Improper Techniques


Eddie sez:

Some pilots don’t understand that techniques they hold near and dear don’t always transfer from airplane to airplane, country to country, or even from one type of operation to another. Using a technique from a past life can be wasteful, in the least, or can be deadly. The problem most often occurs when the proponent, let’s call him Gary, is the guy in charge. It is hard to tell the boss he or she has been doing something wrong, so you need to tread lightly. I recommend three approaches:

  1. Use facts and rational persuasion. Sometimes all you need to do is point out a rule or regulation that proves your position. Or you might be able to calmly point out the reasons the poor technique cannot be used. For example: Sometimes You Have to Go Low.
  2. Use the “Socratic Method.” Greek philosopher Socrates advocated turning the disagreement into a teaching lesson. By asking the proponent to explain how to better accomplish the technique in question, you force them to better understand it. For example: Sometimes You Have to Give Up Fun.
  3. Appeal to a respected authority. American philosopher Bob Dylan said, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The proponent must have someone he or she listens to. Get them on your side. For example: Sometimes the Mule Learns.

Of course all three methods could fail. (That’s why there are four Garys in this story.) When that happens, the only solution could be a bit more drastic. For example: The Donkey Never Learns.

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Improper Techniques

Sometimes You Have to Go Low
(1981, KC-135A, Loring Air Force Base, Maine)

Major Gary Deschennes sat in his seat; our crew flight log in one hand and the base’s weather report in the other. From his left seat perch in our KC-135A tanker he ruled the roost and so far the sortie had gone uneventfully. As the aircraft commander, everything we did was under his direction and he alone called the shots once the engines were started. So far everything was just as the Strategic Air Command had envisioned.

We took off from Loring Air Force Base, on the northern tip of Maine, headed for March Air Force Base, California. My only duty, as the second lieutenant copilot, was to assist him as directed and to accomplish every task called for by the flight manual and all those regulations SAC and the Air Force were so fond of. Major Deschennes, of course, had many more responsibilities. One of those was to ensure everyone on the crew met their quarterly training requirements. On this day, those requirements included a point parallel rendezvous with our B-52 bomber for the navigator, and token 10,000-pound air refueling off load for the boom operator, and an approach and landing for me, the copilot. I knew he hated giving up landings and imagined he was studying the weather to think of an excuse to take the landing away from me. “It’s a bit gusty today,” he would say, “better let me land today.” But the winds were right down the runway and the visibility was great.


“I guess the landing is your’s today, co,” he said. “Name your poison.”

I flipped through our DoD approach book and spied the usual suspects. We had the equipment to fly any TACAN or ILS approach, and of course there was an assortment of radar approaches. But I knew that I had already met my quarterly requirements for those, so I flipped through the book for something I hadn’t done in a while.

“Let’s do the TACAN Runway 31,” I said. “We can hit the procedure turn for a parallel entry from this heading and make the inbound turn with enough offset to exit on course without an additional turn.”

“What in the hell are you talking about?” he asked. “You aren’t authorized to fly those. We only shoot high approaches.” He grabbed the book from me and flipped back a few pages. “Here, do this one.”

I looked at the HI-TACAN approach to the same runway and thought it was just like every other straight-in high altitude approach. “I’d rather do the procedure turn,” I said. “Sir,” I added.

“Disapproved,” he said. “One day you are going to have to get it into your skull that you are flying a military airplane. Air Force airplanes only fly high altitude approaches. Period.”

I knew the “period” was the end of the debate and dropped the subject. That night I studied my Air Force Manual 51-37, Instrument Procedures, for any sign that I was wrong and Major Deschennes was right. The book clearly included low altitude procedures.

“Well that might be,” he said the next morning. “But 51-37 is written for fighters too. In the big airplane Air Force, we only fly high altitude approaches. Period.”

There was that “period” again. The next day we found ourselves one hundred nautical miles south of Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, California. Castle is where SAC teaches its pilots to fly the KC-135A and all sorts of B-52s. We were there to pick up a load of security police on their way to some kind of SAC competition in North Dakota. It had only been a year ago that I was learning to fly the tanker at Castle.


“Attention all aircraft,” the approach controller said as I got ready to check in. “Merced primary radar is out of service, all aircraft make standard position reports.”

“What the hell?” Major Deschennes said.

"SAC two, four, seven at flight level two one zero,” I reported. “We are fifty miles north of Avenal on J-one-eighty-nine.”

“Roger SAC two, four seven,” the controller replied. “Proceed direct the Castle TACAN, descend and maintain six thousand feet. You are cleared the TACAN three one, full procedure. Report procedure turn inbound.”

“What the hell?” Major Deschennes said, yet again. I pulled out the approach and dialed in the frequency. “We can’t do this procedure,” Deschennes said on approach control’s frequency. “Request a PAR.”

“All radar is out,” the controller said. “You will have to fly this procedure or divert.”

“Roger,” he said. I handed him the approach and he grimaced. “How about you take the landing?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

He sat silently as I flew, watching suspiciously as I turned outbound on a 30 degree offset from the inbound course. He obediently moved the flap and gear handles as I requested and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as the needles centered after I turned inbound.

It was my second landing in a row with Major Deschennes, a rarity for us. We were a bit early and I sat in Base Operations for an hour after he mysteriously disappeared. He came back just in time to join the crew on the bus to our airplane. He handed me a stapled pamphlet from the “Air Force Instrument Pilot Instructor School.”

“The IPIS is here at Castle,” he said as I skimmed the forty or fifty pages. “I got a buddy who is an instructor. He says you are exactly right about procedure turns. He also said all of us seasoned pilots are about to get educated on these low altitude approaches. Says it’s because of the fuel crisis. Saves gas. That copy is yours to keep.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” he said.

Major Deschennes embraced the concept of flying low altitude approaches in his very large military aircraft and never looked back. While he never brought up our disagreement, the fact he went out of his way to get the facts and then shared them with me was acknowledgement enough. You don’t have to win the argument with an apology, the deeds speak louder than the words.

Sometimes You Have to Give Up Fun
(1983, Boeing 707, 150 nm South of Oahu, Hawaii)


He outranked me in just about every way possible. As the aircraft commander, Major Gary Giannakis called the shots in our airplane. As an instructor pilot, his job was to teach and my job was to learn. He was also the chief of standardization and evaluation for the squadron and I was his copilot. Oh yes, I was a first lieutenant. No doubt about it, Gary was in charge.

“Tell me again,” I said as he maneuvered our Boeing 707 on a 45 degree line just 40 or 50 feet to the right from our sister ship. “Why are we doing this?”

He expertly wiggled the ailerons toward and then away from the airplane just ahead and to our left. We had both been trained to keep a T-37 and a T-38 just a few feet away from one, two, or three other airplanes while in aerobatic flight. Gary’s “fingertip” formation appeared to be flawless, but unnecessary.

“It is a proficiency exercise,” he said while keeping his eyes on the lead aircraft. “We have always practiced fingertip form in this squadron. It keeps us sharp.”

“Can’t we keep sharp with air refueling?” I asked. “Flying formation in trail gives us more options when something goes wrong. One airplane maintains altitude and the other drops.”

“Same thing,” he said. Lead dipped a wing and we started a 180-degree turn. Gary dipped our left wing, pushed all four throttles forward, and added some backpressure to the elevator. We fell behind and a bit inside, but only for a few seconds.

“When do I get my chance?” I asked.

“Soon enough, co,” he said. “This is something you will learn when you upgrade to aircraft commander. Patience, grasshopper.” Lead rolled out, a bit abruptly. Gary overcorrected and I felt myself weightless for a few seconds.

“Doesn’t this beat up the airplane?” I asked.

“A little,” he admitted. “But you have to expect a few losses in a big operation.”

Lead dipped his right wing and we found ourselves on the low side of the turn. Gary maintained position flawlessly.

“What happens if lead loses the number four engine right now?” I asked.

“I guess he yaws right and loses some speed,” Gary said. “I would have to be on top of my game to stay in position.”

“Or to avoid getting hit,” I said.

Gary let that comment go without critique.

We flew air refueling trainers once a week, three times a month, with an Air Force tanker brought in from the mainland. On the fourth week, we usually went up with two of us Boeing 707s and no tanker. These sessions invariably ended up with “a little form.” A month later I was in the mission planning room with my crew and our “sister.” Gary was the senior pilot and had the briefing responsibility. As usual his briefing was thorough.

“One last item, gentlemen,” he said after the last item on the mandatory list of topics. “The squadron fingertip formation program is cancelled.” There was collective groan. “We’ve decided the risk to benefit ratio was unacceptable. Deal with it.”

Major Gionnakis pulled me aside after the briefing to say he brought my concerns up with squadron leadership and everyone agreed that is was time to stop prioritizing fun over safety. I would be getting a “pat on the back” from the squadron commander. Two months later an E-3A Airborne Early Warning and Control System aircraft collided with a KC-135A practicing “a little form.” The Air Force announced it would investigate all squadrons with these unauthorized formation programs and heads would roll. Of course our squadron got a clean bill of health.

Sometimes The Mule Learns
(2002, CL-604, Houston Intercontinental Airport, Texas)


The winds were 360 at 10, giving us almost a direct crosswind for our landing on Houston Intercontinental’s Runway 26 Right. It was well within limits for our Challenger 604 landing on a dry runway and would not be a problem.

“Ask for a circle to Runway 15,” Gary said from the left seat. He was the pilot in command and the chief pilot, so he was the boss.

“That will give you a pretty strong tailwind,” I said. “It doesn’t save you that much time, you really ought to stick to this runway.”

“I didn’t ask you, I told you to ask tower for the circle. Don’t you Air Force toads know how to follow orders?”

Gary was retired Army and I was retired Air Force. The biggest thing he flew in the military was a King Air turboprop. The Challenger 604 we were flying was the smallest airplane I had flown in over 20 years. I asked for the circle and we were cleared.

“You’ve got a ten knot, quartering tailwind from the right, Gary.”

“Noted,” he said.

He landed the airplane. As soon as the nose was on the runway, he pushed the yoke full forward and hard left.

“Whoa!” I said as the airplane banked left and the right wheel almost broke ground. I grabbed the yoke and reversed it to full right.

“Get your damned hands off my airplane!” he yelled. I didn’t.

Gary brought the airplane to taxi speed and I relaxed my death grip on the yoke. What followed from him was a non-stop diatribe on the differences between the pilot in command (him) and the second in command (me). Once we were back at the hangar and the passengers were gone, he pointed to his office. I followed him as he continued the monologue to include the differences between the top branch of the U.S. military (the Army) and those of lesser status (the Air Force). A flag from the Military Academy at West Point sat behind his desk, the Army Mule looking me in the eye as he berated me.

I kept my mouth shut through it all and waited for the inevitable, “Well, aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Why did you roll the airplane away from the wind after landing?” I asked. “Every airplane I’ve ever flown has you roll into the wind.”

“You’ve never flown a real airplane like this,” he said. “We require you to ‘dive away’ from the wind when in tailwind. Ask any civilian pilot and they will tell you that.”


The next day I elected to ask the finest civilian pilot I knew. Kevin flew the Challenger about as well as anyone I knew and also had his own Stearman.

“That’s a taxi technique for tail draggers,” he explained. “You don’t want a tailwind lifting the tail or a wing when you taxi. If you ‘dive away’ from the wind, the elevator points down so the wind goes over it and pushes the tail wheel onto the taxiway. It also moves the upwind aileron down to keep the wind from lifting the wing.”

“Does it always work?” I asked.

“Well the elevator part only works for tail draggers,” he said. “If you were to do that on a tricycle airplane, it could actually lift the nose and cause you to lose nosewheel steering.”

“What about for a tailwind that is less than taxi speed?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” He asked.


“If I have a 10 knot tailwind trying to push the tail down because I ‘dive away’ from it, but let’s say I am taxiing at 20 knots, isn’t there a net 10 knots of wind underneath the elevator? In that case, won’t the ‘dive away’ actually lift the tail?”

Kevin thought silently. He pulled out a Post It note from nearest desk and started to draw. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess it would. I’m going to have to add that to my bag of tricks. Thanks!”

A month later I was in the left seat of our Challenger with Gary in the right. We had to taxi half the length of Runway 15 before takeoff and the winds were from our back-right. I pushed the yoke full forward and hard left with my right hand, keeping my left hand on the nosewheel tiller. It probably looked as awkward as it felt.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Gary asked.

“I’m diving away from the tailwind,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter at this speed,” he said. “You only do that at high speeds.”

“Oh,” I said, feigning ignorance. “Maybe you can help me understand once we level off.”

“I can do that,” he said. “Always happy to teach you Air Force ‘wang nuts’ a thing or two.”

I took off into the wind and pointed us west. Gary was uncharacteristically quiet during the climb but regained his normal personality once we had leveled off.

“So you want to learn when you ‘dive away’ from the wind and when you don’t.”

“I do,” I said.

“Well you just do it when you have a tailwind,” he said.

“When I am doing 100 knots indicated airspeed, do the flight controls know we have a tailwind?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. But he didn’t continue and didn’t want to talk about techniques with me anymore.

The next month the boss was headed for recurrent and I called a friend at the training center for some help. “Have the instructor give him a gusty quartering tailwind for a landing,” I asked. I explained my reasoning and the trap was set. I never got the details about what happened, other than it was “a learning experience.”

A month later one of our pilots almost got a wing tip in a quartering tailwind. What he got was a flap hinge, ground about a half an inch by the runway. He was an excellent pilot with very little experience in aircraft as large as a Challenger. The rest of us pilots only heard bits and pieces of the dressing down the flap hinge pilot got from Gary behind closed doors.

“What in the hell were you doing,” Gary yelled. “You turn the ailerons into the wind to keep the wings level! Every numb nuts knows that!”

There was a muffled response.

“Dive away from the winds!” Gary yelled. “You aren’t flying a damned Citabria! You got to learn to fly jets with the big boys, son!”

Of course it was gratifying to know Gary had learned the error of his ways while trying to instruct me to follow his errors. But I had failed to realize the damage his previous instruction could have already done to my peers. But at least he learned. He was known for his stubbornness, but at least he learned.

The Donkey Never Learns
(2003, CL-604, Houston Intercontinental Airport, Texas)

Gary Metcalf was a pity hire. His King Air flight department was going away and he needed a home. Our management company farmed him out and there were no takers. But Gary had line number five with the company. Five. My line number was two hundred something or other. So line number five had to be hired by someone. Finally our chief pilot agreed, having several of his favors called in. So we started flying our high speed, high altitude jets with a copilot who had never flown a "proper" jet before.


Gary was a nice enough guy who had the good sense of keeping politics out of most discussions. But the minute one of our normally right of center pilots saw the “Gore – Edwards” bumper sticker on his SAAB, his secret identity had been revealed.

I avoided all things political with all of our pilots. I did, however, let Gary know when his flying techniques needed an overhaul. It seemed he just couldn’t give up his “that’s not how we did it in King Airs” mantra.

“This isn’t a King Air,” I would say.

“An airplane is an airplane,” he would say.

“I used to fly 9-G loops in an airplane,” I said one day. “Can we do a 9-G loop in a Challenger?”

“Now you are just being silly,” he said. Perhaps.

One day we were returning from one coast or the other and Houston Intercontinental was bottled up after a passing thunderstorm. “Challenger two, fife, fife, Charlie, hold as published, expect further clearance at twenty one fifteen zulu, time now nineteen eleven.”

I acknowledged the instruction and looked at the fuel gauges. We could do this with a good half hour in reserve. “Let’s stay at altitude,” I said to Gary. “No sense descending if we have to hold for an hour.”

“Sure,” he said. He rolled the command speed bug back to 200 knots and pulled the throttles aft.”

“Not so slow,” I said. “Max endurance at this altitude is much higher.”

“We always hold at two hundred,” he said.

“Not at this altitude and weight,” I said. I pulled out our cruise control manual and looked at the chart for ISA + 10, flight level 350, and our weight. “Two thirty, you want to hold at two thirty.”

“We always hold at two hundred,” he repeated. “I’m the senior pilot here.”

“I’m not asking you,” I said, realizing I was becoming just like another Gary I once knew. “I’m telling you two thirty.”

“We always hold at two hundred,” he said. “I out rank you. You can’t tell me how to fly airplanes.”

“My aircraft,” I said. “I am the pilot in command and you aren’t. You are now the pilot monitoring and I expect you to perform pilot monitoring duties.”

He did as directed. I held at 230 knots. When it came time to land, I landed the airplane from the right seat. “You taxi us back to the hangar. If I am unhappy about anything you do, I will ask you to stop the airplane and we will swap seats. Do I make myself clear?”

“Sure,” he said. “But this isn’t the last you will hear about this.”

As the story goes, Gary Metcalf marched straight into the chief pilot’s office and, after an hour, straight out. In a flight department of eight pilots, the schedulers managed to keep us separate.

A month later, flying with someone else, Gary managed to slow the aircraft to stick shaker speed and scared the other pilot right out of his skin. The next day that pilot threatened to quit if he was ever put in an airplane with Gary at the controls.

Gary was gone within a week.

So not all these stories end with the bad guy learning the error of his ways and seeing the light. Sometimes you just have to weed the garden.