Things You Never Want to Hear From Your Flight Instructor

This is a true story. It concerns the confession of an old friend of mine named Bob. After years of suggestions that he take up flying, Bob has taken up flying. He has a total of 8 hours of flight time at the time I write this, but he has already started a list of things that you never want to hear from your flight instructor.

1. “Holy sh–!

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s the only one I know,” Bob explained. Bob was in the process of doing power-off stalls, in preparation for his first solo. Those of you who are pilots know the drill, the power is bled off gradually as the nose is raised to bleed off energy (airspeed). The angle of attack increases and the wing approaches the stall condition with a bleat of the stall horn. If back pressure on the elevator is continued, the nose pitches down, the pilot lets it, releases back pressure, smoothly adds power and recovers.

Deep in his past, Bob had received some stall training while learning to fly gliders. In a glider, (without an engine), the only way to regain flight is to drop the nose — hard. Bob’s instructor actually went through the routine with him twice, going over what he expected. He even demonstrated it once. Still, when the wing stalled, Bob fell back to those glider days and stuffed the yoke to recover, along with the power.

The instructor’s response is starting to make sense … Holy Sh–, indeed!!!

Bob took it in stride, and asked his instructor what he should have done. The instructor (once settled) then explained his own preferred method. Listening intently, Bob offered his comments when the instructor had finished. “So what you’re saying is power-off stalls require less than a 30-degree down pitch angle to recover…” Bob said, “…now I know.

On the bright side Bob noted with a grin, “You do have a lot better forward visibility that way,” when you push the yoke forward in a stall. This is true. You can get a 360-degree view in a similar maneuver called a spin, but without proper training (and without a proper aircraft) we wouldn’t recommend it.

The instructor in this case was surprised, because Bob did something he didn’t expect. Needless to say, the training flight took place at a high enough altitude that the altitude lost when the aircraft was pitched down (and the instructor took over) wasn’t of any consequence.

Avoiding surprises: The more you fly, the more obvious it will become that people in airplanes (pilots included) do not like surprises. If the aircraft is in your hands, you should consider it part of your job to set the expectations for the other people in the aircraft. Let them know what they can expect and when they can expect it (the rather sudden noise during departure, bank angles and the sensation of turbulence, etc.). New Students (and old instructors) can avoid surprises during lessons by talking through the maneuver before it takes place to make sure everyone is one the same page.

In the case of the power-off stall, the instructor / student exchange might sound something like this:

Instructor: Okay Bob, we’re going to do a series of power-off stalls. Can you tell me what you expect will happen?

Bob: Sure. I’ll slowly retard the power to protect the engine, and pull back to maintain altitude and bleed off airspeed. I expect the wing to buffet and to hear the stall horn. When the wing breaks through the stall, I’ll stuff the yoke and add power to recover.

Instructor: I agree with everything you said … except the part about stuffing the yoke. Instead, I’d like you to release back pressure on the yoke — assuming you trimmed for cruise — and add power. That way you will minimize altitude loss. Remember, we’re trying to simulate how you’d recover if this happened when you were low and slow. If you like, we can try it both ways and see which one loses less altitude.

Bob: Sounds good to me. So, for the first one, I’ll just release back pressure on the yoke and add power.

Instead of being surprised, everyone in the cockpit knows what will happen, and why. There are no surprised looks from the instructor. There are no “big eyes” as the plane does something that one pilot intended and another didn’t. Everything is communicated, and everything is clear.

Student Pilots: The next time you fly with your instructor, make sure you explain to him or her what you are going to do BEFORE you do it. Listen for that coaching or feedback, and if any is provided, take it into account before you make your maneuver. When in doubt, ask.

Instructors: Ask your students how they will perform that maneuver. Make sure they describe it as you expect it to be performed. If it isn’t, provide the student with some prompt feedback, so they will know what you are thinking, can learn from your vast level of knowledge and perform accordingly. When in doubt, ask.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If both students and instructors take this approach, everyone will learn faster. Plus, the learning will be safer, and less likely to result in an upset of the aircraft, stomachs or sensibilities. Best of all, we’ll avoid adding any new phrases to the list of things that you never want to hear from your flight instructor!