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The Nature of Certainty
2010-03-18

The Nature of Certainty In my careers as a school teacher and flight instructor I have developed student classifications that appear universal. There are students who make things happen; there are students who watch things happen; and, there are students who wonder what happened.

Flying is not a good place for the last category student. To the extent that a student is not self-prepared or tutored into a maneuver the maneuver will cause a constant state of wonderment. It is a fortunate student who has sufficient awareness to recognize his state of wonderment as a requirement for a series of questions. The wondering student needs to study learn and question his way out of that wondering state. Having comprehensive study materials and a question/answer forum such as recreation.aviation.student on the internet can best do this. Just studying for the test is NOT the way to go.

In some flight situation there is value in watching, but only if you are knowing what to watch. In making turns, you are watching the horizon and the nose relationship. In fact, most maneuvers require that you watch what is happening to the nose in relation to the horizon. The sooner these relationships are imprinted in your visual perception, the better. Keeping it there is the next step of the watching process. The ingrained desire to 'see' below the nose must be overcome if the 'watching' student expects to benefit when he moves into the 'makes things happen' phase.

The best phase of learning and instruction in flying is the process of making things happen. This 'making' includes mistakes. The opportunity to make your own mistakes is of major importance. The opportunity to do something correctly is nice but the making of a mistake is a learning experience of unequaled value. Recognition of a mistake is part of the learning experience. A spiral descent is an example as is a wing drop during a stall. The process of making things happen either correctly or incorrectly is not left totally up to the student. The instructor creates situations as learning experiences. Distractions, for example. The instructor who allows a student to perpetuate an unsafe procedure is incompetent at least in that area.

There are teachers (instructors) who from even limited experience seem to be all knowing about all things. There is considerably more to instructing than just being able to fly the plane through a particular maneuver. The 'watching' student will partially benefit but the instructions must include where to look and for what. If this, 'where to look and for what', was not included in the pre-lesson overview then it occurs in the cockpit. The cockpit is a relatively poor place to provide instruction. The poorest examples of such instruction I have noted over the years is when the instructor accepts and perpetuates a student's perception of safety when it is less than the optimum. An example, is when a recent private pilot flew me four miles from takeoff before reaching 1000' AGL. She wanted to see where she was going. All turns were at 15-degree banks or less so she could see under the wing better. (C-150) We only made one flight. She went with an instructor who accepted her way of doing things. Not the first time for me nor the last.

Poor instruction is perpetuated but so is good instruction. The normal tendency is for the instructor to teach the way he was taught. I once knew a flight instructor who perpetuated three 'generations' of flight instructors whose students consistently failed to flare to keep the nose wheel from making initial contact. Numerous collapsed nose struts and propeller strikes were the result of this one 'old-timer'. The students loved these instructors because they could always see the runway on landing. The maintenance shops always recommended these instructors. The more the teacher (instructor) knows the less certain he is that there is only one 'correct' (profitable) solution for any performance.

Advice can be right, wrong, conditional, dangerous, incomplete, misleading, universal, or limited in scope and application. Giving dangerous advice, even with a disclaimer is quite hazardous when the recipient has no way to discriminate or associate the advice in a meaningful context. Giving wrong advice can lead to fatal results when associated with flying. If in the giving of advice, you must include a disclaimer of any sort, it is better to refrain or at least to pose it as a question.

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