May 13, 2011
A student pilot is flying the traffic pattern in a brisk wind. Turning final, he reduces power to nearly idle to maintain the proper glide path, but immediately recognizes that the aircraft is getting too low.
He finds this result confusing. Reducing power at that point worked like charm an hour ago—but an hour ago, there was no strong headwind reducing the trainer’s groundspeed. The student pilot grasps the cause of his miscalculation and vows not to commit the error of rote flying again.
Congratulate the student. He has moved to a higher level of learning.
Any time you find yourself performing a piloting chore without knowing the “why” of your actions, you are flying by rote. As a matter of learning, rote is its lowest level, only a starting point on the way to mastery.
As every flight instructor knows, rote is just one of four levels of learning. The succeeding levels are understanding, application, and correlation. This April 2010 Flight Training article gives descriptions of each level, and examples of how a pilot might function in each in the scenarios presented.
In many subjects, you already enjoy prior knowledge or ready understanding, so the risks of rote are avoided. But in unfamiliar training territory—such as learning to land an aircraft—it can be a necessary hurdle.
“Many poor approaches flown during training, for example, stem from the rote extension of flaps, regardless of changing conditions or the need to compensate for mistakes such as misshapen patterns or incorrect approach speed or altitude,” explains this AOPA Pilot feature on use of flaps.
Rote isn’t only an issue in the teaching and learning of in-flight skills; it also can surface when preparing for the knowledge test. Be sure that your preparation delivers real understanding of the underlying material.
Count on that emphasis extending to your flight test. “As much as possible, examiners should test correlative abilities rather than rote learning,” cautions the Air Safety Institute’s Pilot’s Checkride Guide.
Your flight instructor should know the difference between rote performance and lessons well learned. But if the problem was the presentation, discuss it! Ask for a better demonstration, and rid your training of rote.
If glare is an issue for your handheld Garmin Aera GPS, the Glare Wizard is available to tackle the problem. The gadget attaches to the unit and does not interfere with mounting systems. Glare Wizards are available for the Aera 500, 510, 550, and 560. Each sells for $39.99.
Note: Products listed have not been evaluated by ePilot editors unless otherwise noted. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors.
Question: What should I do if a cabin door opens on takeoff?
Answer: The most important task to fulfill if this or any other abnormality presents itself is always to fly the aircraft first. Be familiar with any special procedures your aircraft flight manual might recommend for your specific aircraft. Maintaining control and not becoming distracted by the situation is vitally important. Once you have reached a safe altitude, establish a straight-and-level flight configuration and trim the aircraft. Reduce the airspeed and then make an attempt to close the door. Closing the cabin air vents will reduce cabin pressure and will likely make it easier to get the door secured. If you still cannot get the door closed, your best bet may be to return to the airport and land. For more on emergency procedures, read the Air Safety Institute’s Emergency Procedures Safety Advisor.
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