Training Tip: Is today the day?

September 5, 2013

A flight instructor gets an early-morning weather briefing before a dual lesson with a primary student pilot, and is pleased to learn conditions are much better than forecast in yesterday’s outlook briefing. The sunnier, less windy weather may provide an opportunity to send the student on a much-delayed first solo, which would be a great boost for the trainee’s morale after the recent setbacks.

The decision will depend on a variety of factors. Yesterday’s traffic pattern practice was slightly shaky at first. But after a timely reminder to keep the yoke back during he flare, landings were perfect. A go-around commanded by the tower when a preceding aircraft dawdled exiting the runway produced calm, precise compliance. The student’s confidence grew as the session progressed (and when given the choice of continuing or calling it a day, the student surprised the instructor by electing to continue).

Those were excellent developments, but other variables also are in play today. The student pilot—who is strong on preflight preparation but sometimes seems put off by abrupt changes of plans—spent last evening reading up for a dual session of maneuvers, slow flight, and pattern work at a nearby nontowered airport. Soloing has seemed off the table lately with all the recent bad weather; what will the reaction be to a sudden switch?

Also, the trainer usually flown by the pair is undergoing maintenance today. The substitute aircraft is identical in most respects, but has less familiar radios and comm panel—and as the student likes to say about its flight characteristics, “It just feels different.”

The most important variable, of course, will be how the trainee performs today. Has yesterday’s confidence carried over?  

Apparently it has. After warming up with a coordination exercise and some maneuvers, the student flies a correct entry to the nontowered airport traffic pattern, and lands like an old hand. On the next two circuits, a go-around and a simulated engine failure also measure up well, as the instructor declares as the trainee taxies the aircraft clear of the runway.  

There is a flurry of inbound and outbound traffic, and once again the training flight has the airport all to itself.

"How are you holding up?" the instructor asks.

"Not bad."

"Okay, then here’s what I would like you to do next…"