Sunday, May 25, 2008

Flight Time or Flight Quality?

At the university flying programs they measure flight experience in hours.  Of course: you need 40 hours to become a private pilot, 250 hours to become a commercial pilot, 1500 hours to become an airline transport pilot, 500 hours of turbine time in order to get a type rating in a simulator; hours, hours, hours.  As windsor noted in a comment to an earlier post, the "Jet-U'ers" have a few hours, but not much experience.

What's the difference?  Yesterday was a glider day.  My student André has a power private pilot certificate, with instrument rating, and wants to add a private glider rating. This was the route that I took to soaring, and someday I will write something about the advantages and disadvantages of going from power to glider or vice-versa (but see my Windy Evening article for a little about this).

André had an easy time with steep turns and stalls, but it took him a little practice to master the tow.  He now does a good job staying in position, boxing the wake, and handling slack line recoveries.  So it was time to concentrate on the traffic pattern.

Yesterday was windy, gusty in fact, and the forecast was not promising for good soaring.  But we were not soaring, we were training.  The south wind was directly across the crosswind runway, and gusting to 17 or so, making it unusable for us.  Worse, since we keep the glider at the south end of the field, we had to tow it to the north end.  At first I wanted to use the full length of the runway, but it occurred to me that if we had a rope break we would not have enough runway behind us (due to the steeper climb in a headwind) to land, so we went about 2/3 of the way.  Adam drove the golf cart we use as a tug, and both André and I walked the wings.  We walked a little more than a mile.

The first flight was a 2000' tow with some practice with slack line and turning the towplane.  André did a great job with the takeoff.  Then some stalls and orientation for an accuracy landing.  Nice.  We flew 0.2 hours.

Next I had planned a simulated rope break, but there were other airplanes in the pattern, so we just did another pattern tow and accuracy landing.  Another tenth of an hour.

Next came the rope break.  There is an old control tower on the airport, and I was concerned about clearing it, but at 200' we were well above it and I pulled the release.  He turned into the wind, did a little teardrop to align with the runway, and we landed downwind with a high ground speed but definitely under control.  We stopped right where Adam was waiting to attach the tow line.  What a rush!  Another tenth of flight time.

Finally, we did one more pattern, although we circled in some weak lift for a while, and an accuracy landing at the south end of the runway.  He hit the spot and "flew" the glider through the turn onto the taxiway at the south end.  Another great job, another 0.2 hours.

And we were done.

Now, if you are a Jet-U'er, you are saying "Wait a minute: you drove 3 hours, walked more than a mile, and flew for 0.6 hours?  What a waste!"  But to me that is wrong.  I drove 3 hours and walked more than a mile to see my student's skills and confidence increase dramatically.  We flew in tricky conditions that demanded absolutely full concentration, and flew well.  The rope break is always fun, maneuvering without power at low altitude in high wind.  It was a great day of flying, even if it only added 0.6 to our logbooks.

One of my fishing buddies flew MD-80s for TWA.  He had the seniority to fly the big jets, and I once asked him why he stuck to the Mad Dog.  "It's simple," he said, "those long trips across the ocean are boring, even though you get lots of flight time.  I went into this business to fly; I would rather have 4 short legs - takeoff, climb, maneuver, land - than one long one."

It's quality, not quantity.



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1 Comments:

At June 4, 2008 at 5:55 PM , Blogger Windsor said...

Your quote of quality over quantity is a very true statement. I've flown with guys that have thousands upon thousands of hours and they are virtually worthless in the cockpit. Yet some of the lower time guys I've flown with are sharp as a knife.

I'll take a guy with 1000 hours of freight doggin over a guy with 1000 hours of airline time anyday.

 

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