Your connection with the sky

Variety – The Spice of Flight (and Flight Training)

Tupper and Sutton in the Citabria

I was talking to airshow performer Greg Koontz about aerobatics and flight training as part of an episode of my podcast, Airspeed.  I saw Greg twice last year and he does everything from great aerobatics in a Super Decathlon to landing a Piper Cub on a moving pickup truck.  I got Greg on the show because I wanted to talk to a real expert on aerobatics at the edge of the envelope that I’m just beginning to explore.  As many of you know, I’ve been doing tailwheel and aerobatic training with Barry Sutton of Sutton Aviation at Oakland County International Airport (or “Pontiac”) (KPTK) since last April and I really love the challenge and the feeling of freedom.

But it got me thinking about primary flight training, too.  I think that some folks leave flight training because it ceases to be fun.  I’ve had days like that.  The airplane won’t listen, all the dials are cursed, and someone seems to keep moving the runway.  Sure, you can (and should) push through these plateaus in training (aster all, if this stuff was too easy, everyone would do it), but sometimes you need a reminder of why you’re learning to fly in the first place.

There’s nothing that says you have to fly C-172s or Diamond Katanas the entire time you’re training.  If flight training begins to seem like a chore, go get an experience or two that are pure fun.

I personally think that tailwheel flying is crazy fun.  It’s challenging and it’ll give you a real feel for the rudder.  If you’re early in your training, be sure to have the instructor follow you on the controls and just let him or her handle the takeoffs and landings if it starts to become frustrating.  Just get up there and enjoy yourself!

And, as long as we’re talking about aerobatics, it’s great fun to find a qualified instructor and go get upside down a few times.  Plan on some straight-and-level to get the hang of the airplane and then try for about 20 minutes of aerobatics.  That’s about right for most pilot’s tummies.

And aerobatic instruction is very helpful in making you a safer pilot, no matter what your primary training aircraft is.  The private pilot PTS doesn’t require actual spins and lots of pilots make it all the way through training without having seen anything more dramatic than a coordinated stall.  Seeing a few spins and recovering from them (yeah, you’ll get to recover as a part of the flight) will give you a real confidence boost.

And, as long as you’re up with a qualified instructor, you’ll get to log the time and it’ll count toward the requirements for your private pilot certificate.

There are other opportunities, too.  Go fly a complex airplane, get some seaplane instruction, or find other opportunities to explore what aviation has to offer.  There’s wonderful variety out there and most of those opportunities are great sources of inspiration.  As always, make sure that you have a qualified instructor and that you and the instructor understand the objective of the flight before you turn the prop.

I’ll bet you’ll return to your trusty trainer aircraft with a smile on your face and be excited about the possibilities beyond your private certificate.  And you might even magically break through that plateau just because you’re a little less bunched up over it!

If taildragger flying or aerobatics in particular sound good to you, there’s more commentary on some of my aerobatic experiences at and you can find the show notes and a link to the show audio with the conversation with Greg Koontz at

2 Responses to “Variety – The Spice of Flight (and Flight Training)”

  1. Totally agree. A little bit of aerobatics certainly helped my confidence when I was learning to fly!

  2. I have taken Koontz training time, with great relish and glee. He is an excellent fellow with a real gift for communicating and teaching what he knows; putting into your hands and helping you learn those things that he has spent thousands of hours doing.

    As for spins, I think it is a real tragedy that spins are not required in the "core" for all private pilots. Accidental spins during base to final kill people who should know that feeling before it happens the one and only time they otherwise ride their first spin into the ground.

    As for acro - it is dancing with the wind; and like dancing once you know how, you and your lady are paired like you never were before. It is a joy that gives meaning to the freedom of the skies.

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