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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bob Ross, CFI

I recently came across a Netflix series of Bob Ross episodes called "Beauty is Everywhere", and the wife and I have been working through them for the last several months. (Since I'm away flying so much, we get to watch one or perhaps two episodes a week together, so it takes a while to make it through a couple dozen of them.) For those who may not recognize him by name, he is the "Happy little trees" painting guy with the calm voice and the big fishbowl of hair.


In the past, the only time I would get to see him is if I happened to be channel surfing and a PBS station was playing a rerun of his show--which ended over 20 years ago. I would usually stop and watch the rest of the episode, hypnotized by his almost magical ability to create an amazing painting from scratch in only 22 minutes.

As I've watched through his work systematically, something jumps out at me about him: Bob Ross would have made an incredible flight instructor. One of the things that made Ross so popular and addicting to watch was not just his masterful artwork or how good he was at creating something amazing, but that he made you feel like you could be good at it, too.

Neil Peart, another master of his craft as the Hall of Fame drummer for Rush, said in Work in Progress that "the apprentice takes something easy and makes it look difficult, while the master takes the impossible and makes it look easy." As the best rock drummer in history, Peart would know. (His title for Work in Progress refers to his own continual, daily effort to get better at the thing he's already the best ever at. That continual strive for perfection--or at least continuous improvement--is also the hallmark of a good aviator.)

Peart said that in the context of how sometimes less is more in a song. One of the things that Bob Ross does so well is to create something that looks complex while using only incredibly simple techniques. He will paint trees that look intricately detailed, as if each tree must have taken hours to fill out. In fact, each of them takes less than a minute to make by doing nothing more complex than poking the canvas several times with the end of the brush, then adding highlights the same way with a smaller brush.

In one episode, he had less than two minutes left and a large part at the bottom of the canvas was still unfinished. He said he was going to put a lake there. I thought, "There is no possible way he has time to do that." But with a few downstrokes of a painting knife, he had a lake from nowhere in seven seconds and a full, beautiful canvas!

I believe that it a poor master who cannot pass along their skill. Ross's encouraging attitude creates a fertile ground for learning. Not only is he good, but he can make you good, too, which is purpose of an instructor. He is known (as the meme at the beginning of this post refers to) for saying, "There are no mistakes when you're painting. There are just happy little accidents." This encourages you to try something new and if it doesn't turn out well, you can gain from the experience anyway having learned a new way not to do it.

I used to tell my flight students when it came time to start pattern work that we'd be spending the next several hours finding 50 different ways not to land an airplane. Finally, we'll find one way that works for you. Bob Ross's attitude toward teaching others to paint was similar. Maybe along the way you'll find a way that fits better with your style than his would. Maybe you won't. But either way, you won't know unless you find out for yourself.

Many of Ross's qualities are qualities you should look for in your flight instructor. (Well, maybe not the hair. Most cockpits don't have enough room for all that hair.) A good instructor should be able to take a complex subject like flying and break it into chunks that you can put into your palette. Then they should let you use that palette. In other words, they should allow you to try out your own way of doing things if it's not working for you, within the bounds of reason and safety. A good flight instructor should have enough mastery of their craft that they are willing to let you paint right up to the edges of the canvas, if necessary, while still keeping you in a safe, productive, encouraging environment.

Most importantly, a good instructor should make you feel like you can be an artful aviator too, because you can be! See you next Wednesday!

P.S.: Just for fun, here's Bob Ross remixed:


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Be like Bob

The pilot community, by and large, is a very good community of very good folks. The best of those was Bob Hoover; not just as a pilot but as a person. The way he lived his life, the way he stayed humble even though he was the best there ever was, and the way he shared his "secret" of success (which really was just finding something you wanted to do and busting your butt to get better and better at it every day) was a lifelong lesson on grace.

Unfortunately, not everyone is Bob Hoover. There is a sizable percentage out there that will comment negatively on almost any story, especially ones where the pilot admits a mistake or unfortunately isn't around to talk about a mistake that led to an accident. This is not something that is just a pilot thing; it exists in every single field of human endeavor. Nevertheless, since it does sometimes discourage people who would otherwise want to learn to fly and even chases some others away totally, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Different places are better or worse about this. For instance, the online magazine Air Facts tends to have a small number of negative commenters, and those are very quickly put in their place and corrected by a large contingent of commenters who are quite experienced pilots. This seems to have something to do with the make-up of their readership, which in general self-selects for people who want to spend the time reading quality articles that will help them become better pilots.

At the complete opposite of the spectrum are a few places who shall remain nameless, although if you have even a slight interest in flying you've almost certainly come across them. Due to their more popular interest, their forums or comment sections tend to have a lot more amateurs or non-pilots. As the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect shows, the less you know, the better you think you are, since you're not good enough at it to know how bad you are.

The absolute worst is YouTube. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, but I do not comment on anything on the site. (Except for comments on my own videos, which even then I am unfortunately much slower at replying to than I'd like to be because I am always busy doing something.) I basically gave up after politely explaining the proper way to fly a DME arc to someone who demonstrated it incorrectly. Their intent was good, and they tried hard in the video, but you can't really teach something you don't actually do. I pointed out that their technique was incorrect and got the reply that their brother is a pilot so they know how to do it. Since I try to take my own advice, I don't drop the "I'm a 4000-hour type rated ATP/CFII" line on people unless severely provoked, so I just decided to stop commenting altogether. If you're trying to learn to fly, I highly recommend you don't even bother to look at the comments on flying videos. The great thing about the internet is that anyone can use it to become an expert on anything, given enough time and practice. The terrible thing about the internet is that everyone thinks they're an expert on everything.

In the non-electronic world, there are also people who will act like they're better than you. The pilot community is an exclusive one due to the barriers to entry: the cost, the time it takes for lessons, and the willpower to continue studying for however long it takes to achieve the goal of becoming a pilot does tend to shake out those without motivation. It is not particularly difficult to become a pilot—I've said many times and that almost anyone can (and should!) become a pilot. Nonetheless, 99% of people don't even try.

Unfortunately, there are people who enjoy being in that exclusive club and want to keep it exclusive. Some people think that if others join the club, then that makes them that much less special. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, and flying is a pleasure that few people experience.

The more people who do get that experience, however, the better it is for all of us. A large community is a strong community, so the way to make aviation even better is to welcome even more people into it. There is no reason to look down on any other pilot, and there is especially no such thing as "just" a student pilot or "just" a private pilot or "just" a whatever. We are all pilots, and we should encourage all pilots.

In fact, if you do think you're the Ace of the Base, that means that you have more of a responsibility toward those who are learning or want to learn. The more experience you have, the more you can help mentor new pilots. Every hour in your logbook is an hour that you learned something that you can now teach to someone else.

My response to the question, "How many hours do you have?" has become just, "Hopefully not my last one!" I think Bob Hoover himself would approve of that answer, and I hope we all can learn from his example as not just the best pilot who ever lived, but as one of the finest gentlemen aviation has ever had as well.

Next week, I'll talk about another Bob we can all learn from. This one is not a pilot, and it is definitely not who you might expect. See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Something Bob Hoover never did

Bob Hoover made the word "amazing" into an understatement. In my last post, I barely scratched the surface of the incredible career he had, from escaping prison camps by stealing enemy planes to being Chuck Yeager's wingman to pouring iced tea upside down, and then some.

But even with a real-life career that sounded like something that a fiction author would have to tone down or condense, there was one big thing that the great Bob Hoover never did:

He never talked trash about other pilots.

No matter what you do, what field you're in, or who you are, there will always be someone better than you at it. Unless you're Michael Jordan, there is someone who is better at basketball than you are. Unless you're Neil Peart, there is someone who is better at drumming than you are. Unless you're Bill Gates, there is someone who's richer than you are.

And yet Bob Hoover, who could legitimately walk into any room and know that he was the best pilot there, and who has been called "the best stick and rudder man who ever lived" by those who would know, never talked down to others, never second-guessed other pilots, and never had the know-it-all attitude so common in other pilots, especially in pilot forums.

Hoover did like to talk about himself, though. (As my wife will tell you, that's not an uncommon trait in pilots.) And he did engage in some trash talk.

What set him apart, however, was how he talked about himself. Instead of trying to impress everyone with his knowledge, as many pilots do, or trying to make himself look good by trashing others (which many others do, although there is some overlap between the two groups), Bob Hoover did yet another thing that almost no other pilot has done:

He talked about himself and talked trash at the same time by always talking about how much work he had to do to get better. Here was the one man who actually had ultimate bragging rights no matter who he was talking to, and yet he did not pretend he was born Superpilot or decide he had ever reached a level where he was as good as he would ever want to be. He could always go out the next day and improve.

In this, he shares traits with Michael Jordan, who was always the first on the practice court and the last off of it; with Neil Peart, who after 30 years of drumming decided to find a drum coach in a completely different style than what he had mastered, tore down his method and rebuilt it from scratch, and even changed from a matched grip to a traditional grip just to find another way to improve; and with Derek Jeter, who when someone would come on the field to practice, Jeter would insist on leaving the field five minutes after they did, no matter how long that took.

In the foreword to productivity guru Tim Ferriss's new book Tools of Titans, Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "The worst thing you can ever do is to think you know enough." Bob Hoover always thought he could know more, rather than—as too many pilots do—think that he knew more than everyone else.

Next week, I'll talk more about what those who do think they know enough can learn from the example set by the great Mr. Hoover. See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.