Sunday, May 12, 2013

Learning From The Instructors

As I reminisce, it seems that a lot had been added to my collection of flying techniques since the day I had my first lesson. Yet I find that the most critical and useful techniques were actually taught me during the first fifty hours of flying. For this I have my instructors to thank for. I was lucky to have had two highly competent individuals as my mentors.

The first was Manjit. He was a tall handsome young man who was collecting his hours before he could join the airlines. He was methodical in presenting his preflight brief and would ask me quick questions on the aircraft as we walked to it, inside it and later as we walked back for our debriefs. Questions could vary from how much fuel could the tanks take to why the wings wash out at the tips. In the air he would ask if the engine would cut out if he switched off the ignition, and then as I said yes, proceeded to actually switch it off. Manjit led me to my solo by which time I had the answers to most, if not all, the questions.

After soloing, another instructor took over my training. Chandran was a QFI (Qualified Flying Instructor) and was quite elderly with an above average girth. He was soft-spoken and a man of few words. If he ever raised his voice, it would be a scream to get me to add power when we were sinking too fast or to go around when we were too high or in such similar situations.

Like Manjit did, Chandran too made me master the mnemonics which remain with me till today. From HASELL to TVMDC, the mnemonics will never be forgotten and have been found to be useful in times of need.

Chandran had these tricks and formulae to make complex procedures simple. With short and sharp instructions, he would guide me as to what the requirements are for, say, a good approach. "Before base speed 80kts, flaps one, speed 70kts, turn base and descend....turn to final to complete by 300ft AGL, flaps two...speed 65kts, descent rate 200fpm..." and on he went. Most of the time his formulae worked and I lived by them.

One of my favourite destinations was Tioman Island less than two hours flying time away from my base. Although exotic in itself (the island “Bali Hai” in the musical movie “South Pacific” is in real life that island), the attraction to pilots is because its 900-metre runway is enclosed on three sides by steep hill slopes and the fourth side by the sea.


Only pilots checked out on the airport by an instructor are allowed to land there. Chandran had a simple formula for landing there – establish right base at 300ft AGL on feet dry, cling close to the hill on the left while descending, turn final and select full flaps while skimming the grove of coconut palms that stretch to the runway’s edge, then when clear of the palms, cut power completely, push the aircraft down to the runway and ensure that it drops on its main wheels carrier-style. “Don’t worry,” he said, “the Cessna’s main undercarriage is made for heavy landings.”  In later years, the runway was lengthened and the palms on the approach cleared away.



I have never had any problem landing at the island despite tailwinds sometimes and I owe one to Chandran. As I continued flying over the years, Manjit’s and Chandran’s words constantly echoed in my head guiding me to do the right things as the situations demanded.

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