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License to learn

A hot topic!

I knew my article in the April 2012 issue of AOPA Pilot ("License to Learn: In Defense of Stick-and-Rudder Training") was a hot topic, but I didn’t know how sizzling it was until the letters rolled in. Every letter I received--except one--supported emphasizing stick-and-rudder basics during primary flight training.


I knew my article in the April 2012 issue of AOPA Pilot ( “License to Learn: In Defense of Stick-and-Rudder Training”) was a hot topic, but I didn’t know how sizzling it was until the letters rolled in. Every letter I received—except one—supported emphasizing stick-and-rudder basics during primary flight training. Rod Machado

The one letter disagreeing with me came from a retired FAA manager involved with the newer, higher-order training strategies. He said, “As for training pilots to be ‘mini airline pilots,’ that’s probably a good thing to do if they fly a Cirrus or similar airplane.” That’s a difficult position to support when you consider that Cirrus accident data over the past year suggests that 46 percent of accidents in visual conditions were primarily rooted in poor stick-and-rudder skills.

I’m perplexed by the fact that there are a number of prominent individuals who support the integration of airline training strategies into presolo curriculums at a time when many students can barely keep an airplane in straight-and-level flight. It’s instructive to see what highly experienced instructors and examiners have to say about the need to emphasize stick-and-rudder training over the FAA’s higher-order training strategies.

One multi-thousand-hour flight instructor wrote, “I’m 55 years old with a CFII. The effects of scenario-based training, as opposed to actual flight instruction—landing the airplane in a crosswind, not visualizing it; spinning, not visualizing it; stalling, not visualizing it—are making students less-capable pilots.”

Another high-time instructor with a doctorate in aviation science advocated teaching basic airmanship skills during primary flight training. He said, “I train my students that way from the beginning, including training in spin recognition, avoidance, and recovery procedures, and flight without reference to any instruments in the cockpit. Although these are not normal procedures, the skills developed in learning to fly with one’s head out the window and being able to recognize an impending stall will serve my students well in the future.”

The good doctor suggests that there are two types of pilots. “There are stick-and-rudder pilots who can fly by looking outside the cockpit using their visual, tactile, and kinematic senses. Then there are panel pilots, who rely on instrument indications to fly their airplanes. There’s no doubt in my mind who makes the safer pilot.”

A retired airline pilot with a great deal of instructional experience had this to say about the FAA’s higher order training strategies for GA pilots: “My initial reaction was that, as an overview, FITS [FAA Industry Training Standards] appeared to be an attempt to reconcile what was being done (in my opinion, overdone) in air carrier simulator sessions with the basic training environment. The assumption appeared to be that the GA community had a sufficiently matured skill set and was regularly assessing and refining it. The reality, I fear, is something else. Just how much does the average private pilot fly in a year? I’d bet that an active pilot is lucky to fly 100 hours a year. Consider that an average air carrier pilot probably flies somewhere between 650 and 800 hours, 24/7, 365 days per year. The number of competency checks is also substantially in excess of the flight review standard we rely on in GA. It was fairly difficult to get really rusty flying the line. That said, some of the younger crewmembers rarely spent much time manipulating the controls. The FMC/FMS systems are wonderful devices for denigrating basic skill sets. Coupled with line-oriented flight training, scenario-heavy training sessions, the overall stick-and-rudder skill set is also suffering at the air carrier level.”

The captain makes my point that we’re using airline-type training methods for student pilots long before those students have acquired the basic skill set upon which the same airline training strategies are based. If this were even close to being a good idea, we’d surely see fewer stick-and-rudder-type accidents in technically advanced aircraft than in non-technically advanced aircraft. Unfortunately, we don’t.

Several pilot examiners chimed in, with one fellow who said, “After 55 years as a pilot, 47 years as an active CFI and pilot examiner, I see pilots who constantly chase the airspeed on final approach, who can’t take off or land in a crosswind, can’t hold a heading using...visual references, [and] can’t keep the wings level without an attitude indicator. The average private or commercial pilot applicant seems to think the rudder pedals are there to rest their feet on, except when taxiing.”

Finally, one lady recalled her experience flying with pilots trained in World War II—a time when you had to have stick-and-rudder skills to survive. She said, “I started teaching in 1958 and checked out several World War II-trained pilots and they were, hands down, the best stick-and-rudder guys I ever flew with!”

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