Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Teaching new tricks

One of the things I like to do is to review in my mind how flight instruction has changed over the years.

In these modern times, we teach our students things that, in the old days, our instructors never heard of.  It is interesting to me that it isn’t just the pilots who learn from experience – the state of the art of flight instruction has evolved as well.  “Best instructional practices” have come a long way since I learned to fly fifty years ago.

A troubling side effect of this evolution is that we old guys sometimes downplay or ignore hazards that have been discovered since we became instructors ourselves.  “It wasn’t part of my training, so it can’t be that important.”

A good example of this is towplane upsets.  We were taught to verify that the rope was disconnected before turning, but that was about it.  My instructors never mentioned anything about suddenly yanking the towplane’s tail upwards, or the factors that might lead to this happening.  Consequently, my attitude for many years was a casual “stay in position and nothing will go wrong,” and as a young CFI, I began transferring this attitude to my students.

Then two things happened.

First we started hearing about towplane upsets in the UK.  Some of these were fatal for the towpilot.  The initial reaction of the British Gliding Association was to place an urgent emphasis on doing a better job of teaching the transition from winch launch to aerotow.  Our initial reaction was nothing to be proud of – we dismissed the problem as something that occurs only in foreign lands where primary training is by winch launch.

The second thing that happened is that I became a towpilot.  I would like to say that this caused me to lose my casual attitude, but I cannot.  I tell myself to think of the release handle every time I advance the throttle for takeoff, but I still fail to do this every time.  Old casual attitudes die hard, I guess.

We need to understand that this is much more than a problem of transitioning from winch launch to aerotow.  There are many contributing factors:  short ropes, light towplanes, CG hooks on the glider, upside down hooks on the towplane, etc.  All of us - towpilots and glider pilots – need to be experts on this subject.

Fortunately, the BGA has stayed on the case.  Their research on this is the best in the world.  Start reading HERE.  Follow the links.  Watch the video clips.

If, due to my former casual attitude, I forget to emphasize towplane upsets in my conversations with you on the airfield, remind me that it’s important.  Thanks.