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Instructor Tips

Stretch Your Wings

In the course of years of flying, I have flown - and taught others to fly - more than my share of airplanes, balloons, gliders, parachutes, and the like. I could be called a "Jack of many trades but master of only what I'm flying at the moment." Variety in flying is fun. But it can be dangerous if not planned carefully. That's why a transition from one type of flying or flying machine to another must be thoughtfully managed.

New Challenges

When a pilot comes to you for training in a new-to-him airplane, you have to evaluate his experience and skills. Maybe it's been a few hundred hours since your student got his last rating and he hasn't been practicing the fundamentals he'll need to make a safe transition. Or maybe you're a new CFI facing your first transition student. Where do you start?

First make sure you have the qualifications you need to teach your transition student. If the student wants training in an airplane you've never flown, you should probably pass.

Naturally, you'll need to teach your student all the maneuvers from the appropriate practical test standards. That's the basic goal. But your student may have other goals as well. Ask why the student is seeking transition training and how he expects to use the training and the aircraft in the future. You may find that his goals require something more than just following the PTS guidelines.

Use A Syllabus

Just because this is "only" transition training doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan for maximizing training time. The benchmarks contained in your syllabus should clearly lead to attainment of the proficiency and knowledge required by the PTS plus any additional goals your student may be pursuing. A good syllabus ensures that you cover all of the bases.

Work with your student to build this roadmap. For nearly every certificate or rating there are commercially available syllabi. But you don't need to buy one when you can build your own. It's a good idea to test it before you use it. Ask other CFIs to review the program you put together and, if possible, run through it yourself in the airplane. This is a good way to be sure you present the information in a logical progression.

Build On Similarities

A sound syllabus builds on similarities between the flying your student has been doing and the requirements of what he is interested in. Similarities must be viewed from the student's perspective. In other words, what does the student already know? What can he do that will help him in his transition? Also identify your student's weak areas so that you can spend the necessary time on them.

Make an honest evaluation of your student's flying background before you begin the transition training. The acronym APES - aircraft, pilot, environment, situation - provides a useful framework for assessing his or her background. But ideally, your student will do a little self-assessment. After all, each of us knows our own strengths and weaknesses best. Consider having your student fill out the pilot profile included here. It can help him decide if he will enjoy the type of flying he is considering, especially if it's a major transition as from airplanes to balloons. It will also help you to learn more about your student's background and how he thinks. You can use that information to identify similarities between what your student knows and what he is trying to learn.

Respect Differences

But be careful. Not all transitions are as simple as going from a high wing to a low wing. Even something as small as the location of the gear and flaps switches can cause a serious problem if your student isn't trained to be aware of it.

Here's another example. Most people who do all of their flying IFR don't care about a detailed knowledge of airspace because controllers guide them through it. But real understanding is essential for the VFR flyer who must negotiate airspace with only charts for guidance.

Though we all share the air, there are many different pieces of it to think about. A good transition program accounts for these differences, one of the most important of which involves the law of primacy. Every CFI learns about primacy. Because what we learn first becomes so deeply ingrained in us, it can affect what we learn later. Remember the adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"? That can apply to flying dogs, too. In this case, the instructor must make sure that old tricks don't interfere with what's required to safely operate the new machine. A routine practice in one airplane could be dangerous in another. For example, the airplane your student has been flying does not require using the fuel boost pump for switching tanks. If the new airplane does require the pump for switching tanks but he simply does things the same way he always has, he could create a fuel starvation situation.

Differences seldom prevent a safe transition, but they must be accommodated in designing a program to satisfy an individual student's talents and needs. Manual skills are important, but they usually take a back seat to thinking skills in transition programs.

Your Flying Profile

Use the checklist list below as a guide in assessing your flying experience and what you want to do. Use the similarities and differences between your experience and your goals to build your transition program.

Aircraft Experience:

My experience is mostly in:

  1. Piston aircraft
  2. Jet aircraft
  3. Other

My experience is mostly flying:

  1. Single-engine
  2. Twin-engine
  3. Multiengine

My background is mostly in this type of aircraft:

  1. Light
  2. Heavy

My previous aircraft have included:

  1. Military
  2. Civilian
  3. Both

I have mostly flown:

  1. Fixed-wing
  2. Gliders
  3. Balloons
  4. Helicopters
  5. Seaplanes

Aircraft performance ratings:

  1. High performance
  2. Low performance only

Aircraft complexity:

  1. Complex aircraft experience
  2. Non-complex only

My airplane (or the one I most often fly) is:

  1. Fixed-gear
  2. Retractable

Pilot Experience:

I fly mostly for:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Sport
  3. Competition
  4. Business

I am a:

  1. Quick thinker in the cockpit
  2. More deliberate decision-maker in the cockpit

I feel most comfortable flying:

  1. Crew airplanes
  2. Single-pilot airplanes

The seat I've flown mostly in is the:

  1. Left seat
  2. Right seat
  3. Only seat

My flying has been mostly:

  1. Left-handed
  2. Right-handed

My experience includes:

  1. Flight instructor
  2. ATP

Given the choice, I'd prefer to fly:

  1. Smooth, straight-and-level
  2. Aerobatics

I fly:

  1. A lot of IFR
  2. Very little IFR
  3. No IFR

I would best describe myself as a:

  1. Follower
  2. Leader

Basically, I:

  1. Am a confident pilot
  2. Sometimes get in over my head.

I've flown mostly with a:

  1. Control column
  2. Stick
  3. Other control

I've found previous aircraft transitions:

  1. Difficult
  2. Somewhat difficult
  3. Easy

Previous Flying Environments:

The majority of my flying has been:

  1. IFR
  2. VFR

Most of my flying is:

  1. Local
  2. Cross-country

Most of my flying is in:

  1. Controlled airspace
  2. Uncontrolled airspace

I am more comfortable in:

  1. Class B airspace
  2. Class G airspace

Most of my cross-country flying involves navigating:

  1. with GPS
  2. without GPS

I fly mostly at:

  1. Towered airports
  2. Nontowered airports

Most of my flying is at:

  1. High altitude
  2. Lower altitude

Most of the airports I use are at:

  1. Sea level
  2. Medium altitudes
  3. High altitudes

The terrain over which I fly most is:

  1. Land
  2. Water

The terrain over which I mostly fly is:

  1. Flat
  2. Mountainous Desert

The terrain over which I fly most is:

  1. Sparsely populated
  2. Densely populated

I fly mostly:

  1. In the daytime
  2. At night

Most of my flying is:

  1. Pilot in command
  2. Solo
  3. With other pilots

Most of my flying involves:

  1. Tight schedules
  2. Few time constraints

Unique Situations:

My training is:

  1. Budget and time constrained
  2. Relatively unconstrained

Aircraft emergencies:

  1. I've never had one
  2. I've had many
  3. I've had one/some

The most fun I've ever had in an airplane is:

The least fun I've ever had in an airplane is:

The scariest thing that ever happened to me in an airplane is:

What I learned from this situation was:

By Wally Miller

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