Not that many years ago, most general aviation pilots were taught to fly using tailwheel airplanes before tricycle-gear aircraft, with their inherently more stable characteristics. My mother learned to fly nearly 60 years ago in an Aeronca Champ with no electrical system, something that was very common at airfields across the country. Flying that little bird, she learned proper rudder use, good crosswind technique and appropriate energy management. She also learned to precisely enter and exit spins and could slip the Champ (which had no flaps) to lose altitude, control speed and put the plane on the numbers. Coordinated flight was second-nature, unless you put uncoordinated flight to intentional use.
“You had to pay a little more attention to detail,” she told me recently when asked to compare flying tailwheel and tri-gear planes. “It makes you sharper on takeoffs and landings, and I believe those skills led to a better understanding of the skid or slip and how to avoid a stall-spin scenario.”
In the generations after, most of the rest of us learned to fly in the ubiquitous Cessna 150/172 or trainers produced by Piper or Beechcraft. While the same skills were taught to us, the skill transfer wasn’t quite the same. The loss of control accident is still a major cause of GA fatal accidents and ground incidents (overruns, runway excursions, gear collapses, etc.) still plague us. We have amazing technology in the cockpit, autopilots that offer envelope protection and a “blue button,” and an array of situational awareness and weather tools at our fingertips. Many instructors lament that today’s pilots, especially those who quickly progress to heavier, faster, more capable business aircraft, could benefit from learning or re-learning some of the basic, core skills that can help keep the shiny side up.
Last year, the Malibu M-Class Owners & Pilots Association (MMOPA), the organization I represent as the executive director, resolved to do something about it. The MMOPA safety committee, consisting of some of the top instructors and thought-leaders in the PA46 community, decided to make a positive difference with the creation of a whole new safety program to address the issues that directly contribute to accidents in PA46s, although these issues are shared by most twin and turbine aircraft. The committee’s analysis of accidents concluded they fall in two broad categories: 1) stall/spin accident, which is almost always fatal; and 2) ground accident, which is rarely fatal but always costly.
The instructors on the committee concluded that pilots generally have poor footwork on takeoff and landing, don’t really understand the stall/spin accident and don’t receive consistently good training. They concluded it’s time to fix this with a safety initiative that became the Master Aviator Program, which was introduced to the membership at the MMOPA Convention last fall. The program combines a series of advancements in proficiency, skill and training with the spirit of competition within the community.
There are three levels that members must progress through: Aviator, Senior Aviator and Master Aviator. The requirements of the highest level, the Master Aviator are:
- Log at least 300 hours in type;
- Fly a minimum of 100 hours a year;
- Do a supplemental mid-year training event in addition to their annual recurrent;
- Complete upset training and/or spin awareness course;
- Attain a tailwheel endorsement;.
- Be accident-free for the three previous years;
- Commit to attending the MMOPA Convention, which is heavy on safety content.
At the MMOPA Convention held last month, the MMOPA’s safety committee recognized the first class of Master Aviators, who received a custom-designed “wings” pin that they can proudly wear on their lapel. MMOPA believes that the accident record of those wearing the Master Aviator wings will be far better than those that don’t. Is that a bold statement considering the program is in its early stages? Probably, but we are already seeing a renewed commitment to safety, training and proficiency among our members.
Further emphasizing the importance of spin awareness, upset training and stick-and-rudder skills, at the convention MMOPA offered one-hour introductory upset training sessions with Patty Wagstaff Aviation Safety. The training slots, which were offered over the course of four days, quickly filled up many weeks in advance of the convention.
MMOPA certainly isn’t the only owner-pilots association to place attention on the value of upset training and spin awareness. However, it is focused efforts like this that pair tangible goals with a unique reward system that may motivate more pilots to strive to improve their skills in this area.
And just perhaps this type of training will grow to considered as mainstream and essential as tailwheel training was nearly a half-century ago.