George The Autopilot, ADS-B FAA Rebate Program & Instrument Training

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman

In this issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, we will solve the mystery of “George,” the autopilot, with thanks from several of our readers. We will explore some interesting comments from an anonymous caller and his take on ADS-B and begin a multi-issue session on getting your instrument rating and staying current.

I received a phone call and email from several of our readers on how the autopilot got to be known as “George.” Thanks to Wayne and Donna Pingel of Adams, Wis., and David Johnson of Eden Prairie, Minn., for providing me with this information (see below).*

Another phone call from an anonymous caller provided some interesting comments as well, and I want to share some of his thoughts. He seemed quite well versed on the ADS-B subject, and my guess was that he worked in the avionics industry, for the FAA or as a contractor for them. His take on ADS-B is as follows:

ADS-B was the take-off on an Alaskan project known as “CAPSTONE,” which was tested and then implemented to provide weather and traffic in Alaska in a cost-efficient manner. The airline industry saw great potential, as did the FAA, giving controllers a method of seeing the position of aircraft on the ground during poor visibility conditions with great accuracy. The FAA also saw ADS-B as much more accurate and a cost-effective way of controlling aircraft in flight, as compared to radar. I asked the caller how well the program was going so far, and he admitted, not so well.

Some of the FAA hopefuls have fallen short, and there is already an ADS-B Phase II in progress that will not be compatible with the current ADS-B equipment. It is still under development and will be using satellites to relay aircraft positions to controllers, which is currently done by ground-based equipment under the current ADS-B system.

Due to shadowed signals from the spacing of the receiving antennas, controllers are not able to get the accurate pictures of ground traffic and flight traffic as they had hoped.

I asked my caller about the recently announced rebate program that would give pilots $500.00 toward the purchase of a new ADS-B out unit. I asked why the FAA would give this money away on an obsolete piece of equipment? The answer was “out of embarrassment.” You see pilots are not buying these units as was hoped, and the equipment manufacturers have spent a lot of money on the research and development and have lots of units sitting on the shelf, hoping to recover their expenses. This makes sense, as those who already purchased a unit are not eligible to receive this rebate, so it is clear that the program is designed to help the equipment manufacturer, not the pilot.**

If you are one of the 18,000 aircraft owners who has bought an ADS-B unit, you might think twice before spending thousands of dollars again to equip your aircraft, only to find out that the FAA is rewarding latecomers. There are still 142,000 aircraft that have yet to be equipped and the clock is ticking.

Technology, too, is changing at a rapid rate, and what might be state-of-the-art today, could be obsolete in a year or two.

For instance, I have in my office a $5,000.00 computer that I would gladly sell for $50.00, or how about the $5,000.00 Loran unit still in my aircraft? Any takers? $50.00 and that, too, can be yours!

I guess we have to accept that technology will continue to change, but one would hope there could be more cost-effective solutions of complying with Federal Aviation Administration mandates, so that all publicly-funded airports remain accessible to all aircraft.

I will continue to be vigilant on this subject and report more in the next issue.

Advanced Instrument Flight Training

For the past 25 years, I have dedicated my flight instruction to giving advanced flight training with most of these efforts spent on “instrument training.” I would like to share some of the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years with our readers in this and the next several issues of Midwest Flyer Magazine. Most of these thoughts and comments are directed specifically to the new instrument pilot and those thinking about getting an instrument rating.

I can make a true statement when I say that there are a lot of pilots who get their instrument ratings and never use them, or they don’t stay current, or should I say “proficient.”

Many new instrument pilots, having passed the checkride, have never flown in the clouds or if they have, it was just popping in and out of a thin layer of scattered clouds.

There is nothing in the Federal Aviation Regulations that states you must have actual experience to get the rating. And there are instrument flight instructors teaching who have never had true instrument experiences themselves. I am not critical of instructors who don’t give their students some hard IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) experience, as this is the result of how their training schedules play out.

I have found that trying to give a new instrument trainee any actual experience during the early part of their training is counter-productive, but once they have mastered the basic instrument approach, we then go for it.

On one occasion during a required instrument cross-country, we shot approaches in IMC so low we never broke out, nor saw the ground, and ended up going missed. What a great experience for the student, and he did not have an autopilot in his airplane.

If you happen to be one of those pilots who just got the rating and have not flown hard IMC, your instructor probably will tell you to file an IFR flight plan and use the system in VFR conditions first to become familiar with Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures. After you have this comfort level, start with higher minimums first and gradually wean yourself into the system. This does not always work, as you may need to go somewhere, and it is one of those low IMC days. You may not have the confidence level to depart alone or you get discouraged, wondering why you spent all of that money on the rating and are not using it. If you should decide to launch into that low ceiling and poor visibility on your own the first time by yourself, you may be in for a big surprise as it is nothing like flying with the hood on. Until you build some experience, you could be overwhelmed and have a disastrous outcome.

My advice is not to cancel the flight, but rather find an EXPERIENCED instrument instructor to go with you on those first low IMC flights. Yes, it will cost some money, but for safety and the experience gained, it will be well worth it.

There are two ways to go about getting an instrument rating. The first way is to take one or two lessons a week, which drags out close to a year. The disadvantage of this method is that you need to repeat three-fourths of what you did previously, and it ends up costing more money and the number of hours prior to the checkride is greater than with an accelerated training program. The advantage to this method over the accelerated program is that the student retains the knowledge longer and better because of the repetition.

I prefer the accelerated training program, which can usually be done in 10 days if properly structured with a good training syllabus, and it is very cost and time efficient for the trainee. There are some disadvantages to the accelerated program, as well. It can be compared to drinking from a fire hose, as it requires 100% concentration and dedication by the trainee.

If you think you can work part-time or dedicate some time to your business while doing this type of course, “forget it.” The syllabus I use requires 4 hours of ground school, 4 hours of flying and 4 hours of homework and quizzes to do in the evening. Now, picture doing this for 10 days straight. If you are over 30 years of age, I require a break near the middle of our training for a minimum of two days and a maximum of two weeks.

Another disadvantage to the accelerated training is that if you do not use it immediately after getting your rating, you do not retain it as well as with an extended training program.

I spent eight years working for a company called “PIC,” Professional Instrument Courses, that did these 10-day accelerated courses. I did one full instrument rating a month, and one or two finish-up courses for individuals, who had gotten tired of a program with one or two lessons per week. It was the traveling, spending 200 nights a year in motels, that took its toll, so I have had to slow down as well. I can attest to the importance of a well-structured syllabus and the success in doing an accelerated program.

In my next several columns, I will continue with the topic of instrument training for the new instrument pilot and those contemplating getting the rating, as well as information on avionics and the ADS-B program as new developments occur.

Stay safe and remember, it is much safer to fly IFR in a structured environment than “scud running” around all of those cell phone towers.

* George: The first man to fly in a Sperry Autopilot aircraft, Navy Lt. Patrick N. L. Bellinger, would go on to pilot the Curtiss NC-1 for the world’s first successful trans-Atlantic crossing in 1918. Over the years, Bellinger and many other pilots would take to calling the Sperry Autopilot system “George” — a colloquialism for the seemingly magical, invisible copilot that had joined them in the cockpit of their aircraft. To this day, the term “George” is used unofficially to represent the autopilot system.

The first “practical” autopilot was invented by George DeBeeson. (This seems to be the most likely reason for the informal name “George” for the autopilot system on aircraft.)

Another comment on that same page: The term “George,” as a reference to autopilots, originated in the Royal Air Force during World War II. It is a reference to the aircraft’s “owner” King George. Also, at the time, there was a popular radio show referenced in an earlier answer that may have reinforced the use of “George.” I have spoken to a number of British WWII pilots. Everyone assumed it was a reference to King George. None of these pilots were aware of the name of the inventor of the earliest autopilot. They were, however, aware of the name Sperry.

And another: Perhaps from the Old Tyme Radio Show “Let George Do It!” wherein the hero hired himself out to do jobs too tough for his customers.

** ADS-B Rebate: Eligible equipment: Avionics that are certified to FAA Technical Standard Orders and meet the program rules (software upgrades of existing equipment are not eligible). Rebates are not available for aircraft already equipped with rule compliant ADS-B or for aircraft the FAA has previously paid or committed to pay for upgrade(s) to meet the ADS-B mandate.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Lone Rock (KLNR) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to or call 817-988-0174.

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