lot of people view me as a bit iconoclastic.  One ignorant aviator has long referred to me as an “outlaw”.  Would you like to know WHY I’m that way?  I think it’s because at some point, and with the help of my early aviation mentors, I became aware of all the misconceptions that are not only held by so many pilots, but that are also TAUGHT at an amazing number of flight schools.  Here are a few:

“High angle of bank increases stall speed”.  Nope.  If you are making a LEVEL banked turn, you’ll have to apply back elevator in order to hold altitude.  That will increase “G” loading and it’s “G” which increases stall speed, not angle of bank.  That’s why,

The Tailwheel Town Cessna 140 pulling “G”s in a climbing turn (The Lansburgh Collection, photo by Bert Garrison)

although we make a steeply banked turn in order to avoid terrain on some departures,.  We usually make no effort to climb during that steep bank.  As a result, we don’t even come close to stall speed.  “Don’t bank steeply close to the ground” is a refuge for the undertrained because it is assumed that you will haul back the stick AND stomp on the inside rudder pedal, setting yourself up for a classic spin to the ground..

“A stall results in a spin” is one of the most popular aviation misconceptions.  Most airplanes will simply buck when their stalling angle of attack is reached IF they are properly coordinated.  Since most pilots are never taught proper coordination, they tend to skid their turns (too much inside rudder).  That sets them up for a spin, since most airplanes will only spin if they are both stalled AND SKIDDING.

“The key to a good landing is a good approach”.  It’s true that a good landing is best assured if a good (and often stabilized) approach is made.  However, if you can’t make a good landing out of ANY approach, including a short approach or an emergency descent, then you better go back to some fundamentals.  A good pilot can make a good landing out of ANY approach. A marginal pilot needs a stabilized approach in order to pull off a decent landing. There is a good reason that airliners almost always make a stabilized approach.  It has nothing to do with the skill of their pilots.  Are you flying an airliner?

“Call every position in the pattern, even if you’re the only one in it”. As with much of radio communications, this is a bit subjective.  However, we should remember that many flights are instructional.  Every radio call is heard in every aircraft within listening distance.  So your multiple calls may be interfering with an instructor’s guidance to his student.  Keep ‘em to a minimum, especially if they are un-needed or if English is your second, and marginally understandable, language.

“Since you might end up flying an airliner, fly airliner-sized patterns”.  Wrong again.  Since the main purpose of a flying school is to be profitable, doesn’t it stand to reason that fewer landings per hour will result in the most time and profit in order for a student to gain proficiency?  That’s just one reason why the pattern at Tailwheel Town is so small.  If we combine our small pattern with multiple landings, it’s possible for our students to get ten times the landings per hour as their counterparts at the Acme Flying School.  And, as a bonus, they are gaining more proficiency because they are using a shorter, more difficult approach.

The Outlaw Aviation Cessna near Sisters, Oregon. A one-cfi, one-airplane flight school with the student’s best interests at heart. (Photo by Bert Garrison.)

“Use the stabilized approach in your little beater; that’s what the airline guys do!”  The airline guys have an average of 200 passengers in the back and a lot to lose if they screw up an approach and landing.  That’s one reason they use a stabilized approach and have certain parameters to meet at certain distances and altitudes.  If they are not at that altitude, airspeed and configuration, they must execute a go-around.  That works for them, but they are not nearly as maneuverable as we are.  Although every general aviation pilot should be able to make a stabilized approach, in the vast majority of cases, we should wad that technique up and toss it out the window.

“Slow down five miles from the airport and don’t bother learning how quickly your airplane can go from cruise to landing configuration”.  Most pilots never figure out how long it takes their airplane to slow to approach speed.  So, as a result, they slow down WAY out and then take forever to get to the runway.  Do you know how long it takes to slow to approach speed from cruise descent at 500 fpm in the plane YOU fly?  In the Cessna 140 it takes 15 seconds.  In the 172 about 25 seconds.  So we can descend like a bat out of hell until we have that much time to final power reduction.  I’ll bet we’ll be having coffee in the airport café while the Acme guy is entering the pattern!

“Carry power until touchdown… after all, modern engines are very dependable and will never quit”. This one drives me nuts.  Every power-off accuracy landing we do prepares our pilots for the day when that engine may quit.  In addition, our power-off accuracy landing takes less time and gets us on the ground just that much sooner.  I was taught a long time ago that once you are in the pattern, you should be able to glide to the runway.  The average power-on approach, especially if you are number two or three and suckered onto a long downwind, will make that impossible.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not falling for it.  I’ve been accused of “cutting people off” in the pattern, but I’ve never actually caused anyone to change their stupid, long approach… they just can’t stand to see someone get in front of them.  Human nature.

“Never extend flaps in a turn”.  I really don’t know where this one came from but, as with the forward slip, if you wait to extend flaps until you are not turning, you may be unintentionally allowing yourself to land longer.  The extension of flaps during a turn has absolutely no ill affect unless you’re pulling max G’s at the time, which is highly unlikely during normal operations.

“If you’re going to forward slip, do it with the upwind wing down”.  This is one of my favorites.  It actually seems to make sense… until you simply ask “why?”  The answer you’ll always get is that if there is a crosswind, you’ll already be set up with your upwind wing down, so that the wind won’t get under it (by the way, “the wind getting under it” is rarely a problem).  The reason this is nuts is because you may not be in a position to put that wing down if you’re way up there on base.  Because the beginning of the base leg (which is the “key” position) is where you first decide if you are high.  That’s when you’ll want to start your forward slip.  If you are in left traffic, your left wing needs to be down because you are banking that way and all you have to do is input top rudder.  Then you’ll be in a turning slip to final.  You DO know how to turn and slip at the same time, don’t you?  If not, you’re poorly trained.  Even the slowest rolling plane I’ve ever flown could easily change from one bank to the other at the last minute in order to land in a crosswind.  So, “sorry, Acme”.  You’re wrong again.

“Don’t use flaps in a crosswind”. This is a real popular one.  The only time a crosswind messes with an airplane’s heading is when the airplane is on the ground.  There’s no reason not to use flaps in a crosswind.  Just raise them toward the end of the flare in order to raise the stall speed and keep the durn thing on the ground.  Is that too complicated for you?  Then take up Parcheesi (don’t bother sending me your objection to this one… I’ve already heard most of them.  My answer is “don’t retract your landing gear on the ground”).

“Brian is nuts”. (I just slipped that one in).

Jeez, I gotta stop!  I could just keep listing ‘em!

I guess my point is that the majority of items taught at the Acme Flying School (not the VAST majority) make sense and are useful.  But not all.  Intelligent student pilots must constantly question what they are taught and see if they can sift and sort the good stuff from the ridiculous (some of this philosophy is contained in “Brian’s Flying Book”, but since very few people read it, I figured I’d repeat it here).

Flying in the irrigation pivot.  This exercise gets us comfortable in proximity to the ground and also teaches coordination while maneuvering (The Lansburgh Collection, photo of Sam Monte by Brian Lansburgh).

Every two years I must renew my Flight Instructor Certificate.   I do the online Flight Instructor Renewal Course and every time I do one, I find myself tearing my hair and seriously considering hanging it up.  Why?  Because in all of these courses there is next to nothing about teaching a person how to fly an airplane.  Instead, the FIRC is filled with regs (think about who decided that we had to DO a FIRC), Crew Resource Management and other subjects which are designed to teach the pilot how to think.  I believe they already know how to think.  It’s my job to teach them to fly.  But the FIRC epitomizes how the modern CFI is taught to teach… and WHAT he is taught to teach.

A strip of tape covers the ball of the turn coordinator in the Tailwheel Town 140.  Very few of my students have ever seen the ball.  I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again.  Virtually 100 percent of my tailwheel students report that their first flight instructor told them that, to coordinate their turns they should learn to “step on the ball”.  That advice is crap and it is symbolic of all the other misconceptions that are taught at the modern flight training institution.  The upper body of the pilot will tell him if he’s coordinated… and he can use that while looking out the window, where his attention needs to be.  That tape in our airplane is more than a training aid… it is a symbol of how we fly at Tailwheel Town.

Just as the number of CFI s who can teach Tailwheel Flying is steadily shrinking, the number of those instructors who inject a generous amount of common sense and who teach power-off approaches is also increasingly tiny.  My heart goes out to the person who wants to learn to fly and must find a teacher.  Good luck to you….

…and Happy Swooping


10 comments to # 177 Misconceptions

  • Jim M.


    I’m concerned, maybe a little scared. What have you done? I think you’ve shot your wad of “Rants”. Are you well? Are you going to turn your prolific writing towards “Romance Novels”? What possibly can be the subject matter for future Tailwheelers Journal. articles? Don’t give up! We need you.

    Jim M.

    • brian

      Thank you, Jim! It’s great to hear from you and I can assure you that I’m not done! Although I HAVE done a bit on romance novels, most will never read them. Thanks for thinking of me and for writing. Not sure what will come in the next couple of weeks, but I think I owe my reader a couple more rants!

  • Bruce Reins

    Having been a CFI since 1980 and an airline pilot now…it irks me when I get a student from ACME and I get….”Gee, nobody ever taught/told me that!” Rant on Brian.

  • PKingMan

    In my opinion, there is nothing more swelegant than a turning slip,

  • William "Sarge" Sargent

    I trained at an ACME school and it drove me crazy. As soon as I got my own airplane I started teaching myself to fly. Reading your articles and watching your videos have been great inspiration. So on Lynn last flight review while climbing out after take off the instructor asks me, “If the engine quits now can you make it to the airport or will you land straight ahead?” Little did he know I had practiced this vet thing dozens of times at this airport. My reply was let’s find out. From 800′ I pulled carb heat and throttle, leveled out, checked my position and began my turn. He was actually startled and began reaching for the controls. Not wanting him to have heart issues I began talking him through the maneuver. We came around 270 degrees and landed perfectly on the crossing grass runway. He said flight over and signed my book with a smile. The next day I saw him out practicing the same thing. It’s contagious to really fly your airplane.

  • Dustin

    “…modern engines are very dependable and will never quit.”

    This one is me and I’ve heard it from even experienced people. An obvious sign of not having worked on GA aircraft…it’s the same dang motors that were in these airplanes 50 years ago with maybe marginally better oil, gasket, and metallurgy technology at best. Sure the statistics may say we’ve gotten better, but still not a reason to drag yourself in on that airliner glideslope hoping the motor doesn’t drop you in the trees/water/houses before be airport.

    Had a buddy’s DPE say the same thing to him while they flew around in a 1964 Mooney…somehow that motor was more reliable because of the modern era according the DPE; I’m sure she’s never seen the glass gascolator or tractor-technology control linkages and carburetor that make the thing tick.

    Slips in a turn. Can’t tell you how many people have no clue how to do that. They won’t initiate a slip until the wings are level and the approach is botched. And then, it’s power in, go around, and trust the motor to another lap into the unknown. Don’t even get me started on the “you can always go around” mentality. Oops, we bounced…go around…because applying 5 more seconds of skill to put it back down safely this time is SO much more dangerous than cramming the power in and hoping you handle another trip around the patch. That’s why I love introducing people (re-introducing really) to how to fly with my 120. No flaps, energy management all the time, “tricky” to land for a newbie to tailwheel. For sure have shocked people with the botched landings I’ve shown are recoverable. As more and more ACME types come around; we’re getting pushed out. Deemed crazy. Oh well.

  • Liz Heizler

    Brian. Stop it. You’re making sense.
    It’s hurting people’s feelings.

    So keep making sense. It gives a low hour lady pilot some fuel to prod the acme guys with. I like seeing the steam they make when they think.
    On a similar note, may I request an article on how to not push people’s buttons during flight instruction?
    Asks the pot of the kettle.

    By the way, I enjoy your rants too.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>