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Bring a Blindfold

Learning to fly by outside references

Every instructor has one or more student pilots who simply do not pay enough attention to outside references. They are far too busy watching the instruments, setting the radios, adjusting the throttle and flaps, switching on lights, and performing myriad other tasks to look outside of the cockpit.

When these students stare at the radio, you may find that they lean slightly toward it, their left hand goes up, and the airplane goes into a gradual right bank. Ask these same students to turn on the airplane's navigation lights, the aircraft may begin a dive because they lean forward against the control wheel looking for the proper switch.

This failure to look outside seriously inhibits a student's ability to properly control the airplane and significantly increases the chances of a midair collision. Despite an instructor's repeated urging to students to develop the habit of looking outside and using those references to control the airplane, given the opportunity, some students tend to revert to fixating on an instrument or control inside the cockpit.

While you are on the ground, you can help break students of this habit by having them sit in the cockpit wearing a blindfold. Ask the student to perform various tasks associated with flight, such as pulling out the carburetor heat knob, adjusting the throttle, identifying the fuel selector, locating various radio knobs and switches, and setting the flaps at various levels.

Be certain that the student understands that going from 122.9 MHz to 122.7 MHz only requires that he or she give two counterclockwise clicks of the radio knob. There is absolutely no reason to stare at the radio while changing the frequency-just turn the knob two clicks, then glance at the radio to confirm that the proper frequency has been set once the change is made.

Students should practice performing these tasks, blindfolded, until they can identify every switch, handle, or knob in the cockpit without looking at it. Then, when they are in the air, they know exactly where everything is and can spend more time looking outside the cockpit. This exercise can be particularly valuable for night training, preventing the student from searching in the dark for a switch or knob while ignoring important outside cues.

In the air, you can try a similar technique without the blindfold. Cover up the tachometer and have the student adjust the throttle according to the sound of the engine. This allows the student to learn to set power without fixating on the tachometer. Once the power is adjusted, the student can glance at the tachometer to confirm that he has achieved the proper power setting.

Next, try covering up the airspeed indicator to give the student a sense of what the airplane sounds and feels like at various airspeeds. At slow airspeeds the controls become sluggish and more control input is required to achieve the same result. At higher airspeeds, the controls are more sensitive. Once students develop a feel for the way the airplane handles at various airspeeds, they will be able to stop fixating on the airspeed indicator and instead use it to confirm what their other senses are telling them.

Try teaching your students to determine their course by identifying ob-jects on the ground rather than staring at the directional gyro. Not only will practicing these skills teach your students to keep their eyes outside of the cockpit and improve their chances of avoiding a midair collision, they will also help your students to remain calm and fly the airplane safely in the event that the gyros fail or the pitot-static system malfunctions.

Learning to fly by outside references is the key to a student pilot's successful progress in flight training. The sooner that students realize this, the sooner they will become full-fledged private pilots-and safer ones as well.

By Richard Hiner

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