“It’s like driving an old British convertible sportscar. It’s fun on a winding mountain road in the summer, but going down the autobahn, you’d rather have a Mercedes.”
An apt metaphor from Extra 300L owner/instructor Bruce Williams, as he describes his seasonal trip from Seattle’s Boeing Field to Boulder City, Nevada, where the airplane spends its winters.
“It’s a niche aircraft,” the longtime pilot shrugs.
Outside of its annual pilgrimage to warmer weather, the airplane serves in a capacity that’s much closer to its engineering intent. “It’s designed for what it is,” he notes.
What it is, of course, is one of the most vaunted aerobatic aircraft of all time. A piston-powered thrill machine, that with two seats, also makes for one hell of an instructional airplane.
What it is not is Microsoft Flight Simulator, a program that Williams helped bring to prominence as a Microsoft Business Development Manager in the mid 1990s and into the 2000s.
Which perhaps puts Williams, an experienced primary, instrument, upset recovery and aerobatic instructor, in a unique position to evaluate the entire general aviation training spectrum, from “chair” flying all the way to the edge of the envelope.
What type of role can programs like Microsoft Flight Simulator play for the average GA pilot?
Williams, the author of two books on using PC-based simulation to complement flight training notes, “The challenge is not the technology anymore…it’s how do you use it effectively.”
“I wouldn’t encourage you to self-instruct any more than I would encourage you to go out and learn surgery by watching YouTube videos,” he adds with a laugh.
“You need a mentor,” he assures. “There’s a lot that you can accomplish ahead of time as far as understanding what’s going on. Most of the issues I see with new pilots are mental… solving this dynamic puzzle, whether its navigation or ATC or weather. And simulation is great because now you can break down these tasks.”
As many pilots can attest, particularly through training, there can be a lot of down or inefficient time.
Williams concurs, with an example: “We’re going to go out and do slow flight and stalls. By the time we actually get out there and do slow flight and stalls, at least 30 minutes has gone by. The same thing happens on the way back because all of this other stuff has intervened. In the sim, I can still show you the process, we can talk about it and you can ask questions. You can cement that interactively in your head, so that when we do go out and fly, it will make a lot more sense.”
Of course, simulators aren’t appropriate for all types of instruction. Regarding their use for aerobatics, the CFII acknowledges, “Not so much for that. You’re now practicing a physical skill and you just have to repeat that like your golf swing or your jump shot.”
Modifying a quote from Yankee great Yogi Berra, Williams says flying “is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
What I fly
A 1998 Extra 300L. Solo, it’s plus or minus 10 G, with two on board its plus or minus 8. It has a role rate of about 400° per second.
Until very recently, it was really the only unlimited class aerobatic aircraft that had a standard type airworthiness certificate, so you can use it for training. Now there are several others, but I’m never going to outgrow it.
Why do you fly it
As a training platform, I really like it, because it’s extremely consistent. It’s also safe. As long as you have altitude, you can’t get it all catawampus in a spin or something, but it doesn’t get into any sort of unrecoverable mode. It’s very well engineered, beautifully designed, and a fun airplane to fly.
How do you fly it
It depends…If I haven’t flown in a while I start with the basics to reset the ol’ G meter.
Operating Costs Based on 100 Hours Per Year
Find some good mentors. They don’t have to be instructors, but find some good mentors. People that you respect and are respected in the community.
Observe their behavior, not just in the cockpit. It doesn’t really matter how many hours they have or how many exotic fighters they flew, it’s their attitude, their approach.