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Training Tip: Bitten by a pilot?

When a veteran flight instructor got in touch to defend the honor and excellent flight characteristics of the Grumman Cheetah against an inexperienced pilot’s insinuation that the breed was touchy, our conversation moved on to consider some concerns about flight-training quality that the scenario appeared to unmask.

Our chat arose from a flight lesson related in the January 28 “Training Tip: Bitten by a Cheetah.” The short of it was that a pilot receiving a checkout in a Grumman American AA–5 airplane inadvertently spun the airplane while asking a self-distracting question during a practice stall entry. Surprised by the airplane’s resentful reaction to being mishandled, the pilot offered unflattering comparisons with another popular aircraft type that was purportedly more “forgiving.”

This account, said instructor Ron Levy in an email, perpetuated impressions about the AA–5 that “I thought we’d stamped out.”

It also suggested “that the instructor involved lacked sufficient type-specific experience and knowledge to be giving initial training in type (a real problem we have in the Grumman world).”

I think we agreed that the spin story didn’t definitively corroborate the latter objection. However, it did underline the important idea that a student pilot or pilot receiving supplemental training is entitled to know the answers to some basic questions before takeoff—and certainly before commencing a stall series—including:

  • Why are we doing this? Know the goal of the session so you can bone up beforehand and evaluate results afterward.
  • What should I know before we go? If an aircraft’s systems, techniques, or flight characteristics mark a departure from what the pilot or student pilot has experienced, differences should be covered in a preflight briefing. (AOPA’s online resources to help you prepare to transition to other aircraft include an Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight and an online course.)
  • What maneuvers will we fly?
  • How will we fly them? A demonstration may be useful. The pilot’s uncertainty about how to prepare the stall entry described above, and fixation on an instrument, led to the complications that followed.
  • Have you booked the right instructor for the job? A CFI can’t teach what he or she does’t know; sometimes it’s best to schedule an aircraft familiarization project with a CFI who is truly familiar with the aircraft and can deliver a quality training product.

So, what do you think? Did the airplane bite the pilot, or did the pilot bite the airplane?

As with most aviation questions, think carefully before answering, and avoid snap judgments.

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