Rod Machado offers this tongue-in-cheek definition of preignition: the ability to see sparks from the future. It's hard to imagine how dry aviation and flight instruction might be without his fresh approach that keeps pilots laughing while they learn. In this month's Profile, Rod talks with AVweb's Joe Godfrey about his early days in the left and right seats, the lesson plans he wrote for Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2000, and gives tips for checkrides and once-in-a-while pilots, along with generous helpings of his trademark humor.
January 21, 2000
|About the Author ...
Joe Godfrey mixes his love of flying with a
love of music. He is an instrument-rated private pilot who flies a 1974 Bellanca
Viking based at Palomar airport just north of San Diego, Calif. He composes
music for commercials, films, broadcast and corporate media and has composed and
produced thousands of music tracks for America's largest advertisers. In
addition to writing for AVweb, Joe contributes to
The Aviation Consumer
and IFR Magazine.
He is a director and pilot for
Flight West, a non-profit organization that uses private airplanes to fly
indigent medical patients. He is married and lives in Leucadia, California.
So far, Joe is the only AVweb staff member who has logged time with Ella Fitzgerald and
conducted the London Symphony.
Rod Machado was born in Oakland, Calif., in
1953. He's half German and half Portuguese, which he claims gives him a genetic
predisposition to conquer a country and then go fishing. He began flying at 16, soloed at
17, took his private pilot checkride with legendary instructor Amelia Reid, and, a few
years later, began to teach flying. After moving to southern California, Rod honed his
presentation skills giving three-day ground-school instruction in Santa Ana, Calif. Rod's
defining moment as a speaker came in 1976 in front of a crowd of 150 CFIs, most of them
twice his age. Like Rodney Dangerfield says, "Tough room." When the butterflies
hit, Rod gave momentary thought to bolting for the door and changing occupations. Luckily
for us, he stayed at the podium, conquered his fears, and hasn't been nervous in front of
a crowd since. Rod found that humor was a way to keep himself and the crowd entertained
while teaching procedures and covering the dry minutae of FARs. He hung around LA-area
comedy clubs to watch rising stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno hone their delivery.
Since then he has blended his wit and wisdom in two books, four videos, two audio
cassette albums and his monthly column, License to Learn, for AOPA Pilot
magazine. Rod's safety segments
can be seen on Saturday-morning reruns of Wide World of Flying on Speedvision.
Always one of the highlights at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Sun 'N Fun and AOPA Expo, Rod
offers a variety of seminars including Defensive Flying, Handling In-Flight Emergencies,
and Aviation Humor. Rod is an ATP-rated pilot, but still gets excited at a Cessna 150
fly-by (honest!). He has logged over 8,000 hours, most of it dual given. He is a National
Accident Prevention Counselor and in 1991 was named Western Region Flight Instructor of
the Year. Rod has a degree in Aviation Science and a degree in Psychology from California
State University at Long Beach. As if that's not enough, Rod has studied Karate and holds
black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido and ranking in Gracie Jujitsu. Rod is working on
three new books, so stay tuned to AVweb for release announcements.
Do you remember your first flight lesson?
It was at Reid-Hillview airport in 1970. I was 16. My CFI for this demo flight was
an insurance salesman and part-time flight instructor. We departed and climbed out over
Morgan Hill and I distinctly remember looking down and thinking "Those are the
smallest cows I've ever seen." That image has always stayed in my mind. I think this
fellow thought I had talent, although he did suggest that I buy lots of insurance,
preferably from someone else, not him. Apparently his company couldn't afford the money.
I took a few more lessons there and then went to Amelia Reid Aviation. I started
training in her Taylorcraft L-2s, which cost about nine bucks an hour, and the instructor
was a whopping seven bucks an hour. I camped on Amelia's doorstep. Every couple of days
I'd come by and ask her if she had any open position for a gas boy and eventually I got a
call asking me if I wanted a job. I dropped the phone and ran down to the airport to claim
my entry position into aviation. Being able to taxi airplanes, fuel airplanes, and most
importantly just being able to talk to pilots was a real turning point for me. Amelia was a
very important influence and an amazing lady. She could tell if you were flying correctly
just from the feel of the airplane. She'd be looking out the window and say "More
right rudder." Or "More left rudder." I always thought she was talking to
some guy in another airplane. She was very demanding but one of the more relaxed peeople
I've ever flown with. I took my checkride with her. The moment she typed out my license I
raced away from the airport before she realized what a terrible mistake she had made.
Years later I came to find out that Sean Tucker also took aerobatic instruction from her.
My CFI was Bill Hauer. He was the most patient man in the world. He was always cool and
calm, I think his blood pressure was 3 over 1. He never yelled at me once and that really
stuck with me. I was a pretty quiet teenager and had he done that I might have been
devastated. His patience gave me the opportunity to experience a lot of success in
airplanes. And I gave him the chance to test his triple bypass (just kidding).
What makes a good flight instructor?
Patience, the desire to teach, and being able to use the tools of psychology. You have
to know when to say things and how to say them. If you don't have compassion and patience
and an interest in people it's unlikely that you'll be a success at flight instructing.
I've met students who have been through six or seven flight instructors. Sometimes their
instructors leave and move on to different jobs — I won't say "better jobs"
because sometimes other jobs are not better than flight instructing — but in some cases
students and flight instructors are not compatible. Students who feel like they have to
stay with an instructor they're not compatible with should furlough that instructor and
find a new one. Students are consumers and, as such, should pick and choose who they want
to learn from.
I was fortunate to get the right guy at the right time and that made all the
difference. Bill was the best. For instance, if he told me to put it on the numbers and I
overshot, he'd say something like "Well, okay, but I meant the first set of numbers
you flew over, not the ones at the other end of the runway." Then he'd say
"Gimme your best two out of three." Sometimes he'd have to resort to special
motivational techniques to keep me pumped up. Once, when I asked him how I was doing, he
said, "Well, you're missing the runway closer now."
Rod's first gear collapse
Do you remember you first solo?
How could I forget all those sirens, police officers and firemen? Seriously, I remember
it very well. Bill pulled over into the runup area and said "Okay, Rod, you're going
to take it around now so let me see your student pilot's certificate." So I gave it
to him, he signed it, then he very carefully explained "Now, Rod, when I get out the
airplane is going to be a lot lighter, it's going to climb a lot quicker, it's not going
to come down as quickly so you want to plan for that..." and I'm nodding my head and
what I'm hearing is "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...."
I think everybody hears blah blah blah at that moment.
Well, I nodded my head and took off and came around and on my first approach I was way
too high. I could see Bill over by the side of the runway. He was making the sign of the
cross. He had holy water and beads and I guess he said all the right things because next
time around I came in and landed. I made a wheel landing. I just can't remember which
I still have the shirt with the back of the shirt cut out. That's a tradition we don't
do anymore. At a seminar one time a lady came up and said "My instructor tried to cut
my shirt off. I hadn't soloed yet. He was just trying to cut my shirt off." I wonder
if this is how the tradition started in the first place?
What flight training books did you use?
I used Bill Kershner's books. I had used the typical dry FAA book, which was like
getting a two-scoop lobotomy, so it was refreshing to find the humor in Bill's books. I
loved his comic illustrations, too.
What can a recreational pilot who flies once or twice a month do to stay sharp and
make the most of that time?
It's a big misconception to believe that just because you're beyond the IFR or VFR
currency requirements that your flying skills have diminished. That's like believing that
putting hand lotion in your fuel tank will make your landings smoother, softer and much
younger looking. That's not quite true. In a sense, you don't forget how to fly an
airplane in the same way you never forget how to ride a bike. I think what a person loses
first is a sense of confidence. Now, motor skills can degrade over a long period of time,
but not in a 90-day or six-month period. Obviously, getting a chance to fly is the
best thing to get your confidence back, but this isn't always possible. Flying right seat
with someone helps, and there's a lot of psychological value in hangar talk as we exchange
ideas with other pilots, too. In fact, I think hangar flying is vastly underrated as a
form of education. It keeps the neural pathways open and can help build confidence. I know
this based on my own experience. Giving advanced instruction, I may instruct for hours
without ever touching the controls, but my proficiency is high because I'm always
observing and thinking.
Flight simulators are another great way to stay sharp. I'm the instructor's voice on
the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 and I wrote about a hundred pages in the FS2000
manual. The older version had a voice that gave instruction but he sounded like a Nazi
barking out orders. Bruce Williams, who is the product manager for Microsoft Flight Sim
2000, thought this version should sound a little friendlier. I wrote about fifteen lesson
plans that will help the uninitiated learn a little about flying an airplane. I'm
convinced that you could take somebody and teach them basic, practical flying skills with
this simulator. There are a lot of great instrument simulators on the market. Flight Sim
2000 is a great IFR and VFR simulator. The graphics are very good, especially when viewed
on a large monitor.
Rod demonstrates a thorough preflight inspection
The correct way to handprop a chopper
How Rod set up his radios for his first solo XC
There's also a private and an instrument checkride in the simulator. We replicated the
actual test as best we could to contain certain skills that you need to demonstrate on the
So far you've been concentrating on books and videos. Do you see your Web site
eventually adding a flight training section?
I've thought about it. But right now I'm involved in so many other projects that I just
don't have much time to work on anything else. As it is, I'm thinking about hiring someone
to do all my jogging for me. I do know that I've only scratched the surface in terms of
Internet education. For instance, with Flight Sim 2000 I can create a file which lets
somebody learn how to make a crosswind landing or an instrument approach. That file looks
like a high-resolution video but it's only a very small file of zeros and ones. I can
email that file to someone who's having trouble with a procedure, or I can post a database
of different scenarios that someone can choose from. All that person needs to do is place
the file in the appropriate Flight Sim folder and they see my flight demonstration on
their computer, just as if I'm right there showing them how to fly. This is simply amazing
to me. So the technology is there, we just have to figure out the best way to use it.
How far behind the curve is the FAA in terms of flight simulators?
Actually, I'm impressed with what the FAA has done to recognize Personal Computer
Assisted Training Devices (PCATDs) up to this point. Sure, you can only use up to 10 hours
on these devices for the instrument rating, but I was happy they allowed this much time.
As I see it, the FAA has demonstrated a willingness to change their simulator policies if
the aviation community can show them that a new policy is just as good, if not better
than, the old one. To be perfectly frank about it, we don't need to worry about the FAA as
much as we do some of the folks in the general aviation community who tend to poo-poo
simulation training devices.
For instance, there are a few folks out there that just don't care much for simulators.
Specifically, many of these folks don't think that PC-based simulator time should be
applicable toward a rating. With all due respect I don't agree with them. I think
simulators are incredibly helpful in flight training. I know this for a fact. Several
years ago I used the Elite simulator for training my instrument students. I was simply
amazed at the power of the desktop simulator as a training tool. And this isn't just a
limited sampling of anecdotal information. The efficacy of this argument is that you can
get a type rating in a simulator. And the simulator doesn't need motion to be a useful
training device. You can also obtain equally useful training in a non-motion-based
simulator. SimCom proved that there's no real difference in training efficiency between a
non-motion-based simulator and one having motion. So there's no denying the value of a
simulator, even if it's the desktop PC type. Most of the PC simulators on the market are
well worth the investment as a training and proficiency-upkeep tool.
Unfortunately, there's no simulator that lets you log VFR flight time toward the pilot
certificate, and I don't think there will be for a while. I do think we'll have to push
the FAA on this because it's a very big step for them to take. Nevertheless, if anyone is
reluctant to purchase a PC-based simulator because they can't log the time, please rethink
that idea. Even if you could log more simulator time, it's unlikely that it would help you
get your license in less than the minimum required flight time. More importantly, these
devices are excellent for developing and maintaining proficiency and confidence. The Navy
recently completed a study that concluded that student pilots who used an off-the-shelf
flight simulation program during training made significantly higher grades and received
fewer failures than those who didn't. I find it hard to argue with the Navy on that one.
Back to checkrides, what's the most common mistake people make on a checkride?
The most common mistake is thinking that they can't make a mistake on a checkride. You
don't want to plan to make a mistake, but if you've made one, the thing to do is to show
how capable you are at recovering from it. This shows awareness and resiliency. Your
ability to recover from a mistake makes a very positive impression on the designee. The
second most common mistake is not looking outside the airplane for traffic. A study by the
military once said that in a 17-second scan cycle, you should be looking inside the
airplane for three seconds and outside the airplane for 14 seconds. Basically it's inside
the airplane for a second, outside for five, back inside for one, then back outside, or
something like that proportion. This problem is the single biggest thing I notice when I
give flight reviews and proficiency flights.
Pilots need to remember that designees want them to pass. The designee is sitting there
rooting for the student. When I took my CFI checkride, the FAA inspector — sly fellow
that he was — stomped on the left rudder during a departure stall. The airplane went over
on its back and into a spin. For a second, I couldn't figure out what happened. Apparently
I wasn't reacting quick enough for the inspector's tastes, either. Fortunately, as the
earth spun underneath us, he said, "Hey pal, does that look normal?" I wanted to
say, "Well, I did see something similar on my first solo cross country flight,"
but I wisely kept silent. I finally recovered and was only too happy that this fellow gave
me the benefit of the doubt (and the hint, too).
Yes, designees want pilots to pass their checkrides, and this is especially true of a
wonderful lady named Mary "Tig" Pennock. Tig, now retired, could put anyone at
ease, especially me. Years ago I took my instrument checkride from her. When we began the
oral I must have sounded like I was speaking Chinese. She'd ask a question and I'd say,
"Ahh, un mak dak bok gah gak..." She'd smile, and say, "You know, you don't
look Chinese," then slowly but methodically put me at ease with her gentle banter.
She was the best and I learned a lot about how to handle people from her.
As I see it, the point of a checkride is to impress the designee that you can fly
safely. Everyone makes mistakes. How you recover from them is the real test. This is what
designees watch for. The practical test standards are useful in that they help students
understand what skills are expected of them.
Any changes you'd like to make to the practical test standards?
Those standards have been honed through a gradual process of evolution over the years
and I think they're spectacular ... but ... it's a big misconception to think that just
because you can do everything on the practical test standards you'll automatically pass.
Remember, designees also evaluate judgment. If you have a bad attitude or convey the
impression that you're not going to be safe, the designee is going to look a lot more
carefully at your performance. And I don't blame them a bit. These standards make the
practical test more objective, but you can never remove the human element from the flight
test, nor should we.
How important is spin training?
It's very important. I've never had a private pilot student that wasn't spun. I don't
necessarily mean a three-turn spin, either. A one- or two-turn spin and recovery is often
sufficient to get the point across. Often, I'd give my students this training before they
soloed, and then I'd give them more of it after solo. They'd at least know the dangers of
a skidding turn to final or stalling in uncoordinated flight — which is a precursor to a
spin — and how to recover from these situations.
It's amazing how many students I've had for advanced training that have never spun an
airplane. Many of them were scared silly when their instructors demonstrated spins and
this is very unfortunate. I use a technique that was taught to me by the late Cindy Rucker
who was one of the first female airline pilots hired by Western Airlines. She had a
beautiful, rich voice and her technique for teaching stalls and spins was to verbally
coach students through the maneuver while the student manipulated the flight controls.
Voice usage is very important here. Some instructors have high-pitched voices, the kind
that would cause bats to fly into walls. But she would lower and smooth the pitch of her
voice and guide students through every step of a process. That way the student is always
in control. It's an amazing way for them to learn.
Which group has the easiest mindset to teach?
In my opinion, bankers are the easiest people to teach. I use that term generically for
people who, like bankers, are global-type thinkers. You can load them up with information
and they're very adept at consolidating, analyzing and utilizing what you've given them.
That's the way someone with a banker mentality thinks. They're easy and fun to teach.
I also like engineers. Perhaps that's because I like trains (just kidding). I like
engineers because they want to know everything. The only problem is that they often want
to know so much that it changes the cadence of the lesson. But that's okay because that
curiosity and desire is what you want as a flight instructor. Engineers learn in series.
Before you go on to the next section, they have to understand the first section. Of
course, you can't leave these folks alone with the airplane because they'll take it apart.
And who are the hardest students to teach?
There's a group of people that would include doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs —
people that got where they are by lots of study and achievement. They are the most
challenging students I've ever had. Everything has to make sense to them and if they don't
understand it, or if they think that you don't understand it, they may try and usurp your
authority. When I was instructing at 19 (I looked even younger), I didn't look like the
guy who was qualified to be their instructor. These folks would show up for flight
training and say to me, "Are you the instructor?" I say, "Yep," and
they'd say, "Are you sure?" Geesh! It was always a struggle to make sure they
realized that I was the alpha male.
Did you ever want to fly for the airlines?
In 1977 I interviewed with United Airlines. I had well over 3,000 hours of flying time.
Had a great interview, too. The day after I interviewed, United announced a hiring freeze
that continued for four years. I think what happened was, they took a look at me and said
"Let's let this crop mature for a while." I felt like a fish that had just been
thrown back in. Granted, I had about 200 hours of multi time and the rest was single time.
I guess that didn't impress them. I figured with all that single-engine time, I was their
guy if they lost two out of the three engines on a 727. Not getting hired was probably the
best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to work for myself and develop my
skills in writing and speaking.
How busy is your online life? Is that a good way for you to communicate with your
I spend about one and a half to two hours a day answering email. I get thirty or forty
questions a day. So far I've answered every one of them personally, meaning I don't have
somebody that sits and does that for me. My column in AOPA Pilot has given me such
tremendous exposure to the pilot community, and, by the way, the folks at AOPA are the
most incredible people I've ever worked with. They've just been great. They've given me
carte blanche to speak my mind and write on the topics of my choice. Additionally, I'm
AOPA's National CFI Spokesman, which gives me a great opportunity to meet and share ideas
with other CFIs.
Email is a wonderful way for people to find answers to questions. But to answer every
question in long form would be way too time-consuming. Therefore, what I try to do is
point folks to the right source for an answer when possible. And more and more sources for
those answers are online.
What's the most common question that people ask you?
"I'm flying an airplane. I get scared. What do I do?" By far, that's the most
common question. One lady wrote and said "Before I leave my house, I make sure
everything is in order, because I'm not sure if I'll be coming back." She continues
to fly, but she has a sense that her fate will be determined by an airplane. Contrary to
what you might think, this fear is relatively common. Flying airplanes allows humans to
confront one of our biggest fears; the fear of falling, no, not the fear of a runaway
Hobbs meter, either. We confront this fear of falling every time we get into an airplane.
Unfortunately, the media coverage of airplane crashes often reinforces any fear that's
It's a challenging question and my response is "I'd rather be in a well-maintained
airplane — as long as the weather's good — than to be in a car where you have no control
over what the other driver does." The NTSB says that approximately 75% of accidents
result from "pilot error," but I'd say that in 95% or more of these accidents,
there is something the pilot did that caused the accident, or there's something the pilot
could have done that might have prevented the accident. When I teach, I try to impress
upon students that it isn't their kismet, or fate, to get hurt in an airplane. Everyone
who flies has control of what happens to them. And once they're in control they're a lot
less scared. Of course, if they're flying airplanes whose blue book value varies with the
amount of gas in the tank, then all bets are off. But we don't have to fly these types of
airplanes, do we?
How has your martial arts training influenced the way you
Well, I don't have trouble collecting money from my students anymore. I'm my own bill
collector (just kidding). Actually, it has had a big influence. The "Defensive
Flying" video came out of the heightened situational awareness inculcated by the
martial arts. One of the primary themes taught by the martial arts is that if you know the
enemy and know yourself, you'll never be in peril in a thousand battles. The same theme
applies to flying airplanes. Knowing yourself (how you think, feel, your weaknesses, etc.)
is vitally important to flying safely. Knowing the enemy (the weather, the temptation to
rush, etc.) is also vital to flying safely.
How many presentations do you do in a year?
I do four to five presentations a month around the country. I used to travel about 20
days a month. I was in hotels so much that when I came home my dog didn't recognize me and
my cactus would be dead. In order to feel comfortable during my short stays at home I
would nail all my lamps to the desk then ask my neighbor to barge in unexpectedly and yell
"Housekeeping!!" I've spoken in all fifty states, in France, Holland and
Germany. Most Europeans speak English as a second language and I was amazed that they got
almost all of the jokes. Bob Hope used to say "Count to three, if they haven't gotten
it by three they're not going to get it." With the Germans and French, you count to
five. After all, they have to take a little time to translate. I've spoken to groups of
ten and groups of over 4,000 people. It makes no difference what size group it is, I just
enjoy speaking to pilots.
The weirdest group I've ever spoken to was a group of female mental patients. At the
end of the program one of the attendees (inmates) came up and said, "Wow, we sure
like you more than those other folks who speak to us." I was flushed with pride and
said, "Oh, really? Why is that?" To wit she replied, "Because you think
just like we do!"
Do you have a favorite of all the seminars your present?
My favorite is called "Handling In-Flight Emergencies". It gets to the core of
what scares people in airplanes. I honestly believe that, outside of an act of God,
there's nothing in an airplane that's going to do you in if you're a reasonably
intelligent, cautious pilot who keeps his or her wits. Chuck Yeager once spoke to this
idea quite well when he said, "I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear
that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and
kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit." And the
aviation humor program is always fun, too.
||View a RealVideo clip of Rod teaching instrument
scanning technique to his student Marty:
What advice would you give to a young CFI just starting out?
I'd tell them to be the very best flight instructor they can possibly be, even if they
are using the position as a way to build hours. Their students will be their best resource
when it comes to getting an aviation job. I've been offered flying jobs over the years by
others I've trained. Additionally, I'd tell them to listen to older, wiser flight
instructors. They should find a flight instructor mentor who'll help them polish their
teaching skills. Finally, I'd ask them to remember that flight instruction is a noble
profession. Unfortunately, some folks consider it a pass-through, transient job. If I lost
all my speaking and typing skills I'd go back to flight instruction in an instant because
I enjoy it so much. And you can make a decent living doing it if you think like a
businessman. I know for a fact that you can make $50,000 a year as a flight instructor. Of
course, you need to live near a large metropolitan area with good weather for most of the
year to do this. I believe that as the mechanics of flight simulation becomes better and
wrap-around virtual reality type screens become popular, weather will become less of an
issue. In these instances, a good flight instructor with a good reputation could make a
good living for most of the year.
Do you still find time to teach?
I do BFRs and proficiency flights out of Palomar airport. I'm usually booked up a few
months in advance, but I enjoy flying.
One last question. Where did you get your sense of humor?
I'd have to say both my grandfathers contributed. When I was young one of my
grandfathers would always kid around with me. And he was a strange fellow. He'd say things
like, "Hey Roddy, did you know you were adopted?" And I'd say, "Oh no
gramps, you mean I was actually adopted?" And he'd say, "That's right ... but
they brought you back." So, that's the kind of stuff I had to endure. My other
grandfather had a wooden leg. His great claim-to-fame was letting it fly off while in a
crowd of people. I loved those guys!
View other clips, find out about upcoming seminars, and email Rod at
Rod books live engagements through the Aviation Speakers Bureau or 1-800-AIR-121.5