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Buff first, polish later

Would you ever considering polishing a car first, then buffing out the scratches later? I doubt it. Yet this is what some instructors do when introducing their students to a complex aviation maneuver, such as landing an airplane. On the very first landing lesson they demand the highest standards of performance (the polish) without first giving the student the leeway to develop the basic perceptual, motor, and cognitive skills (the buff) upon which these higher standards are based.

For instance, during the student's first attempt at landing, some instructors attempt to have their students maintain the runway centerline, control the airspeed precisely, and fly a geometrically perfect rectangular traffic pattern. From the student's perspective, the lesson is often nothing more than a collision of sensations from which he or she learns relatively little. On the other hand, some instructors begin the landing lesson from the downwind leg with instructions similar to these: When I give the word, turn 90 degrees, begin a descent, then make another 90-degree turn to align yourself with the runway. Go.

The student turns base, then turns final. Depending on the student's height above the runway, the instructor may then say, "Get the airplane as close as you can to the runway at which point I'll talk you through the roundout and flare."

Letting students get the feel for a maneuver before attempting to polish their skill allows them to better understand the individual components upon which that maneuver is based. The payoff for you is that your continued instruction is more meaningful in polishing the student's performance. Now you both shine.

By Rod Machado

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