Safety Publications/Articles

First steps

When students become disappointed in their ability to learn, it's often because they're overstepping their learning limits. And the problem is less the student's lack of ability than the instructor's failure to clearly define a first-step objective.

It's not uncommon to see students spend an entire lesson attempting to master the throttle and flight-control coordination required for slow flight. Often, the pushing and pulling of hands makes it appear that the student is kneading tough dough. The sad fact is that he is going to need some real dough ($) for more lessons if he keeps flying that way. Entering and leaving slow flight involves reducing power, raising the nose sufficiently to maintain altitude, then feeding in power and right rudder. This is a challenging coordination task. If the student believes his objective is to master the entire behavioral sequence after one or two tries, then he or she is sure to become frustrated. That's why it's best to define an acceptable first step in the eventual mastery of the complete behavior.

I suggest as a first objective in learning slow flight the ability to reduce power and increase back-pressure sufficiently to hold the altimeter's hundred-foot hand steady. After three or four tries, the student is sure to have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency at this behavior. She's a success, not a failure, and she will find it much easier to take an additional step toward eventual mastery of the desired behavior. Because a reasonable first step was defined and achieved, the student looks forward to learning these additional components.

The more complex the behavior, the more need there is to define a first step (and a second, and third) in achieving some degree of mastery. The CFI's job is to help students identify these first-step behaviors. They're the first step to success.

By Rod Machado

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