Practise – Demonstrate – Teach

As a Flight Instructor Examiner (FIE) I get to observe many instructors delivering flight training exercises and most of them perform satisfactorily. Occasionally I come across one or two that really don’t know what they are trying to teach. This may be due to poor and inadequate training during the instructor course, or it might be they have forgotten what to do or, more importantly, how to do it.

The process of teaching can best be described in a series of words: Demonstrate – Teach – Practice – Critique. Now, some of you may not like the word ‘critique’ and may prefer ‘fault analysis’ instead. Whatever words you wish to use, the idea is to debrief the student’s practice.

This is a circle starting at ‘demonstrate’ and finishing at ‘critique’ with a small circle running between ‘teach’ and ‘critique’ which forms the basis of the instruction. As previously explained in the last article, the ‘demonstration’ happens once at the beginning of the lesson to show the student what the final manoeuvre looks like. I am often asked how you do this for those early exercises like Effects of Controls or Straight and Level.

Before you begin instruction for Effects of Controls show the student that the controls change the flight path of the aeroplane and in the case of Straight and Level, put the aeroplane straight and level and in trim, remove your hand and feet from the controls and show that the aeroplane remains straight and level by pointing out that the altitude and heading are constant with the ball in the centre.

These demonstrations don’t take long, lasting only a few minutes at most but it helps the student to understand what they are supposed to be able to do by the end of the lesson. I use this analogy – you wouldn’t buy a car without seeing it first.

Teaching is the next part of the process and in my last article I explained the idea of ‘Building Blocks’ as a way to help the student learn and to teach logically rather than chronologically. Some exercises on the PPL(A) and LAPL(A) syllabus have already been split into several parts, e.g. Straight and Level, Effects of Controls, etc, but the instructor can split up any of the other exercises in order to make the learning process easier for the student.

Forced Landings without Power (FLWOP) is one such exercise that would benefit from being split into two parts. There is far too much information in this exercise to be taught in a single lesson if you are to do it properly. I would split the exercise into two; first part teaching the pattern and the second part teaching all the rest.

Additionally, the instructor needs to consider the prerequisites for this exercise. Has the student been taught and successfully practiced the glide approach and landing? If not then this needs to be completed before teaching the FLWOP otherwise the student’s learning has just doubled which results in partial learning. I am sure if I ask a number of Flight Examiners (FE) which exercise on the PPL(A) or LAPL(A) Skill Test is poorly flown then they will put FLWOP at the top of the list. Need I say more.

All instructors, including myself, use keywords and phrases to help students learn how to perform a manoeuvre or skill e.g. Power – Attitude – Trim, Lookout – Attitude – Instruments, etc. This is fine but there needs to be further explanation by the instructor otherwise the result can be not as expected. Let me illustrate what I mean by describing an example.

I was conducting an Instructor Assessment of Competence and I had allowed the candidate to choose the main exercise as the weather wasn’t a factor. Climbing and Descending Part 1 was the exercise chosen. Let’s roll on to the part of the lesson where the instructor is teaching me to level off from a climb. I am following through on the controls as instructed and the instructor says: “As we approach the altitude, about 50 ft to go, select the cruise attitude, set the power to the cruise rpm, let it all settle down and the trim – Attitude, Power, Trim.”

What’s wrong with that, I hear you say, APT is what we teach to level off. Actually, no you don’t do that when you level off. I was given a chance to practice the level off from a climb and I did exactly what I was taught. The aeroplane climb speed was 70 kts and the cruise speed was 90 kts, consequently the level off resulted in a descent and a height loss of about 200 ft. Quite rightly the instructor gave me a second go. The result was the same. I asked what I was doing wrong.

The reply was pitch down slower. I practiced again and this resulted in a height gain of about 200 ft. Again, I asked what was wrong. Again, the instructor discussed pitch rate. Finally, I asked the instructor to show me the level off without talking and that I would describe the movements/actions I saw. This is what the instructor did… At about 50 ft to go to the target altitude the instructor selected the 70 kts straight and level attitude, then as the speed increased this attitude was progressively reduced to maintain level flight.

Approaching 90 kts the power was set to cruise and the aeroplane was trimmed. The result was a level off without climbing or descending into the cruise at 90 kts. So why didn’t the instructor teach this? When asked the reply was “to level off it’s Attitude, Power, Trim; that’s what I teach”. May I suggest that that isn’t the whole story, it’s what you do but not how you do it. In essence the level off from a climb is simply a slow speed to high-speed acceleration which was taught in Straight and Level and the key take away (or skill) from that was Progressively Adjust the Attitude and Trim (PAAT). So, apply this to the level off and the actions become: Set the level attitude for the climb speed, then Progressively Adjust the Attitude and Trim as the speed accelerates, approaching the cruise speed (say 5 kts to go) set cruise power by sound and feel. Hold the attitude and trim.

This is a classic ‘Known to the Unknown’ situation which in this example was not picked up by the instructor. The known part is PAAT the unknown part is level off from a climb. I wonder how many instructors reading this have noticed that their students consistently descend when they level off from a climb. Then ask yourself: have you taught the student what to do rather than how to do it. ‘Known to the Unknown’ is another vital learning process for the student.

Being able to relate previously learned skills to new situations is an important building block in the process of learning to fly. If the instructor doesn’t make this connection during the lesson, then the student is missing a vital piece of the puzzle of learning to fly.

Previously I discussed the idea of teaching logically rather than chronologically to help the student learn. Climbing, and for that matter descending, can be placed into the same box as turning, each have three parts and teaching the correct one first makes all the difference to the student’s learning ability. The maintenance of a climb or descent is the key to flying the manoeuvre accurately.

The maintenance of a climb or descent has a connection to maintenance of straight and level flight in that they all use the same work cycle: Lookout – Attitude – Instruments (LAI). However, climbing and descending requires the student to learn a new skill. When increasing or reducing airspeed in straight and level flight the pilot uses the throttle.

However, when climbing or descending, at a fixed power setting the pilot can’t use the throttle to change the airspeed but must now use the aeroplane attitude, with ‘Attitude controls Airspeed’ becoming the new skill. What I have found in my time as an FIE is that this skill is not always taught to the student. It doesn’t seem to appear in most instructor notes which might go someway to explain why it isn’t taught to student pilots. During this instructor refresher training, maintenance of the climb and descent was discussed and the instructor said that to maintain the climb (or descent) you ‘DABLE’; Direction – Attitude – Balance – Lookout – Engine. It’s a new idea to me and I can see that it makes for a good work cycle but it’s not how a pilot maintains the climb (or descent).

Just like APT in the context of levelling off from a climb needs further explanation, so DABLE needs further expansion e.g. ‘Attitude’ should be written as ‘Attitude controls Airspeed’ then the student has the whole picture. Aviation is full of acronyms and the student learning to fly has to deal with them all during the course of training. In my view, less is more. If a particular acronym can be used in a variety of situations why make life more complicated by introducing new ones.

Author: FTN Editor

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