An Instructor's Joy

From NAFI's Chair

An Instructor's Joy

I've heard more than once from different sources that it's hard to teach millennials to fly, because they don't get the fundamentals. And I've seen a lot of conversation in social media from the current generation of pilots that they don't understand why they need to learn how to use things like E6Bs to learn how to fly an airplane.

Here's an example of the that comes to mind: carburetors. Virtually every modern gasoline powered automobile uses computer-controlled fuel injection to adjust the engine's fuel-air mixture. These lead to a lament that the younger generation doesn't know what a carburetor does, let alone what it is. How can they possibly understand an airplane engine? Yet, I was part of the baby-boomer generation, allegedly the ones (at least we males) that were supposed to love all things automotive, and I can assure you that I had no clue as to how one worked, let alone why fuel/air ratios were so important. And I know that many of my friends were in the same boat. In fact, because I helped restore steam locomotives in my college years, I knew more about how they worked than I did modern internal combustion engines.

Yet, today, I can reasonably explain the workings of a four-stroke internal combustion engine, both carbureted and fuel injected. I also learned how to manage those engines in flight. I learned to flight plan with a great analog time saver, the E6B, in conjunction with charts and plotters. I learned the weather theory necessary for keeping safe, which has also benefited me outside of aviation. And a myriad of other things my instructors benignly manipulated me into learning because I wanted to watch the trees and houses get smaller.

Yet, today, I don't use an E6B and paper charts to plan my flights anymore. I do it electronically, allowing my iPad to gather the information need to successfully plan a flight. Nor could I imagine manually managing diesel-powered aircraft engines, even though I have a fair amount of time in Diamond DA-40s. In the latter case, it's because the Thielert engines I flew couldn't be managed manually - they were completely dependent on their FADEC units. In the former case, it's because, honestly, the answers I got using the E6B and tools like ForeFlight were so similar that the variables found in actual flight masked the difference.

Just like the E6B freed me and my generation of pilots from having to do wind triangles and trigonometry, and FADEC has removed a lot of the burden of engine management, modern tools are making the job of being pilots simpler. Therein lies the challenge to the flight instructor, as it always has been for any teacher as technology has advanced: ensuring students know the fundamentals behind the technology while not burdening them with outmoded practices.

Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair
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