Photography by Bryan McGowan, Trish Kroeger & Shelby Morell for Enrich Magazine

UP 2 – learning to fly, again

Question: When is a teacher no longer a teacher?

Answer: Never! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

Having just had my wonderful experience of returning to the sky, my host Jim Walker has refueled his plane, put it to bed in the hangar and now he’s joining me in the terminal at Brampton Flight Centre to tell me about his new educational venture.

Jim is designing a new way to teach flying that takes a ‘horizontal’ and intentionally visual approach. His instructional philosophy is markedly different from the way pilots have been taught since World War II. From then until now, the method of aviation education has basically been, “Read about it. Hear about it in a lecture. Get in the plane and try it. Repeat, repeat, repeat.” To be honest, that can be expensive, time consuming and frustrating. And don’t forget about the weather! If it’s bad up there, you have to stay down here. No flying. Most of all, our movement experience is largely two dimensional. However, the action of flight is three dimensional. We have to be able to move with confidence through the air.

brampton-flight-club-enrich-3Student pilots stop counting the number of times they take off, circle the field and land, all in an effort to become proficient in managing the airplane while, at the same time, keeping track of other aircraft in the vicinity of both themselves and the airport, making radio calls and doing any number of other critical, simultaneous activities. Sensory overload can be a normal experience of student pilots. The process seemed to repeat itself for months! Eventually, with practice, students do gain the expertise and situational awareness they need to progress to their first solo, first cross-country navigation flight, eventually leading to their flight exam and, hopefully, that piece of paper with ‘Pilot Licence’ written at the top, the gold ticket!

Jim went through that same process when he became a pilot. On reflection, he finds the process has some drawbacks. For one, he thinks that the perspective of being in the plane while you’re trying to learn and rehearse all these complex operations adds yet an extra level of challenge to the process. Wouldn’t it be great if you could practice from a bird’s-eye view, from the safety of the ground, and without the expense of aircraft rentals and instructor flight time? He came up with a solution and it’s revolutionary!

He has produced roll out plan-views of airports which use small scale model airplanes to teach students how to navigate around the taxiways, runways and facilities. Think of the aircraft carrier deck model used to manage the jets in the movie Top Gun. Ground handling, radio work, even approach and departure procedures are modeled from a bird’s-eye view. No doubt his teaching career has given Jim insights and inspiration for an innovative way to teach future pilots how to be effective, efficient and safe.

With this approach, instructors can sit with students in a classroom (or in a coffee shop) and go through demonstrations and rehearsals of various ground and flight procedures. Want to teach a student how to make appropriate pre-departure radio calls? Just roll out the airport plan-view, put the little model plane on the parking area and start the lesson.

Student – “Brampton Unicom this is Golf Oscar Charlie Zulu, taxiing to runway one-five.”

Teacher – “Charlie Zulu, taxi to threshold of one-five  and hold short. Wait for Cessna Twin landing.”

Student – “Charlie Zulu will hold short runway 33.”

This whole exchange would normally take place in a cockpit with the engine running, burning fuel, and with the instructor sitting in the right seat, guiding the student through the actual ground work. But with Jim’s instructional system, the student can rehearse the whole process at a vastly less expensive rate yet still acquire the needed skills. Students may realize major financial savings over the course of their instructional experience, regardless of whether they’re just getting a Private licence or going all the way to Commercial and Multi-engine ratings.

IMG_5697aFrom a flight school perspective, this system can offer the ability to get more students learning to fly while still managing limited aircraft fleet resources more efficiently. Students will only get in the cockpit when the instructor is confident they’re ready for the next step because they’ve already rehearsed the skills on the ground with Jim’s system and curriculum.

Jim plans to develop this system locally and then move it into the broader flight training marketplace.

Flight instruction is a major part of the Brampton Flight mandate. In many airports, there’s a definite corporate feel. But at BFC, there’s a definite ‘community’ vibe. I met Julie Pomeroy, general manager of the facility, while Jim was taking me through his materials. Julie tells me the Brampton Flying Club has been around since 1946 and has more than one thousand members using its facilities. Soon we’re talking about the future of civil aviation and the need for future pilots, and how important it is to get the next generation interested in flying careers.

This past May 24th, the Brampton Flight Centre held a Career Fair to encourage young people to consider opportunities in aviation. The morning of the event, there was a long lineup of students waiting at the desk to register. The sky was blue with scattered high clouds. A perfect day for an introduction to flight!

Attendees were given an introductory flight in one of BFC’s fleet of training aircraft. Following their flight, Judy Piccioni, Campus Administrator for the school’s flight training programs, and Adrian Tegley, a flight instructor on staff, led the students through an informative presentation on the diverse breadth of aviation careers that are available to graduates of the school’s various pilot training programs. There is also a degree program offered through Brampton Flight Centre’s partnership with Sheridan College. Students have the choice of a one year intensive Commercial flight training program that includes 900 hours of instruction at BFC. Alternatively, they can extend their educational experience to a four year Business degree from Sheridan College. Judy was pleased to tell me that they work with distinguished members of the aviation industry to help students learn skills both inside and outside the cockpit that will help them achieve success at completion of their studies. The BFC also offers Flight Instructor positions to the top 25% of graduates of their program.

Two attendees gave me their impression of the Career Day event. Athulya, a 16-year-old student at Chinguacousy Secondary School in Brampton, was eager to have a new experience at BFC. “This was my first flight ever and, though I was scared at first, I soon was struck by how small I was in relation to the ground below me and the landscape spread all around. I won’t forget this!”

Rafael, sporting a bright psychedelic ‘Go Flying’ t-shirt, came all the way from Newmarket High School to attend. He has dreams of being a military aviator. “It was the best! I got to fly a plane for the first time in my life!” He was not aware of the variety of careers available, including Flight Instructor, Bush Pilot and Commercial Pilot, and was appreciative of the career presentation given by the staff. Having knowledgeable staff on hand to answer students’ questions, both about flight instruction and post-graduate careers, was also very helpful.

There were many more students who took advantage of the information sessions and flight experiences provided by BFC. Let’s hope that many of them put their passion for flight into practice and become future aviators.

Between Jim, Julie, Judi and Adrian, I really came away with the impression that aviation education continues to advance and innovate, just as dials and knobs in the cockpit give way to modern computer instruments and systems. It’s terrific to see these people taking the lead in helping the next generation get their wings! brampton-flight-club-enrich-18

by Gordon Payne, Enrich Magazine contributing writer