Deaf pilot Robert and his Instructor Adrian share their thoughts from flying an Extra 200…
As a deaf pilot I learned to fly in a side by side seating configuration (a Cessna 150). After the usual run of Robins and Pipers I decided to take the plunge 20 years ago and get a Yak 52. Tuition was relatively easy because the instructor’s position was in the back of the aircraft and a mirror could be positioned to allow me to see his face thereby readily allowing signals and gestures as well as a little bit of lip reading to assist me to understand what are now fairly unintelligible intercom systems. That was some 15 or 20 years ago. Recently I decided that the Yak had to go and decided to go for an Extra 200.
Whilst Extra 300’s are fairly common place there are only 4 or 5 Extra 200’s in the country – although they are very similar. My attempt to obtain tuition at one flying club ran onto some serious rocks as soon as they realised that I was deaf. No amount of reassurance could calm them and my PA received no less than 3 panic stricken calls from the club’s secretary finishing with me agreeing to the (obvious) admonition that the instructor would be in ultimate control of the aircraft at all times. I then flew with the club on 2 occasions but was unable to persuade them that with a little common sense and practicality the issue could be resolved.
Then I had a lucky break. I discovered that Adrian Willis of the British Aerobatic Academy had an Extra 200 no more than an hour’s drive or so away at Bourn airfield. Adrian and I sat down together and worked out the basic means of communication. Obviously, when my flying got a bit ropey (as it frequently does) he would just take control. Otherwise it was a question of practice. The whole thing has naturally taken longer without me being able to hear real time commentary on my flying. (Adrian will write and hold up notes, but this takes him a few seconds). Probably more fundamentally it just takes me time to transition between aircraft types anyway. That said, the process has been enormously valuable and I am now getting the hang at last of my new aircraft.
I sometimes think that my deafness heightens my enjoyment of flying. My job involves a lot of travel and often in noisy airport environments I end up being led about by colleagues who can hear. The feeling of independence and self reliance that flying brings is a major relief and gives me a new perspective. Thanks very much to Adrian for his patience in teaching me. I’m not there yet, but as with most flying it’s more about the journey than the destination!
Adrian (Robert’s Instructor) adds…
When Robert asked me to teach him how to fly the Extra I was naturally keen to help but did wonder if I could contribute very much. Teaching is a communication exercise and teaching flying is a more delicate communication balance than other subjects. On the one hand it is important to explain what is going wrong while being careful not to overload the pilot and to try and generally facilitate good performance . I feel a good teacher is somebody who can get the balance right so that the student learns as quickly as possible, does not break the aircraft and also enjoys the experience retaining enthusiasm for more training. In normal circumstances this is challenging as the balance is different for each student but with a deaf student I wondered if I was going to be able to contribute anything beyond being a safety pilot.
Robert explained that he had done it before and although probably a more lengthy process than normal, should be achievable. We agreed how to hand over and take over control of the aircraft, briefed rather more than usual and set off with open eyes. I learned a lot from the early sorties. When Robert was getting something wrong, I would demonstrate and Robert would see my point, and then tell me the point so that I could put my thumb up to confirm he had identified the correct issue. On only one occasion we had to land to brief an issue. Sometimes we would circle while I wrote points on paper for Robert to read, on some occasions I would perhaps add a control input unnecessarily because I was uncertain if I had explained something adequately. The training has taken a little longer than usual but this is partly due to Robert striving for perfection and only partly due to deafness.
Robert asked me to help him bring his aircraft back from the manufacturers in Germany. I was able to boost Roberts confidence by monitoring the radio but having ferried many Sukhois back and forth across Europe with poor radios I was only too aware that this was not really very important.
In summary I have learned a lot from this experience and see no reason at all why people should imagine being deaf is a handicap to VFR flying.