We like to say that education is a life-long pursuit. Yet many of us simultaneously limit education in our discussions and our thought processes to those years we spend in the confines of a traditional institution of learning.
Is it a life-long pursuit, or an extended stay in an institutional environment? Both perspectives cannot co-exist in one head. We have to pick one and go with it.
For myself, I pick the former.
This writer, while a solid D student when enrolled in traditional schools, has done quite well in the less traditional environment general aviation has provided.
Whether in flight school, or maintenance school, or just loitering around the hangar with like-minded folks, I’ve found education to be readily available, often inexpensive, and always worthwhile.
Let me illustrate that point with a recent example of learning that occurred in my flying club’s hangar.
We recently acquired a new airplane. An import from the great state of Texas, our Cessna 182 is the first airplane our club has owned. The club has transitioned from its teen years to young adulthood by purchasing rather than leasing. It’s a big step. Maybe even a scary step for some. But it was time. So we did it. So far, so good.
There are quite a few considerations of cost and maintenance for the airplane buyer. An inexpensive purchase might lead to a very expensive ownership experience. Conversely, there is no guarantee an expensive purchase won’t develop vexing and costly maintenance issues in short order.
The only known inoculant for this conundrum is education. You have to learn about the airplane, the engine installed in it, the avionics mounted in the panel, the tires, the paint, the interior. It all becomes the responsibility of the new owner after the papers are signed, and if that new owner is you, or an organization you belong to, you would be wise to do a great deal of homework before putting pen to paper.
The same is true of the flying experience. Moving from a Cherokee 140 to a Beech Bonanza is an obvious example. While they are both low-wing, single-engine airplanes, that’s where the commonality ends.
In terms of power, complexity, and operational requirements, they both deserve the respect of the pilot. There are nuances of one that don’t exist in the other. Those unique characteristics must be learned. Once learned, they must be addressed effectively as the situation warrants.
Not incidentally, this is no one-way road leading ever upward. Moving from the Bonanza to the 140 is every bit as challenging and worthy of a pilot’s attention as the transition going the other way.
My friend Tom is a former Navy pilot. He’s got oodles of hours in turbine powered flying machines. He’s slid down final approach to catch a wire on the deck of a ship in motion, miles out to sea, in less than hospitable conditions. He’s a talented guy. But general aviation is relatively new to him. Which means his safety, and that of his passengers, is inextricably entwined with his willingness to take the transition from a twin-engine fighting machine to a single-engine piston powered day-tripper seriously.
We recently spent a good deal of time in the airplane together. The sky was blue, the winds were light, the hangar door was open, and we sat in the airplane for a good long time. We never started it.
Nope, in this case, education came in the form of running checklists, moving hands to unfamiliar knobs and switches, asking questions, and engaging in extended discussions about concepts of great importance to the pilot of one airplane, but totally foreign to the pilot of the other.
The jet has one power lever per engine. The piston-powered airplane has three. The jet pilot is ignorant of carburetor ice and the necessary corrective actions, while the piston-powered pilot is aware and alert for indications action needs to be taken.
This is real education. Practical learning is taking place. There is no conventional teacher/student relationship to be seen here. Only an open discussion between two people who know a thing or two about aircraft, while they both endeavor to learn more, to be better, to operate the machine safely.
Education is the result of communication. When the instructor’s message is understood by the student, and the student’s behavior changes as a result, education has taken place. This can happen anywhere, between any two (or more) people, with respect to any topic, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, or fashion sense.
If we accept that we are all students awaiting our next lesson, and that we’re all instructors with something of value to offer, then education becomes a truly powerful, valuable, life-long tool for the betterment of the world we live in.
You, dear reader, know something I am ignorant of, while I am familiar with something you would benefit from knowing. Let’s share our knowledge and experience with each other — and anyone else who shows an interest.
Imagine the possibilities.