The Inherent Beauty of Fundamentals Done Well

I consider myself fortunate beyond belief in my career as a pilot.  I am not Barry Schiff, but I have flown over 20,000 hours in many types of turbine powered aircraft in 74 countries with five circumnavigations of the planet.  I have been a police pilot, Alaskan bush pilot, medivac pilot, military pilot and survived over 36 years in the cockpit.  Despite my significant experience, however, the most important lesson I ever learned about flying was not in an airplane, simulator, ground school or even from another pilot.

 My first flying job was with the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.  When I was not flying, I was a member of the KCMO PD SWAT Team.  One day after a couple years on the SWAT team, my boss offered me to opportunity to hone my skills further in a class called “Advanced Gunfighting School.”  I was excited by the opportunity and looked forward to shooting on the move, working in low light conditions, facing multiple adversary scenarios, working close in encounters and other force-on-force role playing that would separate my gun handling skills from the merely competent.

 Upon arriving in class, I hungrily grabbed the syllabus at my chair and paged through it looking for the good stuff.  All I could seem to find was topics such as “Mindset,” “Weapon Presentation,” “Breath Control,” “Sight Picture,” and “Trigger Squeeze.”  I was dying.  I was looking for some Keanu Reeves three-gun action post haste.

 The instructor leading the class read my facial expression perfectly.  He had seen plenty of my kind in the past.  He was a grizzled, 30-year veteran of the mean streets of L.A.  and had no use for my presumptuousness.  He addressed the class, “Welcome to Advanced Gunfighting School.  I am sure that you have a similar question after reading the syllabus.  What about this course is advanced?  Up until today, you have shot with good light, little time pressures and low stakes.  We will be changing those conditions to increase the stress, degrade the conditions and increase the target value.  What we have found that allows you to perform well in these conditions, however, should not surprise you.  When we are in difficult conditions, we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.  Advanced Gunfighting School is fundamentals done well.”

 Those three words – fundamentals done well – have guided my gun training, my flight training, my child rearing, you name it.  It is the guiding pedagogical principal for my company, Goldberg Aviation, and it will the title of my new column in TBMOPA.  It doesn’t matter if it is an omelet or an ILS, there is a certain poetry and beauty in achieving high performance using only fundamental skills, but performing them to their highest degree possible.

 Currently, I fly 650 hours per year training in TBMs.  If I am not the busiest TBM instructor in the U.S., I am in the top five.  The number one question that I get from transition and recurrent pilots is, “What is the secret sauce to flying TBMs?”  The answer is simple.  Fundamentals done well.

 Specifically, that means three things:  Knowing the aircraft and its systems, understanding the limitations and flying at or better than Instrument ACS standards.

 A TBM can be a complicated aircraft and the earlier models have a plethora of switches, breakers and alerts.  The good news is that SIMCOM produces a terrific training and maintenance courses that are the sine qua non of our industry.  It is the best way to assure that you have a complete understanding of each individual circuit breaker as well as the system into which is placed.  Home study with flash cards is as painless a way as possible to solidify this largely rote knowledge.  Your bringing that classroom knowledge to our flying sessions is going to make my instruction more productive and your training more substantive while also reducing your training costs.  Win, win and win.

 We are fortunate that the TBM is a robust design without traps that could ensnare the pilot.  However, there is no substitute to knowing the limitations on engine starting, flap operation, weight and balance and cabin pressurization to name a few.  Again, SIMCOM, other ground school operations or self-study on limitations will be rewarded with much better in-flight, practical training.

 A great grasp of systems and limitations will allow us to get on with the essential process of developing a feel for the airplane and practicing procedures that will lead to desired mission outcomes.  I will elaborate on this in future articles, but when one has systems and limitations dialed in, I am able give pilots practices that will allow them to perform to Instrument ACS standards with minimal effort.  However, it is only with the classroom work done that allows our minds to change emphasis to coordinated inputs required to fly to standards that maintain altitudes within 100 feet, headings within 10 degrees and speeds within 10 KIAS.   

 If you come to Goldberg Aviation for transition or recurrent training knowing the systems and limitations and you possess decently competent stick and rudder skills, we stand a very good chance of having a highly productive session together.  Those fundamentals done well is the secret sauce of flying TBMs.  

 I look forward to your comments on this article.  I would love to have a robust, productive discussion thread of the topics that I covered above and for topics in the future.  I consider myself both a teacher and a student of TBM flying.  I would like to act as teacher by offering substantive discussion on a topic and be the student when other pilots offer their insight and experience.  In the process, the entire TBM community benefits from a deeper or richer exploration of a subject.  Here we go!