The Pilot's Lounge #30:
Myths for the Last Millennium

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As the last millennium ends and a new one begins, it's time to adopt a fresh outlook on the many things we

The Pilots LoungeRemember the last time you laughed so hard you wondered if you were going to be able to stop? We were lucky enough to have had one of those evenings in the pilot's lounge very recently. A number of the regulars had gotten together to do some planning for the function we were going to throw on New Year's Eve, the pilot's lounge first occasional End of the Millennium Bash for Those Who Can Count. We were seeking a good way to wind up a year, a decade, a century and a millennium. We had managed to get most of the regulars together for the planning session. We agreed that the first thing to do at the blowout would be a toast to the instant gratification types who, despite education and our level of civilization, had welcomed in the new millennium a year too early. The toast would be to express our sincere hope that there were therapists who could someday find a treatment to help them get over premature celebration.

Then we started on the task of figuring out what else to do during the big evening.

Some of the suggestions for an appropriate main activity were ones we can repeat in a family magazine. The winning idea was for all of those present to come up with as many aviation myths, old wives' tales and commonly known "facts" that simply weren't true as we could. We decided that finishing up a year that ended in several zeroes would be a good time to discard those myths. The start of a new year, decade, century and millennium (for those using the currently-popular calendar in much of the world) would be as good a time as any to go about this task, particularly when it was discovered that the notes I took would show up on AVweb on the first day of the new millennium. Despite the fact we were only supposed to be planning for the blowout, everyone started talking and I took notes.

(As this is to appear on the morning after the night before the biggest calendar rollover we'll live through, I trust you are wearing your corrective hat and soft-soled shoes as you recover from whatever it was you did last night.)

One of the regulars pointed out that Linda Pendleton had provided a head start on the topic with her article several weeks ago. She perceptively identified three of the more prominent aviation myths. They were:

1. The Step

As Linda pointed out, there's no such thing. Yes, I know the great Ernie Gann was taken in by it and repeated it in a couple of his books. However, for any airplane with more power than an Aeronca C-3 (36 hp), it doesn't exist. On the Aeronca, with its tiny little power-required-versus-airspeed graph, it was possible to be flying at cruise power and be in the region of reverse command, not much above stall speed, then drop the nose and accelerate to the other side of the curve and get about 10 or 15 miles per hour more airspeed. Those who didn't understand basic aerodynamics and the power-required curve thought there was a "step" and the myth got rolling. For anything else, the difference between the two speeds generated for a given power setting is so great that there is no mistaking where you are on the power-required curve. At 2,400 rpm in a Cherokee Archer you simply are not going to gain 10 knots of true airspeed by climbing 300 feet above cruising altitude and diving gently down to the altitude to set up cruise. Any speed generated by the dive will dissipate in a minute or two. You will then be flying at the same speed as if you had leveled off at climb power, let the airplane accelerate to about normal cruise and then set the power. For any airplane, a given power setting at a given pressure altitude will generate the same airspeed, time after time, unless you really don't clean the bugs off the airframe.

2. Over-square Engine Operation

Linda nailed this one as well. There is nothing magic about the fact the numbers on the manifold pressure gauge are sort of the same as the first two digits of the numbers on the tachometer on a horizontally-opposed, normally-aspirated piston engine. That means you are not going to hurt anything by setting the prop rpm at 2,200 rpm and the manifold pressure at 24 inches. In fact, it's probably better for the engine than turning the prop faster to get the same percentage of power because the slower rpm power setting means less wear.

3. Partial-power Takeoffs

Linda Pendleton addressed this very dangerous myth effectively. There are still some folks running around that have the screwy idea that you can extend the life of an engine by using partial power for takeoff. In fact, I just ran across a guy who sets power on takeoff on his twin by listening to the engines. He doesn't understand that with constant-speed props the governors get the engines turning at redline rpm before the throttles get to the stop, so he is using well under 75% power on takeoff. Yikes. Partial-power takeoffs are tremendously hard on engines. The last bit of throttle travel to full power enrichens the mixture and puts a lot of fuel through the engine, fuel that is absolutely essential to proper cooling. Using partial power means a longer takeoff roll to get off the ground and then climbing at a slower rate (so if an engine, or the engine, quits, you are closer to terra firma, not a good place to be). Suffice it to say that the manufacturer did all of its cooling and performance tests using full power at takeoff. All the performance charts for takeoff distance, distance over an obstacle and, on twins, accelerate-stop and accelerate-go distances are measured from the point that full power is applied. Anything less than full power means you become a test pilot and put yourself and your passengers at substantially increased risk due to reduced performance and the fact you are burning up your engine(s).

Once the regulars had remarked on Linda's article, it seemed that everyone had a myth to debunk. I wrote them down as fast as I could.

More Myths

Lean Of Peak

"Never lean an engine so far that it is operating lean of the peak exhaust gas temperature." Nonsense. AVweb's resident performance guru, John Deakin, has eloquently destroyed the myth in his columns on engine operation. The folks who ran the big radials knew this for years; Lindbergh would never have made it to Paris had he not run that Wright lean of peak. Thank goodness George Braly and the folks at GAMI have brought such operations back to light. Want more information? Read all of Deakin's columns, then go to GAMI's web site.

The Downwind Turn

Two or six of us jumped in with the dreaded downwind turn. We can't seem to kill this myth because there are always some people who don't have a reasonable grasp of the fact that the airplane moves in the air and only in relation to the air, when its performance is considered. Those poor souls insist that if you make a steep or rapid turn while flying upwind and proceed to a downwind heading, there is an increased risk of stalling because the airplane cannot accelerate fast enough to keep up with the wind. Sigh. The airplane doesn't know or care if it is flying upwind or downwind; all it cares about is its angle of attack to the relative wind. (The most insistent on this myth get the concept confused with the effects of wind shear, which is a sudden gust. Wind shear and wind gradient, that is, rapid wind speed changes with altitude, are separate animals entirely. In a steady-state wind, the airplane doesn't have to accelerate to "keep up" with the wind, it is already moving within the air mass.)

If you are ever in doubt about this one, climb up above a solid cloud deck, roll into a steep turn and hold it for several times around. The airspeed will stabilize, the angle of attack will stabilize and you will go round and round happily at a constant airspeed and angle of attack. If Doppler radar isn't available to tell you the actual wind direction and velocity, there is no way you can tell it by looking at the airspeed indicator as you twirl away the afternoon. (Your GPS won't help; it has enough delay to make it less than accurate.)

Yes, when you are down low over the ground and turn downwind the increasing groundspeed gives you the feeling that you are going faster (you are, across the ground) even though your speed through the air is the same. The increased rate of things whizzing by on the ground has caused some pilots to pitch up and stall the airplane, or to increase the angle of bank radically to complete the turn within a desired radius and stall the airplane. Some pilots who have stalled due to the visual effect of increasing groundspeed have loudly reached the wrong conclusion many times over the years: that turning downwind caused the airplane to stall. Sadly, there will be a few people who will get righteously indignant on this issue and insist that the airplane behaves differently in a downwind turn. If you are one of them, before you write, please go do steep turns over a cloud deck.

Gear-up Landing: Hard Or Soft Surface?

Someone brought up my crashworthiness column and the common myth that if you have to land an airplane gear-up, land it on a grass runway. It just isn't so. One of the biggest risks of a gear-up landing is stalling the airplane a few feet in the air. If you get a significant vertical descent rate going and hit on grass, there is a good chance the airplane will dig into the dirt a few inches, creating a crater and a berm that will stop your forward motion, shall we say, abruptly. As we all know, it's the quick stop that hurts. On a hard surface, that vertical energy can be translated into horizontal energy, allowing the airplane to slide and decelerate slowly, something that is much more pleasant for all concerned. Damage to the airplane can potentially be greater when landing on a soft surface, also. Sure, you'll scrap antennas and strobe lights off the belly, curl the prop and your insurance company will pay for an engine teardown to make sure the crankshaft wasn't twisted. But that's likely to be the extent of the damage when landing on a smooth, paved runway sans gear. Dig a crater and create a berm on a soft surface and the potential for greater damage to the airplane not to mention its occupants goes up dramatically.

Tarmac = Ramp?

Our resident English major and Anglophile got us into aviation trivia and "facts." She pointed out a mistake that is made regularly in the media and in books by authors who don't know much about aviation: That tarmac is a place where airplanes park. Not so, she explained, airplanes are parked on an apron or ramp. Tarmac is a Britishism for what we in the U.S. call asphalt. It's like calling all bizjets "Learjets" or all piston singles "Piper Cubs." In the 1820s, an engineer by the name of MacAdam figured out how to make pretty good all-weather roads by cutting a roadbed some distance into the ground, then lining it with rocks. On top of those he laid progressively smaller rocks until the surface stones were an inch or less in diameter. In the UK the result was called a Macadamized road. In the U.S. we just called them gravel roads. In the 1900s when tar was added to the mixture, the Brits called it tarmacadam, we called it asphalt. Naturally, those who created our language then shortened the name. In addition, a large British company that makes asphalt calls itself Tarmac. British journalists referring to airplanes parked on asphalt talked of the tarmac. Lazy U.S. journalists thought that "tarmac" was a reference to the ramp or apron rather than the material of which the apron was made. It is one of the most misused terms in journalism (and in some current dictionaries). Shockingly, I've even seen it in AVweb. Nowadays it's a little like identifying the inexperienced pilots at Oshkosh: They are the ones wearing lots of patches and pins. Similarly, you can tell the aviation youngsters, rubes and wannabees as soon as they use the term "tarmac."

Turning Into The Dead Engine

One of our local charter pilots jumped into the conversation with a very old multi-engine chestnut: "Don't turn into a dead engine." Somehow, someone got the idea that if you lost an engine on a twin that you should never turn toward the dead one or you would lose control. It just isn't true. Keep in mind that every turn has two halves: half will be a roll toward the dead engine and half will be a roll away from the dead engine. The only difference is which comes first. So long as you keep the speed above Vmc when operating single-engine, you can turn toward or away from the dead engine.

Prop-pulling To Clear Hydraulic Lock

Randy Sohn put down his cheap red wine and laughingly referenced the myth that one should pull the prop through on a radial engine to get rid of hydraulic lock. Thanks to Randy, we pretty well dealt with this one in my column on hydraulic lock on radials. To get rid of hydraulic lock on a radial engine it is necessary to pull one of the plugs from each of the downward-pointing cylinders. If you don't, pulling the prop through will probably bend a connecting rod, or worse. Yes, you can get hydraulic lock on horizontally-opposed engines. It comes from over-priming. While it is a fairly small matter, it may be the subject of an upcoming column.

Climbing With Full Flaps

One of the older instructors repeated the silly comment made by some students and, sadly, their instructors: trainers (usually the Cessna 150/152 and Piper Tomahawk) won't climb with full flaps. When Cessna introduced the model 152 it had only 30 degrees of flap travel due to the fact its gross weight went up. Despite the slightly more powerful engine, the increased weight meant that the airplane could not climb at the rate required by the regulations with 40 degrees of flaps. This is known as a balked landing climb. As a result, inexperienced instructors somehow decided the model 150 wouldn't climb with 40 degrees of flaps extended despite the fact that students had been doing it for about 20 years by then. If your 150 or 152 or Tomahawk will not climb with full flaps extended, it means one of three things: The density altitude is above about 5,000 feet, you are trying to climb at too high an indicated airspeed or the engine is not putting out its full power. A quick way to check of the last is to pull out the Owner's Manual or Pilot's Operating Handbook and look up the proper range for the rpm on a full power, static run-up. Then do such a run-up and see if the engine will turn at the required rpm. If it doesn't, it's time to chat with your mechanic. If it does, then check your density altitude or reduce your climb speed a bit.

Whither Maneuvering Speed?

Old Hack brought up a myth that still pops up from time to time, that Va (maneuvering speed) goes up at lighter weights. He talked about pilots who insist that if you are light you don't have to worry about an in-flight breakup and can fly as fast as you want. He laughed and said he was glad that most of those he had heard express such nonsense were no longer flying and risking their passengers' lives.

Maneuvering speed is a function of stall speed. As stall speed goes down with reduced weight, so does maneuvering speed. Put in simplest terms, at maneuvering speed the airplane will stall before it suffers structural damage in the event of a gust or if the controls are "abruptly" put to the stops. As the airplane gets lighter, stall speed goes down. Therefore, maneuvering speed goes down. (It even says so in the Pilot's Operating Handbook.)

Ditching

Aircraft crash survival expert Doug Ritter did his best deadpan and expressed one of the myths that seems to stick around despite tremendous evidence to the contrary: that ditching an airplane is usually fatal to its occupants. This one isn't even close to being accurate. Fewer than 15 percent of ditchings even of fixed-gear airplanes involve fatalities. For detailed information on ditching and other issues of survival after you have problems with your airplane, take some quality time and look into Doug's excellent web site. Also, don't miss Doug's recent piece here on AVweb debunking the myths associated with ditching.

Babying Your Engine

A couple of the mechanics in the crowd were exchanging comments with each other and laughing hysterically; finally one of them managed to speak about the ludicrous practice of "babying" an engine, that is, running it at low power during the break-in process. For some reason there exist a certain number of pilots, most of whom are among the senior members of our society, who insist that a horizontally-opposed aircraft engine should be broken in by running at severely reduced power for the first several hours. They claim new engines must be "babied" for them to last a long time. This was the case on new cars for many years, with specified maximum speeds for the car for the first several hundred miles. It was also true for the Allison-powered aircraft of World War II. Those engines had to be "slow timed" for about five hours. (In the P-39 and P-400 they also only lasted about 15 hours, anyway.)

For a horizontally-opposed aircraft engine, the practice of running at reduced power for the first several hours is a guarantee that the engine will use vast quantities of oil until the cylinders are replaced. The cylinders in the engines we fly are honed during the manufacturing process, leaving a cross hatching on their interior walls. This cross hatching has to be broken down for the rings to seat firmly against the cylinder walls. The only way to accomplish the breakdown of the cross-hatching is to run the engine at the highest possible power for about the first 25 or so hours (the engine or airframe manufacturer will have specific numbers in the appropriate manual). It also means that, unless the engine is turbocharged, the airplane should be flown low enough so that at least 75 percent power can be maintained during this time. Break-in requirements apply when you have to replace a single cylinder, as its cross hatching has to be broken down.

No Damage History

Naturally, as the evening wore on, things started getting out of hand, and comments started to stray a little farther from the myths of operation. One of the pilots who had recently spent quite a bit of time trying to find a decent used airplane to buy came up with one of the great lies of used airplane advertising: "No damage history." Because most of us who had looked at used airplanes advertised with no damage history have had the experience of conducting a careful inspection of the logbooks or the airframe itself and found the assertion to be untrue, we agreed that this phrase should be added to the list of aviation lies.

When To Lean

Don't lean the mixture in level flight below some magic altitude, usually 3,000 or 5,000 feet? What is it with this one? I run into young flight instructors who still tell me that you shouldn't lean the mixture on an airplane when cruising below some arbitrary altitude. When asked for the reference, the instructor tells me that it's in the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH), then opens it and points to the takeoff or climb section of the checklist that says to lean for takeoff above a certain altitude or in the climb above a certain altitude. The instructor then looks at me and says, "see, it's right there." Sorry, that only applies to takeoff or climb. If you go to the cruise section of the POH, the power settings, fuel-burn rate and true airspeed generated for each are shown. At the top of the page it says something along the lines that the data is with properly-leaned mixture. The cruise checklist calls for leaning the mixture, it does not set out a minimum altitude to do so.

One of the sources for this myth is the unwillingness for some FBOs and flight instructors to properly instruct their students and renters on how to lean the aircraft in their fleet. The FBO is afraid perhaps with some justification that ham-fisted students will improperly lean the engine or forget to enrichen it in preparation for the "go" part of a touch-and-go landing. And teaching proper leaning methods takes additional time during training, time that can be spent on other, more important maneuvers. Still, by the time the student is working on cross-country flights, a thorough session on leaning should be in the logbook. You'll notice in Deakin's columns on turbos and power settings that he does not set a minimum altitude for leaning the mixture.

This myth can be destructive. As a 17-year-old private pilot, I was flying a Cessna Cardinal while a friend of mine followed me toward home plate in an ag airplane that the company I worked for had just purchased. He ran out of fuel after two and a half hours of flying because, as he put it later, we were only at 2,500 feet and he couldn't lean the mixture that low. It took several months to repair the damage from the forced landing that resulted from that event. Had he simply leaned the mixture, that airplane had about four hours of endurance and the accident would have been avoided.

Straight-in Approaches

Straight-in approaches at non-towered airports are a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). No, sorry, not so. The only thing in the FARs regarding traffic patterns is that all turns are to be to the left unless otherwise noted. The AIM has information regarding traffic patterns and while operating contrary to it may be considered to be "careless and reckless" in an enforcement action, flying a straight-in approach is not necessarily a violation of the regulations. For a good discussion of the matter take a look at guru Deakin's column on the 45-degree zealots.

"Aviator's Breathing Oxygen"

Aviation oxygen is different than other types and must be used for refilling aircraft oxygen tanks because it has less moisture. Again, not so. Oxygen is oxygen. The suppliers do not make a distinction. Buy it wherever you can get it inexpensively. Yup, guru Deakin has a column on this subject as well.

Climbing With Flaps

Flap extension gives extra climb rate. In his classic Fate Is The Hunter, Ernie Gann described selecting full flaps to balloon an overloaded C-87 over the Taj Mahal on takeoff. From that event we hear pilots sometimes claim that their airplane will climb better with flaps. In general, that is simply not the case. Using flaps on takeoff will usually reduce the length of the ground roll. They may also help in the obstacle clearance climb to 50 feet. It varies with the type of airplane. For best rate of climb, getting the most altitude in the least amount of time, the airplane must be in a clean configuration because climb rate is a function of power available versus power required to hold level flight. Remember that curve from ground school? If your airplane takes about 80 horsepower to maintain altitude at 80 KIAS it will take slightly more than that if you deflect the flaps because increased lift also means increased drag. So, you won't climb as well because more power is required to simply maintain altitude and less is available to pull you upward.

The Initial Power Reduction After Takeoff

It is necessary on airplanes that have constant-speed propellers to make a power reduction after takeoff. I fly with pilots in their Cherokee Arrows, Cessna 182s and other types of airplanes that have no time limitation for full power on the engines. Almost invariably, sometime after takeoff, the pilot will pull the power back to some "climb" power, usually 25-squared. In a Hershey-bar-wing Arrow that has any kind of load aboard, the rate of climb goes from merely okay to awful. When I ask the pilot why he made a power reduction, I usually hear that it was because he was taught to do so or that the checklist calls for it. If you look at the POH for the airplane, it gives you a choice: You can do a maximum performance climb or a "normal" climb. You burn about the same amount of fuel in each one: The "normal" climb has a lower burn rate, but the reduced rate of climb makes up for it. It takes about the same amount of avgas to lift an airplane to altitude at a given airspeed no matter if full power or "climb" power is used.

Radial engines often had time limitations on the use of maximum or takeoff power. It is necessary to make a series of power reductions after takeoff because of the limitations of the engine. The larger, early horizontally-opposed engines that came out after World War II also had time limits on full-power operation. As I recall, the first Bonanzas called for a power reduction within one minute of applying full power. In any event, check your airplane's POH for the straight scoop.

As a result, the habit of making a power reduction after takeoff became ingrained. For most horizontally-opposed engines on the airplanes we fly there is no time limit on full power. The O-360 in a Cardinal, Archer, Tiger, Cutlass RG, etc., will happily put out its rated 180 horsepower all day long. Same with the 200-hp IO-360 on the Arrow or Cardinal RG. At full power, the engine runs cooler than at reduced power because it gets more fuel for cooling. Full power is a good thing from the standpoint of being nice to the engine. From the perspective of being nice to yourself, getting as much altitude as you can as soon as you can is also a good thing, so why increase the amount of time you are going to be fumbling around down low? You want to get up to where that tailwind is whistling along, plus, you want altitude so that you have a decent radius of action should that engine decide to take the day off.

Besides, the engine only makes rated power at sea level on a standard day, anyway. If it is a hot day, no matter at what altitude the airport resides, you aren't getting full power to start with, so making a reduction from that is foolish, unless you prefer to subject your pax to a sauna for as long as you can. Leave everything against the wall and climb with as much power as you can get if the manufacturer allows it. Once you get through the density altitude suggested, lean the mixture to about 100 degrees F rich of peak for best power. If noise is a concern at your airport, you won't hurt your engine by pulling the prop back 100 or 200 rpm (in general, not below 2,500 rpm) while maintaining full throttle. I refer you once again to John Deakin's articles on engine operation for a more detailed discussion of the matter.

Flying Faster In A Tailwind?

One of the instructors laughingly told us about a pilot with whom he had recently flown who was certain that a tailwind increases airspeed. Yup. The guy was convinced that his true airspeed increased when flying in a tailwind. No, I don't know why folks like that gentleman don't understand that the airplane can't tell whether it is flying in a headwind, tailwind or crosswind. It is a symptom of someone who does not understand basic aircraft operation. The instructor recounting the story then suggested we get his hero and one of the downwind-turn crowd into a room and let them slug it out.

"My Airplane Is Faster In Winter"

I don't know how many pilots I have spoken to who say that their airplane is faster in winter. Airplanes simply do not get faster in cold weather. Indicated airspeed is closer to true airspeed in denser air (cooler or at lower altitudes) so one of the reasons for pilots to say that is because they see higher numbers on the airspeed indicator. That is only because that for a given pressure altitude, they are at a lower density altitude in winter. In addition, if you look at your POH in the performance section you will see that temperature affects the engine's power output. It lives on density altitude, remember? Most pilots have a tendency to use a given power setting no matter what altitude they select, without using the POH to determine the percentage of power. The pilot with a Warrior will generally set 2,400 rpm for cruise, no matter what the altitude or temperature is. At 3,000 feet MSL on a winter day, the engine is putting out substantially more horsepower than it is at altitude on a summer day. As a result, the airplane goes faster. It's not because it is colder, it is because the pilot is using more power (and more fuel) when she flies in the winter.

Carrying Power Into The Flare

"You have to carry power to touchdown in this airplane." We here at the virtual airport get a laugh out of this one. There are pilots who insist that when they fly "big" airplanes ("big" can mean an Arrow, a Cessna 210 or Navajo) it is necessary to carry power all the way through the flare to touchdown, otherwise the airplane will "drop" in. One of us will then go fly with the guy and show him that it's not so and he's wasting a lot of runway, not to mention wearing out tires and brakes because the only place he can find "finesse" is in the dictionary. There isn't a general aviation airplane built in which it's necessary to carry power all the way to touchdown unless you have a load of ice on the wings. Keep in mind, too, that, by regulation, any certificated (non-experimental) single-engine airplane must have a full-flap stall speed at or below 61 knots. This is true for a Cessna 150 or a Pilatus PC-12. The landing distance information in the manual is generated with the throttles closed well prior to touchdown and the old standby technique of simply raising the nose during the flare (remember that concept?) to arrest the descent rate is applied. Unless you have bled off all of your airspeed the procedure works quite well.

Braking On Takeoff?

"Hit the brakes after takeoff before you retract the gear." That's a bad habit to acquire as the need for brakes is very much airplane-specific. There may be a certain, small number of airplanes on which it is necessary as the spinning wheels caused some sort of mischief as they hit their wells. Okay, the World War II Hawker Typhoon was one, but I can't come up with any others right this moment (and you're probably not flying a Typhoon this week, are you?) There are more airplanes, particularly ones with fairly massive landing gear, on which hitting the brakes slams the wheels to a stop and will rotate the tire on the rim, potentially causing it to be unable to hold air pressure or actually cutting the valve stem. So, unless the airplane flight manual says to hit the brakes, don't bother.

Extending Gear And Flaps In A Turn

"It's dangerous to extend flaps/gear during a turn." Some instructors teach this to low-time students because many airplanes have a pitch change with flap extension and the simple demands of controlling the airplane in a descending turn for landing are made more complex with a pitch change. Others are concerned about asymmetric flap extension, which rarely happens but which can dramatically increase a roll rate if the flap on the inside of the turn fails to extend. By the time a person obtains a pilot certificate, he or she should be able to make a normal, descending turn in the pattern and handle a pitch change generated by flap deflection without too much effort. For airplanes such as the Aztec or Apache that have a noticeable pitch up with flap extension, many pilots will take advantage of that by extending the flaps in a descending and decelerating turn to lessen the need for trim. As for the landing gear, the reasoning seems to be that some pilots believe there is some magical sidewind in a turn that adversely affects gear extension. Remember, as long as the ball is centered, there is no side load; the airplane is going directly into the relative wind. The gear will extend the same in a turn as it does in level flight. If you fly an airplane in which the gear has difficulty extending when there is some sideways airload, in a slip or skid (in level flight or turning), something is wrong with the airplane.

Military Versus Civilian Training

"Military trained pilots are always better than civilian trained." Wow, that canard has been around for a long time and some people have some pretty strong feelings about it. From the 1930s on, it was believed in some circles that because the military had a step-by-step training program, its graduates were better than those who received their training in a catch-as-catch-can fashion as a civilian. It was also felt that because the military took only the best candidates, it turned out the best pilots. Neither belief has proven to be true. Military training has never been perfect. It is usually extremely good, but those in positions of responsibility in military aviation will be the first to say that they are always looking for ways to make it better, plus, they have a continuing problem with motivating those who are assigned to be flight instructors and who don't want to be in that assignment. In addition, the military has historically had some flat spots in the process of selecting who even got to go to flight training in the first place. It has always had some discrimination in the selection process that never made sense. As a result, none of the uniformed services has ever been willing to choose from the very best candidates available; they disqualified too many of them. For years, they only took white males. That proved to be a silly restriction and eventually black males were allowed into the program. Finally, females were added to the list. Unfortunately, the military has always had restrictions on educational background, vision and other physical characteristics that were not medically meaningful.

By the same token, civilian training certainly isn't perfect. The airlines are trying to figure out what to do about ab initio-trained pilots who have no "seasoning" to go with their ratings. (Some of them are incredibly poor.) Most have never dealt with severe weather or even a strong crosswind. If you speak to instructors at places such as FlightSafety where they have extensive experience evaluating pilots who came up through civilian and military training, you will learn that there is no difference overall. There are good and bad military pilots just as there are good and bad civilian pilots. Each group has the normal spectrum of ability, from incredibly awful to incredibly good.

Men Versus Women

"Men are better pilots than women." We'll have to be careful with this one. There are a substantial number of bigoted males who don't think women have any business flying airplanes whether they will say so out loud or not. However, where data exists and there is some men have a substantially higher accident rate than women. In the Royal Air Force ferry command in World War II where men and women flew identical types of aircraft from Tiger Moths, through Spitfires, Mosquitoes and Lancasters (all of which were single-pilot airplanes: The Brits didn't have enough pilots to allow for the luxury of copilots in any of their airplanes) in identical conditions the male pilots had an accident rate eight times that of the women. Men are going to have to be very, very careful in the future, given our society's odd proclivity to prohibit activities involving risk (that those who seek to prohibit don't do in the first place) that men are not prohibited from flying. There is some question currently as to whether men should be flying fighter aircraft given that, in general, women can withstand higher Gs than men and can go to higher altitudes without oxygen. So, who knows what this new century will bring? I'm curious as to how primitive we appear to folks who look back at us from the perspective of the end of this century. "What, you mean men were actually allowed to pilot air vehicles back then? How shocking."

The Immelman

"The Immelman Turn (half loop with a half roll to level flight) was first performed by World War I combat pilot Max Immelman." Nope. German pilot Immelman flew a Fokker Eindecker which used wing warping rather than ailerons for roll control. Given the very poor roll control, a 30-degree bank was considered very steep at the time, and going beyond that in that airplane made rolling back to level something that might or might not be possible given the pilot's skill level and the circumstances. Immelman was the beneficiary of manufacturer Tony Fokker's installation of an interrupter gear he copied from a captured French pursuit plane, allowing a machine gun to shoot through the propeller. (The term "fighter" to describe a type of aircraft didn't come into vogue until about the beginning of World War II; prior to that the aircraft were called scout or pursuit types.) According to those who saw him, and one who was shot down by him, Immelman would make an unusually steep climbing turn (similar to the chandelle) to get under his intended victim. At the time there was nothing to worry about when an enemy airplane was pointed directly at you. Immelman changed that attitude. He made such steep banks that some thought he actually did a half loop and half roll, something the airplane he flew could not safely do as there was some question as to the ability of the primitive control system to actual accomplish the maneuver and the fact that he would have no speed left at the top of the maneuver to actually catch and hit his opponent. He was very successful with his novel attack procedure. Inaccurate descriptions by non-pilot observers, and a bit of exaggeration, have allowed his name to live on.

First Over The Pole?

"Richard Byrd was the first to fly over the North Pole." In reality, the most egregious fraud in aviation in the 20th century was perpetrated by Lieutenant Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr., U.S.N., retired, on May 9, 1926, and then covered up by moneyed interests and the politically powerful. On that day, Commander Byrd, riding as a passenger and supposed navigator (Byrd had been trained as a pilot in the Navy but never, ever, took the controls on any of his expeditions), in a Fokker Trimotor flown by one of the finest pilots of the time, Floyd Bennett, departed Kings Bay, West Spitsbergen, Norway intending to fly to the geographic North Pole and return. The round-trip distance was 1,535 statute miles. The Fokker, on skis, powered by three Wright J-4B engines each putting out 200 hp, cruised at 75 to 80 statute miles per hour. (Following the artic flight an 8,000-mile tour was made by Floyd Bennett and Bernt Balchen in the Fokker, on wheels rather than skis. Careful records were kept of its performance as Bennett wanted to use it to go after the Orteig prize eventually won by Lindbergh. The average true air speed was 77 statute miles per hour. No kidding, it really was that slow on wheels, and even slower on the higher-drag skis.)

Pre-departure estimates for the flying time to the North Pole and back from Kings Bay were 20 to 25 hours, and the airplane was fueled accordingly. The airplane was gone 15.5 hours. Byrd claimed they encountered tailwinds both ways. Allowing for the 12 minutes that Byrd claimed were spent circling the North Pole; the airplane would have had to average a groundspeed of 100 statute miles per hour. It didn't. Before he died of pneumonia a few years after the flight, Floyd Bennett admitted that he and Byrd never made it to the North Pole. However, the flight was bankrolled by Henry Ford and the Fokker was christened the Josephine Ford, after Henry's daughter and, conveniently, Richard Byrd's brother was the governor of Virginia at the time, so those two powerhouses made certain the claim to having flown over the North Pole was upheld by the National Geographic Society. Therefore, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile of Norway and Italy, respectively, who flew from Spitsbergen, over the North Pole and on to Alaska a few days after Byrd's flight, would not get credit for being first. Governor, later, Senator, Byrd, successfully made threats against at least one writer and one publisher to keep the details of the phony North Pole flight from being published and later blocked the award of the Congressional Medal of Honor and promotion to general from being given to an Air Force officer friend of Floyd Bennett who had had the gall to mention that he was one of the people who was aware that Byrd never made it to the North Pole.

If you visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the Fokker sits forlornly, rotting away, next to a plaque that announces that it was the first airplane over the North Pole. No one at the museum has had the courage to admit the flight was a fake. Most histories simply accept the claim as fact. The Byrd family couldn't stop the truth from eventually leaking out. There are a number of good books that have exposed the falsehood. Probably the best of the books is Oceans, Poles and Airmen, by Richard Montague, published by Random House in 1971.

Some Quick Myths

Laminating your pilot certificate is illegal. It is not. Don't worry. Nowhere in the FARs is there any prohibition against laminating your certificate. Keep in mind, however, that you are required to sign your certificate, so do that before you laminate it.

Most general aviation accidents are caused by a Cessna Cub taking off without filing a flight plan. That's what the newspaper and TV says, so it must be true, right?

Never lean the mixture on the ground. Well, okay, but if your engine was originally made for 80/87 or 91/96 octane fuel, you are going to fight fouled plugs constantly. If you are worried about taking off with the mixture still leaned, it is a valid concern. A solution is to lean it so far that the engine will quit if you try to go to high power, that way you won't run the risk of forgetting and hurting something. It also helps to use your checklist.

No leaning during climbs. We sort of covered that earlier. Your aircraft manual will have information on the appropriate density altitude (even though it may not say the "density" word, that's the operative term) at which the power loss from sea level makes leaning important to get back as much power as you can.

The Wrights were the first to fly. Nope, the Montgolfier brothers beat them by over 100 years; they launched in their balloon in 1783.

Once you extend flaps for landing you should never retract them. No one seems to know where that came from, other than from some spot-landing contest rules. If you are making a power-off landing, have extended the flaps and then see you are going to be low, and have kept your airspeed under control, then for heaven's sake, retract them. Yes, you'll sink just a little, but you will glide much farther with them retracted.

Don't use full flaps for a crosswind landing. For crying out loud, why not? Sure it requires a little finesse, and it's harder to line up on the runway in a crosswind, but most landing accidents do not occur because the pilot couldn't get the airplane on the runway; they happen because he lost control after being on the ground. That occurs because he is going too fast, hasn't applied appropriate control input while rolling on the runway and doesn't yet have rolling control. The idea is to touch down as slowly as possible so that you minimize the time it takes to decelerate to low speed. Yes, I did a column on this. And yes, the accident statistics indicate that landing accidents are less likely to happen when full flaps are used.

The massive Howard Hughes flying boat was officially called the Spruce Goose. Hardly. In reality, the gigantic seaplane was the HK-1 (for Hughes and Kaiser) Hercules. It was not until some very contentious congressional hearings that the term "Spruce Goose" was used, and then only in a very derogatory fashion, intended to insult the creator of the aircraft. Naturally, even though the wooden airplane contains virtually no spruce in it (it's birch), the name stuck.

"I've got one on fire, the co-pilot has passed out, one passenger is giving birth, the left main gear won't extend, but I'm not declaring an emergency because I don't want to fill out all that paperwork." Why does this one keep appearing? There is no paperwork to fill out if you declare an emergency. None. Zip. Nada. Zero. The FAA figured out a long time ago that if it required paperwork after a pilot declared an emergency then pilots would die rather than declare. There is an odd resistance among pilots to declaring an emergency even though doing so will unlock doors to assistance and safety equipment that may keep them alive. Geez, we pay all this tax money, if there's something wrong, roll the trucks and take advantage of what you have purchased.

Charles Yeager was the first to fly faster than the speed of sound. Well, he was the first to do it in a project dedicated to the exploration of flight at Mach, in a specifically-built airplane and supported by the U. S. Air Force. However, he was beaten through the sound barrier by some days by North American test pilot, George Welch, flying the prototype of the F-86. Welch and others had North American had figured out that the speed of sound was not as awesome as the P.R. types claimed and reasoned that a well-designed, swept-wing jet could slide right through Mach 1.0. So, Welch dropped the nose a bit, let the airplane get really rolling and created the first ever sonic boom, the trademark sound made by an aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound. Somehow it was appropriate that he did it near enough to Pancho Barnes' wonderful and notorious bar for those who were there to hear that first sonic boom.

And Finally...

Flight instructors know everything there is to know about aviation. Oops, sorry. That doesn't belong here, it's true.

See you next month.