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Real Simple!

What's so tough about this flyin' stuff anyway?

Sometimes people ask me why I devote so much space here to stick and rudder flying stuff and have almost nothing to say about glass panels, IFR, multi-engine airplanes, jets etc. 
Well, first, I like teaching people how to fly.  You don't need a glass panel, multi-engines or any of that stuff to learn to fly.  It's always fun to fly airplanes with new stuff, that go faster, farther, higher, but the honest truth is the most fun is with simple, cheap airplanes. 
And over and over again I see that people are not getting the basic stick and rudder training and experience they need to both be safe and comfortable in the airplane so they can enjoy the flyin'!  Why?  Too much emphasis on phony 35-hour training courses, glass panels, IFR, complex airplanes etc.  Which is a long and polite way of saying POOR TRAINING!!!
There's something else happening here, too.  Ever flown an old cheap taildragger like a J-3, Cessna 140 or an aerobatic airplane like a Pitts or a military training airplane like a CJ-6?  The controls are light and responsive.  Moving the rudder doesn't feel like you're on the weight rack and you don't need to put your feet on the panel to make 'em flare for landing!  Because taildraggers have to be landed straight ahead in crosswinds, the rudder has to be effective and easy to push.  Not like a lot of nosewheel airplanes--and the heavier they are (and I don't mean heavy, I mean like 182's and 206's!), the heavier the rudder.  Not much fun to fly.  The folks in the military know enough to stick to the basics, to make their training airplanes easily maneuverable and to give their pilots proper training.
Why do I love Cessna 140's, Nanchang CJ-6's and Yak-52's?  They're cheap and fun to fly.  The controls are light and responsive. 
Look--there's nothin' to be embarrassed about if you fly a Cessna 150 or an Aircoupe or a Piper Tomahawk.  They're terrific airplanes and a lot more fun to fly than more expensive airplanes.  True!  And they're so cheap you can fly a lot and learn a lot more about flying than you would on the same money in a 310 or Bonanza.  Forget the peter meter nonsense or who's got the biggest wallet.  Concentrate on having the most fun by doing the most fun flyin'!
Look at the magazines--most are really nothing more than advertising disguised as "flight tests" etc.  That's fine--I like to read about what's new, too.  But they're badly misleading us into thinking you can't be a real pilot or have any fun unless you're spending lots of money.  It just ain't so.  And they completely ignore Communist airplanes like CJ-6's and Yak-52's. 
We live in a world saturated by advertising whose sole objective is to convince you that you need to spend more money on something new and expensive, that your life just can't be complete and happy unless you buy more, more and more expensive stuff!  Baloney!  Happiness and spending lots of money on more stuff ain't related! 
Of course, except for things like glass panels and GPS, nothing really new has happened in the flying world for a long, long time.  It's forty years since the Windecker Eagle and the first composite sailplanes, GPS is finally achieving its forty-year-old promise, but we still mostly fly tin airplanes with steam gages--fine by me.  General, cheap flyin' Aviation has all but been abandoned by the FAA, Cessna, Piper and Beech--nothing new (except jets) has happened with those guys for almost fifty years!  The money is in jets and that's where they concentrate their efforts--get the money!! 
Those guys aside, all of the real happenings these days are in avionics (glass panels--very expensive, simple GPS--real cheap!), experimental ("homebuilt") airplanes--been that way ever since prices started to zoom in the late 70's--Communist airplanes like CJ-6's and Yak-52's, and not so amazingly, Light Sport.  Democracy and capitalism at work!  Cirrus and Columbia are offering airplanes that blow the doors off anything Cessna, Piper or Beech have to offer, but look at the prices!  If you've got a few megabucks collecting dust they're the guys to talk to.  But most of us don't have that kind of cash and the real differences between cheap airplanes, expensive airplanes, steam gages and glass panels are mostly imaginary.
Light Sport is the hottest thing happening these days because it caters to regular people like you and me--honest folks trying to make the most of what they've got, which is just enough, with maybe a little left over.  We can't afford megabuck airplanes or glass panels--a cheap handheld GPS is just fine--and so is a $7 sectional chart.  Aeronca Champs, Piper Cubs, even Aircoupes have shot up in price recently.  Why?  Because they're eligible for Light Sport and suddenly all the talk is cheap flying.  I love cheap airplanes!  The simpler and cheaper your airplane is the more fun you can have with it. 
Ever heard of an Airworthiness Directive?  When you buy an airplane you register it with the FAA.  When the FAA or the manufacturer discovers something that has been or could be a safety problem with your airplane, they send you an AD in the mail.  They are just what they're called:  Directives to fix something on your airplane.  Don't fix it, you can't fly it--it's the law.  It's only common sense that something simple can't have much to go wrong and that something complicated can have lots of problems.  Sometimes repairs required by an AD can be very, very expensive.  Getting an AD in the mail is a sure-fire way to ruin your day. 
What to do?  Stay away from expensive, complicated airplanes!  Stay away from new airplanes that will have problems nobody's thought of yet.  Fly airplanes that have had lots of time to get the bugs worked out.  Stick to the simple stuff!  It doesn't have to be complicated to be fun.  Simple, old airplanes are bulletproof--all of the problems have been solved--and good cheap fun.  Yes, fast is fun, so is flying in the clouds.  But the cost of speed is very, very high--unless you're talking about RV's, Nanchangs and Yaks.  And unless you really are going to be doing a lot of serious travel, speed isn't really that useful--neither is IFR.  It just costs a lot money for very little.
Most of us fly because we love to fly.  Not because we need to travel, though traveling in your own airplane is lots of fun.  But most of the time we just putt around the vicinity with our buddies and hang around the airport enjoying the company of like-minded people.  Simple airplanes are all you need.
Where I fly, Arlington Municipal Airport, there is a group of guys (no women yet--come on ladies--what are you waiting for?) who call themselves "The Black Jack Squadron." Some of us call them the "flapjack" squadron because they always meet for breakfast.  There are about twenty-five Black Jacks.  They all fly RV's, mostly RV-4's and RV-8's, simple two-place airplanes with fixed gear and (mostly) fixed-pitch props, strictly VFR.  They go places together, do a lot of hangar flying and love aerobatics and flying in formation.  They can put up a flight of twenty or more airplanes in formation--pretty cool!  And they have a great time.  RV's are simple and pretty cheap (many under $50K--or build one yourself and save a bunch), with terrific performance--cruise at 180 or so on 180hp--and they're aerobatic, too.  So, the Black Jacks have it all--good performance, low price, good buddies and lots of fun! 
But whether you fly an RV, a CJ-6, Cessna 140 or a J-3 Cub, simple lightweight airplanes are way more fun than complicated, expensive, heavier airplanes.  Sure, we'd all love to have P-51's, Beech Barons, Cirruses or Lear Jets!  That's why I love to go to the National Air Races in Reno--love to see those guys smoke the pylons at nearly 500mph.  (sidebar:  At this years races one of the military guys did a couple of laps in a supersonic F/A-18, trying to put the old prop jobs in their place.  Guess what?  He was only about 20mph faster than 60 year old P-51's and Sea Furies)  Anyway, truth is, P-51's, Barons and Lear Jets are nearly useless airplanes for fun flyin' (of course I'd make an exception for a P-51!)--great for going fast and far, but not much else.  They are extremely expensive to buy, fly and maintain.  And you can't go to quiet little grass strips next to your favorite fishin' hole where you can camp out next to your airplane for practically nuthin'.
But with your little simple airplane you can do practically everything a P-51 or Lear can do and lots more, it just takes a little longer!  Relax, enjoy the view and enjoy the flyin'!
If you want more fun, learn to do aerobatics and formation flying, take up soaring (now there's some good cheap fun!), learn to fly floats.  Remember, airplanes run on money.  You can do a lot more flying and have a lot more fun with a simple, cheap airplane.
Well, I guess I've pretty well hammered that pony, so howzabout something else?
Sortadifferent anyway.  A corollary to cheap flying being more fun is, you can never learn to fly well, with real proficiency and mental comfort unless you fly a lot.  That means money.  More cheap flying is the way to do it.  Way better than thinking you need to spend more money on less flying in those high-buck airplanes.
The other night I was talking to a friend about tailwheel flying.  He learned to fly at a local school in a Cessna 172 in a 35-hour course.  Now, he's a great guy, loves to fly and has spent lots of money getting his pilot certificate, instrument and multi-engine ratings etc.  But after flying more and more complicated, more and more expensive airplanes and collecting a few ratings (which I'm entirely in favor of), his basic flying skills are still not so good.  Not bad, but lacking some basic skills.  Why?  Too much concentration on complication at the neglect of the basics.
There are only a few things you can do with an airplane:  Straight and level, climb and descend, turn left and right, hold an altitude, a heading and an airspeed, fast and slow.  That's about it.  Plus aerobatics, of course.  But mostly its just hold an altitude, heading and airspeed.  And keep the ball in the middle (or not).
I'm amazed at how many folks can't do it.  They're so busy looking at the panel they don'ts notice where they be goin'.  So wrapped up in checklists they doesn't use common sense to figure out what they're trying to do and what's happening.  Complicated airplanes will do that to you. 
I sold a Nanchang CJ-6 (one of my favorite airplanes!) to an airline pilot a while back.  A very experienced guy.  He could hold an altitude, airspeed and heading OK, but had his head in the panel so much he was almost totally oblivious to what else was going on.  Where's the fun in that?  Of course, the reason he bought the CJ was he wanted to get his head out of the panel, but it was still his habit.  Won't take him long to smell the roses, I'm sure.  Every airline pilot I talk to can't wait to get out of  jets to fly something simple and cheap with no radio!
Most of us will never have much practical reason to fly IFR and won't do it enough to stay current even if we want to.  We'll never be able to afford or need a multi-engine airplane for serious travel.  So why do we get so wound up about things that are of limited value?  Listen, I'm all in favor of collecting ratings, flying new airplanes, doing new things, getting more training to do more things--all good stuff.  But you'll learn a lot more and have a lot more fun by flying more in a simple, cheap airplane. 
That may mean your airplane will be fifty or sixty years old (just like those P-51's), come from a Communist country or have a tailwheel.  Nothing will teach you more about flying than a cheap, simple airplane with a tailwheel.
Cessna 172's and Cherokees are wonderful airplanes (own one myself).  But they are not the best primary trainers (even if I sometimes use one--but only to fit some of you BIG guys, not because I think its a better airplane, and NOT so I can suck MO MONEY outa yer pocket).  Why?  What's wrong with 172's for primary training?  The answer is a little complex, so bear with me.  First, the controls are relatively heavy--that discourages maneuvering.  That's good for cruising and flying in the clouds, but not so good when you're trying to learn how the controls work when maneuvering around.  Second, they almost land themselves so you almost never have to pay attention to things like crosswinds--not a bad thing--except you need to learn how to handle crosswind landings and takeoffs.  The panels are usually full of avionics and instruments that distract students' attention from what's actually going on.  Great IFR trainers and for hauling family or a few friends, but not the best for primary training--moving and using the controls to see what happens and learning how to use them correctly.
HAVING SAID ALL THAT  Cessna 172's are terrific airplanes--probably the best general purpose airplane ever built--and terrific trainers, too.  Like I say, one of the problems with using them for primary training is that the controls can be heavy.  But there's a way to fix that.  Weight in the tail lightens up the controls.  Where to get some weight?  The Buddy System.  You and your buddy trade off flying from the front and then observing each other from the back.  The extra weight in the back makes the controls lighter, the guy in back gets to learn from watching the guy in front--a real win-win deal--and you both learn quicker without paying a dime extra.  PLUS, I'll give both you and your buddy a discount if you sign up together--can't beat that!
Now to return you to our regular programming--back to my rant...
The FAA requires all student pilots to learn how to do basic IFR flying--heading, altitude, airspeed--and how to recover from "unusual attitudes."  But the stick and rudder stuff is woefully neglected.  Spin training was abandoned decades ago.  The result is lots of new pilots with very marginal piloting skills, basic stick and rudder stuff.  They know all about TFR's, METAR's and TAF's, FAR's and ABC airspace, but they can barely fly the airplane.  They have no feel for the airplane because they've been flying airplanes that have no feel.  And they're missing all the fun of flying a responsive airplane just for the pure fun of flyin'!  No wonder so many folks lose interest!
Yes, Cherokees and 172's are terrific airplanes, but you will never develop a real feel for flying in one.  They're not "fingertip" airplanes, they're "trim" airplanes.  Which is to say they're really truck-like if out of trim--unless you got a buddy in the back! 
You need to move them controls around, get loose, see just exactly what this flyin' stuff is all about, make that sucker move around in the sky. 
The way to do that is in an airplane with light, responsive controls, meaning old cheap taildraggers or with your buddy in the back of a 172.
I've given lots of folks tailwheel endorsements.  Most take nearly 20 hours to solo, some even more.  These are people who supposedly already know how to fly.  Why?  Because they've never been taught, never had to learn, that you need to take charge, need to make the airplane go exactly where you want it to go at exactly the airspeed, heading and altitude you want, to touch down exactly where you want, straight ahead on the centerline.  They usually have to unlearn a lot of bad habits, too.  And they've never flown a responsive airplane--which makes it all so much easier and more fun!
172's and Cherokees are so stable they practically fly themselves.  And the controls are so heavy they really discourage any attempts at finesse--unless you've got your buddy in the back!  Plop them on the ground and they pretty much take care of themselves.  They're almost like driving a car.
And that's the problem--airplanes are not cars any more than they're boats.  They're not difficult, but they are different.  Just because the manufacturers go to great lengths to make them seem like cars, so student pilots, your spouse or mother-in-law will feel relaxed in familiar surroundings (and I have a great mother-in-law, in fact, she was my first passenger!), they're not cars.  Never will be. 
If the controls are so heavy you have to fly with the trim and it takes all your strength to flare for landing you'll never get to feel what the airplane is doing.  If it recovers from a bad landing all by itself there's no incentive to get it right. 
That's another reason I love old, simple, cheap, tailwheel and Communist airplanes--the controls are light, they respond to fingertip inputs, they have lots of feel.  And they really treat you right when you learn to handle them.  Airplanes are living things, like your sweeetie pie, your kids, a good horse or your dog, that need to treated with respect and a light touch.  Do that and they'll return the favor. 
The best way to learn how to fly is in a simple, lightweight, cheap, old, or military training airplane, especially if it has a tailwheel.
One last thing:  I've said it before, I'll say it again.  Want to learn, really learn how to fly, have lots FUN, make lots of new good buddies and save lots of money, maybe even make a little $$?  Go buy your own simple cheap airplane!  Even if you're a student pilot, brand new to all this flyin' stuff--maybe especially if you're a student pilot (like me).  Preferably get one with a tailwheel.  Find a good, cheap one that needs a little TLC.  Buddy up with an A&P mechanic (like me) who'll help you learn how to do most of the (simple) maintenance (99% of it).  Put a shine on it.  Fly the pants off it for practically nuthin!  Then sell it for a nice profit and get another one!  Repeat, do it again, dc al fine, pass GO, collect $200!  FUN!!!
Well, that's enough for now. 
Happy flyin'!

Company LogoWild Blue Aviation
Hangar 28
18228 59th Dr. NE, Arlington, WA, 98223 USA
Arlington Municipal Airport (KAWO)
mail to:  1521 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201-2057, USA
phone 425-876-0865