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Flightinfo's sexiest user
Dec 21, 2001
Hey guys,

First off, I just wanted to say hello to everyone here. I recently registered, and am very pleased with the new format. I am a 20 year old student pilot from London, Canada. I am currently in my 2nd year of University, studying Commercial Aviation Management at the University of Western Ontario. I have about 25tt. I have a concern that I hope some of you can address.

I have about 3 weeks for my Christmas break, which began Tuesday. I thought I'd use this time to catch up on my groundschool material, and refresh my knowledge about flying. I found that I didn't have much time to go as in depth as I would have like during school because of all the other work I had due. I have a scholarship I would like to maintain, so I find myself focusing on my school work more than my flying work. I was just wondering if other university/pilot students find this to be normal? Do you often find that you cannot concentrate as much time as you would like to? If you are a Regional/Major/other pilot, did you find this to be an issue when you were studying?

Also, I found that I often had difficulties with the very detailed information (ex. the electric systems, magnetos, and other concepts). How much does one need to know? I'm the kind of guy that will not move on until I understand the last bit of detail, but I find some of the stuff to be very complicating. Perhaps an engineering degree would help one understand the material better?

I feel as though I know the basics (and more) well enough, but sometimes I wonder how 14-15 year olds can possibly read their manuals, and understand what's going on. Even with my highschool background of physics (I know- it's not much), I still find it difficult to follow.

I just want to see if I am not alone on this stuff. I'm sure that as time goes by, I'll pick it up. The best way, I believe, is to actually experience something, before you can understand it. I feel I've already progressed since I began my lessons in September, and am confident that I'll pick up the other stuff with time. Do you guys feel the same way?

Thanks a lot for your opinions, and joyeux noel!!
My .02...

You do not need an engineering degree to be a great pilot. It is not important to know the physics behind every system on the aircraft. You should have a CONCEPTUAL knowledge of how your systems work. You can fill in the gaps with PFM.. (pure magic.) For instance, you mention magnetos. you should know that they are devices which turn mechanical energy into electrical energy for your ingnition system with wires and magnets and stuff. How exactly do they do that? I don't think it's terribly important to know. If you're curious, study it. But if you're having trouble with it, just tell yourself it's PFM.
I just thought of another example. I know a lot of people spend time during their instrument rating learning exactly how their Attitude indicator works. I think it's absolutely fascinating. But You certainly can't do much about a "pedulous vane failure" from the cockpit, you just need to know what to do when the instrument craps out. It IS, however, very important to know that it's vacuum powered, so that when it is broken, you can start thinking about what other instruments or systems may be affected. I hope this gives you some kind of idea what level of knowlege is appropriate.

(If anyone says anything about "not all ADI's are pneumatic" I think I'll puke. It's just an example.)

After a couple years of instructing, I have had several students that want to know absolutely everything about everything for their check ride. These type of students usually know what they need to know in order to pass their check ride with flying colors. A majority of the time this does nothing but get the student in trouble with the DE during their oral. They are asked a simple question and they try to spit out every single thing they know about the subject. That's when the DE says... "Oh really? Tell me more about that." Answer the DE's question and nothing more. If he wants more, he'll ask. If you volunteer too much info. you are likely to dig yourself deeper and deeper. Be able to know the difference between "need to know information" versus "nice to know". Once you know the basics, then you can start to work on the intricacies (sp?). Remember, examiners don't expect you to know everything. Every check ride I have done, or sent a student on, has always been very practical. One very respected DE/instructor of the year/777 Captain once told me that two questions he likes to ask on orals are: 1) How low is the vac. pressure if the "Vac. Low" light illuminates? and 2) How low is the oil pressure at the bottom of the green arc? The answers he wants to hear for both questions... LOW ENOUGH!

You sound like you have a good head on your shoulders. I'm not saying to quit studying, just don't get too caught up with all the details. Like FlyinBrian said, all you need for now is a conceptual knowledge of systems. You have an entire career to learn the rest! Even the best of us are always learning, or re-learning as the case may be.

Good luck with the flying.
What do you need to know? Very simple. Everything.

The best pilots are constantly studying. You'll see them in waiting rooms with aircraft manuals or charts handy. You'll see them at lunch with 3X5 cards studying systems, or FAR's, or OpSpecs, or any other information. Flying involves a lot of information, and it's perishable stuff, even for those with very good memories. The best safegaurd is to use it, and to review it. This is often best accomplished by continued study.

Several years ago I departed a field into instrument conditions, flying in an older airplane. Shortly after takeoff, we lost everything but the gyros. I knew that system very well, and had a fair amount of time working on the airplane. I also spent a lot of time studying that airplane. In fact, for some 7 to 10 months of the year, I lived with that airplane. I knew the airplane better than the other pilot, and left him to fly while I went below and forward. I emerged behind the instrument panel. I trouble shot the system, and after about five minutes of work, managed to break a hard line which restored everything.

The upshot of our dillema was a series of very small insects which had entered the pitot static system in several places, and had died. We entered the cloud shortly after takeoff, and experienced pitot and static blockages throughout the system. Only by knowing that system and some peculiarities of it, did I have the opportunity to deal with it in flight. Terrain and other factors regarding the flight prevented other soloutions that I might have sought in other types of aricraft, but in this case, as in many others, systems knowledge was critical to the function of the flight.

The same may be said for knowledge about weather, psyiology, aerodynamics, etc. A sound understanding of aerodynamics is important when dealing with tailplane ice. That's a good example because every action one must take is quite contrary to the normal actions a crew might take; one must train for it, and understand it. However, a thorough knowledge of the basics, and the specific aircraft, make a big difference.

Many pilots don't understand the basics, and you can get by like that...but it's no way to live. And one day, it may cost you, big time.

I flew for a company at one time that operated among other aircraft, C-130's. We had a crew on one herc comprised of one civillian, and two military. The military were the captain and the flight engineer, and the civillian was a fairly new copilot. The were on the west coast and noted a severe hydraulic leak from the #2 engine. The crew carried enough tools and parts on board, including ladders to get up to the engines, that they could handle most problems on their own. However, they called the company maintenance office, screaming for mechanics. I should mention that the captain and copilot were both mechanics for the company as well, and both had some experience on hercs.

The company dispatched two mechanics, some parts, and a pilot to fly them in a light twin, clear out to the west coast. On arrival, the first mech out of the light airplane approached the C-130 and stood looking at it for a second. Then he pulled out a ladder, and set it up just inboard of the #2 engine. He climbed up, and undid two camlock fasteners on the top of the prop housing assembly, with a screwdriver. He reached in and closed the cap to the pressurized sump for the propeller, often called the "toilet bowl cover", for it's appearance. The propeller uses a sump, or container, to hold the fluid that controls it, and it's pressurized by bleed air. This little cap must be put in place and pinned securely, or it will fly open, releasing all the fluid, or much of it, under pressure. The crew experienced this when starting an engine.

The kicker of this was that the crew had about 20 combined years of experience in type, and some of them came from an environment that insists on thorough systems knowledge. However, they were no longer in that environment, and none of them cared to study anything more than the gages before their faces during flight. After that, it was "miller time."

The mechanic flew all that way, spent a total of perhaps five minutes putting the cover back on, and flew home. It cost the company a great deal of time and inconvenience, as well as grounded a revenue airplane all that time. It could easily have become a safety issue. A little systems knowledge could have saved that, and the embarassment to the crew.

These are some simple and humorous examples of the need for systems knowledge, but you can never study enough, and never learn enough, in aviation. I am not adept at other fields, but I dare say it applies to most things in life. I recall being told of Gichin Funakoshi, who is sometimes called the "father" of modern Karate-do. He was reported to be on his deathbed, and kept making the motion of "shuto-uke," or the sword-hand block. He did this for some time, with people thinking him quite daft. Finally he smiled and said to himself (after something like 90 years of studying and teaching the art), "Ah! Now I get it."

I hope one day I can say that about aviation, but for now, I see no alternative but to try to learn everything, and hope to just scratch the surface. Good luck!!
What you REALLY should know....

Get to know the cities you'd be flying to, and all of the local bars and the various "clubs" in the area. Before you get hammered by numerous shots of Vodka, you should also have a basic idea of the staggering distance and route back to your hotel. This is essential.
Aeronautical knowledge

I'll second Avbug. For some reason, aeronautical knowledge is indeed perishable. I've been out of aviation for more than eight years but am thinking about going back to fly for fun. Although I've found I remember many things and am surprised at what I remember after an eight-year hiatus, I know that I'll need to hit the books to refresh my recollection of the other things. Therefore, indeed, you must study continuously to keep your aviation knowledge fresh in your mind.

Knowledge of any kind is power. Avbug provided some great practical examples. I don't know if you've seen the "The More You Know" PSAs on TV. But, it is true. On the other hand, Brian and Illini raise excellent obverse points on the use of that knowledge. There will always be someone who knows more about a particular subject than you. I realize that this comment may be ego-shattering to a lot of people, but it is SOOO true, especially on checkrides. I'm a great believer in education and appreciated and was challanged by students who lusted for knowledge, but you don't want to come off as a smartass - especially on checkrides. You should only provide enough information to answer the question.

You don't need to be an engineer or a rocket scientist (sorry) to be a pilot. People from all sorts of backgrounds and educational levels become great pilots. Some people are better at learning systems than others, but you don't have to be a mechanical engineer to learn them. Some people are better at understanding and interpreting the regs than others, but you don't have to be an aviation attorney to learn them (many would disagree ;) ). Just study hard and be prepared for every class of ground school and every flight. Your instructors will teach what you need to know to function as a pilot and pass your tests. What you study outside of class will be icing on the cake.

Just my .02. Enjoy your break.
Thanks for the comments guys! I've been studying for maybe 2-3 hours daily, reviewing my manuals. I feel that there is still lots of stuff I want to know, but cannot fully understand it without a better understanding of the backgrounds. I will continue to study whenever I can, and hopefully one day, I will get to be dirspersing the information to other students. Thanks again!

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