Air Safety Institute Hangar Talk
High and hot
A 'teachable moment'
Too high and too fast on final approach is a common situation for a primary student struggling to learn how to land an airplane. But what's the best way for an instructor to handle such a situation?
The virtual instructor lounge in the ASF hangar has been buzzing with CFI opinions on the subject ever since we raised the question in the December 2003 issue of AOPA Flight Training. For such a common situation, there was a surprisingly wide range of opinions, some of which are summarized here. On one aspect, however, all were in agreement.
"This [is]...a terrific 'teachable moment' for a flight instructor," said Susan Parson, Falls Church, Virginia. George Strohsahl of Kent, Washington, agreed, "because [it] does not demand immediate action and allows time for some dialogue between the instructor and student."
But what is the best way to handle a primary student who is both high and hot on final approach? Many CFIs from all parts of the country joined in the spirited discussion, but the only consensus was that one instructional size doesn't fit all.
Even the basic question of whether to take over or simply allow the student to proceed and see firsthand the results of his errors was hotly debated. "Assuming that this is not his first landing, and assuming that safety is not compromised, I would let the landing proceed and ask him to apply full braking after touchdown," said Ken Appleman, from Allegan, Michigan. "Pattern traffic permitting, I would ask the student to then look back...and observe the excessive runway that was wasted and inquire, 'What do you think would happen if we were landing at an airfield with a shorter runway?' I definitely do not want to have to take control of the airplane, as that would be very destructive to student confidence."
Jamie Bryson of Paonia, Colorado, agreed, saying that he would "let the student continue the approach to a full-stop landing. I would not, if I could help it, let him duck out of the situation with a go-around or even a touch and go. He would be obliged to land, clear the runway, and taxi the long road back for another takeoff, giving me the opportunity to tell him what happened, and why, and giving him the time to think about it. Hopefully, another try would nail the approach and put a smile on his face-and mine." Bryson also took the opportunity to note that in the scenario presented for discussion in "ASF Hangar Talk," "the instructor is taken by surprise that his student is high and fast. Any instructor who knows his or her business would know the student is going to be challenged on turning final and has known it since the aircraft entered the pattern-or before. A tidy landing is the result of a precise approach with airspeed and rate of descent under tight control all the way down."
Paul Kinzelman of Peralta, New Mexico, said he purposely doesn't instill any particular criterion for a go-around or specify a particular point at which a go-around should be performed, "because each situation in which a go-around makes sense is so different. Also, establishing a go-around point teaches to the lowest level of learning-rote." He argued that giving students the most latitude possible and requiring them to make go-around decisions with minimal guidance is valuable for two reasons: hands-on lessons teach much more than a simple "follow-me-through" demonstration, and it encourages good decision-making.
Kinzelman said he views his role in the cockpit as one having "veto power"-students do whatever they think is best in each situation, "and then they experience the results of their own decisions as much as possible. I only take over when things are going very badly and it looks like the student is not going to recover. I give him maximum amount of time to make his own decision to recover.
"Then, after the lesson or experience, I talk with them about what happened, what they decided, and what alternatives they might have also considered and evaluated to help them in learning to have a more effective decision process in the future."
But Parson wasn't impressed with those arguments. "Although it might be tempting to allow the student to land long in order to illustrate the perils of a high and fast approach, I preach against it because I believe it subtly conveys to the student that regardless of what you say, it's somehow OK to carry a bad approach to a sub-optimal conclusion halfway down the runway."
Master CFI Emmett Hoolihan of La Verne, California, put it succinctly. "I would either take over immediately and demonstrate slips to a landing, or allow the student to demonstrate the proper go-around procedure without my taking over," he said. "[Both] choices have to be taught and evaluated."
Rob Mixon of South Florida, who teaches a course in psychology of personal effectiveness at Miami-Dade College, sees high and hot as an instructional opportunity to practice slips to a landing, provided the student understands two rules. First, "If you are going to land longer than one-half of the runway length, go around. Rule two [is], any time an approach doesn't feel right, go around."
Several instructors pointed out the value of using the "teachable moment" to check a student's comprehension of the situation. Vernon Fueston of Montague, California, said he would first query the student as to what the target airspeed should be. "Hopefully, the student would then realize that his airspeed was high and lift the nose to slow down. At that time, the airport would slide way down in the windshield, and the student should see that [he was] too high, and I would expect the student to either reduce power or initiate a go-around at that point. If the student had trouble seeing the problem and/or was slow on decision-making, I would spend some additional ground time talking about these items."
Said Parson: "Once the aircraft is safely on the ground or safely established in the pattern for another attempt, I seek to immediately identify and reinforce lessons learned. One lesson is the importance of proper planning and execution of the approach. Another is the lesson of potential versus kinetic energy, with discussion of the 'tradeoffs' a pilot might be able to make with altitude and airspeed on final."
Mallory Lynch of Talent, Oregon, an instructor in gliders, brought a unique perspective to the discussion. "We glider pilots do not have the go-around option, which in some ways is safer. We simply don't allow for the variances that will develop into missing the runway, and more specifically, a fairly well-defined area of the runway. I would prefer that the students be explaining [their] thinking as they fly the pattern, indicating out loud their choices...if they were not communicating, and they were already high on base, I would ask [them] to explain the thinking and procedures before they turned on final." She stressed that she believes it is important to help students set up flying patterns correctly from the beginning, and she continues to expect that procedure within certain boundaries. "I want to give the student plenty of room for mistakes, but not mistakes without awareness, and not let them compound [the problem]-especially if are not able to see the initial problem. But I do not think allowing the student to get to such a place that a go-around is needed, or that I need to 'take over,' is necessary to help them learn."
George J. Vames, Lynchburg, Virginia, caught other CFIs' attention by recommending a three-part approach, depending on where the student is in the training process. "If he has only an hour or two on landings, I take the airplane immediately. I then reduce power while I explain how this will get rid of excess altitude. I then raise the nose and I explain that this will get rid of excess airspeed. I then retrim and give the airplane back to the student. If a student is midway to soloing, as soon as he turns final too high and too fast, I ask him, 'Are you high or low?' He will invariably recognize that he is high. I then ask, 'What do you do if you are high?' [and] he will say, 'Reduce power,' and then do it. After a few times, the student does what is required without my prodding. If a student is about to solo and turns final too high and too fast, I do nothing immediately; I wait to see how he handles the situation. If necessary, I intervene, but only at the last minute."
Thanks to all the pilots and CFIs who contributed to this edition of "ASF Hangar Talk."
This month's hot topic
The hot topic around the ASF virtual instructor's lounge this month is basic instrument training and how realistic it should be made for student pilots. In one corner, a grizzled, gruff, old-school CFI advocates setting up instructional situations that will allow students to stumble into the clouds, dramatizing the dangers. In the other corner, a fresh-faced CFI headed for the airlines is horrified by the thought, and contends that a dose of hood work is plenty.
How do you vote, and why? E-mail your opinions or send them to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, "ASF Hangar Talk," 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Remember, there are more than 80,000 CFIs in this lounge. Make your insights stand out.
Compiled by Kevin D. Murphy