Spouse orientation flights…

I heard a common comment before each of my flights this week – “You sure are a brave guy! Are you sure you’re ready for this!”  While at the MMOPA Convention, I was one of four instructors who had the priveledge of flying with some of the spouses of the PA-46 pilots. These are the ladies who get to ride in the back (or right seat) of the PA-46 frequently on trips with their husbands, but are not pilots.  Bottom line forward…I had a super time with the 5 ladies who flew me around the airspace near Colorado Springs, CO.

Jackie and Joe with her unbelievably gorgeous 2012 Mirage.  Jackie was one of my early “students” for the spouse orientation flights, and she really set the standards.  We got along great and had a bunch of fun flying around Colorado Springs, even thought it was somewhat bumpy.

Here’s my observations and comments of the event:

Why they did it: Most of the ladies that flew me wanted to have the wherewithal to land the airplane in case their husband became incapacitated in flight, but many also just wanted to gain the ability to improve their Situational Awareness (SA) while flying.  These ladies wanted to know that they could land the airplane safely in case of an emergency, but they also wanted to be a greater part of the flying experience and enjoy the flying experience more by gaining knowledge.  As the the old saying goes…”knowledge is power”, and these ladies wanted to have the power to make their PA-46 safer and more enjoyable.

Nancy and Joe just prior to engine start. Nancy was a blast to fly with…she is naturally coordinated and picked up on the nuances of flight super-quick.

How’s they do?:   I was amazed at the flying ability of these women.  Two of the ladies landed the airplane without assistance from me (a little rough, but safe!), all taxied the airplane to the runway (and the PA-46 is a PAIN to taxi smoothly), nearly all performed the takeoff with no assistance, all performed the approach to landing with the autopilot, and two made a visual approach to landing with no autopilot!  I could tell that they took the ground training seriously, paid attention, and tried to do their best.  One of the ladies read the checklist to me saying, “that was her job when she flew with her husband”, another knew how to manage the autopilot and GPS proficiently, and another helped with the preflight (knowing many of the more important preflight items).  I felt that all of the ladies could have landed safely in case their husband was incapacitated in flight.  It might not have been a perfect landing, but in all instances they would have walked away from the airplane.

Were they scared?  Well, yes, most of them were.  Not “horror-movie scared”, but there was a fair level of nervousness expressed by each lady before the flight.  This is an expected response, but all of them got over the nervousness within just a few minutes of flight.  By the end of the flight, all were totally relaxed and glad they did it.  What were they most afraid of?  For some it was hands-on flying during takeoff, for all the last 200′ of the landing approach was scary, and interestingly, talking on the radio was high on the list.  There’s something about the radio that is nerve-racking to the uninitiated.  I had each of them make a few radio calls, just to make sure they could, and all of them did splendidly.

Kudo’s to Travis Holland: Travis came up with a “checklist” that could be used to help a spouse land the airplane in the event that their husband became incapacitated.  The checklist was aircraft-type specific, avionics specific, and worked superbly.  Travis came up with an incapacitation plan that is based upon the ladies using the autopilot to fly an approach very near the ground, and then having them turn off the autopilot just before touchdown to land.  It was a brilliant plan that proved to work really well.

Landing level – A deeper discussion: If an airplane contacts the ground in a level attitude with a slow airspeed, the chances of walking away from the event physically unscathed are super-high.  If an airplane lands in any attitude other than wings/nose-level, the chances of injury or death skyrocket.  Additionally, the Malibu is a pressurized vessel, which has a lot of additional metal in the construction of the fuselage to protect the occupants in the life-capsule (inside of the airplane).  So, if a Malibu contacts the ground with the wings and nose level, the chances of surviving are really high.  Our goal for this training event was to prepare the ladies to learn to fly the airplane so a level-attitude contact with the ground was possible – preferably on an airport (where emergency services are available).  If a person is able to fly the PA-46 on an instrument approach (ILS or GPS-W), even if the person flying did not disengage the autopilot and flew it into the ground, the chances of walking away are high.  This discussion is applicable to the pilots as well…in an emergency if you can find flat(ish) terrain and land level, you’ll probably be just fine.  Aircraft control during an emergency is absolutely critical.

So…my hat is off to the ladies!  They did a super job and made my job really enjoyable.  It was a great 4 days at the MMOPA Convention, and the spouse flights were the highlight for me.  Thanks Sylvie, Jackie, Laurie, Nancy, and Chris!

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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