Not again, I thought, we’ve already done that . . . TWICE!
Jim Trusty 2006
I got a call from an old student of mine today and he said he had hung the wing tip of his Mooney while trying to taxi between some hangars. He reminded me that I was the only instructor he ever had that taught students how to taxi and how to stay off the brakes while doing it. I told him that, like everything else in life, if you don’t practice it you forget it. He agreed.
Taxiing an airplane, straight and level, is pretty simple. Staying on the line by using your feet, holding the yoke back, making the tail feathers do all the work, slowing it down with the throttle instead of the brakes, anticipating the turns so that brakes are not needed, takes deep concentration. But add a few sharp turns, running between obstacles like hangars, starts and stops, and then you can see that taxiing is a maneuver just like everything else we do in an airplane.
Not every airport we train out of affords a great taxiing course, but I’ll bet there is one close by that you can fly to rather quickly. Mine has one. When the weather is simply too bad to fly, and it has to be awful to keep us on the ground, we take a tour of the airport. The course has been aptly named the “Trusty Trail.” We have four runway ends to cross, two hills down and one up, six 90 degree turns and a couple of other sharp ones, a marked tie down area, center line all the way, and it measures out to be about 20 minutes Hobbs time total.
My students not only learn airplane control, how to adjust speed, how to park, but we can also mix in proper ground radio work, runway crossing safety, what causes runway incursions, how to read airport signage and markings, and why some people have trouble following instructions from the tower. They also learn about the pivot point of their airplane and we even stop sometimes when I feel we are getting too close to something or taxiing too fast. We both get out and check to see if I am right and what can be done to overcome that problem. We learn about length and wing width, that all birds are not meant for rapid maneuvers or tight turning, and that some have nose wheel steering.
I am a great believer in ground school and this taxi schooling is a combination of ground and flight that many instructors don’t teach. I can always recognize one of their students when they are taxiing in by the way the airplane bops around and up and down from the student using the brakes. Mine can also be recognized by looking at the tail feathers and stabilizer and knowing that they have the yoke in their lap to take some of the weight off the nose wheel, making it easier to turn. Which student were you?
I’m not one of those instructors that sticks exactly to whatever book you think is best. Personally, I put great stock in Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook and the FAA Practical Test Standards, but I simply believe that a few other things can be covered and explained as you progress in the training syllabus that you and the student have agreed on. And for me, taxiing and all those things that can happen while doing so are in that training.
You can casually mention what we are talking about in this article to your instructor and see what they think. If they are 100% negative to the idea, just remember that you will find some things in the learning process can be done all by yourself. If they are against teaching this maneuver, then I’d like to hear what they say about some of the other things you can learn as a student pilot.
Book learning is great and also necessary, but there are a lot of things involved in being a pilot and you’ve got to get a grip on them too. We all want you to be able to fly and to do so with every possible base covered. Taxiing is a start to having a great flight.
Watch some others taxi on the ramp, into close places, and certainly when they follow the signals from whomever is parking them. Do they use too much power? Is the airplane rocking? Does it seem like a great effort on their part? Could you do better?
As we progress as pilots we are taught to make the passengers happy and one of the things they like is smoothness in the air and on the ground. It is up to us to learn how to turn and taxi as smooth as possible, and just like a squeaky landing, it has to be practiced each time you have a chance. It is an acquired skill that few pilots have and the reason is, they simply were not taught in the beginning of their training.
Now some simple questions for you. What are you using as a marker to keep the airplane on the center line? Is it the same from both front seats? When taxiing straight ahead on level ground, how many feet will you roll after you chop the power? How far back must you put in solid rudder when making a 90 degree turn? Does your bird turn as well left as right? Do you have nose wheel steering? What should be your taxi speed limit?
Do you fully understand that control of your aircraft on the ground is as important as control in the air? Have you ridden with pilots that need this training? Do you?
I wish you the very best as you practice and train to become a pilot.
JAMES E. (Jim) TRUSTY, ATP/CFI/IGI/ASC, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 & 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot/ “Gold Seal” Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to him, and he will certainly respond. Thank You. (Lrn2Fly@bellsouth.net)
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