CFI to CFI
Common training errors
Be ready with answers
Every student pilot brings different personality traits to the airport, but there are some training issues that come up again and again, regardless of who is at the controls. Many of these recurring difficulties concern interpreting the basic physical sensations of flying; it simply takes a while to acquire the understanding of what "feels right" and what feels wrong. When it does, it's a great moment, because now that student will recognize the sensation of a correct flight profile without having to be reminded by you. This makes life easy and speeds training along. It's a fortunate thing that some of the most important flight skills--coordination, stall recognition, holding the aircraft off the runway just enough during a landing--are subject to this manner of learning.
But that's only true if the flight instructor teaches the student how smoothly an aircraft flies when it's flown right, and how awful it feels--slipping, skidding, mushing, ballooning--when it's not. This is Law of Primacy territory: What's learned first is best remembered. The student who learns about aileron drag (adverse yaw) at the same time he is learning about ailerons and their function will know that he must apply the appropriate rudder inputs to negate the drag. That student will know adverse yaw by its unpleasant sensation as well as its visual cues, and won't tolerate its presence. Many pilots never learned about that. Teaching them smoothness later as remedial training never quite makes up for it.
For some students, the problem isn't grasping the concept, but failing to correct it. Why does this happen? The student may mistrust his instincts or fear the consequences of his actions. First a flight instructor shows a student pilot what to strive for in a maneuver, but then the CFI should give him or her the confidence to do what's necessary to control the aircraft as is needed--assertiveness. Then they will respect the airplane, and everyone knows that you don't ill use someone or something you respect. Fast, flat landings or bouncing incidents repeated by a student pilot who "knows better" are examples. Drifting off the centerline on final approach is another--crossed controls or a crab still seem like extreme measures to the student who may be timid on the controls.
One of the best examples of the assertiveness deficit is failure to hold a wing-low attitude during the crosswind-landing rollout. Many students seek to believe that there's something wrong with rolling along on only one main wheel until the other one is ready to come down on its own as airspeed decays. Halfhearted soft-field takeoffs and landings are another symptom. Some students confess a fear that the full deflection will cause a dangerous pitching-up of the nose. Encourage them to get that yoke all the way back on takeoff; show them how to lower it to maintain the attitude as control effectiveness mounts.
On landing, show them how to use their long-practiced slow-flight skills to make the gentlest nose-high touchdown possible, and to keep the nose up during deceleration on the ground. Best--take them to a rough field where the technique reveals its importance.
But don't just try to coax more assertive behavior out of them. That won't overcome fear. Good demonstrations and creating a feeling of student safety while he or she tries out the method is the ticket to freedom. Focus on the student's specific concerns. Show the steps to avoid it. Above all, be patient and confident while the trainee makes the big transition from fearful onlooker to hopeful participant.
On the subject of landings, let's talk briefly about flaps and the headwork involved in using them correctly. Many pilots display an indifferent attitude about flaps, revealing that they absorbed an indifferent philosophy about planning their landings during training. It's the law of primacy again. No need here to reinvigorate the running arguments about whether to use full flaps on normal landings. The point is to teach a thoughtful, strategic approach to the use of flaps that is pegged to wind conditions, the desired glide path, and touchdown point. Every landing deserves its own strategy. Varying the flap settings during practice of landings, rather than establishing a rote method that substitutes for a true strategy, is the key to getting someone to think about every landing. Throw in a liberal number of no-flap landings to build proficiency and instill in the student the habit of making choices.
Discussions of aircraft stability are never the most interesting chapters of a training text. But a student pilot who comprehends the designed stability of his trainer is less likely to become a habitual offender when it comes to another common training error: abusing trim. I get nervous when a student pilot--or any other kind of pilot--responds to the question about why we use trim by saying, "It relieves pressure on the yoke." That's only a partial-credit answer. Sound familiar? Demonstrate how an aircraft in a full-power climb at 75 KIAS will maintain 75 KIAS when power is reduced, as long as the trim is left alone. Show them how further power reductions will result in reduced climb rate at 75 KIAS, then level flight at 75 KIAS, then descent at 75 KIAS. Demonstrate that the pitch oscillations seen during the power changes will soon dampen out and disappear--stability! No need to reach for the yoke and adjust anything. Explain that the same aircraft responses to power changes will occur throughout the airspeed range.
The true use of trim, then, is to establish an airspeed that will then largely take care of itself, curing a huge percentage of the overcontrolling that many new pilots do out of a lack of understanding of stability. Oh, yes, and trim relieves pressure on the yoke, too.
Having accomplished that bit of teaching, don't let choppy air spoil it. I wondered why student pilots who grasped the idea of trim and stability seemed to toss it all out the window when flying in moderate turbulence. An interesting answer came back: They were worried about holding their altitude exactly. The vertical currents made them nervous about deviating. Here again, less is more. Often a student who overcontrols in turbulence is reacting to the rather drastic behavior of the vertical speed indicator (VSI). Point out two things: First, that the indications are usually momentary and often cancelled out by an indication in the opposite direction, and second, that the VSI can be a distraction in turbulence. Don't fixate on it. Help out by covering the instrument for a while.
It seems odd, but a student focused to the point of obsession on holding altitude in impossibly bumpy air may be perfectly content to roll onto a runway, and with the centerline planted firmly under the wing strut, wing tip, or worse, commence the takeoff roll. Then, once airborne, any resemblance between the departure course and the extended centerline is coincidental. That is, unless the flight instructor has insisted on precision from day one and points out deviations from the departure course and the reasons for it. "Turn around and look back at the runway. Notice how we have drifted in the crosswind? We need to crab a few more degrees into that wind...."
You probably have your own list of errors, misconceptions, and difficult-to-learn topics that all students seem to share. Thinking about how you got those folks over the hurdles, and staying sharp on the basics yourself, will keep you ready for next time.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. A pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990, he resides in Maine.
By Dan Namowitz