Don’t just demonstrate…Teach!

FTN is delighted to announce that aviation luminary Alan Newton is joining FTN this month as our newest columnist, sharing experiences and wisdom gained during a career that has seen him rise to the top of the flight training industry.  

 Alan is the Head of Training and Director of On-Track Aviation Limited. He learned to fly in the Royal Air Force in 1980 and served on a number of Squadrons. He gained an A2 Qualified Flight Instructor (QFI) on both the Jet Provost and Tucano before leaving the service in 1996. He then joined Cathay Pacific Airways flying the Boeing 747, recently retiring from the role after 25 years.

Alan is an FRTOL Examiner, Flight Examiner, GR Examiner, Senior Examiner, Flight Instructor Examiner and a Class Rating Examiner on both land and seaplanes. He also holds FCL.900(c) and FCL.1000(c) privileges from Denmark and is an ELP administrator. In 2014 Alan was awarded a Master Air Pilot Certificate by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and in 2015 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. 

Over the years, I have conducted many instructor refresher training courses and I find that many individuals have either forgotten how to teach or were never taught in the first place. When I first became a civilian instructor back in 1990, I was still in the RAF and had just completed a tour of duty, teaching at a Basic Flight Training School (BFTS) at RAF Church Fenton, now called Leeds East Airport. It was quite a shock to the system to discover the considerable difference between military and civilian teaching; for one thing nobody seemed to use the word ‘teach’, it was always ‘demonstrate’ this or ‘demonstrate’ that.

The two words have quite different meanings. Demonstrate, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “to show something clearly by giving proof”. Not sure how that relates to teaching someone to fly an aeroplane, whereas the word ‘teach’ is defined as “to show someone how to do something so that they will be able to do it themselves”. I suggest that ‘teach’ is far more appropriate.

Now, I am not suggesting that ‘demonstrate’ is a highly inappropriate term when instructing, because it isn’t, but it needs to be used correctly and at the right time in the process. A student pilot who is learning to fly needs to see what they are trying to achieve in each flying lesson and this is where a good demonstration will help. The instructor should aim to fly the demonstration as accurately as possible to allow the student see clearly what they will be able to do by the time the lesson is completed. Thereafter, the instructor will teach the student how to perform the manoeuvre or skill.

In simple terms, a demonstration is done once at the start of a lesson for the benefit of the student’s understanding. No teaching should take place during the demonstration but the student can be encouraged to learn with guidance from the instructor. For example, if the instructor is demonstrating a steep turn, the student could be directed to learn the steep turn attitude by reference to the horizon and the aeroplane cockpit/coaming.

This time spent learning the attitude will help the student later in the lesson when the instructor begins the teaching process. Furthermore, the student could be asked to learn the amount of back pressure required to maintain the steep turn attitude by the instructor allowing the student to hold the attitude they have learnt using the flying controls momentarily during the demonstration. It only takes a few seconds for the student establish there is a back pressure required to hold the steep turn attitude.

So why don’t civilian instructors use the word ‘teach’? Maybe it’s what they were taught to use on their instructor course. So, I studied some civilian instructor manuals which I purchased from online shops such as AFE and it became apparent that the word ‘demonstrate’ was far more prevalent than the word ‘teach’.

After further investigation I came across another rather odd way of instructing. After the demonstration, the instructor gives control of the aeroplane to the student and then proceeds to ‘talk through’ the manoeuvre, adding the occasional control input to ‘help the student get it right’. I have no idea what this is supposed to achieve other than a prolonged amount of dual instruction. If learning to fly was easy then instructors would be out of a job.

This reminded me of the scene from the movie ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines’ where the German pilot is incapacitated and his Commanding Officer steps in to fly the aeroplane complete with an instruction book! Needless to say, the result wasn’t good but the outcome extremely funny for the audience.

To understand the process of teaching, the instructor must understand the learning process. For most adults the process of learning relies on the body’s senses – eyes, ears and hands (touch). I think of this in the form of an acronym – V.H.F. Each letter stands for one of our senses: V – Vision, H – Hearing and F – Feeling. If VHF represents 100% adult learning potential, then any sense not used represents a loss of one third. Instructors beware! In reality, each sense isn’t equally split in this way with some learning more dependent on one particular sense than the others.

If the instructor applies the learning process to the teaching process it becomes clear that the student needs to be directed where to look using clear and concise instructions and must ‘follow through on the controls’ to feel the required amount of input to achieve the manoeuvre. But that’s not the end of the process.

In order for the student to learn successfully and concisely the instructor must present the lesson in a logical manner and avoid delivering it chronologically. So, what do I mean by this?

This is best explained by describing a Steep Turn manoeuvre. There are three parts to this manoeuvre; entry, maintenance and roll out. To deliver it in a chronological fashion the instructor would start with the entry and work through maintenance until finally teaching the roll out. The problem with this approach is that the main part of the lesson hasn’t been given priority and the instructor, if not careful, will end up combining the entry with the maintenance in order to establish the correct steep turn attitude, angle-of-bank (AOB), power setting and back pressure.

If, however, logical teaching is applied then the instructor will choose to teach the maintenance first. Thus, establishing the correct attitude, AOB, power setting and back pressure with the student from the outset. Moreover, the instructor can also teach how to correct a variety of faults before allowing the student to practice just the maintenance of the steep turn. Furthermore, the entry and roll out are transitory events lasting only a few seconds and so don’t need much teaching from the instructor. Indeed, the roll out has been taught already in a previous exercise; Straight and Level. In this exercise the instructor would have given the student practice at selecting straight and level flight from a banked attitude, not dissimilar to rolling out of a turn.

The idea of breaking down the manoeuvre into chunks, or to give them the correct title ‘Building Blocks’, is part of the basis of good teaching which in turn provides the student with easy learning outcomes. The entire PPL syllabus is a series of Building Blocks from Exercise 1 through to 19 and if the instructor does not spend enough quality time on the early exercises in the syllabus the result will be a student without a full understanding of how to fly the aeroplane.

In my early days as a civilian instructor, I was given a student who was having difficulty flying the visual circuit and consequently had not been sent solo. On inspection of the student’s training record, I was horrified to discover that the student had only been given five hours of instruction covering exercises 1-11 prior to going into the visual circuit. When I eventually flew with the student, I made the decision to ‘go back to basics’ and address the missing skills. The result was even more shocking as some of the exercises had not been delivered in the air but had been logged in the training record. I decided to explain to the student what would be required; return to the beginning and start again. To be honest this was not the easiest of things to put into practice as many bad habits had formed which needed to be undone. Needless to say, it was a slow process, but I am glad to say the student eventually did go solo and gain a PPL.

Next time you are given a student who appears to be struggling, look into their training record and retrace some of the early flight exercises. I am sure you will find that there is a deficit in there which is only now coming to light. I just can’t stress how important those exercises leading up to first solo are. They form the basis of all our flying skills so don’t skip any and certainly don’t proceed until the student has mastered the new skill or manoeuvre in the current exercise.

Airborne instruction requires a logical pathway which can be illustrated by these words; Demonstrate, Teach, Practice, Critique. It is a circular path which begins at ‘demonstrate’ and moves clockwise. However, there is a smaller circle that runs from ‘teach’ through to ‘critique’ which forms the basis of the teaching process. For those of you who have attended the On-Track Aviation Instructor Refresher Training (Seminar) you will remember me discussing this in some detail. This will form the basis of next month’s article.

For now, I will leave you with this thought. As an instructor you have a great deal of responsibility. You have a duty of care towards your students not only to guide them successfully through their course of training but to deliver that training in a way that allows them to use their full learning potential. You have a responsibility to ensure they have all the knowledge they might need to become successful aviators. Remember, it is not the volume of students you teach but the quality of pilot that you produce that is the most important factor.

Feature image accredited to On Track Aviation Limited

Author: FTN Editor

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