After a session practicing maneuvers for an imminent flight test, more than one student pilot has fretted to an instructor that performing tasks to practical test standards seemed to be getting more challenging at a stage when satisfactory completion should be easier. Why does that happen?
"You’re not backsliding. You’re improving," many instructors have replied.
How could the two perceptions differ that much? Here’s what the CFI might say, to explain.
"Think about your recent practice flights. Two days ago, we flew to the practice area and you flew some turns around a point using that big rock in the middle of the lake as your reference. You pegged the wind at 10 knots from the west based on the pattern it made on the water, and you did a nice job flying the maneuver.
"Yesterday we practiced in a different location, closer to the airport, so we were able to request radar traffic advisories from Approach Control. But it was harder to sense the wind there. Plus, I had you handle the radio while we both watched for traffic.
“Plus… there was a lot of traffic to look for—most of it pointed out as “type and altitude unknown,” which didn’t make it easier to spot. I’d estimate we located fewer than half the aircraft flying in the vicinity.
"Plus… I was talking to you more than usual, to see how you would handle a ‘realistic distraction.’ You handled it well, answering relevant questions and ignoring me when I was just rambling.
"Which brings us to today. The wind was stronger, and from a different direction, and did you notice right after takeoff how bumpy it was from about 100 feet agl through 800 feet, where it smoothed out?"
The student had noticed—and now an insight dawned. "Is that why you had me fly the turns around a point at 600 feet agl today?"
"That’s why. And because 600 feet agl is the minimum altitude for the maneuver. We usually fly it closer to the maximum allowable altitude, 1,000 feet agl. The sight picture is different at the lower altitude, and the turbulence was a good test for you.
"So, to answer your original question, while it may feel like you are working harder to fly familiar training maneuvers now, you are handling a bigger workload, too. You handled it well."