Today’s an anniversary of sorts.
It was just over 30 years ago today that I told a student named Jeff something that kept him from becoming an accident statistic. It didn’t seem like such a big deal then, but it does now.
Looking back on this today made me think again about how important the responsibility of a flight instructor is and how seldom we appreciate their efforts.
During a VFR trip to the Bahamas in a Bellanca Viking, the engine quit while this young man – heck I was just a kid too - and a passenger were out over the water. Unable to restart the big 300-HP Continental engine, the airplane hit the water and sank within a few minutes, completely busting the myth that the Viking’s massive wooden wing would surely keep a BL-26 on top of the water if the two ever met.
This man and his passenger escaped and inflated the liferaft I’d insisted they carry on the trip from the U.S.
“And make sure you put the raft where you can reach it easily if you need it, “I told him. “It won’t do you any good if it’s sitting in the baggage compartment if you go in.”
He and his young lady passenger were adrift on the raft near Eleuthera for two and a half days before they were found by the Coast Guard. With no food or water on board the raft, the two would not have survived long under that Caribbean sun.
Smart Student or Smart Instructor?
While I’m certainly not trying to be flip, I always wondered whether I was that good an instructor or Jeff was that great a student. I’m convinced the chemistry between us both is what allowed him to hear what I was trying to tell him. That saved us both. I’m not sure all instructors search out that fit with their students, but they should.
Having trained Jeff as a student on, he impressed me early in the learning process with not only the intensity he seemed to feel about flying, but the need to learn more. We all know not every student arrives at a flight school that ready to learn.
But in my own defense, I have always taken teaching seriously. It may be a subtle difference, but I don’t tell many people that I’m a flight instructor. I tell them I teach people to fly. There’s a big difference to me.
Instructor sounds like someone you meet at a weekend course on making sense of Windows on a PC, admittedly, a hopeless task. It’s a great skill, but hardly a profession.
Maybe if we start thinking of our flight instructors as teachers, as people who might one day save someone’s life because we taught them something valuable, we might raise flying teacher’s profile with students and everyone else in the industry.
So maybe instead of ATA trying to save their necks by making general aviation the scapegoat for their failing business plans, they might start to realize they need us to help feed their end of the industry as much as we need them.
During the checkout in the Viking, I also remember telling Jeff to make sure he popped the door just before the airplane hit the water just in case the fuselage should deform and keep the door from opening.
He said he remembered that too. I read that in Flying magazine I think.
Not bad for a kid like me who can’t even swim.