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#196 Fly Like an Airline Pilot



Written February of 2017

Like many of you, I subscribe to a service which sends me tips from experienced flight instructors.  I receive one or two of them every week.  Most of the time I delete them because they are too simplistic and the comments just crack me up as other pilots clamber to put in their two cents worth and show that they, too, are on top of things.

(My friend, Bert, once exclaimed, “You read the comments?  Oh, gee, don’t read the COMMENTS!”)  Bert was right, but sometimes I can’t help myself!

I recently saw a sentence in one of these tips which reinforced this attitude I’ve had for some time.  The writer said,

“If you watch the corporate pilots and the airline pilots as they land and taxi, you’re going to find those nose wheels[1] are right on the centerline. And it seems to me if it’s good enough for them, that’s where we want to be also.”

My pal, Darrel Aschbacher, shown in the cockpit of his airliner before retiring from a major airline. He is now a respected member of the Geezer Patrol. This photo was stolen from it’s place of honor at the FBO in Prineville, Oregon. It was brought to my attention by Phil Comingore.

Is it?  Do we really want to do the things that airline pilots do in order to be “professional”?  I’m not sure we do.  In “Brian’s Flying Book”, I describe a takeoff technique which allows us to drift downwind on takeoff.  The reason for that is that if we have an engine failure on that takeoff and have sufficient altitude to turn back to the runway from which we just departed, we’ll only have to turn 180 degrees because we haven’t slavishly stayed on the extended centerline.  I firmly believe in this technique.  I also realize that every airport and every day is different.  We can’t always use an otherwise appropriate technique and every pilot should be able to pull the proper technique out of his bag o’ tricks in order to select the best one for the circumstances.  Oh, and I remember my mom calling our cat’s scrotum, his “bag o’ tricks”.  I didn’t mean that one.

Some of the best pilots I know fly for an airline.  As airline pilots, they must perform many operations the same as others who fly for that airline.  Many of these operations have been standardized for very good reasons.  But those of us who don’t fly with hundreds of people in back of us and who don’t fly for an airline with its standardized procedures can and must fly a bit differently.  We have a lot more leeway and with that leeway comes the opportunity to either screw up or perform with creativity and intelligence.

I will never forget one airline captain who came to me for a Tailwheel Endorsement.  We were in a pattern and a guy was in front of us and flying a huge pattern, which always louses me up and robs me of time.  I will admit to getting a bit angry.

 “Get on his ass”, I coached the pilot with me.  “That way you can turn inside him when we are on the go because he will be climbing straight out.  You’ll be number one to land and maybe he’ll learn a bit”.

 As we turned final and the captain climbed on the butt of the guy in front of us, he commented, “I’ve always wanted to do this, but never could!”.

I understood perfectly.  To do so in a large jetliner would be frowned upon and perhaps even a bit hazardous.  But in our little 140 it was easy and safe, with always a place to go.

So, you see, although there is a good reason for airline pilots to do what they do and to standardize the way they do things, it’s not always best to “fly like an airline pilot”.

Sometimes it’s best to “fly like a Stick and Rudder Master Class student at Tailwheel Town”.

[1] Nose wheels?

4 comments to #196 Fly Like an Airline Pilot

  • John Fiedler

    Interesting article!!! I was wondering if your and his radio quit. Polite? Too aggressive? Don’t fly in my airport area I am not sure I will know your individual and very personal limitations.

    I welcome your feedback

    John Fiedler

    PS I always enjoy your articles, but like many of us sometimes you get confused

    • brian

      John, you bring up an interesting point. Just as an engine can quit at any time and require us to change the way we are doing things, a radio can do the same thing, although the result may very well be a lot less catastrophic. And now to your last statement. YES, I am often confused! I think you can figure out what my actions will be if my radio quits. Thanks for your input. It’s appreciated!

  • I’ve been an airline pilot for 17 years and fly for a major airline. I 100% agree with you on this. A good pilot should know how to adjust technique for the situation. “Flying like an airline pilot” is a dangerous trend I have seen popping up in flight schools.

    • brian

      Chris, thanks for your input. I’ve always maintained that a good pilot should know how to conduct a particular operation several different ways. You said the same thing and your experience speaks volumes. Thank you again for your input!

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