“Do I have to add the power and trim?” he asked.
I explained that, yes, those things were required in order to prevent a loss of altitude from the steep bank angle.
He just smiled and proceeded to execute a perfect steep turn without adjusting the power or the trim. His way required a little more power and forward pressure on the front end, but the result was the same: constant altitude and airspeed during a 360-degree, steep banked turn. “It’s called ‘technedure,’” he explained. “That’s where a personal technique becomes an official procedure. Watch out for that.” Because I had only ever trained on steep turns with one flight instructor, I believed that our way was the way.
The inspector’s comments had me questioning not just steep turns, but every other thing about the way I flew. How many of the things we do in aircraft are based on actual, flight-tested data and how much is personal technique reinforced so often that it’s become procedure? Because our pilot minds are packed full of aviation knowledge, sometimes we’re not exactly sure where that knowledge came from. We hope it was a factual, trusted text. But it could have been the opinion of an inexperienced flight instructor.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming my flight instructor. Even if what we learned was valid, there’s no way that one person can possibly teach us everything we need to know. As pilots, we are responsible for making sure that our knowledge comes from various sources, texts, and people.
I was giving a private pilot checkride recently and asked the applicant to demonstrate a short-field takeoff in his Cessna 172. He put in 10 degrees of flaps. However, the POH for that specific model (and many of the older model Cessnas) recommended not using any flaps for a short-field takeoff. When I questioned him, he said, “That’s how my instructor taught me to do it.” Later in the ride, I asked him to perform a turning stall. “My instructor didn’t teach me a turning stall,” he said. At this point, I was starting to hear a trend. This pilot was clearly trusting his instructor’s technedure rather than getting out the books and verifying for himself what would be required on a checkride and exactly how to perform those maneuvers in his specific airplane. We all want to trust that our instructor knows the correct way to do everything, but the truth is that even the almighty CFI is fallible.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of flying with Catherine Cavagnaro, an aerobatics instructor who often shares her knowledge with the lucky readers of this magazine. In our prebrief, she asked me to explain the spin recovery procedure. Without hesitation, I told her the acronym I could say in my sleep: PARE (Power idle, Ailerons neutral, Rudder opposite, and Elevator forward).
Catherine informed me that, yes, that was a general acronym, but that it wouldn’t cover the nuances of spin recovery for all aircraft types. In some aircraft, such as a Piper Tomahawk, the published recovery procedure is to apply full opposite rudder to the stop, then push the control wheel fully forward, and then check that the throttle is closed. For a Cessna 152, however, the throttle is the first thing to check as reducing airflow over the elevator will reduce the angle of attack and be the most effective way to stop the spin in that particular aircraft. There are even some military aircraft that require aileron into the direction of the spin. News to me! I believed my PARE acronym always was the way to recover from a spin, and I had passed on that bit of incomplete knowledge to many students through the years.
Bottom line: Read the books for yourself. See what your POH says for your specific aircraft. If you’re using one of aviation’s many acronyms, did it come from an official source or was it simply passed down through the generations of instructors before you?
Here is a little advice from one of those instructors who has been wrong more times than she cares to say: Question what you know. Did you fly with one instructor for your private pilot training and never take another lesson or read a new aviation book? What if that one instructor was wrong? Or left something out in the limited 40 hours they had to shape you? What if there’s another right way to do it, a way that might work better for you personally? Remember, a good pilot is one whose knowledge base is ever growing. We’re all student pilots, no matter how many ratings we have.