What You Don’t Know About Pilots

Anonymous Pilot Talks About His Experience As A Flight Instructor

Many people think that being a pilot is all about the whopping salaries, the complimentary tickets, and the extraordinary Instagram photos you get to post. Well, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies which is why I decided to interview a skillful flight instructor to give us more insight about his career in aviation.

  1. Do you get bored when you’re flying? And how do you entertain yourself?

As an instructor.. sometimes yes, but it often depends on who’s sitting next to me. Often in instructional flights we are too busy to think of boredom, but I won’t lie that it does get a bit boring on a long working day when we have to perform a long cross-country flight. Especially when we must meet certain time requirements and we elect to set a low cruise power setting hence “stretching” our flight time.

When I was a student: Because my initial training was very exciting as I was realizing one of my life dreams, I never used to get bored flying, even during my long solo flights. Except for my last solo cross-country flight where I was elected for the farthest destination, It eventually got so boring staring at flat land that I started singing, talking to myself, and pretending I’m on a talk show, yes, very strange!

  1. What is the worst thing that one of your students did?

I’ve had the privilege of instructing students from all parts of the world, and I can tell you that I have almost seen it all.

It is quite amazing what a person might subconsciously do when under stress. I’ve had students cry in the airplane, sleep while having the controls, and even some students that I suspected were under the influence of alcohol due to their bizarre flying and slow reaction times. I’ve had experiences where students were going to put the airplane in a dangerous attitude or veer the airplane off the runway during takeoff or landing!

I’ve had some of my solo students fly to a different airport than what was assigned to them and even land at another airport to pick up a friend along for the ride. But by far the worst thing a student has done was not taking a shower in the morning before our flight. Training airplanes are quite confined and small and common courtesy is expected. But I somewhat felt that it was the student’s way of getting pay back for being scheduled at such an early time of the day!

Diamond Da 40 Diamond Da 40
  1. What is the first thing that you do when there’s an emergency? And have you ever declared an in-flight emergency?

When encountering an emergency. I always try to remain calm and collected as to not make my other crew member panic, in most cases that would be a student that I'm instructing. Remaining calm and collected is really just a thought process that goes on in my mind as I simultaneously try to maintain positive control of the aircraft and assess the situation.

Typically rushing through an emergency situation doesn't always yield the best outcome, but at the same time in an aircraft things are very dynamic and need to dealt with in a timely manner.

Although I haven't experienced any “Emergencies” yet, here are some of the technical issues I had to deal with in-flight.

  • Landing gear failing to extend. After troubleshooting we decided to use the manual free-fall to release the hydraulic pressure keeping the gear retracted and allowing gravity to take over. (cause: failure of the hydraulic pump which is very common).
  • Landing gear indicating lights failure. Before approaching the runway while trying to retract landing gear, the landing gear indicating lights failed. After troubleshooting and performing a fly-by near the control tower who confirmed that our gears were in fact down, we continued to land after assessing that the landing gear was fully extended and locked. (cause: wiring fault).
  1. Did you ever feel like you wanted to quit piloting after a certain incident? Or perhaps after having to fly into a storm?

As pilots we are taught to stay away from thunderstorms by at least 20 miles, as certain hazards associated with such weather conditions such as hail have been recorded to have struck aircraft that far causing structural damage. But I have had some close encounters with “bad weather’ either due to lack of weather products or purely bad decision making. None of which made me think of quitting my career as a pilot, rather these experiences made me respect weather even more and made me a more prudent pilot.

One of the traits that we are taught to avoid is resignation, which is simply to give up. Pilots should always use all the resources available at their disposal to ensure a safe outcome always. Even when dealing with adverse conditions.

Luckily, I have not encountered weather bad enough to make me want to stop flying altogether.

  • Scariest weather encounter: I was flying with a student in Saudi Arabia onboard a DA40NG single engine aircraft. This was a night cross-country flight to a destination that is about 300 kilometers from the Capital Riyadh. Because the flight was somewhat rushed, I did not have enough time to thoroughly review all the weather products we had available.

As we approached our destination, flying at around 5000 feet above the ground with the autopilot on, I first noticed some turbulent clouds just above our cruise level, it was hard to see what was out there as we had no moonlight and the terrain below was almost pitch-black.

I then noticed that our airplane's attitude was changing, the autopilot was raising the nose up, as if it wanted to climb, but our altitude appeared to be doing the opposite, it was decreasing so I realized that the autopilot was trying to recapture our set altitude, so I added full power and disconnected the autopilot as I tried to maintain a maximum performance climb attitude. But the airplane kept descending rapidly at over 1200 feet per minute even with full power, at that instance the student was asking me what was going on, as my eyes were quickly scanning the instruments trying to understand what was happening, I told the student to “standby”, I also glanced outside looking for a road to land on incase I could not establish a climb, All this was happening while fighting the urge to pull the nose higher fearing a stall (a condition where the wings cease to create lift when it’s angle relative to the incoming air is too high). And just 30 seconds later, what felt like forever, the airplane stopped descending and I could reset the autopilot On.

The entire flight to our destination and back was quite awkward after that. I suspect that we had flown through a column of descending air, possibly a small microburst.

A microburst!! Pilot’s worst enemy in the air.

Microbursts are unpredictable rare weather phenomenon with wind speeds higher than 100mph, and is probably the topic of my next article.

Now you know… Flying is a lot of fun and for most it’s a very satisfying career, but at the same time it’s a very stressful job as pilots need to be on top of their game during every flight, and any small hiccup increases their stress level but they have to keep their poker face on.

About the author:

Bushra is an avid aviation blogger, in her free time she likes to watch air crash investigation videos, race, read, and play the piano. She works at Lenovo as a Marketing Manager.

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