From Right Seat Passenger to Partner In Command

by HPA · November 7, 2016

From Right Seat Passenger to Partner In Command

Partner in Command (PIC) Course

Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) Safety Training


Are you a regular passenger in a friend’s or family member’s airplane? Would you know what to do if the pilot became incapacitated? If you couldn’t revive the pilot, could you talk on the radio to ask for help? These are some of the questions addressed by the Partner in Command (PIC) safety training course developed by the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). PIC training is offered to non-pilot partners at the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program (CPPP) and other events.

Some of the information presented could be applicable to any plane, such as how to recognize and revive a pilot who is exhibiting distress. Once the pilot becomes incapacitated, you, as the passenger, become the Pilot-In-Command. If you are flying in the right seat, pay attention as the pilot executes procedures and learn the basics you will need: how to read the altimeter, how to use the radio, how to activate the autopilot. Even if you can do all of these things, you can only stay in the air for so long. If you are flying in a Cirrus SR20 or SR22, you don’t have to worry about landing the plane yourself – you can use the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) to get the plane safely on the ground. Since 2014 there have been more Cirrus CAPS pulls than fatal accidents in these aircraft. But you need to practice the CAPS scenario to be ready for a pull.Cirrus-CAPS-Web

The PIC course has been well received by partners who leave with a greater understanding of flight procedures and better prepared to survive an emergency and help their flying partner. I recently attended the PIC course at Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport (KCXO) and recommend it to anyone who flies in the right seat. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that when faced with an emergency, it’s easy to panic, unless your training kicks in. If you practice for an emergency, when it occurs, you will know how to deal with it. While the course does not teach you to fly, it offers practical suggestions for an in-air emergency.

Here are a few highlights of the course – how would you react if the following scenarios occurred in flight? Would you be able to react in time? Practice is the best preparation for an emergency.

If your pilot becomes unresponsive, determine the cause.

  • Is he asleep?
    • Yell and shake him
  • Is he choking?
    • Try the Heimlich maneuver
  • CO Poisoning?
    • Turn the heat off and the cold air on
  • Hypoxia?
    • Check the oxygen supply and descend

2016.02.01 01.36 Flyhpa 56aeb69e9e31d 800x300If your pilot can not fly, you are in charge. Learn how to do the following things and practice them regularly:

  • Engage the autopilot
  • Move the pilot back off of the controls (move the seat back)
  • Make sure you are connected to the radio
  • Squawk 7700 to signal an emergency
  • Respond to Air Traffic Control (ATC)

If you decide to deploy the parachute, try to fly to the best possible location before deploying. If you are in a remote location, try to reach a more populated area to allow emergency response teams to reach you quickly. Make sure your seatbelts are fastened. Pull the red CAPS handle. The parachute will deploy and the plane will begin to descend. Find and activate the ELT (Electronic Transmitter Locater). After landing, exit the aircraft but remain nearby for rescue. Practice pulling the CAPS handle in a simulator – these are usually available at the CPPP Events. Of course, this is just an abbreviated list of all of the steps to perform. Even the PIC course can only prepare you so much. The best plan is to prepare, practice and be aware. Most pilots are happy to explain procedures to their right seat partner. So just ask.

During recurrent Cirrus training, pilots are taught to incorporate CAPS in their takeoff briefing and to make a “flaps and CAPS” callout when retracting the flaps during the climb, at about the same altitude that CAPS is effective. The PIC course can make you more comfortable in the aircraft, teach you how to participate in the flight, and explain how to use the safety equipment in an emergency, including the CAPS. Partner-in-Command courses are held during COPA Migration, in conjunction with most CPPP (Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program) courses, and occasionally at other times. For more information on CAPS and the PIC course, visit COPA Safety Programs. Click on the 70 Saves tab for more information on how CAPS works and details of CAPS deployments. At least 14 planes that landed under canopy have been restored and flew again, with many still flying.

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.

Training Begins

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.

2022.06.09 11.19 Flyhpa 62a27fea7716a


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.

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