ericgideon.com

I fly a planes.

Onward & Upward

Over the last year, a lot has changed. I got married, flew our newly-restored & upgraded Grumman, spent three weeks in Europe & Iceland, started looking into Masters programs, stopped instructing full time, and got a Real Job™. Oh, and http://aeronaut.ca now redirects to http://ericgideon.com, so update your shit. It’s been a fun year, I’ve enjoyed the changes so far, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds. The only downside to leaving instruction is that I spend a lot of time wishing I was flying, but – and this is key – all of my flying I now enjoy.

Anyway, this last fall was a lot of fun. The two of us went to the Reno Air Races, then visited Germany & Austria, via Iceland. Flying Icelandair was an interesting look at how small airlines can serve smaller markets with narrow routes and the appropriate aircraft. Not to mention, their branding (and cabin crew) was fantastic.

As far as the future goes, I’m looking heavily into masters programs in the field of Human Factors, with the goal of taking that degree into the aviation industry. I’ve spent so much time working with technology & usability, both in aviation and in web design, that I can’t see any other path but this. If you’ve got advice or thoughts on human factors & aviation, I would welcome your input!

Flying for Fun

That’s the ultimate standard for success, right? Take something that you enjoy, then find a way to get paid for it. So far, I think I’m doing pretty well. Next month I fly down to Bend, Oregon to spend a week at the Cessna (née Columbia) factory. We’re taking delivery of a brand-new Cessna 400, and I’m going to pick it up with the owner after sitting in on the FITS course.

In a nutshell, the Cessna 400 is a certified, production version of the Lancair IV kitplane that uses Garmin’s G1000 cockpit and GFC700 autopilot. It’s got fixed landing gear, unlike the retractable Lancair IV, yet the 310 horsepower twin-turbocharged engine still pushes it to a cruise speed of 235 knots (270 mph, or 435 km/h) at 25,000 feet. The only faster piston single out there is the Mooney M20TN Acclaim, by 2 knots, but it’s entirely possible to forget to lower the landing gear. With turbochargers, high speeds, and an internal oxygen system, it’s unlike anything we currently rent; before our insurance will cover renters, they will need to receive 15 hours or more of flight training.

Anyway, I digress. I’ve gotten myself and my job in a spot, for now, that I’m quite happy with. I’m keeping busy with instrument students and local flights in the Grumman, both of which are extremely fun, and I’m really looking forward to the Cessna 400 training. Not only do I get to spend a week learning the systems and how it flies, I’ll also be spending quite a bit of time helping renters meet their 15-hour training requirements. I’m also trying to wrap up my MEI rating, but it’s not really something I’m driven to do. Everything else is fun, or exciting, or challenging, but right now learning to instruct in a light twin is more a chore than anything else. I’d much rather be taking trips in the flight levels.

This train of thought started with a recent article at John Ewing’s excellent Aviation Mentor on the topic of the shrinking pilot population in America. I think part of the problem is that for the most part flying just doesn’t seem fun anymore. Getting a private pilot certificate is an intense, exhausting task. The airplanes we fly, Cessna 152s and 172s, are decent enough trainers but are completely uninteresting and do little to inspire passion in their pilots. Would you rather race a Ford Contour, or a Mazda Miata?

An Evektor Sportstar Light Sport aircraft were supposed to be a huge step in the right direction for general aviation. The aircraft, like Evektor’s Sportstar on the right, certainly look like a lot of fun to fly. Yet the acquisition costs are high, and FBOs willing or able to rent aircraft to Light Sport pilots are far and few between, often due to insurance that requires pilots to hold a current FAA-issued medical before flying solo. If we could get students into aircraft that are inexpensive, docile trainers and, most importantly, fun to fly, general aviation and the pilot population as a whole could get a very positive boost.

Checkride Season

After a pretty marginal winter here in the Puget Sound, the weather is finally starting to improve. Low ceilings and lots of rain have hampered progress for my students working on private pilot certificates, but I’m fortunately also flying with three instrument rating candidates. It’s been a lot of fun, and the weather is less of a problem – although low temperatures have often grounded us due to known icing conditions. Two of them just graduated our instrument training course, and the last is waiting for the examiner to return from visiting his grandkids.

It was a huge relief that they both managed to pass their checkrides on the first attempt – especially since they did so within a day of each other. Signing someone off for a checkride puts a lot more at stake than is immediately apparent, and it causes a ton of stress for the endorsing instructor. If someone is graduated “Part 141” (14 CFR §141: Schools and other certificated agencies), they basically have to pass, because the school needs to maintain a fairly high rate of satisfactory first-attempt checkrides. Making matters more complicated, a flight instructor can only qualify for a Gold Seal on their certificate if they sign off 10 students in 2 years with an 80% pass rate. Where I work, it earns you a raise, so it’s worth training students well.

Fortunately, with the weather improving I can spend some of my downtime flying the Grumman, which I’ve recently been taking on short trips down to Boeing Field between flights with students. As it gets closer to summer, I plan to start making some longer trips – Portland, Vancouver, possibly Eastern Washington. Even further down the road, my dad and I are flying (almost) to the Reno Air Races this year in the Grumman, going down the coast to Auburn, via the Bay Area, and then driving the rest of the way. We’re looking forward to it.