Flight Tests–A Review

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A review I posted to Amazon.

I knew I was about to read something most definitely not run-of-the-mill when I read the cover that showed the book was endorsed by an organization known as the Live Cowards Club. Since this is a club for which I will handily pass any and all entrance tests, it tickled the old laugh muscles.

Make no assumptions though, this is a very serious book, just written in a humorous manner: that of showing oneself capable of being a good and safe pilot to an examiner. It is mainly written from a South African point of view (so expect to stumble into words spelled weird like ‘manoeuvre’ 😉 ) although the laws of physics holds no matter where you fly. As Davis says, this little book “takes you through each flying exercise and tells you what [the examiner] expects of you.”

Each part of the check ride is examined, from pre-flight inspection to steep turns, to cross-country flying. Each section is filled with tips and the strong voice of a very experienced pilot. In essence, this book will help you get mentally prepared for the test. Here’s one from near the front of the book:

“Try to do everything smoothly. Imagine that you have your 90-year-old granny in the back, and its[sic] her first flight ever. Do everything smoothly, even small things like applying carb-heat, changing power settings or selecting flap. Passengers should not be able to notice changes of power and speed and attitude.”

With equal parts mindset framing, expounding on the philosophy of good airmanship and practical flying technique information, this is a book that punches above its weight class. Five highly recommended stars.

New Though Familiar World

Ernest K. Gann should be known to everyone who designs to climb aloft into the heavens. If you’re one and you don’t know who Gann is, get thee to a library or bookstore or you cannot be taken seriously.

Here’s something he wrote in the foreword to Island in the Sky from 1944:

Before take-off, a professional pilot is keen, anxious, but lest someone read his true feelings he is elaborately casual. The reason for this is that he is about to enter a new though familiar world. The process of entrance begins a short time before he leaves the ground and is completed the instant he is in the air. From that moment on, not only his body but his spirit and personality exist in a separate world known only to himself and his comrades.

As the years go by, he returns to this invisible world rather than to earth for peace and solace. There also he finds a profound enchantment, although he can seldom describe it. He can discuss it with others of his kind, and because they too known and feel its power they understand. But his attempts to communicate his feelings to his wife of other earthly confidants invariably end in failure. Flying is hypnotic and all pilots are willing victims to the spell. Their world is like a magic island in which the factors of life and death assume their proper values. Thinking becomes clear because there are no earthly foibles or embellishments to confuse it. Professional pilots are, of necessity, uncomplicated, simple men. Their thinking must remain straightforward, or they die—violently.

The men in this book are fictitious characters but their counterparts can be found in cockpits all over the world. Now they are flying a war. Tomorrow they will be flying a peace, for, regardless of the world’s condition, flying is their life.

First class writing, what?

GUMPS

Gregory Penglis’ book The Complete Guide to Flight Instruction is one of the best books written about aviation and its training I have ever read. Penglis has a snarky, curmudgeonly style that is fantastic in its dry humor but quite immense knowledge. Reading, you can tell the man came by his knowledge of aviation the hard way.

Here’s his take on the old GUMPS mnemonic:

One might wonder why we still use such a peculiar acronym as “GUMPS” for a final landing check. This is the most bizarre and ludicrous procedure in all of flight training. There you are in a brand new aircraft (to you), with lots of new things to do, going much faster than you are used to flying, coming in for a landing (which is one of the most critical phases of flight), and you are suddenly expected to use new names for the controls as you go groping around the cockpit, when you should be looking out the window and flying the airplane. Does this make sense to anyone, or am I the only one who finds this practice not only strange, but dangerous?

“G” stands for gas. We never gall it gas—we call it fuel. You check the fuel, drain the fuel, check for water in the fuel, and switch tanks with the fuel selector. But on base leg in a high-performance aircraft, it suddenly becomes “gas.” The G could stand for gear. That would make sense as it is often the first control in a power down flow check. No, I’m sorry, the “G” could not stand for gear, that would be logical and consistent. Of course, whenever you do a GUMPS check, the first word out of your mouth is guaranteed to be “gear.”

“U” stands for undercarriage. This just fractures me. Do we all suddenly take out British citizenship when we fly our first base leg in a high-performance aircraft? Honestly, undercarriage? That word is three syllables too long for use on base.

Of course, now being British, we would have to call the fuel (excuse me, gas), “petrol.” I suppose we could change the acronym to PUMPS for consistency. The only places the British have good names are when they describe the prop pitch.

“M” is for mixture. I recognize that word.
”P” is for prop. I recognize that one, too.
”S” is for systems.

Having a lengthy systems check right before landing is nuts because we now know that any pilot who doesn’t want to grope when he should by flying does all that stuff way out on the prelanding check during descent. Besides, after the prop is checked, no one has the time or inclination to go through the systems. Most students just say “systems” to humor the instructor and hope that it covers the check.

You already checked the fuel, so toss out this nasty word “gas” that we never use. “Undercarriage”—be serious. What we have left are the essentials of “mixture” and “propeller.” What about the gear? Following the crazy order of GUMPS sends your hand in a star pattern around the controls just like the published prelanding checks. You could very well forget the gear as you try to pronounce “undercarriage.” If you are that distracted, you could very well not hear the gear warning horn (or is that undercarriage warning horn?), no matter how loud it is. The stuff you land on should always be called gear, period.

Well for all you folks who learned the GUMPS check, we can modify it to Gear, Mixture, and Prop—”GMP.” You can still pronounce it “gump” and keep the familiar sound of you check with familiar names for the controls and use them in a familiar order, without unnecessary groping. Even on airplanes that change the classic positions for the controls a GMP check with hit the biggies.

Anyway, I’m sure students will be taught the GUMPS check for some time because, like child abuse, these things just get passed down the aviation family. There will come a time when logic, initiative, simplicity, and making the system better will triumph over rote memorization, trying to make the best of bad procedures, and training without any conscious thought or responsibility, but we can make it happen. I still think the GUMPS check came to us from some English mole instructor trying to sabotage our flight training system.

The problem with dumping a useless check like GUMPS is that it is so imprinted on so many pilots’ minds that there will be tremendous resistance to change. Pilots and instructors go through such incredible efforts to learn these inadequate and inferior procedures that even if something better comes along, instructors still want students to suffer as they did. It’s like some archaic fraternity ritual. All us new and improved GMP types will conflict with the old GUMPS instructors who will insist their way is preferable, simply because after doing all the work to learn it, they are used to it. When will we stop adapting ourselves to the procedures and start adapting the procedures to ourselves? For the rest of your life when on base and final, say “gear, mixture, prop” and end your groping. If you forget that, then go back to the old power-up/power-down flow checks. Either way, you will get all the important stuff.

Definitely food for thought.