Take Back the Skies      


A campaign for Americans to
regain their birthright to fly

Interviews with Six Northern California Certified Flight Instructors

 

During my training for my private pilotís license and then my instrument rating, I flew with five different instructors. Two of them did most of the training, but I spent enough time with all of them to be intrigued about their differences and commonalities. Their ages vary by almost 50 years; the number of hours flown by more than 23,000. But they all exhibited depth of character ó a certain confidence common to good pilots ó that helped me to learn from them.

Audrey Schutte, Johnny Moore, Tom Rahn, Jason Cramblet, Del Schulte and Robert Scott all launch into the skies from airports in Northern California, but those special qualities that make them pilots are endemic to flyers everywhere. Not every pilot, though we would all be better for it if everyone in a cockpit showed their attention to detail, concern for safety, and interest in sharing important information.

Doing these interviews was a terrific education, not just as journalist but as a pilot. I got to hear similar and sometimes conflicting ideas from people of greatly varied experiences, and it helped to create a purposeful mosaic about what it takes to be a better pilot. I should say, too, that speaking to these pilots ó or aviators ó was humbling certainly, but I also felt pride at joining this elite group, particularly as they outlined some of their thoughts on what it meant to be a pilot.

* * * * * * *

Some mathematicians might question Audrey Schutteís claim that she taught the Wright brothers how to fly, but suffice it to say that she has been about flying for most of the past seven decades. You wouldnít know it to watch her crossing the tarmac to the plane, preparing to raise the consciousness in yet another pilot. She has a ladyís grace, and much patience, but carries off both without aloofness. Her mind is spry, and she plumbs thoughtful depths when you engage her. She listens well, gives back as well as she gets, but always generously and with the utmost in courtesy. She instructs students and pilots at Benton Airpark in Redding, California, and taught me how to fly by instruments.

Audrey thinks sheís always loved flying, from the time she was a little girl growing up in Southern California. "We had walnut trees in our yard, and the other kids would sit in their walnut trees and their walnut tress were horses. Mine was an airplane."

What got her started flying?

"Maybe the influence of the Burbank Airport, watching the airplanes. My uncle used to take me out to hang on the fence to watch them come and go. When I was six, my uncle got me one of those scenic rides in an old, old airplane. He and my dad and I went and I loved it."

For Audrey, the enjoyment was of a space, of not being closed in; no cars and signals, or finding places by turning corners. Flying means you go in a straight line. And in the old days, you used to be able to land in all sorts of places like deserts. You could have fly-ins on the spur of the moment; you could drop flour bombs. But not now. Too many pilots cluttering the skies? I asked. No, she responded, mostly there are lots of restrictions. She blames the bureaucracy, one that sheís been a part of and one she works with regularly.

Though she wouldnít describe herself as a pioneer, she has been, both as a pilot and as a woman, though you know she never traded on the fact. Indeed, when she was younger, being a woman meant struggling to get a toe in the door. But she did it, running an FBO, instructing, and investigating accidents for the NTSB. When sheís not flying, she's wondering why not. Okay, maybe thatís an exaggeration. She loves her family, too, and RVs and boats.

I asked Audrey what would be the first thing she would say to someone who told her they were thinking of learning to fly. She hesitated only a moment and answered, "What took you so long?"

Instructing for her is not only the opportunity to get back up into the air, where she belongs, but also to share the thrill of flying well. Still, she is selective about the students she takes on. "There are those who will say I want to learn to fly. What do you want me to do? What should I study? How often should I be here? Others walk in the door and say, Hereís my money, teach me how to fly. Thereís a big difference."

She says the most important qualifier for a student is incentive. She wants someone who always has an eye on safety, who wants to do things properly, who wonít cut corners. She is not interested in people who want to be a show off or dare-devil. Also, "Some people just use the sky to get places, which is a different attitude from those who love to fly."

She prefers mature students, who ask Why do I need to do that? How is going to benefit me? What are we doing here? "Sometimes you have to teach fear to these kids. They think itís just another toy, like a motorcycle and they donít have the respect for it." She recalls one student, a woman who started single, got married, then had children. Suddenly she was a much more cautious pilot.

"I shouldnít say this," Audrey offered conspiratorially, "but some of my very best students have been women. I relate it to my own experience. I think that women feel they have to work harder to accomplish the same thing that comes easier to a man. And in a lot of cases they have more time to spend on it; will study the lessons, read more, concentrate harder on what they need to do.

"Many ladies are forced into flying because their husband wants them to. For whatever reasons. Sometimes the husband canít get a flight physical but he wants to be able to fly an airplane, so by having his wife a licensed pilot, she can be pilot-in-command and he can fly."

Regardless of gender, the critical quality of a flight student is attitude and the willingness to learn. "You can solo a student in one day, by having them take off in the airplane and go out in the traffic pattern and land it, repeatedly. But then the next time they fly, what if the wind changes, something changes, traffic pattern changes, theyíre not going to be able to cope with it. You could teach a chimpanzee to fly, if he could use the microphone."

It is equally important to be selective about the instructor. "Iíve seen it too many times. If a brand new flight instructor comes to you with stars in his eyes for an air carrier or a Learjet or whatever, you need to really analyze whatís going on in his mind and in his background to see if heís going to be sitting there looking at the Hobbs meter to build up time, or if he really is enthused about what heís doing....When I had my flight school down south, I would not hire someone who was just building time."

What else restricts the ability of a flight instructor? "I think itís not taking time to understand the student, to know them, how they react in different situations. And maybe trying to a push a student too fast so they get discouraged. And not explaining the things like plateaus of learning, and encouraging the student. and I think I should throw in the fact thatís why I think women make good pilots. Guys are not as..."

"Patient?" I asked.

"Yes, patience, too. But just understanding. I donít like to use the word compassionate, but I guess it expresses what Iím trying to say. They get to know their students better and have a feel for whatís going on in the studentís mind. Itís been said the first hour in the airplane is not really instruction, itís for the student and the instructor to get to know each other a little bit and decide whether they like each other well enough to go through this experience....Every student has a different reception to the instruction, and the instructor needs to tailor that instruction to that particular individual."

Audrey thinks having more than one instructor is a good idea. Not a new person every lesson, but having a different instructor performing phase checks at various times during the course of instruction. Multiple instructors may offer different techniques for the same process. Audrey also thinks instrument training is invaluable. "If you should stumble into weather, unexpectedly, unforecasted weather, you know how to get yourself out of it. That to me is very good insurance.

[Learning to fly] is like seeing a movie two or three times. You get so much more each time you watch it. Itís the same with weather. Youíre applying it to what youíre learning and it helps tell why youíre learning it."

* * * * * * *

Speaking of veteran pilots, there arenít a lot of people on the planet ó or probably birds for that matter ó who have as many hours in the air as does Johnny Moore. About 25,000 at the time of this interview, and Johnnyís barely marked six decades. A scrappy, trim man with a softly penetrating eyes, he balances the up-in-the-air of flying with very down-to-earth jujitsu. He has also published two books, but his legacy is flying. Both his parents were aviators, both died in plane crashes before he was four years old.

Did he take up flying because he felt had something to prove? "Probably something to prove. But something attracted me besides all of that. When I was growing up, my grandparents who raised me, very fine people, tried to steer me away from that. And the more they steered, the more I resisted, and the more I wanted to do it. And I guess at this point, Iíd like to prove that Iím not going to get killed in an airplane."

"I was raised a Catholic and like every other religion they pretty much they told me how to believe how the universe was. And then you find some things that you wonder about. So I thought maybe the study of anthropology of other cultures and how they thought. It was all very interesting, I enjoyed it very much. Was going to be a college professor, I thought, but I ended up going right back into flying because I was frankly tired of going to college."

Of course, learning to fly was an education in itself, about flying, and about the person in the left seat. "When I was young, I was looking for adventure and experience, and I certainly found it. As I got that experience and matured. There are certainly a lot of things that I would not do now that I did then."

I asked, "Youíve had some close calls in flying. What were those the result of? Poor planning? Bad equipment? Bad judgment?"

"Yes," he answered, and we both laughed.

"You said that now you wouldnít make those same mistakes?"

"No, I know better now. I wouldnít be nearly as likely to get caught in a dust storm out on the border of Colorado and Kansas in a Luscombe with no radio or any way to communicate or navigate. I would probably see it coming now, where at the time I thought it was simply a matter of climbing a little higher so that I could see better."

"Experience is a great teacher."

"If you live through it. Nobody taught me about dust storms."

Johnny owns and operates Sugarpine Aviators in Quincy, California, the county seat of Plumas, with his wife Judy managing the office, and her brother, Tom Rahn, sharing the flying and instructing duties. Sitting in a narrow valley mid-way between Mount Lassen and Reno, Quincy is VFR-only and a marked contrast from the sedate airports strewn about the northern Sacramento Valley, over the mountains to the west. Johnny has logged plenty of hours driving a snowplow to clear the 60-by-4100 strip of asphalt of runways 6-24.

In addition to instruction and charters, Sugarpine flies fire watch for forest product companies and air attack for government agencies. In the mountainous timberland, spotting the smoke of a smoldering campfire or a blaze started by one of the thousands of lightning strikes that hit the area every summer, and finding the fire early makes the difference between containment and catastrophe. And for Johnny, itís personal. Here in the land of loggers, he is an ardent environmentalist. Not one of the lobbying kind, but a true appreciator of nature, and he lives right in the middle of what used to be prime logging country. Flying over the mountains to Quincy, you see a patchwork of forest and clear-cutting, as well as some new planting, an indelible reminder of the challenge to reap profits and restore the land.

Johnny is also an FAA examiner, and with great perspicacity recognized that despite what I might have demonstrated in the airplane, I knew enough to earn my private pilotís license. Heís no pushover, however. I didnít pass my instrument test with him the first time ó I didnít know what I needed to ó but I came back two weeks later, showed him that I really did know how to track a VOR, and I earned my ticket to the clouds.

His advice for people taking their check ride: "Tip for taking a flight test ó any flight testó should be to donít give up. If things arenít going well, keep fighting. Because you may think you failed, and maybe you have, but if you take the flight test with me, Iíll let you complete all of the things youíre capable of completing successfully. No sense in blowing those, too. If youíre well-trained, you should feel like I canít wait to show him what I can do. Instead of being so nervous that this guyís going to chop my head off, and then defeat yourself in the process."

A lot has changed from the time Johnny learned how to fly to today when he tests new pilots. Thereís often less of a visceral connection with the airplane, he notes, and more attention to and reliance on technology. But the bottom line is that it always depends on the person. "You might have someone who is highly professional and a very keen intellect, very focused on what theyíre doing, and that is, generally speaking, a good pilot. Someone who has prepared himself for the flight and is smart enough to do so, and was trained well enough to do so. In that situation, heís a top aviator, thereís no doubt about it. But you take that same individual and put him into a strange situation...he can apply much of what he learned before, but you get him in a strange situation, he better realize that heís a student again.

"You have to start with why youíre [learning to fly] in the first place. Whether youíre feeding your ego, or doing it for someone else, or whether youíre doing if for yourself because you love it. If itís the latter, youíve got a lot going for yourself. Youíll gobble up every magazine thatís laying around, youíll read into the night. Every time you see a movie come on that has an airplane in it, you follow that and you pick it apart from what you know. Youíre going to learn.

"I had a female student years ago...you didnít have to tell her anything twice. She had it. She had every mark of a professional pilot. She was a waitress, didnít make much money. She saved up her money and she got her private pilotís certificate. And I thought that she would have been a great pilot and instructor. She got married and never flew again. That sorta' broke my heart."

Some of the misconceptions heís encountered with new students are what you can do with the airplane. An early lesson for Quincy students is to never approach a ridge straight on, but rather at an angle. If something goes wrong or you hit a downdraft, if you are flying at a 45o angle instead of 90o, you have much better odds of turning around or extending your climb. Especially in the thin air of 9,000-foot crags.

"One of the biggest obstacles is teaching people to flying who have, say an Uncle Elmo who taught them some things," he said. "They have to unlearn what they were taught....You always take home with you what you like about each experience that you gain and toss the rest."

I asked him if thought itís helpful to have a number of different instructors.

"It can be confusing, but it can be very good, too. Every instructor has a different point of view, a different way of teaching. They may say the same thing in a number of different ways, one of which will connect where the other ones wonít. It would probably take longer with multiple instructors but they really might have a better feel for things when they do get there."

"I think the ideal situation is to have classroom and fly, classroom and fly....The way the military does it, the way that part 141 schools do it, is probably better than the way we do it. On the other hand, I personally feel there is so much good stuff out there with CDs and videotapes, itís hardly worth it for us in this particular [sparsely populated] setting trying to give ground school to a small number of people when they donít need any more than a couple of books, as far as the exam goes, the way itís structured. They study the questions and answers and explanations. They donít even need an instructor, but a classroom situation is far batter."

How long should it take to get a private pilotís license?

"At least three months, although you can do it in a month. But I donít know as that gives them enough time to really settle in. It seems, if you have your choice, take a little bit more leisurely time to do it, and spend more time absorbing things you need to do. Unless, of course, thatís all youíve got to do and youíve got enough money to do it, and when youíre not doing that youíre wasting your time. Well, thatís another situation, too."

Over the years, Johnny has seen every kind of student. For instance, "Often a young person -- perhaps one whose parents are always asking him, ĎDid you have fun?í -- he comes out here and finds out thereís work involved, and that he has to actually study....Itís not just fly around and have fun. All of sudden thereís more to it than fun. Itís hard work. Itís an achievement to become a competent pilot.

"Other people are doing it for reasons other than their own enjoyment; theyíre doing it for a spouse, maybe. They come out here with their teeth gritted. You know I gotta do this thing, and sometimes, not always, but once in a while, youíll see them relax and find out it actually is fun.

"Itís better if a person just does it because they want to do it and theyíre enjoying it, they enjoy the experience, they like the person theyíre flying with and they want to learn from them."

I asked him if he thought it was important for a student to know about the guts of an aircraft.

"We encourage students to come in when weíre doing maintenance. Some places rather the customers only see this shiny airplane with everything fixed. I think thatís a bunch of bull. They should fuel their own airplane. Most of those who come here have never fueled an airplane. The more they know about that, the better off. I probably come doubly that way, because I was pathetic when it came to knowing anything about [aircraft] mechanics when I first started flying. If you could just get in on various opportunities to watch and maybe even help with the maintenance, it would be a great advantage to you. When youíre flying the airplane, youíre much more of a pilot if you know all about that airplane. Why things might go wrong or are going wrong and what you might be able to do about it."

What about the accelerated courses that offer an instrument rating in ten days?

"They make sense depending on what your goals are. If youíre a Type A personality thatís got a phone out of each ear, a couple of ex-wives after him, and going to parties every night, and maybe running for office or something, on the side, youíre not going to have time to study. So the cram course makes sense to you there, but a cram course never makes sense unless youíre ready for it. You should have the basic stuff internalized before you go take a ten-day course, because you wonít remember anything even if you do pass. Your brain will be a cinder. You will have gotten it out of the way, but thereís more to it than that. You have to use it."

What makes the best flight instructor?

"Thatís a tough question. I can start with the worst. Thatís someone building hours so he can go to the airlines, and they could care less about their students. Theyíre just things to sit in an airplane with and go through the motions. And top of that, they really donít have experience to pass on, they donít have the depth of knowledge thatís going to help that person theyíre teaching. It really should be the other way around. That the people with high levels of experience ó they should be a lot better paid than they are, too ó to pass on this knowledge, much of it gained the hard way, through long hours of doing whatever they had to do to get the experience. So a good flight instructor has experience, has genuine interest in their student, and they like what they do. And theyíre effective.

"You really need to have a feel for what people need to learn to fly, and those needs can vary. Thereís no two people exactly alike, so you need to be a judge of character, of needs, of maybe why theyíre learning to fly, because you can really be off base if you start getting, say too esoteric about it when all they want are the nuts and bolts, or you go the other way, and they want to touch the face of god, blah, blah, blah."

He was referring, respectfully, to the extraordinary poem called "High Flight", composed by 19-year-old John Gillespie Magee, Jr. at 30-thousand feet over England in 1941, shortly before he was shot down."Have you touched the face of god?" I asked him.

"Oh, I donít know about that," he says, laughing, "I have nothing against religion, but I have a really bad feeling about some people who come to me to learn to fly and theyíre extremely religious types. And theyíre going to let god take care of them, thatís pretty scary. In that sense, certainly not. I always felt that I had to take care of myself, and itís just not going to be fate, itís not going to be a supreme being care of me.

"Itís my feeling that the closer you actually grapple with the real reality, the more likely you are going to survive. If you cover that up with layers of certain kinds of BS and philosophies, you need to really face the brutal truth of whatís out there and what youíre trying to do. Everything you do is a calculated risk, and youíd better calculate it. The rocks are waiting for you. If you canít see, and youíre down at the bottom of a canyon, youíre probably going to hit one."

Of course he loves flying for more than being in an airplane, suspended between heaven and earth. "Wonderful, wonderful thing. Itís a spirit-lifting thing. You can ride anything into the ground, of course. When it comes to work, and itís also work, but many times I feel adulation of flight which probably will never go away. Then thereís times when youíre so goddamn tired of flying, youíre sick of it and you want to go home and have a beer, stay away from it."

He paused for a moment, looked inside, and put it this way: "There was no choice, I had to fly. It was pretty much in my blood. If I couldnít do what I was doing, I would be very unhappy, I think."

Johnny Moore could also be summed up by the title of his book, I Must Fly! He has flown all types of aircraft on all sorts of missions in all kinds of weather. When you read about his crop-dusting experiences, at night, with the chemicals pouring into the cockpit, dodging power-lines, putting down in fields, you wonder how many lives heís already used up. But when you fly with him, you know that while fate determines our final course, it will have to work harder to bring down Johnny Moore.

* * * * * * *

Tom Rahn, Johnnyís brother-in-law, was a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, but he found he couldnít get home enough. And with a young colleague already stationed and comfortable in his home area, Tom had to make a choice. "I had the GI Bill and the money to get the ratings and Johnny said, ĎWell if you get it, weíll put you to work.í It was a way to move back home....It wasnít my first choice as an avocation, but Iím glad I did it."

Tom enjoys instructing, but finds that many people are surprised at what is required of them. "Itís more than just showing up. Thereís a lot of work involved. Thereís a lot of misconceptions. People have told them, like about stalls, for instance, that the airplane is going to fall out of the sky. Thereís misconceptions about that. But thereís so much material available now, all these magazines. A lot of them get those and read ahead of time. They pretty much have an idea whatís going to happen, the experience of it."

Indeed, 85% of Sugarpineís students who solo go on to get their license. But itís not always the ones he expects to who succeed. "Sometimes people fool you. Starting out, they can be very awkward and no hand-eye coordination, and pretty soon theyíve got it."

As for the people who come to train for their instrument rating, "I know all kinds of guys who go off and get their IFR ratings and most of them, probably 80%, thatís the end of it. They donít stay current, and they never do it again."

Clearly, flying is more than a job for Tom Rahn, but itís not quite the same as for his brother-in-law. "Itís enjoyable but itís not spiritual. Fly-fishing is spiritual for me.

* * * * * * *

Jason Cramblet has a fraction of the hours Johnny Moore has flown, but he shares some of the older manís confidence. His grandfather gave Jason an introductory flight for his seventeenth birthday, and when the boy enthused, grandpa bought a plane and paid for him grandsonís lessons. Like a duck to water, or a pilot to the skies, Jason flew twice a day and earned his private pilotsí license in 5Ĺ weeks. The hardest part for him was the books. Later on, for his instrument training cross-country, Jason flew from California to Niagara Falls.

Jason did all of his training in low-wing aircraft and liked them. Now he flies high-wing planes and finds he prefers them because he can see below more easily. I was training in a Cessna 172 when I first flew with him, a couple of years ago; he was 24 years old, to my 48. My flight instructor had caught a charter, and had brought Jason in to sub.

When I first caught sight of Jason, I thought he could get carded at a toll booth. He says heís 5'8", but those must be thick socks, and heís carrying 130 pounds. The smaller frame probably saved his life, at least once. When he was instructing a student flying into Quincy; the approach wasnít right and they were forced to go around. Now Quincy sits at 3415 feet, and this was summer. If you know the airport, you are aware of the hill to the north, and not a lot of options. They just barely cleared the trees, which is something they wouldnít have managed with my principal instructor, Robert Scott, who notched up the ramp weight by 260 pounds. More on Robert later.

Jason was a delightful teacher for me, particularly as a brief respite from the considerably more forthright former Air Force Colonel who did most of my training. Low-key, possibly reflective of his remarkably tiny handwriting, Jason still managed to convey everything he needed to firmly and clearly the first time. He was patient, showed a sense of humor, and let me do everything by myself. Except, I should note, that we did four touches and five goís, the disparity due to a high and fast approach by this student, which Jason matter-of-factly converted into a go-around. Itís a part of his own early maturity that Jason favors the calm approach to instruction. "Put someone in a stressful situation by yelling at them," he notes, "theyíre not going to be able to think things through."

Jason doesnít exude confidence; he holds it genially. He is wise before his years, and it is revealed in what he looks for in a student. "The maturity, I think is the big thing. Because a lot of my students have been young. Younger, youíre not mature enough to be ready for aviation. Itís a good age to learn at, but theyíre not scared of anything. Itís like driving fast when you first get your driverís license, and when you get older, you go nah." Regardless of age, he says, it is the emotional maturity and the sense of responsibility that make a good pilot.

And a good instructor, I asked?

"I think the biggest thing about finding a flight instructor is finding someone who is there to teach, not just build time. Ask them what are their goals, so you donít have them leaving for something else in the middle of your training." Jason also supports the idea of having different instructors perform phase checks, for the added input from varied perspectives.

What else should new students be aware of? The expense, how much there is to learn, and the time involved. He recommends that students be aware that they donít have to load up on extra equipment. All they really need, he says, is the governmentís flight training handbook. A sparse but reasoned approach, which is what Jason Cramblet is all about.

He didnít go the typical airlines route, which requires building time on commuter flights; they pay in the neighborhood of $1500 a month. Thatís all right if you love to fly and youíre living with your parents. Jason is not. He has a wife and child to support. And he is flying regular flights from Redding to Sacramento and Oakland.

"Flying commercial is a job. Itís not fun. I didnít realize this until I started flying back and forth from Redding to Sacramento. Itís the same thing every day. But when the weather gets bad, yahoo, itís something to do. Thatís the best part of it now. Getting the weather. Every morning I look forward to going to Oakland because I get an instrument approach into Oakland, because of the fog. Though mostly itís a high ceiling, like 1800. Otherwise, itís passing time."

I flew with Jason a week before I took my instrument check ride. He gave me valuable advice. I asked him now that I had my ticket if he had any suggestions. He told me that the first couple of low approaches I should make with an experience IFR pilot sitting right seat. Not because I would do anything wrong, but so that I wouldnít have not to worry. It would build my confidence, he said.

Jasonís goal is to fly for the California Highway Patrol. Once through the academy for basic training, he would need to do some time on the ground before he would be flying for the CHP. And then there would be a variety of flying challenges, from traffic to search-ín-rescue, looking for drugs, providing spotter information, and flying the governor around the state. Quite a range. He will be a credit to their service, whatever he flies for them.

* * * * * * *

Del Schulte could tell Jason a lot about what he will face. Del was with the CHP for 32 years. He flew with them for 21 years, and was chief pilot for eight. He supervised the flying unit in Northern California for 12 years before he retired four years ago. A big, handsome man who likes riding a motorcycle, youíd suspect Del must have been an imposing leader. I flew a phase check with him during my instrument training, and was surprised at how generous he was in giving space in the cockpit. One might expect him to be garrulous, but in an interview situation, he is both deliberate and soft-spoken.

Del first learned to fly in 1969. "I did it backwards like most things. I bought an airplane, and I brought it home in a truck, spent about a year re-building it. Then had to learn how to fly it." He was on his way. With the CHP he flew search-and-rescue, low-level surveillance, as well as a considerable number of flight tests for officers who wanted to fly. He noted that many of the candidates were successful because they had already demonstrated important personality traits and skills required to get into the CHP. Plus, he had the candidateís work history and would "talk to his supervisors about his safety habits and maturity. The kinds of things that would make him a safe pilot. Safety is the name of the game. Thatís really what weíre after."

When you spend 32 years with an organization, it will probably always be "we" rather than "they", even though Del has moved on. Today, much of his time is still spent in the air, flying charters for corporate clients and emergency flights for the Mercy Medical Center in Redding; he is also an FAA examiner. Being around flying for more than thirty years, heís made some observations about who becomes a pilot. "I think they have some things in common about how they approach goals, and accomplishment of goals, and the mindset as far as looking forward to the next thing thatís going to happen. And the next thing thatís going to happen. How they solve problems. They have to have some kind of systematic way of solving problems. You know if they donít have that before they start flying they have to learn it as part of flying. And it probably spills over, somewhere in your life."

About learning to fly is, "Itís not an easy task. It shows not necessarily that theyíre smarter than everybody else or more capable than everybody else but they have the ability to set goals and accomplish them. Thatís what I see in pilots....I donít think itís an inherited trait or any of that kind of stuff....Discipline is a huge part of it."

What surprises new students?

"My guess is that probably most people are a little surprised at how complicated it is. Especially now, and quite frankly when I learned to fly, it wasnít. It has really changed in thirty years....The whole attitude has changed. Old pilots like myself, I soloíd in seven-point-two hours. Sounds like, What a really wonderful pilot I am, but you know what I knew how to do? Get up and get down. This was the way it was taught. You got in an airplane, you went around in the pattern. You went out maybe once or twice and did a few stalls and recoveries and maybe a spin or two. When he thought you had about a 50-50 chance of being able to successfully getting around the pattern, he cut you loose. (He laughs, "Thatís an exaggeration.") Then you flew by yourself for a while, and then he took you out and showed you ground reference.

"Itís a whole lot more complex today, with the airspace system, the radios, transponders, flight following, flight plans, GPS, VOR, the whole thing. You have to know a lot of stuff to get a private pilotís license. Itís not an easy deal. Aero, medical, it goes on and on what they expect you know to be a private pilot, and rightfully so. Iím not knocking it, Iím just saying itís a lot different than it used to be.

Can you get a sense sitting in a plane with a first timer whether theyíll make a good pilot? I asked.

"You know, Iíd like to say yes but Iíve been fooled. You get in the airplane with some guys and you say this guy is gonna be a good pilot. And most of the guys that you think right out of the box are gonna make good pilots can make good pilots. They have the motor skills and all of the abilities to be a good pilot, and then somewhere down the line, judgement or decision-making might trip Ďem up and you might get fooled. You know to where, Oh, this guy can handle the airplane all right, but he canít handle flight planning and decision-making and that sort of thing.

"But thatís not that prevalent. Iíve been fooled more often in flying with guys thinking, this guyís having a helluva time learning this. And some people have a helluva time learning something but when they got it, they got it. And those people make good pilots. Itís just more of a challenge getting there."

Del discovered that construction workers, as a rule, made good pilots. "They canít make a bad landing. Theyíre not intimidated in any way by the equipment. A hand-ín-eye coordination, and just an attitude about machinery, too."

I first met Del at Benton Airpark in Redding last spring when I was in the midst of my instrument training. I asked him what he saw as different about IFR flying. "Probably takes more discipline to fly IFR. In someways, instrument flying is easier because there is an absolute set of rules and procedures that you follow. Once you know those and follow them, you always get to where youíre going. Itís more of a structured environment. And VFR flying, a lot of things are left strictly up to your judgment. [With instruments] you read the approach chart and thatís how you do it. Itís not up to you how you get on base or final, itís right there. Dial that thing and center that needle, and thatís what you do. Itís kind of a set and done deal."

I asked him if he thought multiple instructors helped. "Thatís probably more true on instrument instruction than primary or any of the other ones. Itís because thereís only one way to fly instruments but there are lots of ways to think about flying instruments. And sometimes somebody can just tell it to you in a little different way that makes sense to you, and thereís the light bulb."

He likes tapes and CDs as part of training, but in conjunction with ground school. As far as the accelerated courses, he agrees with Johnny Moore. "Iíve never taken one of the accelerated courses but I have seen very good pilots that have, and I think the accelerated courses by their very nature have to focus on the skills necessary for passing the check ride. And they do that very well. But because they are done in a short period of time, the guy does not end up with much experience other than the very minimums to pass the check ride.

"If youíre taking an instrument rating over a yearís time or something like that, thereís plenty of opportunity to actually get out in some clouds. Thereís time through the seasons to accomplish all of that. I would say that someone who gets an instrument rating through an accelerated course ought to go out with an experienced pilot or an instructor the first few times he does it. Kind of find out what it all means."

Any suggestions for how to find the right instructor? "Ask as many pilots as you know; probably word of mouth recommendation is the best way to do it. You know, a good way to do it but it wouldnít work? Ask an examiner. They definitely know the best, but most examiners probably would not recommend one instructor over another. But they might recommend two or three to check out. You want someone you can get along with, and probably some of that you wouldnít be able to tell until you flew with the guy once or twice. And if he raps on your knuckles or yells in your ear, he might not be the right one, but he might be the guy."

As an FAA examiner, Del has some tips for people preparing to take their check ride. "My suggestion would be that students go through the checklist in the practical test guide and make sure that everything is covered. And not just enough to pass the test, but well enough to impress the examiner. Make sure you have an understanding of everything in the test, and youíre prepared when you get there. Getting wound around the axle on the first few things really sets the stage for an unsuccessful conclusion. And showing up and not having your paperwork in order, or with an airplane that doesnít have something it needs, before the test even starts you feel youíre behind the eight ball. But if you show up there and youíve got all the airplane log books and you pull them out, hereís the annual, hereís the transponder check, hereís the ELT expiration, dot-da-dot-da-da. Hereís my paperwork, hereís the signed 8710. You know what you want and here it all is, and itís all in order. Now hereís a pilot, whoís ready to take his test."

Does he see a spiritual component in flying?

"I think most pilots didnít start out flying just so they could have a job. And so most pilots probably at one time in their career had a real desire. This was something they really wanted to do. For some of them, it goes by the wayside in the course of their career. I see it especially in a lot of airline pilots for whom itís just a job. Then you see guys who bush-flying or flight instruction, and theyíre doing what they really love."

What is it that Del Schulte finds so rewarding about flying?

"Thereís the satisfaction of doing something well. And I think flying along the tops of mountains when the sun rises, you know, a lot of people just donít get to experience this. They donít know what theyíre missing. Itís a good thing, or thereíd be five million people applying for my job."

* * * * * * *

In Vietnam, they called him Scotty. When I met Robert Scott almost a quarter-century after the end of the war, he was Bob to most people but Robert to me. A little more formality, perhaps accompanying the refocusing of his attention on things Christian. A thirty-year Air Force veteran, Robert had moved to the Redding, not to retire, but to teach people how to fly.

In Vietnam, heíd been in the thick of things, flying dangerous missions, under fire, saving lives, including his own. One night Robert and a group of his fellow co-pilots were talking about what would have to happen for one of them to take control of the aircraft from the pilot. There was lots of bragging among these 700-hour pilots, though one fellow remained silent. That night, the silent man was co-pilot on a flight into Pleiku. They crashed, killing all aboard.

The next night, Robert flew right seat on the same mission. They were doing fine, according to ground control. Robert reported seeing the runway lights. The pilot suddenly looked up from the instrument panel, saw bright lights marking an ammunition depot, and confused about the precise location of runway, veered sharply to the left, dropping the wingtip to within only a few feet of the ground, leaving the plane with very little lift. Without thinking, Robert seized control and brought the plane back in line with the runway. They were able then to land safely. It was those lights at the ammo dump, Robert realized, that probably had had confused the pilot of the fatal flight the night before.

Robert learned to fly in jets. Back in 1962 when he joined the Air Force, thatís how you did it. Teach the men in jets, because that was what they were going to be flying. It wouldnít be hard to learn prop flying once they knew how to fly jets. Five years later, Robert was instructing. "I started as an Air Force instructor in C-130's, and then in 1970, I got my civilian instructorís rating through the Veteranís Administration and then I started teaching people every weekend."

Almost three decades later, I was one of Robertís students. It was quite an experience. First of all, because learning to fly is complicated, time-consuming, and hard work. And second because Robert brought with him his command attitude and somehow expected me to learn simple because he told me to. His brusqueness was unsettling at times, but he also displayed remarkable sensitivity. When we were doing spins and stalls, he knew right away when my stomach was threatening to climb up my throat and would immediately offer to have us land.

A big fellow, over six feet and closer to 300 than 200 pounds when I was flying with him, Robert was a pilotís pilot. He almost encompassed the plane. When I flew my first solo, he went around in the pattern with me the first time, and then it was time for me to go up by myself. Thank goodness he warned me about the difference in weight his absence would mean, since the plane practically jumped off of the runway without him. A dear man as well, he had secretly called my wife, so that when I taxied in, she was waiting there for me with a bottle of champagne.

Today, with more than 12,000 hours under his belt, Robert flies around the region teaching clients how to fly instruments and other advanced training. "We donít call Ďem crash courses," he said with a smile. "Itís an accelerated curriculum. We take ten days to teach somebody that has normally got their own airplane and theyíve tried learning instrument flying at the local FBO where normally the instrument instructor is also a charter pilot, because he has the experience to tell the people how to do it. So people will fly with the guy and the next week heís gone. Businessmen and doctors and lawyers ó they put up with that for about six months and they read our ad, they call us up. Weíve been doing this for 20-plus years.

"You take somebody thatís got their written out of the way, they know what the words mean, and they know what the VOR is, and they know what the radio is. Okay, how can we teach Ďem how to fly instruments in 80 hours? Eight hours for ten days. We go by the same system that the Air Force and the airlines teach: attitude plus power equals performance.

"We practice with a simulator where we can do 50 holding pattern entries in an hour. And we do a hundred procedure turns. We fly day five through nine, and day ten take the test. Weíve got a 90% pass rate the first time. A hundred percent pass the second time....Itís a very satisfying system for me as an instructor because number one I have people who are very motivated to learn, and for ten days, all we do is fly."

It is a serious proposition for everyone concerned. "We hire people who are comfortable flying right seat in weather. We never lose a training day, unless itís severe thunderstorms," said Robert with a hint of professional pride. When youíve flown through enemy fire, even thunderstorms are probably a little less daunting.

Robert knows his students. "I can interview somebody, and probably in about 30 or 45 minutes of discussion determine whether theyíre going to make a good pilot or not. Itís primarily the way that they talk about it. You can have some people talking about flying as some sort of utilitarian thing where they want to be able to travel, but other people are really aviators instead of pilots, the difference being someone who has a passion for flying.

"A pilot is like a truck driver, who can manipulate the machine and make it move from A to B, but they really donít have a passion for it. I first encountered it in the Air Force; people who could fly an airplane but they didnít have a passion for it. They liked the pay. They like the prestige that came with being a pilot. But they didnít have a passion for aviation per se. They didnít love it.

"There are airline pilots now that are flying planes. Theyíre a mechanic, they know how to do the mechanics of the flight, and theyíre very skilled at doing it, but they donít have a passion for it. An aviator has a passion for it. He thinks flying, his recreation is to go to an airshow and be with a bunch of pilots. When I was in the Air Force and sixty of us pilots would go to a party, the aviators would all get together and talk about flight. The pilots were over in the drinking, chasing girls, or something like that."

Robert certainly has a passion for flying, and heís reasoned it out. "When you do it well, you have immediate feedback that you did it well. In order words, if you land the plane perfectly, and you get a squeak-squeak out of it, you say, Robert, you did very well. And if one of the passengers says, Oh what a good landing, that adds icing on the cake. But if they donít say anything, you still know that you did it very well. If you do a holding pattern perfect, or you shoot an ILS perfect, or you donít do it so perfect, you get immediate feedback how well you did. Thereís an immediate satisfaction that you know how well you did it."

What does it take to be a good pilot? I asked him.

"You know the saying ĎThere are no old bold pilots.í And that means learning to be cautious. And they also say you get experience by making mistakes. I think to be a skilled pilot you make mistakes and you learn not to do that again. "

How did he survive Vietnam?

"We listened very carefully to what other people said when they went into certain airports."

But thereís something more in Robertís approach to flying. Heís convinced that heís not doing it alone. He recounts the story of returning from a charter in a twin-engine plane that went down because of fuel contamination. First one engine quit, and Robert eased back on the controls and headed toward a nearby airport on one engine. Then the second one quit.

"About two hours before take-off I had talked to one of the passengers, and they said What do you do when you lose an engine, and I said Well, you just shut the engine down and fly on to your destination. And the guy says, Well, what if both of Ďem quit? I hadnít talked about both engines quitting, you know, but what came to my mind was what one of my first instructors said, You never give up. You fly the airplane down all the way through the crash until the airplane stops. Donít give up. Just continue to fly. So thatís what I told him.

"Obviously, God had put that in my mind to prepare me. Gave me a little refresher, so as Iím coming down, losing altitude, I started losing control of the airplane because I didnít have enough airspeed. By that time I got down to the altitude I needed to be. But now Iíve started to turn in and Iíve got this 25 knot wind blowing at me and I donít have enough power to make the runway. So I just rolled out 90 degrees to the runway, lowered the nose, dropped the landing gear, dropped the flaps. It was the best landing Iíd made in a year. I rolled out about 75 yards and hit a ditch. When I went across the ditch, it took out the nose gear and one of the main gear and spun the airplane around.

"I didnít really have time to think about what I was doing, I just reacted from experience.

I wasnít afraid because the situation was under control. I was running on adrenaline. I was pumped. When youíre operating on adrenaline and if youíve been trained properly, youíll do the things you need to do and you have plenty of time because the adrenaline speeds up your thinking process so that you can do the things that you need to do."

Robert got a small bump on his forehead but was otherwise uninjured. The plane was a total loss. It was later discovered that a filter in a fuel truck had disintegrated, and small pieces of plastic had been pumped with the gasoline into the tanks of his aircraft. He hadnít flown very far when the pieces of plastic got into his engines, causing the emergency landing.

Aside from having God as your co-pilot, Robert offers this view. "People who have not trained properly and not done refresher training, when they get into that situation they donít know what to do and when they donít know what to do they panic. And when you panic then the adrenaline sets in. They donít know what to do. They give up." He insists, "You have to know your emergency procedures and you have to practice them so that you absolutely know what to do next. You canít just casually know them. You canít say, Well, I practiced them five years ago."

He canít stress training enough. "Corporate pilots, airline pilots, military pilots all pay big bucks for training. And the training is made as realistic as possible to put you in every possible emergency, and they keep loading you up, using simulators. The insurance companies know that this kind of training makes for much safer pilots. The average person who doesnít have an instrument rating takes about 80 seconds to lose control of an airplane. [Like] a private pilot without an instrument rating who flies into the clouds."

Robert has been around aviation a long time. He has spent time in control towers. Has listened to crash investigation tapes. The sounds of panic taking control are as indelibly etched in his mind as is the knowledge that proper training can prevent disaster. So he is a bug on how to turn the best teaching into the best learning. He thinks classroom is important, and that tapes and CDs can work just as well with someone who learns better when he has a chance to replay the lessons from the tapes.

One interesting problem he noted, that dovetails with something Johnny Moore mentioned, is that "Iíve found is that a lot of people get plugged into their instructor; I mean, heís god. It takes people probably three or four years to grow out of that or they take another rating and discover, Oh, thereís other things out there in the world than what my instructor knows." Obviously that can be a problem for someone taking on new training.

Robert pointed out, too, "In America, most of the instructors are home grown. In other words, the guy gets 250 hours, he gets his commercial rating, gets his CFI rating, and now he starts instructing people. Any other place would never let a brand new person whoís just learned a subject teach it. In Britain, the only people who teach there are people that are very, very experienced. But you pay big bucks to get that kind of instruction.

"Just because some guy has gone through the FAA training program and he knows all the information by rote and can spit it out to the FAA and he can explain the AIM in depth, doesnít mean that he knows how to instruct. You learn how to instruct with a live body sitting across from you in the left seat.

"You find out that thereís different personalities and different ways of learning. Some people learn by feeling, some people learn by reading, they see it; some people learn by hearing. If youíve got a student whoís a hearer, and youíre trying to get him to read his lessons, he ainít gonna learn. And you got some guy thatís a feeler, heís got to feel for it, and youíre trying to say Now look at this. He ainít gonna get it. And you as an instructor have to realize that learners come in several different categories."

As a student, I only had an instructor intervene once. Jason Cramblet initiated a go-around during touch-ín-goís when I had brought us in too fast and too high, but he told me what he was doing before he reached for the controls. I asked Robert, Doesnít it require massive amounts of patience not to grab the wheel? Especially on landings?

"Oh yeah," he responded. "One of the things you try to teach new instructors or instructor candidates is to how far to let the student go. You say you let him go to where you can rescue the airplane. And you let him go to the extent where you feel comfortable." And he warned, "If you get complacent with your students, you can get over-confident that they can do things correctly, and youíll suddenly find a student who just drills one right into the runway." Adding, "Iíve had students Iíve had to tell five six seven eight nine times. Iíve had students you tell it to Ďem one time, they had it. And they could do it perfectly. The ones who can do it perfectly are the ones you have to really be careful about because at some point, theyíre going to screw up, and when they screw up, youíre not going to expect it."

Did Robert have any tips for his clients getting ready for a check ride? "I usually tell people how to get ready for a check-ride that youíre going to demonstrate to the examiner that youíve mastered this airplane....Most students go through the check ride based on the attitude that this sonovagun is going to pick me apart and find everything I do wrong. And youíve got to move from that position to a positive situation. Iím going to show this guy that I really know how to do this. Itís more of an ego thing, and you can really work on a lot of pilotsí ego by putting that to Ďem."

Pilots have ego? I smiled, and remembered a quote on the wall of Johnny Mooreís office. It read:

"The average pilot, despite the sometimes swaggering exterior, is very much capable of feelings such as love, affection, intimacy and caring. These feelings just donít involve anybody else." (Bob Deterich) I could see how Robertís method could work.

I asked Robert if there was a spiritual component in flying for him, besides his relationship with God? He smiled again, as he is wont to do, and responded, "Take off on an early morning and itís raining and cloudy, IFR departure, to about 6000 feet AGL, pop out through the clouds and thereís the sun. To me thatís a spiritual situation." Canít argue with that.

* * * * * * *

The experience of learning to fly ó excuse, of earning a license to learn ó has been awesome and exhilarating. I have assimilate massive amounts of information on subjects I had not so much as thought about previously. I have joined a limited fraternity of people who as Del Schulte put it, set goals for themselves and accomplished them. Risking sin, I am proud of what Iíve done, and humbled out of a stuffed shirt with the excited realization of the wonderful experience there is yet to gain.

I learned to fly for both the ability to get outta town efficiently, and for the sake of expanding my mind. Along the way, I have learned a lot about myself that has positively affected all aspects of my life. I donít think Iím the most adamant of aviators, according to Robert Scottís defintion, but Iím no simple pilot. Every time I rise off the runway, Iím re-enfranchised with a sense of glory and obligation. As Johnny Moore said, heís got to prove that he wonít die in an airplane.

The thrill of flying should be available to every child, who like Audrey Schutte, climbs into tree and thinks not that sheís on a horse, but in a plane. It should attract the thoughtful, mature people as well as the exuberant youth, and let them share the serious joy of rising above the clouds. Or in my case, looking forward to getting my IFR ticket wet. Yes, Iím going to fly the first couple of weathered approached with someone who, as Jason Cramblet suggested, could eliminate the worry and just focus on the flying.

If I never flew again, Iíve had an extraordinary ride. Iíve met these five people, and I expect that they will be only an email away for the rest of my life. What a gift.

 


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