Safety Publications/Articles



In the early stages of every student's training, about 95 percent of their reserve mental capacity is dedicated to just trying to control the airplane. At this point, the instructor's attempts to get the student to use smooth, precise control inputs produce little more than frustration for both student and teacher. The awareness and motor skills needed to fly accurately are simply not yet there. Flying is so different from anything else the student has done that it takes a few hours just to get comfortable sitting in the airplane, much less being able to control the thing. It's safe to say that for those first hours, your student will not hear even half of what you tell him. By definition, communication has taken place when the message received and understood is the same as the message sent. Your student may respond, but the message may not have gotten through.

As the student becomes more comfortable handling the airplane, he or she also becomes more capable of learning how to handle it better. During the "getting acquainted" period, the student will only be reacting to what the airplane is doing to him. The instructor must be prepared to repeat all or most of what he has tried to teach during the first few hours. Like driving a car, flying the airplane soon becomes second nature, and less of the student's energy is needed simply to move the controls, making more energy and concentration available for learning, maneuvering, communicating, and flying smoothly.

At this point the instructor must begin challenging the student to shift his consciousness from his hands and feet and the inside of the aircraft to what is going on outside the aircraft. This is the time get the student accustomed to anticipating what the airplane is doing, what it will do next, and what will happen then. Use the analogy of a chess game. To play chess well, you must be able to anticipate and plan several moves ahead. In flying, this planning and anticipation must start with the preflight briefing and continue until the airplane is safely tied down in the parking area and the student is back inside the FBO.

Someone once said, "The best way to cultivate decisiveness is through hypothesis." What will I do if...or when...? When teaching emergency procedures, for example, anticipating if and when scenarios can increase the time available to correct a problem or prepare for a forced landing. How, you ask, can you anticipate an engine failure? Easy. Always proceed from the assumption that the engine will fail at some point. You and your student should discuss how to proceed when the engine quits. Create the mindset that anything can happen at any time. In other words, if you already know the engine is going to stop, you won't be surprised when it does. You will already know what you will do and how you will do it. In this way the period of denial - this isn't really happening to me - can be shortened or eliminated, and your student can focus on solving the problem. In that first second or two after the engine gets quiet, most pilots can't believe that it's really happening. Using those seconds wisely, instead of wasting them on denial, can make the difference between a happy outcome and a tragedy.

During normal operations, too, you must teach students to anticipate what will happen instead of allowing them to react to what is happening. If your student is thinking about what he is doing now, he is already behind the airplane. Knowing what to expect can greatly increase your student's ability to anticipate and reduce the need to react. Though it's true that we often teach pilots to react, we should use these reactions to develop the pilot's ability to anticipate problems, plan for them, and make good decisions.

Aeronautical Decision Making, FAA Advisory Circular 60-22, goes into great detail about anticipating problems and making timely, correct decisions. It points out that in conventional thinking, the need for a decision is triggered by recognition that a change has occurred or an expected change has not occurred. In other words, the conventional decision making process would have us sitting around waiting for something to happen. If we don't notice that something has (or hasn't) happened, we can't act and the situation will deteriorate until we are no longer in control of the situation or the airplane. At that point we are just along for the ride, and the problem may become irreversible.

As a concept, aeronautical decision making (ADM) teaches pilots to be aware of the attitudes that can affect the way they make decisions and to constantly determine the best course of action in a given set of circumstances. To make this work, pilots must continually search for and establish the relevance of all information. Using this method, pilots continually monitor all aspects of the flight and make constant judgments about required actions. As a result, pilots have a better chance of identifying and correcting a potential problem before a crisis develops.

The ADM concept works for normal operations as well as emergencies. By teaching our students to think not only what if but also what next we can help them stay ahead of the airplane and anticipate the next operation or procedure.

Recognizing the need for action allows the student to anticipate the correct action. Early in a student's training, he or she will react to everything the airplane does, leading to over-controlling. This is because the student doesn't know what to expect. As training continues and the student begins to develop aviation judgment, anticipation will begin to replace reaction. To facilitate this transition, I use the "pothole analogy."

New students try hard to be as accurate as they possibly can. As a result, they try to correct for every little movement of the air. With the pothole analogy, I ask students if they have ever hit a pothole in their car. When they say they have, I ask them if it makes sense to take corrective action after they've hit it. They agree that it doesn't. Then I ask them if it makes sense to correct for a minor bump in the air after they encounter it? They see that the best course of action is to let the airplane fly through the disturbance. Most of the time, no correction is required. I encourage my students to wait three seconds before making any correction to give themselves the chance to decide if one is really necessary. The result is that they stop over-controlling and have more energy to focus outside and ahead of the airplane. They are better able to attend to the real business of flying by anticipating the next series of events.

Let's use cross-country flying as an example. During flight planning, work with your student to anticipate factors that may affect the flight. Will hot temperatures create thermals that may cause uncommanded changes in attitude or altitude? How will the student handle it? Will the combination of temperature and humidity lead to reduced visibility, making checkpoints harder to spot? Should the student use more or larger checkpoints to compensate? Also have your student consider the availability of possible emergency landing sites. Help him select an altitude that will maximize his options in an emergency.

During the flight, make sure the student knows his position at all times and that he's always looking for possible emergency landing sites. One way to do this is to make looking for a field a part of the normal traffic scan. On one scan, have the student locate an emergency landing field. Have him keep it in sight until it is out of glide range. By then he should have found another one. By identifying potential emergency landing sites, your student has saved precious seconds if the engine does quit. As a bonus, he is already thinking about problems so emergency action items are at the front of his mind and easier to recall if a problem does occur. This is not to suggest that you or your student should obsess about the possibility of an engine failure, only that thinking of what if scenarios should be part of your regular operational procedures. Have the student add monitoring the engine gauges and other instruments into the scan and integrate this information into the ADM process. It may be a little overwhelming at first, but practice will make it easier.

The traffic pattern is another place where anticipating what could happen is vital. Things happen fast in the pattern - too fast to let the student get behind the airplane. Begin by having the student do a little descent planning - how far away should he begin the descent from cruise flight? Using familiar landmarks around the home airport will help the student judge distances from the air. By the time the student begins his descent he should already be thinking about the pattern entry and the necessary communication. Try to cultivate your student's ability to visualize a window hanging in the air through which the airplane will fly. By estimating distance from the runway, altitude, and speed, the student can place this window at the pattern entry point. By using this imaginary window as a reference, the student can see whether or not he will enter the pattern at the correct place and altitude and make adjustments. Now the student is in the best position to determine traffic flow.

As the student passes through his imaginary widow, he should already have selected his aiming point on the runway, judged separation from other traffic, and decided where and when to begin the approach. Start asking the student "What's next?" at various points around the pattern. In other words, begin prodding the student to think several moves ahead. The student should always be able to recite at least the next two things he will do.

On each leg, the student should be asking himself, "How does it look?" The student should judge how the approach is proceeding - high, low, too close, too far out? I ask my students to create another window - this one about 400 or 500 feet above the touchdown zone and about three-quarters of a mile from the runway threshold. This has the student anticipating what to do with power, flaps, wind correction, etc., before arriving at the window.

As the airplane passes through the window, the student can concentrate on gliding to the runway with the airplane properly configured and stabilized for landing. The idea is to have the student thinking about what he will be doing rather than what he is doing. Otherwise, he will be forced to make snap decisions. This puts the student further behind the airplane and things begin to pile up. He will end up by reacting to the airplane, trying to force it to do as he wishes. The approach is never stabilized, and the landing suffers.

At the same time, teaching students to prepare in advance doesn't mean they should be unable to cope with change and revise their plan. When you're alone in the pattern in a familiar airplane, the operation tends to be routine. Add an arriving jet or two and gusty winds, and the situation is constantly in flux. This is where your student must be flexible.

When a student is asked to extend his downwind to accommodate other traffic, he is likely to be tempted to begin his descent at the usual point. That will lead to a low approach because he failed to anticipate the effect of the greater distance he must fly on his descent profile. When you are with your student in this circumstance, ask him what to do. Try to get him to make the decision that a change in power to decrease the descent rate might be appropriate. At the same time, ask the student to determine how far he is from the runway and when he will put in flaps. By teaching your students to analyze events as they change, you can help them anticipate the effect of one action on a whole chain of actions.

In time, place more and more of the decision-making responsibility on the student, and he will develop good judgment and the ability to anticipate.

By Colin Cressman

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