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Training Tip: First rulesTraining Tip: First rules

The trainer on short final has just passed through a burble of turbulence that seemed to arise out of nowhere in the still morning air.

The first rule for any flying situation is, “fly the airplane,” but beyond that there are scenario specific firsts to keep in mind. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Not very severe, but the surprise bundle of bumps was enough to nudge the trainer toward the side of the runway and disturb the presolo student pilot’s careful aligning of the airplane’s longitudinal axis with the fast-rising runway’s extended centerline.

This is a good spot to hit the pause button because there are two ways this scenario might develop, and any flight instructor who has been plying the trade for a while has seen both.

What a CFI sometimes observes—before quickly intervening—is the trainee commencing a desperate wrestling match with the airplane in a stressed-out effort to get back in position in time to make a (probably awful) touchdown, with resulting harrowing hijinks on the runway. This is a red flag, suggesting that lots more training is called for in the headwork department, and in basic aircraft control.

What the instructor wants to see, and has been prepared for an opportunity to observe, is for the student to calmly advance the throttle to climb power and start a go-around, then aerodynamically “clean up” the airplane in the climb, and announce the balked landing on the radio.

That sequence of steps is important. Taking them out of order can produce inferior results, or worse. The first rule of a go-around, after applying the first rule for all flying scenarios—“fly the airplane”—is to add power and attend to the checklist’s follow-up chores. Communicating is not a top priority in that instant, although some pilots seem irresistibly drawn to their microphones at such times.

A pilot trained to deal with some tasks first and others only when the scenario’s workload permits has taken a big step toward a solo endorsement, and has demonstrated the safety consciousness solo privileges demand.

What is the first rule of safe aircraft operation? Use the checklist.

What is the first rule of a stall recovery? Lower the angle of attack.

What is the first rule of flying a training maneuver? Perform a clearing turn.

What’s the first rule of making a radio transmission? Wait until the frequency is clear.

What's he first rule for evaluating weather? If in doubt, don’t go.

Perhaps you have come up with a few of your own, likely designed to keep you from repeating a past mistake.

Share your “first rules” with other pilots at

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Instructor, Flight Training, Student
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