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Instructional sequence
2010-03-18

Instructional sequence

By the second flight the student should have previewed the aircraft manual. The manual checklist material must be completely incorporated into that of the student. The next flight's preflight will use the scratch checklist with the instructor reading the items while the student does the checking. The student will make another revision from this tape and use it on the next preflight under the instructor's supervision. On all future flights the student will have the plane preflighted and ready at the appointed time. Fuel, oil, and weather status are confirmed to the instructor as well.

The first three flight lessons are designed to acquire competence in the four basic maneuvers, climbs, level, descent, power changes, trim, flaps, stall recognition, and associated turns. I make it a point to combine the basics with radio procedures, area familiarization, knowledge of aerodynamics, emergency procedures, and safety. The next two or three lessons uses ground reference flying to develop those skills required to fly airport patterns according to wind conditions.

With these lessons as the basis we now apply them to takeoff and landings. These are initially practiced as a unified series of maneuvers, including downwind, base, final, go-around, climb, and crosswind. Patterns are practiced with emphasis on power, airspeeds, trim, and flaps to both the left and right. This is done initially at altitude to remove the inhibitions caused by ground proximity. Then it is practiced at a neighboring tower airport with the go-around occurring progressively closer to the ground.

The next four or five flights are planned as landing practice at nearby airports in different directions from the home field. These flights include the procedures of departure, arrival, radio, checkpoint selection, as well as the actual takeoff/landing procedure. During the actual closed pattern the instructor takes all responsibility for communications and traffic watch. This reduction of burden is important to the success of the student.

The landing lessons are then concentrated at the home field. The landing lesson just prior to solo consists of an airport exercise utilizing all runways and common pattern maneuvers. Normally two or perhaps three supervised solo flight follow at the home field. The instructor next flies with the student to and from one of the local fields that have been used previously for landing instruction. On return, the student is allowed to immediately duplicate the flight. This is repeated three or four times to all the local fields with the variety of radio procedures required. The student now has a circular region of 40-50 mile radius in which he would be knowledgeable of the area, airports and appropriate procedures.

About this time there will be a change in the instructional approach. Initially, the instructor will become more strident and demanding in all parameters. Airspeed is now expected within 2 knots, altitude within 25 feet, headings within 5 degrees, power settings right on, trim for hands off, ball centered and banks at 30 degrees. Aircraft control, situational awareness and assertive communications are now the goal of every lesson.

Suddenly there is silence. The instructor just sits there and watches or at most, only points. The instructor expects the student to note and correct mistakes without intervention. It is best when the student talks to himself so that the recorder notes what is transpiring. If deemed necessary, I will take over control, and speak briefly to make a point before again relinquishing control again.

The next two or three flights, other than local student solo training flights, cover proficiency in different types of landings. The first cross-country training flight is an instructor/student prepared, planned, and flown. Everything works perfectly. The next flight is prepared, planned, and flown by the student with the instructor. Creative instruction presents realistic problems where they naturally occur and otherwise. Subsequent to these training flights the student prepared, plans and flies a minimum of ten hours of cross country with one extended flight. About this time the studying required to take the written examination should be completed and the test taken and passed.

When the cross-country requirements have been flown, the proficiency phase begins. All flight maneuvers are reviewed and practiced in dual and solo flights to meet the Practical Test Standard requirements. Preparation is for the oral part of the PTS. This includes knowledge of weather, sectional, aircraft, manual, computer, FARs, navigation, radio, and airspace. The skillful pilot is smooth. Aircraft control is done in anticipation and not reaction. You should know ahead of time what to expect of the airplane, the atmosphere, and yourself.

It is best to learn a new process related to flying, such as aircraft radio procedures, without any similar previous experience. This is especially true if the initial instruction is correctly done. Every individual has background and experience factors related to flying that can either make it easier or more difficult. The instincts of the student may be contradictory and erroneous. The competent instructor must deal with these and more. The incompetent instructor often provides fertilizer. Changing habitual behavior is the single most difficult teaching and learning aspect of instruction. The goal of habitual behavior makes it even more important that the first taught or learned process be correct. In an emergency, a pilot will return to his first learning exposure and react accordingly.

A student because of the instructor's inability to detect erroneous instincts and perceptions may retain basic flight deficiencies. This instructional weakness may be fostered by the inherent safety of the modern aircraft. Yet it is this inherent safety of the aircraft that conceals the damage done by inadequate instruction. Even the most docile of aircraft will bite given the opportunity. The problem lies with the instructor who fails to insist on the safest of all procedures compared to the relative safety of the other options. It's not that there is only one way to operate an airplane. However, of the possible options, one way may provide more safety options. Therefore it is necessary for the instructor to be knowledgeable as to the what and why of these options. The instructor is, hopefully, the medium for exposure to both failures and successes. The problems students have are directly related to instructional problems.
The instructor must keep the student advised of what constitutes desirable performance prior to each lesson. After each lesson, the different maneuvers should be discussed individually according to these parameters. Students are ultra sensitive to post flight critiques. Increased smoothness, accuracy, and confidence can measure any progress in a lesson. It is important that the instructor be truthful and not given to false praise. The very nature of flying makes acceptance of anything less than proficiency to the highest attainable level downright dangerous. This is regardless of other time considerations. Total immersion into flying at every moment is the best and least expensive way to learn to fly. Anything else is proportionately less efficient. The search for superior performance begins immediately; the acquisition takes longer.

The instructor should be aware of factors, both within and beyond the instructional domain, that affect the learning and performance of the student. The instructor has an ever increasing responsibility to prepare the student. There is no way the student can be prepared for every eventuality but the good instructor will try. The actual flying of the aircraft becomes a background for the required radio procedures, area orientation, and positioning. Situations must occur or be created that expose the student to the realities of flying. Increased self-confidence must not become over-confidence.

Every student and instructor has frustration levels that are evinced by tangible and intangible evidence. The instructor will anticipate possible areas of frustration and set the parameters to avoid problems until they can be approached with the appropriate skills and knowledge. I try to advise the student that the totally overwhelming amount of information coming at him through the first few lessons will rapidly sort itself out. Much of what we do is repetitive, such as starting the engine. Some skills will take several flights. The Dutch Roll (needed for crosswind landings) requires up to five flights before the first satisfactory series. The first ground reference lesson will be a disaster unless it is presented as an introduction.

The purpose of extending flight times with students, after they start making mistakes, is to build up that reserve performance capacity required to meet future flight requirements. Failure to have such capacity means that on a subsequent flight the student may reach a capability/requirement imbalance. The student pilot can be taught to recognize the progression by having the instructor note mistakes as they first occur during a flight. Pilot error, as though a single cause, is an over simplification of how fatigue, lack of preparation, or pseudo-agnosia (Not knowing what you don't know)affects a given maneuver.

Every lesson will contain review segments where a higher level of performance is the goal. Transitions into configurations are performed more quickly; heading and altitude parameters are closed, and speed tolerances are tighter. Expectations are raised; self doubts reduced; and confidence increased. A good lesson always leaves the student full of anticipation for the next level of proficiency.

Failure to expose a student to a variety of marginal conditions be it weather, turbulence, airports or terrain fails to develop judgmental skills.

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