Editorial: Student Pilots… Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth?

By Ed Downs

Yes, we start with a very open-ended question, so let’s narrow it down. “Student Pilots” come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the newbies who are just getting into flying to advance pro’s going for type ratings in large turbojet aircraft. In fact, every pilot is, or should be, a “student” any time they are exercising the privileges of being a pilot in command. This writer has been at it for 60 years and has yet to land from any flight without having learned something from the experience. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s stick to newbies who are just getting into the art of flying and even narrow it down a bit more by talking about the cost and quality of flight instruction.

Now, you may ask, who made Ed Downs the know-it-all of flight instruction quality?  Plainly stated, this writer does not claim to be the top expert in the field of instructing, but circumstances have given this writer an interesting look into the national window of what is going on, at least in the sector of flying with small, independent schools and part-time CFIs. As a long time CFI, and regular instructor for Aviation Seminars, a company that specializes in weekend training programs for a variety of written examinations and Flight Instructor Revalidation Courses (FIRCs), this writer works with hundreds of students every year. Additionally, Aviation Seminars guarantees results, providing private tutoring to those who have a tough time with written exams. That “guarantee” is, you guessed it, this writer. 

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Legendary Author, Frederick Forsyth, Revisits His Action-Packed and Aviation- Fueled Life in The Outsider

 By Mark Rhodes

Frederick Forsyth is well known as one of the most accomplished and prolific thriller writers of the 20th century whose works have sold more than 70 million copies and been adapted into films a dozen times. This is only a part of his life’s work; his resume includes stints as a BBC correspondent (where he covered the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle––the core plot point of his most famous thriller (The Day of the Jackal); radio broadcaster; MI6 operative; and the youngest ever RAF pilot at 17 and a half. Suffice to say they don’t make ‘em like Mr. Forsyth anymore. 

His recently published memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue (GP Putnam’s Sons), chronicles Mr. Forsyth’s extraordinary, swashbuckling life. His tone is rakish, self- depreciating but also aware of how his luck, drive, and talents have served him well.  

Mr. Forsyth reports that he was obsessed with the idea of aviation and being an aviator since flying in the seat of a Spitfire at the age of five, and indeed the incessant need to fly consumed much of Mr. Forsyth’s youth. His accounting of his early aviation training and roguish exploits in the cockpit propel the initial chapters of the narrative. His initial success was getting placement in an RAF Flying Scholarship in the mid-50s. The idea here was a novel one; give young men interested in flying the chance to earn a private pilot’s license with the idea that they might get the flying “bug” and join up later. Mr. Forsyth paints a vivid picture of the rough-and-tumble nature of this training, including an episode where he “buzzed” his old school.  

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Skies to Stars: An Exciting Year Ahead

By Ed Downs

The Orion Nebula, photographed by Robert Fields, utilizing his private observatory in Howell Twp, MI (www.irvingtonobservatory.com). At 1,400 light years from Earth and some 20 light years wide, the Orion Nebula is an area of star birthing gas and dust illuThe Orion Nebula, photographed by Robert Fields, utilizing his private observatory in Howell Twp, MI (www.irvingtonobservatory.com). At 1,400 light years from Earth and some 20 light years wide, the Orion Nebula is an area of star birthing gas and dust illuminated by massive young stars less than 50,000 years old. (Robert Fields)Wow, time has flown, and this writer regrets not keeping readers up to speed in what has been taking place in the world of astronomy, astrophysics, and space travel. To put it mildly, last year, we “sky bound” pilots witnessed incredible events of discovery in our solar system and galaxy. We orbited two asteroids (have you been watching the new Sci-Fi Channel fictional series based upon asteroids Ceres and Vesta?), landed upon a comet, discovered liquid water on Mars (the movie The Martian, stressed the need for water as the key for settling Mars), landed on a comet with the Rosetta mission (looking very different than the asteroid/comet portrayed in the movie, Armageddon) and finally, have come very close to actually seeing the massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. 

The fly-by of Pluto brought new meaning to the term “buzzing,” with new photographs being released, daily, that disclose this demoted dwarf planet is far more complex than ever imagined, complete with a huge, bizarre, moon, atmosphere, and surface conditions that show us that Pluto is far from being a dead rock. In another scientific discipline, astrophysicists applied the principles of gravitational effect developed by Einstein to locate what now appears to be a massive ninth planet orbiting 20 times further from the Sun than the Earth. In years past, we looked to science to catch up with science fiction. It now seems that science is blazing a new trail for fiction writers to follow!

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