Consolidation of knowledge

Put your training into action

November 1, 2011


October 2011
Turbine Pilot Contents

There are a number of witty phrases used among pilots to refer to the often-intense nature of turbine aircraft training courses. “Drinking from a fire hose” is particularly descriptive, as anyone who’s ever taken an accelerated type-rating course can attest. Earning a type rating is no small achievement for any pilot, from the airline veteran whose certificate is bulging with multiple type ratings to the newest light-jet pilot earning his or her first. The amount of information is often overwhelming; the pace at which it is presented can be enough to quickly drown one’s self-confidence.

Another favorite phrase of mine is “RAM dump.” It’s generally used to describe how a recently trained pilot (or said pilot’s brain) reacts to the completion of an intense training course. As soon as the checkride was over, the pilot “RAM-dumped” most of the information that his brain was struggling mightily to retain long enough to pass the test. I’ve also heard this phrase used when a pilot is transitioning from one turbine aircraft to another, the joke being that he had to force himself to forget everything about airplane A in order to make room in his brain for the new information about airplane B. Sometimes, there is only so much one person can retain.

So, how do the pros do it? They take intense courses, often change aircraft types every couple of years, and generally start out as relatively inexperienced pilots at their first airline-pilot job. Yet most successfully complete training and continue on in this sort of perpetual training regimen for decades. What can we learn from their training routines?

Of course, we (general aviation pilots) can (and have) learned many things from the structured training world of the airlines. One particular element that we all should take a better look at, however, is an airline pilot’s final phase of training for any given initial, upgrade, or transition training course.

After an FAR Part 121 airline pilot’s training course is complete, he is required to fly 100 hours in that aircraft, within his first 120 days after passing the checkride. This is referred to as “consolidation of knowledge” and ensures that all the new knowledge and skill the pilot has recently acquired is put to practical use multiple times, quickly, after training. This promotes good post-training retention of the information and skills (hopefully preventing any “RAM dump” of the information, especially the lesser-used information). Since the average nonprofessional pilot would typically take the better part of a year to fly that much, he risks forgetting important new information before ever having a chance to use it. Much of that information is critical to the “staying ahead of the aircraft” concept. So, flying extra missions and/or longer missions right out of the gate is an important element in making your transition training fully effective the first time around.

In recent years, the term “mentoring” has become fashionable in the light-jet and even turboprop sectors. Essentially, it means hiring an experienced instructor pilot to ride along with a freshly minted turbine pilot to provide professional oversight and instruction during real-world missions. Mentoring makes perfect sense on nearly every level. But the effective result of mentoring is similar to that of consolidation of knowledge, assuming both are conducted to equal standards.

This is one area in which mentoring could be improved. Unlike consolidation of knowledge, mentoring has no time constraints. One could do it immediately after training, or wait for several weeks, months, or even years to initiate it. But, as the old saying goes, it is best to strike while the iron is hot. Call it whatever you like, but
the quicker you put your new training into action, the better your end result will be.

Matthew McDaniel is a professional pilot with more than 20 years in airline, corporate, and charter operations. He has owned and operated Progressive Aviation Services, LLC since 2002. He is one of only 26 instructors in the world to have earned the Master Certified Flight Instructor recognition five consecutive times.