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Advice to instructors
2007-10-11

Advice to instructors

Go down to lost and found and get your memory every time you have a senior moment.

As a teacher, I was not given to meaningless praise or reward. As a flight instructor, I judge the lesson by knowledge applied, improvement observed, and satisfaction achieved. The achievement of normal expectations is viewed as acceptable but not deserving of profuse adulation. Only when my retarded students did beyond the usual were they praised. Praise, thus achieved value by not being a throw-away for everyone. My gifted students were always faced with ever higher expectations. My standards were once compared with an ever extending extension ladder. One of my many weaknesses as a flight instructor is an unwillingness to accept from a pilot or a student less than their highest level of performance. Close is accepted only when accompanied by significant improvement. It is a poor student that does not exceed his teacher.

The instructor helps you teach yourself to fly. The instructor tries to get inside your head. He wants to recognize your fears and concerns. The instructor is trying to use what you know and don't know to shorten the time and lower the cost of your learning to fly. Good instructors like to teach. They will keep you from getting hurt you as you wander through all the mistakes that every student pilot should make.

Once read, that every advance by mankind has been achieved by laziness. I hate to see students preflighting inefficiently. I believe that flying correctly is the easiest way to fly. Every maneuver can be either easy or
hard depending on how 'lazy' the pilot has been in knowing how to make it 'easy'. I cringe when a pilot works too hard at flying. Flying is easy only when it is efficient and I don't mean using an autopilot.

Instruction As I Do It...

I tend to be, too, intense in my instruction. I want my students to succeed, save money, and learn quickly. I love flying and teaching it and have difficulty accepting that others may have other conflicting interests like jobs, vacations, and family. I am constantly narrowing the student's perceptual field to flying or a single aspect of it. Students, on the other hand, fail to see that flying is not just the 'fun' of being in the air. Flying is the homework, preparation, and required knowledge to make the 'fun' safe. The best flight instruction takes place on the ground, it is on the ground that you are exposed to the habit of preparation that makes flying safe. Learn the habit of "What if..." before you ever get into the plane. Murphy's Law exists in flying as in everything else.

The teaching process requires that the performance objective proposed to the student be explained, diagrammed, and demonstrated. I demonstrate those objectives that are difficult to explain. I will create situations that are likely to be a part of the students later experience such as all the things that can go wrong during landings. In all maneuvers I will try to give the student the cues to use. Not all are visual. Sound is a very important first cue to changes in airspeed. The element of success in any flight lesson is the best motivation. I try to find some success to tie up the flight package. I avoid relating problems of the lesson as a 'blame'. We learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes.

Before a lesson I have established what to teach and how to teach it. First I decide what ground preparation is required. I will walk and talk the student through the big picture and then go through details of anticipation and those parameters of expected performance. Since we are building, usually, on prior knowledge we must review those aspects preceding every lesson. Without the prerequisites the lesson will be less than satisfactory. Every student's flying career is like a new painting. The lesson plan for a previous student must be adjusted to fit the next. The instructor must find what works and mix and match the learning process to achieve the final result. There are many routes to the same destination; some are more difficult, bumpy, frustrating and expensive but all will get us there if we persevere.

An intensive flight instructional period should not exceed 45 minutes of new material. Any instruction of new material beyond this time will result in deteriorating performance and frustration. However, it is important that a student's endurance be extended. It is little clues that warn the instructor of student fatigue. Failure to clear, pull carburetor heat, or trim correctly are common signs. As an instructor, I point out to the student my detection of fatigue and continue the lesson only to review material while returning to base. Physical fatigue is not as significant as is fatigue brought on by emotional pressures inside the student. The poorest judge of fatigue and the performance impairment occuring is the individual involved.

If the student has not prepared for the lesson, then the lesson should be canceled, changed to a review, or otherwise adapted for best utilization of resources. The student should be told the sequence of maneuvers the instructor plans to follow. New skill elements will be introduced early in the lesson. Review and skill maintenance will be covered as time allows. Any discussion, along with diagrams and walk through, should cover the procedure, control movements, power settings, common errors, and performance standards.

While there may be more than one way to teach a flight skill, some ways may be quicker, more efficient, better, cheaper, or safer. Behind the way I do or teach a given skill is what I have learned from mistakes with numerous students, pilots and instructors. Since the ultimate goal extends beyond a trainer, the student should be taught from the beginning, as though he was in a higher performance aircraft. The instructor who initially takes the easy way to teach is performing a disservice to the student and thus to aviation. I have detected in checkrides such instructional faults as allowing a tight grip on the yoke, not using trim, always making partial flap landings, not verbalizing clearing, and not permitting the student to do the radio communications. I try to concentrate on procedures that are safe to use in the worst of circumstances.

If a particular maneuver is not performed by a student to acceptable levels the instructor should choose the most economic method of correction. Instructional skill is demonstrated where the instructor is able to detect, analyze cause, and provide corrective feedback to the student immediately. Some correction of errors should wait until landing. Perhaps a demonstration by the instructor is required. (My past students have indicated that I may not demonstrate often enough.) Have the student repeat the exercise while the instructor talks through the procedure. Have the student talk through a dry run before doing it again. Every student and maneuver will require a slightly different instructional touch. Rules and requirements will not make you a knowledgeable, safe pilot--instruction will.

If the flying process is tending to overload the student it is best to remove the pressure. The instructor may assume radio and traffic watch or even talk the student through a procedure. Make sure that the student is reducing the work load by correct use of trim for airspeed. Have him talk through each maneuver as an aid to the anticipation required for smoothness. Be aware than much of 'getting behind' in flying has to do with airspeed control. Trim!!

The truism that the way you first learn something stays with you for life applies doubly to flying. The student who is taught procedures in flying that were acceptable or even standard forty years ago may be dangerously unsafe today. The radio techniques of forty years ago are the equivalent of Elizabethan English in today's airspace. The God-like ability of the instructor to perform flying miracles of precision and performance gives a halo to even antiquated instruction. The student, with his flying career ahead, can only proceed oblivious to deficiency of procedure and the hazards created thereby.

A student may begin to feel various pressures to solo. I do not solo a student until he has good command of the basics of flight control, FARs, airspace and communications. I do not teach landings until the basics are near mastery and only them do we learn about the emergency and special situations that can occur in the landing and takeoff process.

Teaching to a higher level...

Because of the concentrated information that is being loaded on the student in the beginning, I use a tape recorder so that the material is available under less stressful conditions. This allows the student to listen and make notes about unanswered questions or concerns. With the instructional tapes as a guide the student can plan a head for the next lesson. the first thing I usually ask of a student is, "Are there any questions?" I average over thirty minutes of pre-lesson ground instruction before every flight. If a particular can be walked through, we walk it through.

I use the FAA Instructor's Handbook from page 85 as a lesson plan guide but I have many variations and supplements to the basic requirements simply because I feel that the FAA requires only a minimum and I don't teach to minimum skills. Prepare for the lesson by reference to the syllabus and ;I very much recommend that you call the instructor the night before a lesson to confirm that you have read the related reading material from the FAA texts or equivalent written in a more interesting style.

I have been known to be a difficult taskmaster in setting my performance criteria for students. I admit to some tendency to press students in their accuracy in flying a specific airspeed instead of accepting the POH variable range. I admit that I expect my students and pilots to be proficient in their radio work. We rehearse on the ground and in the air until it meet professional level. I admit that I expect taxiing skills be practiced and developed quickly. I admit that I take a bit longer in soloing my students. However, after my students solo they progress quickly and efficiently in their ability to fly solo between airports of all kinds and complexity. My students use trim for all changes of configuration; they fly hands off and use only two fingers on the yoke.

My students have been exposed to crosswinds up to 18 knots at 90°. They have flown SVFR and marginal VFR. They have landed on a farmers field. They have flown to a weather emergency field and made a surveillance approach using radar assistance. They have made their night landings at least five different airports. My students are proficient at pilotage. They know where they are! My students are, if anything overly proficient, in their ability to follow ATC instructions and to suggest other options. My students are respectful in their care and treatment of the aircraft, courteous in their relations with other pilots and aircraft. My students transition into larger and more complex aircraft with a minimum of time and difficulty because they have learned to fly and control the C-150 or C-172 as though it were a much larger and complex aircraft.

Written by Gene Whitt

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