Considering companions — Two hours of truth telling goes a long way toward making them more comfortable in the plane

As July rolled around this year, so did another chance to host a regional fly-in for Cardinal owners. The North Carolina event has taken on more of a training emphasis and it’s gratifying to see how many owners traveled great distances to partake. People came from as far away as Oakland, Calif., Tulsa, Okla., and the northeast this year for ground and/or flight recurrent training and safety seminars. A lot of training took place in the three days of the fly-in, meaning it took me another three days to catch up on all the paperwork.

At this year’s event, I tried something new: a course for companions of Cardinal owners and pilots. Unlike a “pinch-hitter” course, which deals more with handling emergency situations, I wanted to develop and test a program aimed at helping companions understand the many aspects of aircraft ownership. I also wanted to teach them how to enjoy the travel experience in their Cardinals.

During the past three years hosting the Cardinal clinics, I’ve observed wives, girlfriends, friends, et. al. of the attending owners around the planes, and listened to what they said in conversations. It became clear to me that many owners neglect an important aspect of owning and enjoying their planes. Many don’t even bring their companions because “they didn’t feel like coming,” or “they just don’t enjoy it or understand it like I do and it’s no fun.”

So, in developing this initial course, my primary objective was to give any companion an opportunity to learn the basics about the Cardinal and hear why owners are so anal about certain aspects of ownership. Most important, I wanted to offer a free, open and confidential forum where they could ask any question about safety, costs, maintenance, equipment or whatever.

As often can be the case, the instructor learns as much as the students in this sort of setting. Before the session started, I passed out paper and asked them to write down what they expected of this course and what they wanted to come away with. Names were not required. Some answers were anticipated, like wanting to understand more about what was going on during the flight, and how to deal with being uncomfortable about flying on certain days.

But the one that stopped me in my tracks was this: “Something to help me share my husbands passion for flying — because I don’t have it yet.” She also confessed her resultant fear of flying with her husband and worrying him or distracting him (a low-time pilot and first time owner) with her concerns and questions.

Hmmmm. My work was cut out for me.

My planned program included a video I produced, which followed a Cardinal through preflight, into the air and back to the hangar. I kept the technical stuff to a minimum. I explained the “why” of what the pilot was doing rather than the what. From “no interruptions during preflight and run-up,” to “traffic hunting while in the pattern,” dozens of easy to understand but important topics were covered. The emphasis was on how to understand the process and how to be a good “helper” if so desired, or how to stay out of the way if the choice was not to help. Either is OK.

We discussed safety, maintenance costs, accidents and their causes. Most of the companions soon realized that, although learning what to do in case of an emergency certainly is valuable, it’s not the most important factor in enjoying the flight and staying alive. We discussed human factors, reasons why pilots make bad decisions, and how to recognize some of the classic “set-ups” and scenarios for pushing fuel reserves and bad weather.

The questions were excellent and the note-taking was at a fever pitch. As the session progressed, not once did anyone ask “how to read the altimeter.” However, there were questions about cost of ownership and maintenance. They asked about some of these “new type radios” being advertised.

I answered honestly and pulled no punches. I could tell that, rather than get upset over the answers, they appreciated the directness and recognized the importance of the issues. My answers did not favor the “sales-pitch” approach. I just gave the facts and let them come to their own conclusions. They definitely opened up and took advantage of the confidentiality.

At one point during the two-hour course, the door opened and one of the husbands quietly slipped in, just to observe. I made him leave, and could tell it was really appreciated. Some of the more experienced “companions” offered their own advice on how they handled certain situations.

When the two hours were up, we were at full stride and could have gone another hour easily, but I had another scheduled ground session to teach.

The message was clear. Non-pilot companions of pilot/owners are a very important part of the enjoyment equation and too often they are ignored. They are expected just to get into the plane, do what they’re told, and not question any decisions. They worry about things that are minimal risks and know nothing of the big risks and how to be an effective resource for safety. They complain about the cost, but don’t understand why it’s necessary.

I figured that I’d eventually catch some grief from the husbands for things that I said, but no. In fact, every husband came to me and thanked me for offering the program. Some teased me about the new found knowledge and awareness their wives had, but they realized they had missed an important aspect of enjoying their planes.

How many of you are missing the same important aspect? You don’t need a special course to help your companion to understand what’s going on. Kudos to you owners who have taken the time to make sure your companion is comfortable with flying and understands the ramifications of ownership as much as possible. If you haven’t, why not start now?

As for the question I was asked about finding the “passion”, I was as frank as I could be. I told her that she may never find the passion for flying that her husband has, but that’s OK. Many pilots I know really don’t have a true “passion” the way I, or many of you, have even though they enjoy it. For me, flying is second only to breathing. On the other hand, my wife, who has been flying with me for 12 years, doesn’t have, nor will she ever get, the “passion” I have for flying. She enjoys it. She understands the ownership aspects of it. She recognizes the risks, and she accepts the rewards that come with owning and flying your own plane. All this came through communication and education.

When I explained this to the woman who was worried about getting her husband’s “passion,” I was able to work with the couple and now they have a plan to get her into the cockpit more. They also have a method for communication. I could tell they were both excited.

Will she acquire the “passion” over time? Who knows. Will she learn to understand the aspects of ownership and enjoy flying with her husband? Probably. But one thing is for certain, they were doomed if they hadn’t recognized that they needed to give as much attention to understanding their flying relationship as they do to the rest of their life’s daily issues.

Guy R. Maher is a business owner and aircraft appraiser with more than 12,000 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters. He is an independent buyer’s agent and flight instructor for type specific initial and recurrent training. He can be contacted through the above e-mail address, or by calling 704-287-3475.

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