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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot, Training

Left Seat Flying

November 9th, 2014

Total Hours: 98.8

The newest development in my flying is moving over to the left seat. What’s the big deal? Well, the left seat is where the instructor sits. And since I am learning to be the instructor I’d better get used to it! Moving into the “other” seat doesn’t sound like a big deal and in reality it isn’t. But all of you who have driven on the other side of the road, and thus the other side of the car, understand that things are just a bit off. The good news is that helicopters don’t have turn signals or windshield wipers, so at least I can’t mess that up!

In reality it isn’t much different flying from the other side. Once again it goes back to visual references. Our vision is the number one tool we use to tell our brain our current position in space. Our brain then makes the muscles move accordingly. When there is confusion between our eyes and our brain interesting things happen. Think about that old elementary school game of spinning around the baseball bat. Pretty hard to do anything once you confuse the visual system. Of course moving into the left seat is not nearly as dramatic. But all the little references I’ve been using, both those I am aware of and those that I use subconsciously, are now scrambled around. My first pick up was a little shakey, but I quickly got the helicopter under control. More interesting was the fact that I couldn’t taxi down the centerline any more! And all my approaches ended up a few feet to the left of my intended target. Needless to say these little quirks are already getting worked out.

In addition to moving into the left seat I am working hard on my teaching skills in the aircraft. To start this means demonstrating the maneuvers to my instructor. But simply flying them is not enough, I have to talk through what I am doing while I do it, just as if I was teaching a first time student. Again, it is fascinating just how much the simple act of talking can interrupt our motor skills. What’s that old joke about the blonde chewing gum and walking? I’m a bit more grey than blonde these days (I was blonde as child) but I can sympathize! We can’t simply talk our way through the maneuvers any old way either. We have to learn to use the proper keywords and have a steady flow. This way a student’s experience is somewhat standardized among the different instructors. It feels funny hearing myself give the lessons as I fly the maneuvers, but I’m getting used to it. I’m sure getting over the “stage freight” is a big part of why we practice.

While I am working on teaching the various maneuvers from the left seat of the helicopter I am also working on teaching them on the ground using a whiteboard. The cool thing is that all of this time spent going over the maneuvers is shedding new light on how I actually fly the maneuvers. I am already seeing some very nice improvements in my flying and I expect I will see a lot more in the next fifty hours. There is a part of me that wishes I could have put all these things together back in my private, but I think that no matter how they would have been explained to me I simply didn’t have the knowledge base to put the information to use. So much of it is trial and error in those early stages. It is very rewarding to read about a maneuver, teach it on the whiteboard, then talk my way through it in the aircraft and actually recognize the parts that make up the whole. When my instructor talked me through all those maneuvers in the private it was all I could do to keep flying. I don’t think I had much brain space left for listening! And yet somehow I made it through and now I feel like I am starting to make honest progress.

I am now about fifty hours away from having the necessary aeronautical experience requirements for my commercial and CFI certificates. If I had to guess I would say that I’ll be doing these checkrides in January. I can’t believe it will be happening that soon! In the meantime I have plenty of time left (almost the same amount of time that went into my private certificate) to continue working on maneuvers and my teaching skills. It won’t all be maneuvers though. Some of the fun things to look forward to are my first long-line (external load) flights, mountain flying, and some work in the Honolulu class Bravo airspace. Some of this training will be in the R44 as well and I must say I’m pretty excited for my first flight in a new type of helicopter! In the meantime I’ll keep grinding away at my lesson plans, whiteboards, and the other teaching requirements. I’m happy to say that I’m in a really good place these days. The future seems full of possibilities and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


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