by Woody Minar
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2018
No matter what kind of pilot you are, “communications” is key to getting things right and receiving the right answer to a question that’s been asked. As a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), I’ve learned that sometimes the applicant and I just aren’t on the same page. But over time, I’ve learned that a question needs to be correctly worded to yield the answer I want. Here are some examples.
When testing the pilot’s knowledge on when supplemental oxygen is needed, I used to ask, “When is oxygen required?” The answer I got was, “All the time.” Yup, the applicant answered the question that was asked. A follow-up question was asking what the service ceiling was, which is usually above 14,000 feet. I would then ask, “Could we stay up there all day until we ran out of gas?” “No, we need a 30-minute reserve so we would have to come down.”
Another question I would ask was, “What’s the difference between Vx and Vy?” Expecting to get an explanation of each, I got, “Eight knots.” Once again, you get what you ask for.
I have given this scenario: “You’ve got a passenger who starts to hyperventilate. What can you do to help alleviate that problem?” The usual answer is, among other things, “Breathe into a bag.” To help settle the applicant’s nerves, I’ll then ask, “Paper or plastic?” One reply was, “Do I like the person?”
When their hands are shaking, I try to relax the applicant as much as possible by telling them related stories or humorous anecdotes. But, when they are wearing a short sleeve shirt in the plane when it’s 15 degrees outside and they turn down the heat, you know they are really nervous.
Sometimes they share their humor with me, such as the time I took the controls and said, “I have the controls.” The applicant obligingly said, “You have the controls,” and I responded, “I have the controls.” Well, this then got the response, “You have the controls.” “I have the controls.” “You have the controls.” “Yes. I do have the controls.”
As a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), I feel it is important to teach our students the right stuff.
One student of mine early in my teaching career used to take 20-25 minutes to do a preflight on a 172. I soon learned that I had to book the plane for at least a half hour longer than normal. I certainly didn’t want to rush him. There were some screws missing on the cowling and other places, and each time he did a preflight, there seemed to be another screw missing. He once asked me, “How many screws have to be missing before it’s not airworthy?” Good question. I jokingly replied, “When it starts flopping in the wind, then we should be concerned.” “Oh,” was his reply.
Another student was just learning to do landings. We hit a little wind shear one time and as we dropped a bit I said, “WHOA!” Without missing a beat, he put his right arm across my chest and said, “Settle down Woody. We’ll be alright.”
Another student was always coming in too low when we were doing landings. On Runway 10 at Osceola, Wisconsin (KOEO), there’s a state highway about 900 feet from the threshold of the runway. After one of his landings where he thought he was higher than the others, he asked me, “How was that approach?” I politely responded, “All I can say is that the truck on the road had to stop and wait for us to pass by.”
I have several second cousins living in the Czech Republic. One of them came to the U.S. for a month and I took him flying a couple of times, and gave him a glider ride in a Czech-built Blanik L-23. He enjoyed the ride and thermalling until we entered downwind – then he got sick. We landed and got out of the airplane, and the first thing he said (in English) was, “F’ing Czech gliders.”
I hum or make various sound affects in the intercom as part of a student relaxation technique. One of my students was doing very well and I complimented her on the skills she had achieved thus far in her flight training. Her reply? “Ya, uh huh… Coming from a person who makes [flatulent] noises through the intercom.”
Communicating with Air Traffic Control (ATC) is one of the hardest parts of IFR training. They give you instructions, you repeat them back, then you execute them. One day, Minneapolis Approach instructed one of my students as follows:
“You’re five miles from BOKYA. Turn right heading two three zero. Maintain three thousand until established on a published portion of the course. Cleared for the ILS two seven at Anoka.” The student looked at me through his foggles, threw up his arms and said, “I’m never going to get this [stuff].” A year later during some refresher training, the clearance read back rolled off his tongue as if it was his first language. I looked at him, threw up my arms and said, “I thought you’d never get this [stuff].”
Another day/another student: We were returning to Osceola from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (KSUE) after a salmon fishing trip on Lake Michigan. We filed IFR and a VFR pilot was flying the plane, while I was in the right seat. He needed work on his communications and was doing pretty good. I told him if he didn’t know what to repeat back to ATC, I would tell him what to say. We were flying along just fine and Green Bay Approach called another aircraft and said, “Say altitude.” I jokingly said through the intercom, “Altitude.” Wouldn’t you know it? My pilot keyed the mic and said, “Altitude.” Daaaahh!
Along this same line, my very first IFR lesson was in Rush City, Minnesota (KROS) in a 172. We were on our way to Siren, Wisconsin (KRZN) to do some VOR work. The cockpit was quiet and I figured I was doing well. Then the instructor nonchalantly said, “Do you have something against going to Siren?” “Why?” I said. “Look at your directional gyro (DG),” commented the flight instructor. “I had made a 180-degree turn without knowing it – completely omitting the DG from my scan. A couple lessons later, I asked the instructor, “Why do you always bring along an open can of pop?” He said, “When I have to go to the bathroom, it’s time for the lesson to be over.”
And, with that, so is this article.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Woody Minar is a DPE, Master CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G, ASEL/ASES/AMEL/AMES based at Osceola Municipal Airport (KOEO) in Osceola, Wisconsin. He was the 2012 Flight Instructor of the Year for the Great Lakes Region, and the FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year for the Great Lakes Region in 2013.