Aviation articles by Garth Wallace
The Idiotís Guide to Flying
I discovered what I
thought was the ideal pilotís textbook, The Complete Idiotís Guide to
Flying and Gliding."
This is what aviation needs," I said to myself, "a book that does not
expound on theories; a text without wise explanations of things that work fine
even if the pilot doesnít know how they do; a reference devoid of righteous
regulations; a manual of important things that help pilots stay alive."
And there it was, sitting on a sale table at a bookstore. I snatched it up, paid
for it and dashed home to read.
It was not to be. The Complete Idiotís Guide to Flying and Gliding is
an interesting manual but itís not for pilots. The book contains 300 plus
pages of history, theory, regulations and speculation, plus some snapshots into
the corners of the sport and commercial flying. There is too much knowledge and
not enough experience in it for real pilots.
The textbook I was hoping for would be more practical. It would fit in a pocket,
float, start campfires, be nutritious, taste like chocolate donuts, open out to
a polishing cloth and fold back into an airsick bag.
Garthís Idiot Pilot Guide to
Chapter One - Parts of the airplane
The book I bought shows a labelled drawing of a straight-tailed Cessna
150, the same airplane that has appeared in learn-to-fly texts for 50 years.
The 1903 Wright Flyer had its elevator on the front and no ailerons. Burt Rutanís
popular 1970s Long-Eze homebuilt had vertical tails on the wingtips and no
All airplane parts, including engines and landing gear, have been moved around
by one designer or another. Weíve had flaperons, elevons, winglets, canards
Chapter One of my Idiot Pilotís Guide would declare that the parts of
an airplane are the designerís business. The pilotís job is to keep them
flying, together, all the way to the destination.
Chapter Two - Aerodynamics
I taught theory of flight to ground school classes
the old way. I stood at the front of the room holding a model airplane and a
pencil. I described how an airplane pitches, rolls and yaws about imaginary
The students fell asleep. I moved on to Bernoulli. The snores grew louder.
Pilots need to know two things:
1/ What goes up must come down.
2/ An airplane is called an "air plane" because it planes through the
air. When it stops air planing, it stops flying. If a student doesnít grasp
that, take them up and invite them to stick a flat hand out the window and
rotate it. Theyíll either get the idea or break their arm trying.
Chapter Three - Navigating
The sub-title of this chapter in The Complete Idiotís Guide to Flying and
Gliding is, "getting from here to there without street signs". It
goes on to describe aeronautical charts, latitude and longitude, great circle
routes, compasses and gyros. Are you a better pilot if you know that the chart
is a Transverse Mercator Conic Projection?
I have two more questions:
1/ Whatís wrong with flying by street signs?
2/ How many pilots prepare and navigate the way they did for their written exam
and flight test?
The trick with navigation is knowing where you are when
you start. Once you nail that down, do whatever it takes to stay unlost: follow
roads or migrating geese and remember that moss grows on the north side of trees
If you think you need charts, radios, computers and reference books, be my
guest. Just donít let them distract you from knowing where you are.
Chapter Four - From takeoff to landing
This section in TCIGTF&G covers documents, pilot medicals, the aircraft
pre-flight, taxiing, takeoff, air traffic control, flight levels, collision
avoidance and landing.
Documents - leave the paperwork to the washroom attendants.
Medicals - donít fly if you donít feel like it.
Pre-flight - Check the airplane to see if the previous pilot read Chapter One,
"Keep the airplane parts flying together".
Taxiing - Itís a waste of time. Turn the airplane into the wind and take off.
Takeoff - airplanes love to fly, just add power.
Air traffic control - if you like to talk, buy a headset with a boom mike. If
you like to listen, plug it into a radio.
Flight levels - fly low enough to navigate by the moss on the rocks and high
enough to avoid colliding with the moss.
Landing - this is a sometimes turbulent marriage between pilot and airplane. It
takes kindness, understanding, communication, a light touch and commitment.
Never stop practising.
Chapter Five - About the Weather
TCIGTF&G tries to explain the theories of
meteorology. If the met specialists at Environment Canada can not accurately
predict the weather, what hope do pilots have? Why bother understanding
information that is often wrong?
Just follow these simple rules:
1/ If you canít see where youíre going, donít go.
2/ Itís better to be down here wishing you were up there than to be up there
wishing you were down here. I thank Transport Canada for this one.
Chapter Six - Air Regulations
How many pilots know all of the air regulations?
Garthís guide to air regulations: If itís not safe, donít do it.
Here are a few other recreational aviation realities that
would appear in my student pilotís guide:
Rent or own?
If you buy more airplane than you can afford, then
you expose yourself to payments, hull insurance, certified maintenance, hangar
rent and the prospect of flying 500 hours a year to bring your costs down to the
price of renting the same aircraft.
Building an airplane
Face it; some people should never bet their butt
on something they built. Look at that shed you assembled from a kit. Would you
Are you someone who could maintain your own airplane? Think back to the last
time you fixed your car. Did it run when you were done or did the garage have to
come and tow it away?
You are driving along the highway in your car at night. Now turn off your
headlights. How comfortable does that feel?
You are driving along the highway in your car in daylight. Now close your eyes.
How comfortable does that feel?
Night instrument flying
See above and combine.
Lastly, my idiot pilotís
guide would have a plain cover. How many student pilots would walk into ground
school carrying a large orange book with the word "IDIOTíS" in large
capital letters on the cover? Maybe thatís why TCIGTF&G was on the sale
table at the bookstore.
If youíd like to read about aviation, buy The
Complete Idiotís Guide to Flying and Gliding. If youíd like to learn
more about flying, get in an airplane and take off.