Advanced VFR - my experience at Bush Air
I was taught how to land a C172, safely, in 50 to 100 meters, and the best technique for short field take-offs, which I was never taught at a Flight School. I was taught how to navigate a one-way-in, one-way-out airstrip safely, and how to land on a steep uphill strip. What I learned at Bush Air, kept me safe in some situations I otherwise would not have known how to handle in the years that followed. I owe CC Pocock a BIG thank you.
The story that follows is in the present tense, written shortly after my training with CC. Sadly CC and the SACAA did not see eye to eye, so he took his skills to America, and Bush Air in Barberton is no more. What follows is my experience at Bush Air:
Advanced pilot training has traditionally meant a night rating, an instrument rating, or turbine and jet training. But everyone has ignored advanced pilot training for light aircraft VFR pilots. Everyone except for an unconventional man who has the courage of his convictions to do what is right in spite of not fitting into any conventional category. This is a man who is saving lives by teaching advanced VFR flight, allowing pilots to learn to understand their aircraft's practical limits in a safe environment and giving them the ride of their lives in the process!
It was December 2008, and dusk was falling. Heavy, unavoidable hail en-route had pockmarked my Jeep Wrangler Sport's bonnet. I was coasting her down the hills leading to Badplaas as the yellow fuel light glared at me in defiance, threatening to cause the six cylinder fuel injected 2.4 litre in-line engine to quit her growling and go on a hunger strike. At last I saw the welcoming glow of Badplaas and eased gratefully into the first fuel station I saw to feed my hungry 4X4.
Half an hour later, slip sliding up the muddy, rain drenched dirt road between Barberton and Nelspruit, ever grateful for low range, my powerful, tough spider-like vehicle negotiated the wet, hilly terrain as though it was flat and dry. She sounded somehow happier to be in the mud on this challenging little road than on the tar highway.
At last we came to a halt on a low hill outside CC Pocock's house in the Barberton Valley, close to 8pm. CC, A tall lanky blond with unruly shoulder length hair and a sun browned, craggy face, looking like someone you might expect to run into on a beach with a surfboard under one arm; showed me to my room; a twin, basic en-suite, but with all the comforts I needed.
The next two days were an education in advanced pilot training. Ground briefings and lectures were given in the classroom... a spot in the hangar with a white board. The hangar is part of his house. Other people have garages. CC's car sleeps outside, but his airplane parks in the house. This should be enough of a clue to anyone to understand where CC's priorities lie.
Through a little door in the hangar and you are in CC's lounge, complete with fireplace, open plan to the kitchen. A staircase winds up to what I imagine must be his bedroom, with a view into the hangar.
CC usually takes only two pilots on his advanced pilot training course. Very rarely will he accept three.
Both evenings we chatted to CC sitting at the counter, lounge side as he cooked up a scrumptious dinner for us.
The next two days were exciting. This man knows what he is doing. He has the courage to stand against "conventional" wisdom and teach what needs to be taught for VFR advanced pilot training. I knew how to operate an aircraft before, but after two days with CC, I learned the art in how to fly an airplane.
Safety was of utmost concern. Ground lectures and briefings were thorough. I flew his C172. First we did some familiarisation - climbed to a safe altitude and did some handling and stalling. Then circuits. Then short field circuits... stopping in under 100m in his C172. This was so much fun!
I have subsequently used the technique I learned during my advanced pilot training, at my home field in Richards Bay. One day I was doing circuits in the C150 on runway 23. The field has an intersection holding point for 05 which is about 130m from runway 23's thresh-hold. A jet was inbound and soon to join final approach. The C150, (much like a 50cc motorcycle which accelerates sluggishly downhill), is not very fast. The jet, in contrast, is! The controller took a chance on me on late downwind and asked me to do a short approach.
I was delighted. Out came my advanced pilot training: I came in slow, barn doors open with 40 degrees of flap set, 15kt wind on the nose. Landed short and was off at the intersection.
The jet pilot said "good one!" and landed 20 seconds later. That was fun! I have subsequently done the same in nil wind conditions.
CC taught me how to land and take off on a VERY sloped grass runway. Used that one as well back home. More than once.
Thanks to CC's advanced pilot training, I made confident and safe decisions, and am able to use, with confidence, airstrips I would have been hesitant to use before.
On course I learned how to tackle one way in / one way out strips, landed the C172 on a 300m sloping dirt strip at 4000ft, and took off again, and learned about turning safely in a blind canyon.
Subsequently he has added some new challenges and I cannot wait to go on his refresher course.
All my training in conventional schools taught me how to stay with in a broad safety envelope. All the procedures were taught, all the theory, for landing on a pretty decent, long, flat, unobstructed runways. I was taught short field take offs and landings, taught how weight, both physical and g-loading, affects stall speeds. I was taught how flaps allow an aircraft to fly more safely at lower airspeeds, how to recover from a stall and spin at altitude and instructed to avoid both rigorously, and was ALWAYS referred back to the Pilot Operating Handbook. The POH, I have discovered, is a little limited.
All this is great, but my question to you is: Do you REALLY understand YOUR aircraft? If the chips are down and the odds are stacked against you, will you come out the other end alive?
The safety margins built around landing are so safe in conventional flight training that they are likely to get one into a whole heap of trouble if you do not have a nice unobstructed landing area available for touchdown.
Have you ever been taught to land your aircraft in its absolute minimum space?
Do you know how to calculate and land on steep slopes, and on one-way-in, one-way-out strips?
Do you know how to fly low safely, or how to fly and turn around safely when "Cumulus Granitis" appears unexpectedly and unavoidably in front of you?
Do you know which side of a mountain slope to fly and why?
Do you know the stall speeds of your aircraft in every configuration at different weights and exactly how your aircraft responds?
Do you know what you don't know about your aircraft?
It is said that superior pilots should use their superior knowledge to avoid getting into situations that will require the use of their superior skills. Unfortunately many "superior" pilots do not follow this advice.
I was watching my brother on his skateboard the other day. He skates nonchalantly down slopes I would hesitate to slide down on my bum. He gets airborne and flies through the air then lands again, flowing into the next move as though he and the skateboard were one. I know it took him A LOT of HARD falls to get to where he is now.
Skill is EARNED, and is based on an intuitive understanding of your craft. I had, until I met CC, flown within the broad safety ranges taught to me. I am cautious, more so since the birth of my son. Staying in one workable piece is of paramount importance to me.
I have never taken the "falls" in flying that, if survived, would make me a better pilot. Instead, I chose to learn from someone who has taken those falls, and survived, so that I don't have to risk my life or my son's future while improving my skills.
There is a light aircraft accident that happened some years ago that resulted in a fatality. The pilot chose to do a Precautionary Landing in a field somewhere in the Free State, due to nasty weather, I think. I can only guess that he didn't see the rocks hidden among the golden grass. He was flung out of his broken aircraft and his head was smashed against a rock. It seems to me his approach speed must have been along the lines of appropriate for landing on a runway. I can't help but wonder if he would still be alive today if he had done CC's advanced pilot training course.
By the time I went for my advanced pilot training course with CC, I had been flying for 12 years and had over 1500 hours flying light aircraft. At the end of two days training with him, I felt safe for the first time. I felt that if I ever had to do a forced or precautionary landing, no matter what the terrain, I would be pretty sure of being able to walk away from it.