Getting Better Every Day!

October 29, 2005


By the way when you read the following account, where you see the word ‘student’,, I’m obviously referring to John my CFII posing as a student! :0)

Monday I did an instruction session where I gave John a ground lesson on the Federal Aviation Regulations. I’m getting better at the ground sessions, largely in-part ‘cause of the confidence that comes with doing something a few times, first. My other ground session required me to teach a ground session on aerodynamics (what makes a wing produce lift) followed in the same lesson teaching a session on stalls, slow flight and steep turns – which included, of course, what goes on in terms of aerodynamics in each of the latter flight modes/aspects.

As odd as it sounds, what helped me the most was (what I mentioned before) going down to the local office supplies store and buying a whiteboard with dry erase markers and an eraser. I mounted the whiteboard to the left of my flight planning area on the wall and would use it to practice giving a lesson to my ‘imaginary’ student.

Taking the time to figure out the best way to use illustrations (also figuring out how to draw <grin>) of the various things I would be explaining. For instance the aerodynamics session was practiced this way and when it came time for my lesson where I taught a ground session to John; it all flowed very easily (all accomplished with approx $30 for the board and the markers – quite a cost effective training preparation aid!)

Until my in-flight lesson, yesterday, with John,,, the in-flight lessons I was teaching were going ‘okay’, but it was certainly a new skill to develop; explaining a maneuver in a manner that would be clear to a primary student and flying the maneuver properly while I was explaining it. A couple of weeks earlier I had done an in-flight training session with John playing the role of my student on his first flight. It’s funny how I’ve acquired certain skills and really don’t give much thought to them,,, I just do them. The challenge is learning how to explain/translate the skill into something the student can understand.

I'm learning that one of the most useful tools is to use something that is familiar to the student and tie it to some thing I’m trying to teach (even if it is done by having to contrast that ‘familiar thing’ I am alluding to). For instance, in helping a student to remember the right-of-way rules in aircraft the student can be made to see many parallels in his/her experience in driving a car. As an example, if two planes are converging on the same position at angles to one another the airplane on the right has the right-of-way (just like with a car at an intersection). An airplane may overtake another slower aircraft by passing on the right while in an auto (at least it used to be – it has since changed in California - why, I don't know) one overtakes another vehicle from the left side.

If two planes are heading at each other, head-on, then both planes give way to the right…. Also similar to something one would (hopefully) do in cars.

There is a concept/phenomenon called ‘interference’ which is where the acquisition of a previous skill interferes with the acquisition of the new skill. Nowhere is the latter more obvious than in learning to taxi the aircraft. Although one can show the student that turning the yoke will not turn the airplane on the ground and that steering is effected by using the bottom of the rudder pedals and NOT by turning the yoke – the skill they acquired first (that is: steering/driving a car) will initially interfere.

While giving a taxi lesson to my ‘student’ (John in ‘disguise’ <grin>) I impressed upon the student that when learning to taxi with the rudder pedals it is most useful to not think about it in terms of ‘steering’ (especially with Cessna bungee steering - the Piper's I've found the steering to actually be more precise and proportional), per se; rather the student should guide the plane during taxi by thinking of applying control pressures on the rudder pedals and then ‘neutralizing’ the previous control input with opposite bottom rudder.

It’s easy to forget how much you learned. For instance, when John originally told me he wanted me to give him a lesson on taxiing I looked somewhat perplexed because I thought about just the act of guiding the plane along the taxiway; which requires practice. I told John this and he answered, “So, you just start the engine and roll down the taxi way for the runway.” I said, no,, one must first call ground control to get permission to taxi to the runway. John, then asked me,,, how do ‘I’ (playing the student for me) do that?  From there on,,, all the possible questions came to mind: What do I say on the radio, how do I say it and what do I say back?  What do all those lines on the taxiway mean? What about those signs what do they mean? How fast do I taxi?  How do I stop?  Once ground tells me to go to the runway, can I just go right onto the runway and takeoff? .. You get the idea… :0)

I have to say the latter was eye opening; I really HAD forgotten what it was like to not know any of these things and that is precisely what I had to recall in order to be an effective flight instructor.

Language is very important; as in the words you choose to communicate an instruction or concept (John focused on this a bit when an instruction of mine could be misinterpreted due to imprecise or overly complex/involved language). When teaching a new student you really have to make sure you are precise and clear and that (as much as possible) the way you say things doesn’t lend itself to a multiplicity of other interpretations. Precise values,,, NUMBERS are very important to a beginning primary student. If you tell a, relatively, brand-new student to reduce the throttle tell them to reduce it to a specific RPM, if you ask them to turn,, tell them to what heading they should turn and what bank angle they should use.

Many other things to share, but I did want to go on with the lesson I gave to John (posing as a student), yesterday.

John had asked me to prepare a lesson on steep turns (Private pilot standard), slow flight and power-on and power-off stalls, after our previous ground session on Monday.

So, yesterday (Thursday) afternoon (in the Cessna 172) my ‘student’ and I went off for a lesson. Started with more taxi practice for my student – once again trying to be precise in my instruction on correction.

I had the ‘student’ follow through with me on the controls on takeoff, showing him to quickly verify 'green' on the oil pressure and temperature and to confirm the airspeed indicator needle was coming 'live' on initial roll-out down the runway and how to maintain control while we were rolling down the runway.

Before long, we were in the practice area and I had the student perform 90 degree clearing turns to either side (clearing turns are performed to make certain the practice area is clear). I told the student that instead of looking at their heading indicator to find out where 90 degrees from their current position was, to merely look at what the right or left wing is pointed at and put what was off the wing to off the nose (i.e., since the angle between the nose and the wing is a 'perfect' 90 degree angle).

I started by demonstrating a steep (Private Pilot standards is between 40 to 45 degrees) for my student. I showed him how after 25 to 30 degrees of bank that either backpressure on the yoke or power would have to be added in order to maintain altitude (as is required of the maneuver). So, I demonstrated one full 360 degree steep turn to the right followed immediately upon coming upon our beginning reference point to a 360 degree turn to the left.

Now it was the ‘student’s’ turn. I asked which side the ‘student’ would like to make the first of the 360 degree turns towards and he picked the right. The student begins a steep turn to the right and just after only 15 degrees of bank starts adding in back pressure (pulling back on the yoke). I point out to them that this is too early and that they will gain altitude if they don’t wait ‘till there are past 25 degrees or so, until beginning the application of the backpressure. Another reason a student will do this is that in turns from the right from the left seat there is a visual illusion (because of where the pilot is sitting) that the cowling on the nose appears to be lower/descending and the student will pull back thinking they are losing altitude (when in fact, they aren’t).  By the way a similar issue hampers new students when turning to the left, the cowling appears to be high so they end up 'diving' the plane.

So, the student is making the steep turn and starts to lose altitude so he starts to pull back on the yoke while in the steep bank. I remind them (and guide them with some suggestive pressures from the yoke on my side) that pulling up in a steep bank significantly increases the load factor on the wings – so what we need to do is to lessen the bank,,, apply the back pressure until we’ve regained the lost altitude and then roll back into the steep 45 degree bank.

Most of the things went well,,, my ‘student’ <grin> didn’t make too many mistakes. During the stall demonstrations John (playing the student) did some very ‘interesting’ things. My ‘student’ was demonstrating a power-off stall and didn't raise the nose high enough and the plane ‘languished’ in a pre-stall condition. I explain to the student along with supportive control input that they need to bring the nose up higher. We get the stall horn, the aerodynamic buffeting and then the stall breaks. Student adds power as they should but then sees (at least what looks to them to be) too much ground and hauls back on the yoke about to induce a secondary stall – but I’m ready on the yoke and apply the forward pressure to bring us to the horizon. Verbally explaining very calmly what needs to be done. John was in ‘rare form’ as a student on this particular day. He did some stalls where he failed to keep the wings level (though he kept the plane coordinated - ball perfectly centered) so the stall breaks and we are descending to the right and to the left which I quickly correct, explaining the error as it occurs and what I do to correct it and how to avoid it in the future (the trick in judgment as a CFI is allowing the relatively new student to make some errors but always correct it before it becomes anything that might seriously scare them and explain the corrective inputs (following through with the appropriate control pressures).  In the very early stages of training I believe one is endeavoring to build confidence in this new student – after all,,, though that person may have dreamed of flying most of their life, a portion of the ‘reptilian's part of our brain (as well as some of the student's higher thought centers) are likely (in this early stage of exposure) concerned about not being near to the ground that they have spent most of their life upon. :)

I told John (the CFII at this point) before the lesson began that I never wanted to be one of those instructors that were unnecessarily ‘heavy on the yoke’ – i.e., wouldn’t allow the student (based of course on level of training/experience) to have as full control as their training to-date, allows.  Way back when I was starting work on my PPL (at the school I now euphemistically refer to as 'the evil school' <g>)  one of the 5 (yes five,,, they kept leaving the school but not because of me <g>) instructors I had was one of those that never relaxed a CONSTANT iron grip on the controls.  I remember performing stalls with that particular instructor and he would ask if I felt 'such and such' and I would tell him 'no', I couldn't feel much at all (but unfortunately didn't mention realize it was because of the CFI's 'G.I. Joe Kung Fu Grip' he had on the yoke.  While there were certainly some good instructors at the 'evil school <w> I did (for later on in my current CFI training) pick up a lot of things that I would strive NOT to do as an instructor.  One thing I'll always remember about one of the five instructors I had at 'evil school' :) is he would come to each lesson, saying out loud and then asking me what we did last time we flew.  It was clear every flight day that he didn't prepare and I thought very little of him as a result - hence I write in stone for MY CFI instruction to always make it a point to become prepared to each lesson; taking the time a little before each session, also, to review what was done with the specific student with clear objectives (also stated to the student) on what we trying to accomplish and then where we would 'go' next.  Maybe in hindsight, having to endure the first 20 hours of my primary flight training at the 'evil school' <w> gave me a lot of insights on what flight instruction should NOT be.


 John told me that (not always being heavy on the controls) was a good thing to always strive for, because a student needs to feel the control pressures and how the aircraft responds. An instructor that is ALWAYS (i.e.., inappropriate to the situation) heavy on the yoke, takes away any feel for the student and seriously hampers his/her progress.

Of course the latter has to be gauged appropriately. Obviously a relatively, fresh, new, student should be merely ‘following along’ with the instructor when first exposed to and initially learning all the fine control nuances in effecting a good landing or takeoff.

John (as my CFII) asked me to demonstrate some of the specialty stalls and stall recoveries that can be asked for during the CFI checkride. So I demonstrated an accelerated stall (a stall while in a bank), a secondary stall, an elevator trim stall and (needed to be talked through on this one, ‘cause I had only done a few in previous training) a cross-controlled stall - probably one of the 'most important' (so-to-speak) type of stalls to avoid and recognize very early. Most were okay,,,, they all could have been better but John seemed pleased for the most part.

John told me that when we got within one and one half miles of the airport (we had since been cleared for landing by the tower) that my ‘student’ would reappear and that I should give a lesson, talking him through a landing followed by a go-round,,, followed by another landing.

So, we’re approaching the runway threshold the student moves throttle to idle and begins his round out (the portion of the landing where one is flying straight-and-level over the runway) a fair deal too high. So I tell the student this and the ‘student’ pushes forward on the yoke, overcompensating, to get to a lower altitude. I popped in with control on the yoke showing and telling them that they needn’t and shouldn’t make that gross a maneuver to lose altitude over the runway as we weren’t THAT far from the runway. So, my student is at a good roundout altitude and I talk them through the flare. The student gets a little ‘flighty’ on the rudders just before landing and has us going slightly out of line with the direction of the runway (that is, the aircraft was very slightly cocked out of line with the runway centerline) and I automatically kicked in the appropriate amount of rudder and reminded the student as I did it, of the importance of maintaining longitudinal alignment with the runway. Student did a beautiful greaser landing (though I suspect the 'presence' of John in the 'student' helped a lot <g>)…. Brought up the flaps and did a go-round,,,, student came around a second time with better control over all,, just a few issues which I quickly addressed verbally and with physical inputs.

During my debriefing with John (my ‘student’ had ‘mysteriously’ disappeared) we went over how the lesson went and I must say I was pleased in that I felt it had gone pretty well for the most part (i.e., sometimes I have lessons where John is pleased but I’m not as happy about my performance, feeling it could have been better). He complemented me again on the prompt rudder correction just before touchdown, complete with an explanation.

You know the work on the CFI came at the ‘right’ time. I know and have experienced so much more (although I still can't help wishing I had been flying for 30 years before getting my CFI like my instructor had under his belt). For instance I could have never met the ‘unique’ stall demonstrations my student was making (John purposely making some subtle and some glaring errors) with a totally relaxed manner and appropriate action – without all that I have experienced and learned over the past 6 years.

Had a great lesson!

P.S. Next week I will be flying (Commercial airlines) to the AOPA Expo in Florida. I’ll be there from next Wednesday and leaving Sunday morning.

My wife can’t come this year due to scheduling conflicts, etc.. so I’m going to bring my study materials to review on the plane and during the evenings where I’m not attending one of the special evening events. I’m not going to the Pirate Party on Friday night but I will go to the opening luncheon on Thursday and the closing banquet on Saturday night and of course; I'll attend all the educational seminars I'm interested in.

I look forward to these expo’s; nothing but planes, fellow pilots, talking about flying and learning about flying through a variety of different seminars and getting to see the latest products in the vendor areas. Always is ‘heaven’ for me; get to ‘eat breathe and sleep aviation for three days in a row! <GRIN> - probably a 'sign' that I really need to go to Airventure next year, too! ;0)


Good Flights!

Below graphic designed by: Jeff Bucchino,
"The Wizard of Draws" (copyright owner)

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