by Hank Gibson, Gold Seal CFI, CFII, MEI, Master CFI, CSIP, CFAI+
Back in December, I had the chance to go to the Cessna Factory in Independence, KS to receive my Cessna FITS Accepted Instructor training. Now, the city of Independence isn’t much to write home about, but the experience I had at the factory sure was top notch. I encourage Cessna owners everywhere to fly over to Independence and take a tour of the factory. You won’t regret it. Here’s a little bit about my experience.
Boy, if I thought the Cirrus factory in Duluth, MN was a pain to get to, once I started booking travel to Independence, Duluth seemed like a dream. Unless you are flying your own airplane into KIDP, the trip is a little bit of a bear. The two options for where to fly into commercially are Tulsa or Wichita. I guess you could throw Joplin, MO on there as well.
I flew into Tulsa (thankfully it was a direct flight; unfortunately, it was delayed by 4 hours). After grabbing my rental car, a spiffy Dodge Dart, I was off on the 2 hour drive north to Independence. The drive isn’t too bad, especially with some good company or good music. I’ve had much worse.
Don’t be expecting the Ritz-Carlton when arriving in Independence. It may have been the start of the trek west for settlers back in the 1800s, but that doesn’t translate to swanky hotels. I was in the Microtel, which was the highest recommended by all I spoke with. I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t too shabby. Again, not the Ritz, but for the Kansas plain, not bad.
Now, to preface this, my training was specifically for the CFAI+, so someone going for factory training when picking up a new airplane, your experience will be a little different.
All Cessna’s courses are 3 day courses. Mine was no different. We did ground in the morning and flew in the afternoon. Everybody at the Cessna factory was great. Donna, the secretary, treats you great. She takes care of everything for you the moment you walk out of the elevator (PS, the training department is upstairs on the second floor). She makes you feel like family. She answered all my questions and pointed me in the proper direction for everything.
Jeremy Schrag was my ground instructor. He was a blast to work with. The focus of the CFAI+ ground school is in how to teach the factory transition course the proper way, how to plan it out, things like that. He was very thorough and had some good stories to throw in there as well.
Al Rice was my flight instructor. He is a very good flight instructor. The first flight, I was put through my paces with the G1000 in the C206. He threw almost everything but the kitchen sink at me. We were warned that the first flight would be like a check ride to check our G1000 system knowledge. They weren’t kidding! A nice thing of Braum’s ice cream helped cool my brain off afterward (in town, not at the factory, unfortunately). The second day was in the simulator and I got to play instructor while Al demonstrated common student mistakes. The third day consisted of teaching failures the proper way.
I got a factory tour on the second or third day. We got done with ground school a little early and Jeremy showed us around on the factory floor. It was really cool to see the different airplanes in their different stages of manufacture. When they say the airplane is on the line, they literally mean a line. I got to see the new Corvalis TTX being put together as well as the 172, 182, 206, and the Citation Mustang. Very cool to see how it is all done.
I think the folks at Cessna may have a mutual understanding to make people feel like family when they leave. Even if they don’t have that motto officially, they certainly did that with me.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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