CFI Endorsement Day

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I spent a couple of hours on Thursday in the skies over Ionia in the mighty SGS 2-33A with Lee Larder. Seven flights. I think that I’m becoming comfortable in the back seat. It’s a constant struggle to keep the tow plane above the cowl on the climb (especially when the tow plane hits sink and tries to disappear), but I’m not going to add a cushion to the seat now because I’d have to get used to a new sight picture and new muscle and inertial memory. And, as much easier as the whole thing is in the front seat, I don’t think I’d fly the ride from the front even if I had the option.

Still, I’m constantly put in mind of the Mike Meyers bit from So I Married an Axe Murderer:

We started with a tow to 2,500 to demonstrate all of the high airwork. Naturally, the dive brakes became jammed with a mixture of ice and extraterrestrial fauna, so I flew it sideways to that landing, happy with my slip and the control on the roll-out.

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Next came what I had in mind for most of the flights of the day. I’ve long been a little worried about my ability to land the glider precisely. It’s always reasonably safe, but it doesn’t always come to rest on the runway where I want it to. So we did five pattern tows to try to dial in the precision of my landings. We set up a pair of cones along the runway edge about 400 feet apart, with the idea of touching down after the first one, but coming to a stop before the second one.

The first touchdown was a little short and the second one rolled out a little long, but I was generally happy with things. I had been avoiding slamming on wheel brake out of some aesthetic sense, but Lee suggested that I throw elegance to the wind if it looked like I had too much energy in the rollout. After all, it’s an emergency maneuver and you should expect a little brute force. And, as long as the wingtips are well off the ground and you don’t have a substantial side load, there’s little chance of a ground loop. So, if the second cone appears to be advancing too quickly, I’m going to be full-on the wheel brake and I can also let the stick come forward to dump a little more weight on the skid to get it stopped.

Otherwise, I’m doing things like a real CFI candidate. Get stabilized at 60 mph in the middle of the approach cone with half to three-quarters dive brakes. Get that aim point 200 feet short of the first cone (and on the other side of Lee’s head) to hold still in the windshield. Then flare and use the rest of the dive brakes once I have the first cone made. Then throw out the anchor and hope really hard.

The last flight was a 180 abort from 200 AGL. Lee pulled the clown nose at or above 200 AGL (and after my callout) and I know that the altimeter was correct, but we sure looked low at the 135-degree point in the turn back. As a TG-7A driver, I push pretty hard and pretty long for airspeed on a 180 abort because the TG-7A is a draggy beast that loses energy prodigiously when the thrust quits. The 2033A soesn’t slow down as quickly, so waited too long to bank for the turn. I need to get the turn going sooner next time. But we made it back with no problem and I even managed to retain the right amount of energy to get it back to the start point and even taxied off to the side using rudder so there wasn’t as far to push back.

CFI 2015-05-28 03At the conclusion of flying, Lee and I went through the items I missed on the FOI and FIG knowledge tests, then he signed me off. My IACRA application had already been in for a day, so I gave him the application number and FRN so that he could approve it. And I left with all of the required endorsements in my logboog.

So it’s on the the ride!  With CAP NLOC in Atlanta coming up June 10-14 and the River Days airshow June 19-21, I’m probably going to have to do the ride this coming week or push it until after the airshow. And, if I push it, I’ll probably fly one more time with Lee before the ride. I called Carol Dehnbostl (an FIE in the West Michigan FSDO and one of the main reasons that I went to Ionia to train) and I expect to hear back from her on Monday.


Airspeed Contest – Shoot the Boomer

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Here’s a contest for all of you long-lens types.  You know who you are. You’re there in the photo pit at the airshow with a Howitzer-sized lens, shooting pictures of the airplanes and shouting “Vapes! Nice Vapes!”

Long ago, I heard from my friend Liza Eckardt of Fence Check about a strange and wonderful custom:  The “watch pass.”  Airshow pilots, and particularly Navy demo aviators would hold up their left fists on a right-to-left banana pass in front of the crowd so that their watches were visible through the canopy. The long-lensers would try to get a picture that showed the time on the pilot’s watch.  Naval aviators are known for wearing particularly large watches, but this is still a challenge.  Mark Sorenson of Tiger Airshows did this a few times and some of the pictures that resulted were pretty good.

Knowing Phil “Mongrel” Landram and other current and former boom operators as well as I do, I realized that they don’t get the love that the fighter drivers do.  And some of them even have heads bigger than a Naval aviator’s watch.  So I came up with a little contest.

The first photographer to send in a recognizable picture of a boom operator’s face gets USD 100 of Airspeed’s cash.  Here are the rules.

  • The picture must be shot during the 2015 airshow season (through November 30, 2015).
  • The picture must be shot at a US airshow during the practice or an airshow performance.
  • The show site must have FAA-approved box dimensions.  No special mil boxes.  The usual crowd standoff has to be in place and you have to be on the crowd area.
  • The boom operator must be at the boom position of a KC-135 and the view of the boomer must be through the boom operator’s window.
  • The aircraft must be in flight with the boom deployed.
  • The picture must have been shot from the ground and from the crowd line (photo pit okay, but shots from the pyro position or otherwise on the box side of the crowd line are not eligible).
  • The picture must show the recognizable face of the boom operator.
  • The winner must be eligible to receive the prize money in his/her country of residence (no remittances to Yemen, please).
  • Cropping and processing are okay, but only to isolate the boom operator’s face and/or bring out detail.  You can’t add detail.
  • You cant do unsafe things to get the shot.
  • You can’t break any law, FAA waiver restriction, or other rule in getting the shot.
  • This is supposed to be fun.  Don’t make it not fun.
  • Wheaton’s Law applies.

Airspeed’s editorial staff is the final judge of the qualification of the picture and the photographer and any construction of the rules.  We are horribly arbitrary and capricious, so be forewarned.  Contact us at with your picture.  You can attach it or send a link to where we can see the picture.  By entering, you give your permission to publish the winning shot and to identify you as the photographer.

Thanks to Kevin Hauswirth for the KC-135 image above to get everyone’s creative juices flowing.


More CFI Training – Focusing on the Fine Points

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Another session in the mighty Schweizer SGS 2-33A Absteigend Reibungmaschine. Two flights this time.  The first was a basic flight with wake-boxing, slack line, some thermaling, and an interesting landing abeam lots of other waiting gliders.  The second flight was a lot longer and involved a lot more thermaling and then the PTS airwork on the way back down.  The track from the first flight is reproduced below.  I apparently ham-handed the iPad on the second flight and didn’t capture the track log.  Bummer, because we maneuvered a lot and that would have been cool to see.

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It was a really good day for soaring.  Lots of bumps on tow, but lots of thermals as well.  A generally cool day through the whole relevant range of the atmosphere, but clear skies allowed the sun to heat the surrounding area unevenly and it was sporty.  Lots of non-school gliders lined up to get towed. The nice thing about training at Benz Aviation is that the tow operation belongs to the school and tows for other gliders are on an as-available basis while I go to the head of the line each time I’m ready.  Yeah, it costs money, but I get the training in and that’s what matters at this point.

This was my third time in the back seat and my fourth week of flying at least once each week.  I’ve nearly doubled the 30 tows that I had in the logbook when I first showed up.  I’m reasonably good in the maneuvers.  I need some work on the precision of my landings and dialing in the SA that I need in order to make the peanut butter and jelly of altitude and distance come out roughly evenly.

I’m scheduled to fly next Wednesday and Thursday.  We’ll go through the other maneuvers to make sure that I still have the inertial and muscle memory, but it will likely be mostly pattern tows to dial in the landings.  If I fly well on Wednesday, Lee says that he’ll sign me off and I’ll call the DPE/FIE to schedule the checkride.  That could be as soon as the first week in June, depending on schedules (and on whether I suck next week).  If it doesn’t happen the first week in June, I’ll probably have to put it off until after the Tuskegee Airshow 20-21 June. But I have a clear path forward one way or the other.

A lot of work stuff to do this weekend, but I’ll also spend a fair amount of it studying for the oral.  And David Allen and I will likely record another Airspeed episode about the impending airshow.

CFI Training Continues and the Checkride Nears – For Real This Time

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I trained again for parts of the last two days at Benz Aviation at Ionia County Airport in Ionia, Michigan. Those just joining this saga will know that last week, after three days of flying in the front seat to get the hang of the Schweizer SGS 2-33A, Lee Larder promoted me to the back seat.  We didn’t fly on Wednesday because of the low overcast and we did the knowledge review instead. Thursday was devoted to more flying from the back seat to get the maneuvers nailed down and to build muscle and inertial memory.

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The back seat requires some gymnastics for ingress and egress.  But, once you’re strapped in, it’s a comfortable place to be.  I was slightly worried about the pedals.  I have short legs for a guy of my height (28-inch inseam), so I had to adjust the pedals in the front to the full-aft position to get enough purchase on them to be able to box the wake and do slips with authority.  The pedals in the back don’t adjust, so I was concerned that I’d have to add some padding behind me.  It turns out that the pedals in back are a perfect distance for me.  This is a good thing because adding a cushion behind me would likely have made it so that I could not get full-aft stick travel.  As it is, I have to sit up straight and get my back flat against the back of the seat in order get enough aft stick to have my stalls break in a concise way.

There’s a little shoving-around over there on the left side if I need to move the stick much to the left while the dive brakes are engaged.  Between the stick, the dive brake handle, and my trusty iPad, there’s a jumble of activity when that happens.  Conveniently, the iPad simply moves around there on the elastic strap and things tend to work out.

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The biggest thing about the back seat is dealing with the lack of visibility.  Mostly because of that head and shoulders directly in front of you. You get all of the visibility you need, but not a lot of visibility that isn’t essential.  I don’t know that I’d be able to give dual instruction to Bob Ross or Pam Grier. You can fly along with your head centered just fine in most cases.  You can listen for your airspeed and, at least in the early parts of the flight, have a pretty good idea that you have enough altitude.  If you need airspeed information, you lean right and look (at least when Lee hasn’t covered the airspeed indicator). The picture above gives you that sight picture. If you need altitude information, you lean left.  Landing doesn’t seem to be a problem, especially after you quit looking at the airspeed and get into the flare.  You just use a lot of peripheral vision.  And the Force.

The biggest issue is on tow in the normal high-center tow position.  It’s pretty easy to lose the tow plane under the nose.  I fly a little lower relative to the tow plane while flying from the back seat to keep it visible.  But, in turbulence. the tow plane can drop out of sight very quickly, which means that I’m being more abrupt than I’d like with a push to keep him in the windshield.  More than a second or two and I’d need to tug on the clown nose and release, but it hasn’t come close to that.

The only other visibility thing comes with slack-line operations.  We go out to the left to climb and then descend to put in the slack. Visibility is fine that way.  But it’s sometimes hard to see the amount of slack that you’ve developed because some of it us under the nose.  And the slack usually isn’t much.  The 2-33A is really draggy and, even with a big push, you don’t get going fast enough relative to the tow plane to put much of a smile into the tow line.

2-33A Back Seat

My biggest remaining issue is situational awareness (“SA”) and other larger-picture things.  On almost every training day, I make some blunder of thought.  Today, I somehow reversed the windstock and briefed a left turn in the case of a rope break.  In fact, the wind was from the right.  I also let us get low two miles upwind of the airport while preoccupied with maneuvering.  We made it back just fine, even if a little low on pattern entry, but I have discovered that finding yourself at 1,400 AGL two miles out and flying in sink is one of my least favorite things in aviation.

Lee commented that I’m doing very well, but he noted that each session has some element of SA fail.  I had sure noted  this and confessed it each time, and he’s a good IP and noted it, too.  But that’s why I’m out here training.  I’m gradually becoming a high-time pilot (for recreational GA anyway).  I’m pretty darned good at a number of things and I pick up on new things fairly quickly if they’re complementary with skills that I already have.  But that can also hide deficiencies that I don’t know that I have.  I would imagine that lots of higher-time pilots have this issue.  And the mission for which I plan to use my IP skills will skew toward experienced students who will do well enough at some things that there’s a risk of complacency about the needs that are masked by great performance in other respects.

You may recall that I failed my first attempt at the commercial ride because I blew through the stop point on the no-spoiler landing.   In training, I did very well on the no-spoilers, mainly because the winds were favorable and I got lucky.  Neither John nor I had any reason to think that I didn’t have the maneuver nailed.  Then, on the ride, the winds were different and I was not lucky.  No big deal.  I re-took the deficient parts a couple of weeks later and I’ve flown safely and effectively in gliders for 200 hours since then.  But it was a lesson that will color my own training and will affect the way I teach students, especially higher-time people who are transitioning.

It is critical not only that we train, but that we think about that training and make generalizations out of the series of experiences.  We spend a lot of time thinking about trees.  This is fine, but we need to think about forests, too.  Find patterns that tell you things about the way you fly and how to be better every single time.

Sometimes, the only way to find out about these deficiencies is experience.  You have to fly more than is strictly necessary.  If you’re doing it right, you learn something every time you go to the airport.

Lee asked me on the way back to the terminal whether I wanted him to sign me off for the ride.  (Holy crap!)  He allowed as how my flying is fine and that I just need to get the SA dialed in.  I’m probably under-confident and over-persnickety about the way in which I stand up for a checkride, so I told him that I’d like to fly a few more times before the ride.  He agreed.  We’re scheduled for next Friday and then Wednesday and Thursday the week after that.  Then, probably checkride the first week of June.

Lee’s a good guy.  He thinks I’m very nearly ready and he told me that he doesn’t want to take my money unnecessarily.  Not every IP would do that.  That’s a mark of a guy who really cares about general aviation and instruction.

So the plan is two or three more training days, then the ride.  Sounds like this weekend and next will find me in a series of Starbucks with a bin of manuals and ACs next to me.  Watch Twitter (@StephenForce) and my Facebook feed and join me if you like.  I can even give you loggable ground instruction.


CFI Training Reboot – Indoc in the Schweizer SGS 2-33A

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Here’s a brief report on the CFI training front.  As you might know, it’s pretty much impossible to get an initial CFI-G checkride in self-launch.  So I’ve switched gears and I’m training for the rating in aerotow.

I have an aerotow endorsement and about 30 flights using that launch method.  I’ve trained in the L-23 Super Blanik (TG-10B Merlin), the Schweizer 2-32, and the Schleicher ASK 21, with miscellaneous flights in other gliders. But let’s  be honest: I need to train seriously in a particular ship in a particular environment to dial in my skills before presuming to go after a CFI ride.

CAP training in the ASK 21 was great and I’m grateful to my CAP colleagues for the training that I got to do over the winter in the ASK 21.  But there’s a lot of demand for glider ops – both cadet orientation flights and senior-member training. No way to really get the number and frequency of operations that I think I need to get proficient this spring.  So I’m trying a commercial operation, namely Benz Aviation at Ionia County Airport (KY70).  (Yes, there’s a “K” in the identifier.  It has AWOS-3 weather on the field.  I presume that it will switch over to an all-alphabetical identifier soon.)

2-33 Cockpit

I headed to Ionia Monday and Tuesday for indoc in the mighty Schweizer 2-33A.  The glider training fleet is much more varied than the airplane training fleet, and the 2-33A is as close to a “C-172 of gliders” as one could hope to find.   From its introduction in 1945 until the late 1980s, the 2-33 was the main training glider used in North America.  The 2-33A is simply the 2-33 with a different rudder that provides more authority.

Over two days, I logged seven flights for a total of 1.7 hours aloft. Six normal flights and one 180 abort from 250 AGL. All basic maneuvers except slips, no-spoiler landings, and slack line, which are coming up next week. All unassisted launches (just to remind you of where the stops are on the controls as the tow initiates). All front-seat ops until I get a good command of the aircraft and transition to the back seat. All flights were mid-day with some good bumps to challenge my stationkeeping on tow. Not enough to get slack line, but interesting excursions.

The stick range of motion is lots greater than other ships I’ve flown, although consistent with the 2-32. I’m always surprised by how far forward the stick has to be on takeoff, even with the trim full nose-down. I’m used to keeping my forearm on my leg. Not so in the 2-33A.

I found lift on the first day, despite a 3,500-foot overcast and temps in the 40s. The next day, with clear skies, I had very little lift and had to fly a lower (although in-parameter) pattern to return on the first flight. Probably my fault for taking so long to box, making the tow plane fly further from the airport without turning, and I mis-evaluated the final glide by assuming less sink that we experienced.

The 2-33A is a draggy beast, at least compared to the L-23 and the ASK 21. Coordination is essential. Control inputs take awhile to have effect, so you’re anticipating the other two axes whenever you make an input in one. This really shows in slow flight. I’ stirring the coffee a lot, mainly because I need to develop the muscle and inertial memory that will put me in the groove and help me to be quieter on the controls.

The biggest issue so far is coming back up through the wake at the end of the box. I need to get up more smartly. I got stuck in the wake a couple of times with interesting effects. And to think that guys out west actually get towed through rotors. Wow. I also need to get more precise with slow flight. I stalled each direction and I’m still chasing needles instead of listening for the airflow.

The most pleasant surprise was landings. I’ve been sweating the precision landings for awhile, but the aero-tow experience on grass is showing me that there’s less to worry about. Being on grass and having a front skid is going to make the precision landing and simulated forced landing much more doable than I thought. I touched down and stopped within a 400-foot zone all but one time and mostly ended up within the same 50-foot zone. Even on the 180 abort. Aero-tow folks care about this more than most because the tow pilot and ground crew prefer it if you start and finish at a particular spot.

Runway 36 has deeper grass and those landings were akin to a forced landing in a jungle. The bird went right on the skid upon touchdown and stopped smartly. It’s less of a thing on Runway 27, but I suspect that 36 will get slicker when it dries out later in the spring and when they cut it more frequently. I think I actually prefer the shaggy grass. You only have to worry about the touchdown and the grass takes care of your roll.

Lee Larder, my IP, said that, if I was a commercial candidate, he’d likely turn me loose next week. I think that’s good. I’m keeping him in the cockpit full-time, though, because I’ll need the weight in the front and because I want to critique every maneuver, even if I get good enough that it’s boring.

I’m heading back Thursday and Friday of next week. I’m hoping that a checkride in May – or early June at the latest – is a possibility.