UNIFIED FLYING THEORY

Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Hunter (Mastery Flight Training Inc.)

(Ed. Note: To end the year, a slightly longer than usual piece taken from Thomas’ latest online lesson)

“I made my traditional ‘Christmas Eve’ flight on December 23rd this year. The skies were clear and cool, and the winds were calm. We did a short tour at about 1500 feet AGL, then back in for landing.

On final I called out airspeeds, alignment and glidepath to myself as I always do, pulling the power to idle, easing back on the elevator, and pressing just a little extra rudder at just the right time. The wheels rolled onto the tarmac so smoothly it was hard to tell when flying ended and taxiing began. Everything just came together. My landing reflected a lifetime of practice, of mistakes from which I learned, and the confluence of my currency, my fatigue state, the airplane, the weather, and a little luck. I hope you find yourself making this kind of landing now and then also, but it is never guaranteed.

As soon as I let my currency slide, or I get tired, if the winds get whirly or I fly a different airplane, and most importantly if I stop thinking I need to work hard every time to achieve it, this level of performance becomes elusive and unattainable.

When I told my passenger “that doesn’t happen often” he replied, “Well, you’ve got to read the wind and the machine.” I don’t know if I’ve ever put it quite this way, but his words prompted me to respond: “In the last hundred feet flying stops being science, and becomes an art.

Although you can fly an airplane acceptably and safely “by the numbers”, to fly it well you need to adapt to the variables, to detect, measure, respond to and measure your responses. You must use “the numbers” as a predictable starting point - they get you maybe 85% of the way there - then modify your inputs to get to 90%, 95% or 98%.  If it all comes together, maybe you’ll occasionally attain that elusive 100%.

Prolific aviation columnist Michael Maya Charles is known for his “Artful Flying” philosophy. Michael says on his blog site that his contacts with pilots of all types of aircraft and experience levels have caused him to begin to connect the dots between what great pilots do and the similar process a great basketball player like Michael Jordan might engage in; which is the very same process a beloved cellist like Pablo Cassals might employ to become the amazing musician that brings tears of joy to our eyes when they play.

In his bookArtful Flying Michael writes: Art is the pursuit of the possible, and requires that you be fully vested, fully engaged in what you do. He asks a question: The aviation world is flush with technicians, artists are few. Artist or technician: which do you want to be?

In my opinion, there are pilots who are technicians, and pilots who are artists, but to fly an airplane very well you must pursue mastery of both. You can’t attain A-level flying as a technician alone, any more than you can do so flying solely as an art. Just as you might be able to get 85% of the way to perfection flying as an artist, to make it to A-level flying you need technical knowledge, expertise and discipline as well.

I expect that several of you are ready to scroll down to the UNSUBSCRIBE link by now! Strongly technical people don’t usually like the fuzzy logic of art, and artistic folk don’t typically like the rigidity of technical design and science.

Both types feel their approach to flying is the best—and guess what: both are right. Here are some examples of what I mean, from actual events on which I’ve previously commented upon in these reports:  
  • The pilot who did an artful job of gliding his airplane toward a long, open field after engine failure in cruise flight (unfortunately dying when he hit a hard-to-see power line on short final); but would not have had to glide at all if he had studied his airplane enough to know to turn on an emergency fuel pump as part of the published Engine Failure in Flight checklist.
  • Any number of pilots who lost directional control on the runway (not mastering the art of crosswind control) when the winds were well below the maximum demonstrated crosswind component of the airplane flown.
  • The highly technical pilot of a piston twin who spent long minutes head down in the cockpit trying to get his mixture leaned to a highly precise target temperature, while blasting blindly through busy Class C airspace.
  • Dozens of pilots who starved their engines for fuel, recovered by gliding toward an airport or open field, but then stalled the airplane at the last moment before what should have been a successful touchdown.

The list could go on for many pages, but you get the idea. Each of these pilots could probably have flown an entire lifetime as a technician or an artist. But unfortunately for each, a day came when he/she needed to perform with elements of both.

There is a pervading artistry that makes great people great across all disciplines, including flying. Scientists seek a Unified Field Theory, a phrase coined by Albert Einstein, that expresses all the variables of energy, mass, atomic force, electromagnetic force and gravity in a single, “elegant” field or mathematical equation. Sometimes this elusive explanation for the entire functioning of the universe is called The Theory of Everything, a framework of physics that may or may not be described by a single mathematical formula.

OK, I’m a nerd! I tend toward the technical; that last paragraph proves it. But I’m also an artist, or at least I’m trying to be. I’m looking for a Unified Flying Theory, an aeronautical Theory of Everything, in the way I fly. I know I won’t ever get there, and if I get close it won’t be for long … because the variables are always changing. But I’m working on it, all of the time.

As you look forward to the New Year, think about this Unified Flying Theory. Ask yourself if you are primarily technical in the way you fly, doing things by the book; or if you are mainly an artist, flying by feel. Resolve in 2018 to “explore the other side”; to become an A-level pilot in normal operations and in ‘unusual-for-you’ operations, and any abnormal or emergency situation you’re unlucky enough to face.

If you’re an Artist-Pilot, devote time in 2018 to:
  • reviewing your airplane’s operating handbooks or manuals
  • incorporating use of simple checklists in all phases of flight
  • memorizing and practising the critical steps of emergency procedures
  • developing a deep understanding of the aircraft’s systems, their operations, and how you operate them
  • practicing the manoeuvres required on the Practical Test for the pilot certificate and ratings you hold, ensuring you can still fly them at least as well as you did on the day you passed each check-ride
  • taking dual instruction on the manoeuvres and standards of the next level of pilot certificate or rating above that you already hold, so as to learn new manoeuvres and adhere to a higher level of precision than you’ve been held to this point 
  • flying with an instructor who specialises in your aircraft type, to learn tips and tricks for flying it predictably “by the numbers”. 

If you’re a Technician-Pilot, design a plan for the coming year that includes:
  • adding a new flying experience, such as a tailwheel endorsement, sailplane flight, seaplane training, complex or multiengine training, or mountain flying - even if you don’t plan to pursue a check-ride or plan to fly that type of aircraft or operation again - because by immersing yourself in a learning mode you will invariably find something new that you can apply to the type of flying you actually do
  • taking spin training or an introductory aerobatic flight, in an appropriate aircraft with a qualified instructor
  • making a long VFR cross-country flight, if you routinely fly IFR
  • using your technical bent to develop a deep understanding of the aircraft’s systems, their operations, and how you operate them
  • developing cockpit flows to use in conjunction with checklists
  • practicing the manoeuvres required on the Practical Test for the pilot certificate and ratings you hold, ensuring you can still fly them at least as well as you did on the day you passed each check-ride
  • taking dual instruction on the manoeuvres and standards of the next level of pilot certificate or rating above that you already hold (Commercial if you’re a Private, Sport or Recreational Pilot; ATP if you are an instrument rated pilot, etc.) to learn new manoeuvres and adhere to a higher level of precision than you’ve been held to this point
  • flying with an instructor you’ve never flown with before, who specialises in your airplane type but who will teach you skills and techniques your usual instructor may have missed.

Me, I clearly tend toward the technical side of the scale. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time next year learning new avionics being installed in an airplane I fly at work.

But in addition to that I owe it to myself to focus on some Artful Flying as well. Good thing I have a student who owns a Piper J-3C Cub and who invited to get me checked out in it.

The goal is to become an A-level pilot by expanding beyond where you are now to where you can be, acknowledging and using the Unified Flying Theory or aeronautical Theory of Everything. Combining artistry and technical expertise is MASTERY OF FLIGHT.

Happy New Year, everyone!” 

AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM ALL AT AEROBILITY


FLY SAFE!
Tony Birth