Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bumpy Road in Flight School

I don't know why some things work out and some don't. Army Flight School had at least a 50% attrition rate. I came close to being one who didn't make the cut.

There was a car lot in downtown Enterprise Alabama called the "Super Lot" full of a lot of nice rides. Once you got to Fort Rucker for Flight School you made E5 pay. From E1 or E2 after Basic Training to E5 was quite a jump. They explained the promotion as necessary because of the extra costs of flight school. A lot of WOCs ( Warrant Officer Candidates ) went down to the Super Lot and treated themselves to a nice ride once they got the extra E5 pay. It kinda showed where their priorities were. I don't recall anyone who treated themselves to a nice new car completing flight school.

I didn't get a new ride, but I had my own problems as shown in the comment slip above. The date was wrong on the slip: "11 June 75". I don't know how that happened, but I had been in Korea for at least 7 months by that date, so it must have been a slip of the pen intended for 11 June 74.

The motto for Instrument Flight Training was "IQD No Slack". IQD = Instrument Qualification Division. Instrument training is considered the most difficult portion of flight school. It is probably the cause of the most failures to complete flight school.

The Army maintains all weather capability which includes the ability to fly instruments. Our instrument training followed "Primary" where we were introduced to helicopters and learned how to hover among other things.

My original instrument stick buddy already had an airplane rating and instrument ticket. He flew first on the day of our first exposure. My original instrument instructor pilot was only a WO1 who had been in Vietnam and his daddy was the commanding general of Fort Rucker. My IP was pretty impressed with the skills of my stick buddy who while on the controls removed his sun glasses and placed them in his chest pocket. Then it was my turn.

It didn't take long for my IP to start screaming at me. That didn't help. After about a week of this and feeling as if I was regressing instead of making progress I told him, "Sir. We need to have a talk."

He said, "Okay".

I told him, "I feel like I'm just getting worse instead of better each day we fly. I think I need an instructor pilot change."

He said, "Ah, you're doing alright. You are a little bit behind, but you'll do fine."

So he didn't give me the requested IP change. At that time you had to receive a pink slip signifying unsatisfactory progress to be able to indicate on your daily grade slip that you wanted an IP change. This man did do me a favor though; he set me up to fly with a different IP the next day.

This different IP graded my ability as it really was: unsatisfactory. I marked on the pink slip he gave me that I wanted an IP change. If I had not done that I probably would have never completed flight school.

I got an IP change and a different stick buddy. Some IPs were pretty cruel. My stick buddy was a kid from Boston. This new IP would grab his shoulder harness like it was a rifle sling and act like he was marching in the aircraft insinuating that the kid from Boston might be better off in the infantry. He also told the kid that he should consider being a bus driver that there might be a little more potential for success there.

He seemed fair with me, but the damage was done from my first week of exposure in instruments with a screamer as an instructor pilot. I was bounced around to different IPs. It also seemed like I had on days and off days. I eventually got set back in instruments. That was better than being eliminated, but not by much because I still needed to pass my final checkride.

My academics were pretty much up to speed. I studied hard and diligently did all of my program texts. Program texts were the Army's means of shoving vast amounts of knowledge into a flight student. They were comic book size and about as easy to wade through as a comic book. If you kept up with them, vast amounts of aviation knowledge were crammed into your head on a steady basis. Instruments was academically demanding though. At the end of the week your brain felt like there was no room for anymore information. Then the weekend would pass and it seemed some of the info crammed in during the previous week had settled and there was room for more to be added. A couple of arrogant students were insulted by the simplicity of the programmed texts, but they were designed to do their job well if a student simply read them.

I also did a little extra. Some instructor pilots were more diligent about quizzing their students on things on the flight charts and approach plates. If I had an instructor that preferred to go get a cup of coffee and visit with the other IPs, I went and sat at a table that had an instructor that quizzed his students. I would observe and wait my turn. If both of his students missed an answer, he would give me a chance to answer.

My academics were sound. I did well on my final checkride oral exam, but then came the flying part.

When the ride was complete, I didn't know if I had passed or failed. After the aircraft was shutdown the old seasoned check pilot said, "I think that ride deserves an 84."

I just hung my head and didn't say anything. I couldn't believe I had made it. I can only guess what the old check pilot thought about my reaction. I had done well on my oral. He probably thought I thought I should have done better on my ride. I was simply grateful I had passed.

I think my passing surprised my instructor pilot. He was a good man and fair. He neither screamed at me nor ridiculed me. He did his best, but he knew I struggled with flying instruments competently. He gave me a strong caution after all the paperwork was done and it was official that I had passed. He said, "Be careful out there. Instruments are serious business. Don't go play in the clouds lightly." Lightly meaning as if I considered there was nothing to it.

I never forgot his caution. Even when I was faced with my first for real instrument flying situation which I plan on sharing in another tall tale, his caution has always been present in my mind.

The all weather capability is a great concept when all the pieces can be in place and the pilots can have the equipment and competency necessary to pull it off. So many times there is the way it is and the way it ought to be in more things than just flying.

Well, enough for today...


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