Over the holidays, we took our family on a cruise to the Galapagos Islands. It was one of the greatest trips that I have had.
On one of the islands, we were waiting to be ferried back to the ship, and I observed a bird flying a few hundred feet above the water and then just fold its wings and dive into the water.
It did this over and over, so I asked the naturalist what the bird was doing. She explained that this was a young blue-footed boobie (I am not making this up, the name comes from bobo or clown bird because they are funny looking.)
She went on to say that this was a young bird because its feet were light blue whereas the mature birds had a deeper blue color.
The bird was practicing catching fish. The technique is to spot the fish from the air, dive into the water, and then catch the fish on the way up.
The reason for all of the practice is to learn where to dive relative to the fish so that on the way back up, the bird can catch the fish. It also helps the young birds learn to judge the depth of the water so that they do not dive 20 feet deep into 10 feet of water and break a wing or other part.
The lesson that nature is showing us is that to learn a skill, it takes practice and repetition.
In general aviation, I feel that the most difficult skills to learn are finding the right airport, landings and the weather.
Now that almost all of us have some kind of GPS and phones with weather apps, finding the right airport and staying out of bad weather has become easier. But landings and even takeoffs are still a difficult skill to learn, especially in a crosswind.
Recently, a young acquaintance of mine asked about learning to fly. I told him all about it and suggested he take a demonstration flight at a local FBO. He went up with a flight instructor in a Cessna 152. He really enjoyed the flight and the view, but had a few questions.
He said that the instructor pumped the primer five or six times before cranking. I explained that was to pump raw fuel into the carburetor to get it started because airplanes do not have a choke. He then asked, “what are a carburetor and a choke?” I explained what they were and their functions, but I think I lost him halfway through the explanation.
Next he asked about the mixture strength and why it needed to be adjusted. He asked what would happen if the mixture strength was not set properly. I explained that it could harm the engine or cause it to quit.
“What about the carburetor heat and why doesn’t my car have any of these items?” he asked next. I tried to explain it all, but I’m fairly sure I lost him.
He was so concerned about operating the plane that he felt he could not concentrate on learning to fly. And being that concerned about operating the plane would make learning the skills needed to actually fly hard — and dangerous.
It appears that we as a generation have failed to pass on a working knowledge and a love for the internal combustion engine to the younger generation. They know how to program a computer and can do more with a cell phone than the entire computer department where I went to college.
But when it comes to an engine, they know how to turn it on and that is about it.
The young guy I was talking to said the engine controls were way beyond him. He then told me he was going to look for a computer program or phone app that would teach him how to fly.
I am still trying to come up with an answer to that question that is printable in General Aviation News.