Warning: ob_start(): non-static method anchor_utils::ob_filter() should not be called statically in /home/kradmin/public_html/wp-content/plugins/auto-thickbox/anchor-utils/anchor-utils.php on line 33

Warning: ob_start(): non-static method sem_seo::ob_google_filter() should not be called statically in /home/kradmin/public_html/wp-content/plugins/sem-seo/sem-seo.php on line 540

With a knot in my gut, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. About eight hours earlier I had scared myself badly by hamfisting a glider onto the ground repeatedly as I attempted to land with way too much speed (see my welcome post). What's more, I'd embarrassed myself by doing it very publicly in front of a large group of pilots gathered on the porch outside the FBO. I was a student pilot returning from a mid-afternoon solo flight on a particularly turbulent day, and in my terror of stalling the glider in the traffic pattern, I let the speed increase far beyond what was needed. The resulting porpoised landing was virtually inevitable. Fortunately, the glider wasn't damaged. The old adage would say that nothing was hurt but my pride, but that's not quite right. It was my confidence that took a hit. As I lay in bed, I seriously doubted whether I had the capacity to fly an aircraft safely and well.

Just about every pilot I know has a story like this. Maybe it involved a nasty, gusty crosswind, a close call in the traffic pattern, or a brush with unexpected bad weather. These experiences are most common among students and low-time pilots, but even experienced pilots aren't immune. Especially if we've become complacent in our flying (see last week's post), a bad experience can jolt us out of our sense of security and leave us questioning our abilities. Such experiences can even call into question our identity, since being a pilot is such an important aspect of who we are.

Often, we can dispel mild cases of doubt by just taking the airplane up and "knocking the rust off." At its worst, though, doubt can be paralyzing. I know a number of pilots who quit flying altogether when their doubts grew too large to ignore.

How can doubt exert such power over us? I think it's because we tend to interpret it as both personal and absolute. We doubt our innate capacity, not just our particular abilities. In other words, we take doubt personally and it becomes a blanket judgment of our piloting. What's more, this interpretation masks the specifics that triggered the doubt in the first place. For example, when I porpoised that landing, I was afraid it meant I was a lousy pilot and always would be. Had I observed the situation more objectively, I could have seen that I simply misunderstood turbulence, flew too fast, and tried to force the glider onto the ground using the elevator.

In my experience, these are the keys to dealing with doubt: specificity and objectivity. By shifting my focus from what an experience means about me to what it's telling me about my flying, I can transform doubt from an obstacle into a valuable tool. When doubt enters my awareness, maybe because of a lump in my throat, a tightness in my chest, or a knot in my gut, I can turn my attention to the specifics of the situation. Is my doubt telling me about risks I'm neglecting or minimizing? Is it telling me about deficiencies in my skills, knowledge, or judgment? Is it revealing a personal insecurity that has nothing to do with flying? Developing this kind of a constructive relationship with doubt is one of the main themes I'm exploring as I write my book The Confident Pilot.

What if I don't understand the specifics? What if I have no idea how a particular event happened? Then it's time to ask for help: take some dual with a favorite instructor; do some research on the Internet; seek out experts in the kind of flying I do; ask a trustworthy friend for a frank assessment; keep a notebook by the bedside to capture those flashes of insight that strike at 3 AM—whatever specific actions I can think of to identify the root causes of my doubts and address them. This active, inquisitive response to doubt is the best way I know to accelerate the repeated positive experiences that build true confidence in the cockpit.

Ultimately, those repeated positive experiences were what restored my confidence after that porpoised landing. At the time, it was a rather painful, haphazard process, but I loved flying enough—and had enough support from my instructors—that I persisted and made flying an essential part of my life.

I'm so glad I did.

Post a comment

Filed under Pilot by  #

John Spiteri, a pilot and blogger in England, recently contacted me in response to my Go Around post from a few weeks ago. One of the topics from our email exchange that particularly struck me was the relationship between confidence and experience. I realized it was time for a post addressing confidence directly. This blog is The Confident Pilot after all!

Webster defines confidence as a "faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way"—which begs the question of whether such a faith is justified. Recently, several employees of electric car company Tesla Motors took off in a twin Cessna from Palo Alto airport in the San Francisco bay area. The ceiling was 100 feet with 1/8-mile visibility. For reasons yet unknown, the airplane crashed shortly after takeoff in a residential neighborhood, killing everyone on board. Miraculously, despite extensive property damage, no one on the ground was hurt.

The NTSB hasn't yet determined the cause of the crash, and I won't presume any insight into the mind of the accident pilot. I do feel bound, however, to consider what might induce a pilot to make choices like his, and I keep coming back to complacency and overconfidence. Whether the cause was mechanical failure or pilot error, I can only imagine that the pilot either underestimated the risks or overestimated his abilities. If so, what could cause this?

The first thing that comes to mind is, well, experience. Confidence is essentially a trust in ourselves, and trust grows out of repeated positive experiences. We tend to trust people, for example, who have repeatedly met their commitments; we describe them as trustworthy. Similarly, we develop confidence in ourselves when our actions repeatedly meet with success. When we're learning to fly cross-country, for example, we gain confidence with each new airport we visit, as we learn that we're capable of navigating to the airport, identifying it from the air, following the right procedures for entering the traffic pattern, and landing on an unfamiliar runway.

The tricky thing is that complacency develops in exactly the same way. When we repeatedly take risks and experience successful outcomes, we tend to minimize the risks and exaggerate our abilities. In my post Where You Gonna Go?, I described how I caught myself needlessly flying over remote, rugged terrain at night, completely vulnerable in the event of engine trouble because I'd done so before with no negative consequences. I have to wonder whether the twin Cessna pilot had himself taken off in very low IMC many times before and had become comfortable with doing so without really considering the risks he was taking.

This is why I argue that true confidence must be based not only on repeated success, but also on accurate assessment of both our abilities and the risks we face. Without this due diligence, confidence can easily become complacency, and that can be very dangerous.

How can we go about accurately assessing our risks and abilities? I believe the foundation is a habit of observation and conscious action consistent with our observations. (See my Observe-Act-Observe post of several weeks ago for more about that.) We can start by observing our own experiences, both present and past, with a clear-eyed honesty. This is one of the main themes I'm exploring as I write my book The Confident Pilot.

In our email exchange, John told me he's planning to write up the lessons he's learned in his first year of flying. I look forward to reading those stories, and I'd like to see more of us sharing our experiences this way. Observing and learning from our own experiences and those of others can play an important role in the due diligence that makes true confidence possible.

But what if we don't have repeated experiences of success to draw on? What if inexperience, or bad experiences, have left us questioning our abilities? What if the risks we face seem insurmountable? What if we find ourselves paralyzed by doubt?

More about that next week.

Post a comment

Filed under Pilot by  #

"Whoa!" I exclaimed as the A36 Bonanza began pulling hard to the left during the takeoff roll. I shoved in more right rudder than I'd ever used before and it straightened out. Things didn't get any easier once we broke ground. "Where's Vy?" I rhetorically asked my buddy Hal as we began our initial climb.

I had about 50 hours in our club's Bonanza at the time, but I'd never flown it with more than three people on board and never with any baggage to speak of. I'd experienced load-related handling variations in the gliders and the Cessna 172s I'd flown, but the Bonanza had a much wider loading envelope and I wanted to experience its handling at the maximum load I was ever likely to carry. I'd asked Hal, the airplane's crew chief and a former Naval aviator, if he'd fly right seat with me as I explored the Bonanza's handling characteristics at maximum gross weight. He readily agreed.

"I strongly advise you to use dead weight for this exercise," Hal cautioned. "You don't want to be managing passengers your first time flying this airplane at max gross." So, on the way to the airport, I'd stopped at the hardware store and bought 500 pounds of rock salt in 50-pound bags. We put 400 pounds in the rear seats and another 100 pounds in the baggage area, which combined with our weights put the airplane exactly at its maximum gross weight of 3,600 pounds. The center of gravity was much farther aft than I'd ever experienced, but still well forward of the aft limit.

As I sawed back and forth on the usually very heavy but now unbelievably light elevator control looking for best rate of climb speed, I immediately saw the wisdom of Hal's advice about dead weight. I had my hands full with a completely unfamiliar airplane.

My first traffic pattern at nearby Hollister airport was just as eye-opening as our takeoff from San Jose. The Bonanza is very much a "by-the-numbers" airplane and I had trim, pitch, and power settings that I used as approximate starting points for all major phases of flight. At the new heavy weight and aft CG, however, none of my numbers worked. As I sailed passed the final turn with way too much speed and prepared to go around, I realized I would need to develop new profiles for this loading.

With Hal's coaching, I started finding my new numbers. Whereas I was accustomed to carrying about 19 inches of manifold pressure on downwind with 6 degrees of nose-up trim, I now found that 20 to 23 inches were required with only 3 degrees of trim. I usually rolled in as many as 12 to 15 degrees of nose-up trim on final approach, but now, 7 or 8 were plenty. After several times around the pattern, I was finally starting to get comfortable.

"This is like learning to fly a totally different airplane!" I marveled as I turned final.

"Looks like you get some crosswind practice today, too," Hal said, referring to the windsock which was now showing a stiff 45-degree crosswind from the left. Right on cue.

"Here comes the sea breeze," I responded, as I cranked in a hefty left slip and started to flare. "This is such a valuable exercise!" I commented as we rolled out and turned off the runway. "Thanks so much for your help today!"

Hal chuckled. "A chance to do some flying? Happy to do it!" he replied as we taxied back for our final takeoff and return to San Jose.

I left the airport that day with a vastly better understanding of the airplane, but what might be more important was the practice with observing a series of unfamiliar situations and quickly learning how to respond to them effectively.

"How was your flight?" my wife Janet asked when I got home.

"It was awesome! Let me tell you about it!" I replied. She just smiled and made herself comfortable.

I love my wife. She's a very patient woman!

Post a comment

Filed under Aircraft by  #

"How many pilots do we have here tonight?" I asked an after-dinner breakout session at the CAFE Foundation's Fourth Annual Electric Aircraft Symposium. Nearly every hand went up.

"OK, not surprising," I chuckled and continued. "Now how many of you decided to learn to fly because you wanted a form of transportation—to get from point A to point B?" Only one person raised his hand. "And how many of you learned to fly because you were bitten by the flying bug and you absolutely had to do it come hell or high water?" Every pilot but one raised a hand.

That was a very revealing answer to the question I raised in last week's post. Admittedly, it wasn't a statistically valid poll, and as one of the attendees later pointed out to me, general aviation tends to select for people who first and foremost love to fly. If small airplanes were as accessible as cars, the poll results might have been very different. Still, I suspect that there are many more people who dream of flying than actually pursue it.

This year's symposium made a strong case for revolutionizing transportation through electric flight. The potential safety, reliability, quiet, and cost effectiveness of electric aircraft could make them a practical and accessible form of transportation comparable to today's cars. The presenters updated us on the advances and challenges in the various technologies required to make this a reality, including airframe and propeller design, materials science, solar power, and automation. Also discussed were advances in fossil fuel/electric hybrid drive systems, short takeoff and landing technologies, and proposals for flying cars. It was all just as fascinating as last year's symposium.

From what we learned about the state of the technology, however, it seemed to me that electric aircraft for transportation are still several years away. The limited capacity of current energy storage systems limits the endurance of a typical pure-electric aircraft to less than an hour. Their recharge times also limit the number of legs one can practically fly in a day. As I mentioned last week, though, if you just want to go flying for a half-hour a day, these aircraft are possible today. Short-endurance electric motor-gliders, for example, are available now. Comfortable, side-by-side, two-place, electric light sport aircraft (LSA) with similar range are on their way.

"I want to see us revolutionize boring holes in the sky," I told the breakout session. "We can do that before we'll be able to revolutionize transportation." Several people responded with interesting comments. It was pointed out that Chinese aircraft manufacturer Yuneec is likely to be the first to offer a production electric airplane with their glider-like E430 LSA, which promises 2-hour endurance at a leisurely 52 knots. Another comment described the effect that electric propulsion had on radio-controlled model aircraft. Today, 90% of RC aircraft are electrically powered, whereas just a few years ago, 90% used gasoline engines. During that same period, the number of people flying RC aircraft increased by a factor of 5, presumably because people found the simplicity and affordability of electric motors sufficiently compelling. Might a similar trend be possible with real aircraft?

For me personally, the threshold of utility for an electric airplane is "$100 hamburger" capability: enough endurance at a reasonable speed for two people to fly about 3 hours round-trip just for the fun of it. Oh, and I want my $100 hamburger for about $25. This is looking possible in the next few years.

So I suppose I got a partial answer to my burning question, "Where's my electric airplane"? It's just over the horizon.

Post a comment

Filed under Aircraft by  #

"By a show of hands, how many people flew here today in an electric aircraft?" asked Brien Seeley, president of the CAFE Foundation, as he welcomed attendees to the third annual Electric Aircraft Symposium last year in San Carlos, California. It was a rhetorical question, of course—no hands went up. He continued, "Well, we're here to change that."

Electric aircraft? Who would want one? I would!

For one thing, at the current nationwide average cost of electricity (about $0.12 per kilowatt-hour), the energy cost for a small, 2-place electric airplane could be less than $10 per hour. That's compared with at least $30 per hour for a comparable airplane with a gasoline engine. Better yet, electric motors have a minimum of moving parts, so inspecting them would be simple and few parts would need regular replacement, keeping maintenance costs low. Battery replacement would be expensive, but if better energy storage systems such as ultracapacitors become available, those costs would go way down. Estimates vary, but it's a good bet that propulsion-system maintenance would cost far less than the current $30,000 every 2,000 hours or so.

There are also obvious benefits for the environment. Regardless of your position on anthropogenic global warming, it's hard to argue against reducing our dependence on petroleum. With electric propulsion, you could fly with zero emissions and, depending on your source of electricity, a negligible carbon footprint.

How about noise? The primary complaint leveled against small aircraft is that they're noisy. This simple fact is among the greatest threats to our nation's general aviation airports. Electric motors produce far less noise than internal combusion engines. Admittedly, you would still have comparable propeller noise, but improved designs and avoiding trans-sonic tip speeds could greatly reduce a propeller's noise footprint. This would make for an airplane that's friendlier not only to the environment but also to the neighbors.

There would be performance advantages too. Electric motors develop the same power regardless of air density, so density altitude would have a far smaller effect on aircraft performance. There are still aerodynamic effects, but overall, you'd be better off with an electric motor swinging your prop. What's more, you wouldn't have to fiddle with fuel mixture or worry about blowing up your engine by mismanaging a turbocharger when changing altitude.

The presenters at last year's symposium covered topics like these and more, including climate change, battery technology, photovoltaic cells, motors and motor controllers, and even bird flight. It was fascinating. Brien Seeley also used the occasion to announce the CAFE Foundation's Green Flight Challenge, a competition to develop practical, low-emissions, energy-efficient aircraft meeting certain performance goals over a test course. The competition will be held at California's Sonoma County Airport in July of year. I'll be there!

The big challenge for these teams will be energy storage. Few existing electric aircraft have more than an hour's endurance, and with current battery systems, recharging times are at least several hours. It might seem that practical electric flight is still a long way off, but in my opinion, it's closer than one might think. Even with the current technology, it's possible to build an electric, light-sport airplane that allows short, local flights, such as aerobatic routines, at least once a day.

So how is that practical? It depends on your reasons for flying. If flying is primarily a mode of transportation, it might be a while before electric aircraft can meet your needs. If you're like me, though, and you just want to fly more, even the current technology holds the promise of safe, affordable, flying every day that conditions allow. I think this could have an enormously positive effect on general aviation. The success of light-sport aircraft over the last few years has demonstrated that there's strong interest in flying simply for the joy of it. In fact, I wonder how many people take up flying primarily as a form of transportation. If anyone has any data on this, I'd love to hear about it, but I imagine it's quite a small percentage. I suspect that most pilots share my perspective that it's all about the flying.

Tomorrow, I'll attend the fourth annual Electric Aircraft Symposium in Rhonert Park, California. It's probably too much to expect, but I'm still hoping someone will be able to answer my one burning question:

"Where's my electric airplane?"

Post a comment

Filed under Aircraft by  #

Register Login