I consider myself a competent, current and proficient pilot. I fly close to 100hrs a year, hold an Airline Transport License and despite not flying professionally for the past 5 years maintain currency in Multi-IFR, Night, Tailwheel and off airport STOL operations. I, like many pilots am guilty at times of thinking that I know it all, and am getting a little sloppy and complacent. Then I heard about Butch.
Butch Washtock is an “old-school” Bush pilot, except this old school bush pilot walks around with an iPad in a nice neoprene case. He learned the craft from his mentor Jim Voigt who was flying bush planes low and slow prior to the WW2 where he became a bomber pilot before returning to flying in the Canadian mountains and wilderness after the war. Butch made a promise to Voigt that one day he would pass on the lessons that he had learned to other pilots in an effort to instill good habits and core rudder and stick skills. In fulfilling his promise, Butch has founded Mountain Flight, a specialized training program that teaches, mountain flying, STOL flying and tailwheel flying, none of these “types” of flying require an official rating but you’d be foolish to try any of them without prior guidance or instruction . Before you go running to your phone to call him you must know that it is actually a BYOP (bring your own plane) kind of party.
Wait, in that last paragraph did I type rudder and stick? Yes, you read that correctly. I recently had the opportunity to fly with Butch. I asked him to give me a tune up of sorts, show me his training regime, no ego, pre-conceptions or motives, just an honest assessment with honest feedback. Up until this flight I was definitely a stick and rudder kind of pilot but Butch took care of that real quick! In just one hour of flying with him I began to wonder why his training program was called Mountain Flight? Yes, it took place in the mountains and all the skills are useful in the mountains but the whole program really is based on one core concept and perhaps it would have also made an appropriate name for his program to be called Slow Flight.
Butch states that some of the leading causes of general aviation fatalities are, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and stall spin accidents on the turn from base to final, crosswind landings, balked landings, overshoots and go-arounds. Anytime the airplane inadvertently gets into slow flight regimes.
Butch’s training really gets back to basics and breaks down the act of flying into its rawest form where each and every control surface is isolated, and its purpose is truly understood. This forces the student (me in this case) to make every control movement in a premeditated and intentional manner. By breaking down each movement and input and truly understanding the relationship between the forces, not just acting on the airplane as a whole but on each and every control surface individually. I for the first time in a long time felt as if I was one with the airplane.
This article could go on and on, but you should probably hear about this stuff from Butch himself. I’m an experienced pilot, current and competent but by the end of our hour-long flight Butch had a small laundry list of items that I needed to clean up. I was thankful that he was honest, and his feedback was bang on. I knew that I had been a bit lazy with my feet and that I relied a bit too much on the engine to drag me into my landing spot but somehow hearing it from someone else that had a fresh set of eyes and experience to back it up made it real and made it something that I actually want to practice and improve on.
Mountain checkouts are important especially in BC and after today I can honestly say that perhaps the mountain checkout that I got 15 years ago could use some freshening up and a renewal from someone that has spent close to 50 years flying in mountainous terrain might not be a bad idea. There is no replacement for experience. In the mountains and in STOL operations book knowledge just won’t cut it, we have to get out there and practice and learn from those that know more, and there will always be people that know more.
I have spent a lot of time as the “teacher” lately and it really was nice to be the student again, to learn some new skills and to glean some useful knowledge from that “old school” bush pilot with an iPad that is out there teaching because he hopes that by instilling solid rudder and stick fundamentals he could save at least one life. Like Butch I hope to continue to learn and improve so that one day I too can pass on the lessons that I have learned from those that came before me in both IFR and STOL flying.