Instant Rust Revisited
How CFIs View-And Attack-The ProblemA few months back, I wrote an article expressing my frustration with students whose flying skills deteriorate rapidly between lessons and my concern about what will happen after they pass the checkride and then spend little time in the cockpit ("Instant Rust: What happens after the checkride," March 2001). I enumerated several things an instructor could do post-checkride that would maintain the flying skills of these pilots. Among these were to provide extra dual instruction, make certain the pilot understands his or her rust problem, encourage the pilot to fly often or to get a new certificate or rating, suggest that the pilot join a flying club, and recommend the pilot find a buddy to fly with to help get him or her into the air more often. I wasn't satisfied that I had touched on all of the possible remedies, so I asked to hear from instructors about how they cope with the phenomenon of instant rust. This request generated constructive responses from instructors who have experienced this kind of challenge with students.
Kathleen Tagliaferri reports that she conducted an FAA-sponsored study to determine how flying skills deteriorate over time. She wasn't surprised that pilots who flew regularly performed man- euvers more accurately, scored higher on written tests, and scanned for traffic more effectively. Further, pilots who flew infrequently but regularly read aviation magazines and other training materials were more accurate and safer in the cockpit than those who did not. Tagliaferri says she encourages her students to form a habit of reading widely about aviation in addition to spending as much time as possible in the air.
One reader suggests that students spend as much time as possible with a PCATD (personal computer assisted training device) or an FTD (flight training device.) Microsoft Flight Simulator is but one example of a PC-based training tool. Gene Rigosi, a private pilot from Frederick, Maryland, writes that when he has been out of the cockpit for a while, he refreshes his flying skills by getting experience on a PCATD with a yoke and rudder pedals. He reports, "Although it is not identical to flying, it is truly is close enough to get one to remember basic procedures."
Kristi Gerritsen of Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she has been shocked by the amount of rust that can quickly accumulate, even with some of her best students. She notes that the insidious part is that the student doesn't realize it is happening. She suggests the first thing to do to combat rust is to encourage pilots to regularly participate in the FAA Pilot Proficiency Program, better known as WINGS. When she worked for a flight school, Gerritsen kept a small picture frame backed with black felt above her desk. On it she displayed all of her WINGS pins as well as pins from other aviation organizations to which she belonged. She reports, "This small plaque seemed to generate a lot of interest with my students and helped to encourage them to take part and join in aviation events and organizations." Gerritsen also encourages pilots to participate in air rallies held in her area.
Reader Craig Wiggen recounts an experience with a student who had not flown in three weeks. The student was "above average," enthusiastic, and tried very hard. The student did very well during his previous lesson in the pattern, but when Wiggen flew with him after three weeks, it was as if the student had forgotten everything. He didn't slow down in the pattern, didn't add flaps on time, didn't reduce power to a proper setting, and when he saw he was too high, he made a dive at the runway. Wiggen writes, "What is scary is when someone acts completely out of character and does not give you any warning signals in advance."
Wiggen compared this student to another one. After six months out of the cockpit because of financial problems, this student flew as if there had been no break in training at all. What makes the difference? Wiggen believes it is a matter of attitude and state of mind. He says the proficient student is so motivated that he visualizes the lesson even before getting to the airport. He reads everything about flying he can get his hands on. He has a personal-computer-based simulator at home and learned to use it before taking lessons. This student is totally immersed in aviation. The student who quickly develops rust is older, has a demanding job and family responsibilities, and probably doesn't think about the flight until he gets out of his car in the airport parking lot.
Dewey Finch suggests that after earning a private certificate, pilots should plan and budget to fly at least 10 hours every three months and make it a priority. By budgeting the funds, and more importantly the time, in advance, two excuses for not flying are eliminated.
I want to thank these readers for their comments. I know there are other perspectives that need to be heard. Please let me know how you combat instant rust in your students.
Richard Hiner is vice president of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Richard Hiner