Every day of flight instruction is a true adventure in every sense of the word. Flying is a truly 3 and 4 dimensional activity that spawns adventure and relaxation at the same time, and requires a certain level of focus, regardless of what the most sensational advertisers attempt to explain. The art of flight instruction has undergone a transformation from the tactile function of verbal communication and stick and rudder, to ground school on mobile devices between toilet sits, dinner and dessert breaks, and commuting to and from our work. The aviation community at large has attempted all types of revamp ideas for flight schools, chastising flight instructors, and large benevolent organizations like AOPA, NAFI, and EAA have met with the FAA and Flight Schools to discuss how we turn this ship around, yet we still see students who get lost in the luxury, and found in the chaos and the only determining factor to their survival and retention is their passion and drive to fly the friendly skies.
One of the largest contributions to the current schizophrenia of flight training, is the lack of true guidance for instructors, flight trainers, training department managers, and the FAA on the new culture that has evolved in non-aviation businesses around the globe. A great example is the paradigm change in marketing and sales, from sales-type- loud advertisement based manipulation of the populace to buy goods, to content based marketing that sells through the engagement and recommendations of others. What do these issues have to do with flight training? Interestingly, they have everything to do with flight training. It isn’t the syllabus, or the quality of the ground training program, or the overall confidence a company has to retain their students, but is how it all fits together for a user friendly experience. This hasn’t happened. I will describe what happens in the flight training community and why it is detrimental to business and eventually our safety as a community.
Here is an experience I observe and deal with almost daily in flight training, and it is remarkably “normal” to hear about these experiences from frustrated students who attempted to buy the “most cost-efficient” program on the market, in reality they have bought the lowest “priced” program and are going to pay for it now, later or both: A pilot approaches me and requests a flight with me to finish a Private, Instrument, Commercial, CFI certificate etc… We will sit down for a short interview to ascertain the best “action plan” to get them to their goals quickly and efficiently. Once we clear this up and have a path to follow we go fly, they hurriedly scamper around the aircraft jump in and wait for me, we haven’t discussed who is pilot in command, we have no idea nor do I what is about to happen or even where we are going. Their maneuvers will be semi-standard, they will misinterpret a request, miss radio calls and all part of the training process. Then I will inevitably end the flight, they are programmed to just pack up and go to their car and want to see me next flight. Super problems here. These problems are not being remedied by flight schools, nor by instructors, but are actually encouraged by their new “technologies” while they bypass some of the most primitive laws of learning. It doesn’t require 30 minutes each way, but 10 minutes at minimum to discuss who is in charge, when they are in charge and how we will accomplish todays flight safely is prime time required discussion!
As I observed these issues at the 3-4 different airports where I have based my company, I begin to realize what is happening, Flight Instructors, by default are simply evaluating students. Students that are not sure what they were suppose to do until they are told it is wrong. Teaching simply isn’t occurring at any level. Many Flight Instructors in large part attended flight schools where the shelter of stage checks were available to explain to the instructor where they failed and did well. In the real world of flying we don’t have “stage check” instructors and programs to beat us over the head, nor should we. If you are relatively new to aviation and don’t quite grasp my explanation I will explain quickly what happens in a brief example. The student was suppose to study how to perform stall recovery, so the instructor sits their quietly as the student meanders through the maneuver until he/ she can no longer stand it and finally takes over saying ” nope, do it this way”.. now a very nervous student attempts a maneuver they don’t really understand again, all while being evaluated. Because they have reviewed the material on their trusty mobile device and taken a test, surely they know right? Wrong! The student is lost on many levels. First, they are unsure if it’s even their fault the maneuver is turning sideways, but assume it must be there fault. Second, the instructor is not teaching anything but hanging out while the Hobbs meter ticks away and obviously the student will be training for some time to come. What’s even worse, is that neither of these two unintentional thrill seekers understand what is actually going on.
If you are a student looking for an instructor ask the school, instructor or admissions dept. to please allow you to interview your new instructor. Ask them how they teach maneuvers, and how you will be learning the required information. Get detailed about it.
If you are an instructor, throw away the concepts that you have picked up about “watching” student and your interpretation of the “FITS” program for just 10 minutes and just teach. The Instructors Handbook explains exactly how to teach maneuvers and every other contorted thing we do in the air it’s very simple: (You have to change the order on this to fit the exact situation with your student, no two are identical!)
- Instructor Explains – Instructor Does
- Student Does – Instructor Guides verbally
- Student Says – Instructor Does
- Student Does – Student Says – Instructor Monitors
- Student Practices
By following this formula, regardless if you switch items 2 and 3 or whatever works for that particular situation, evaluation is ALWAYS last. Instructors do have to stop a maneuver sometimes in the middle of step 2 or 3 because there are some maneuvers that just aren’t safe beyond a certain point if the student isn’t stabilized.
What is happening in aviation is change that is disjointed, disconnected and a failure to engage on the part of the user and the provider. The quickest route to success for flight training, is to actually train the maneuver, then evaluate, first evaluating the communication you have given the student (Student Explains – Instructor Does) should be a key in discovering what was actually retained the first time around. Many instructors have mistakenly over estimated their evaluation skills and explain and do followed by “Here give it a try” and then the student experiments until they either get it in 5 lessons, or they give up and just fly to home base to try again another day.
If you are a student and experiencing “Evaluation only” lessons, sit down and communicate it to the instructor. They may not be aware that you aren’t able to fill in the blanks on material you aren’t sure of. And if you are an instructor begin assessing your own skills by following a routine that allows you to rapidly critique your instruction, and then correct it on the very next attempt by student or by yourself.
Jonathan Johns has been flight instructing for over 16 years and has experience in ab-initio, part 141, part 61, commercial flight operations, charter flight training, and has trained and sent applicants to the FAA successfully for over a decade. He is the Founder of “Flight-Logic Aviation & Flight Training” and hosts a number of ground schools, speaks publicly and is an avid aviator himself. If you would like more information about Jonathan go to: http://www.flight-logic.com/scheduling and you can schedule a meeting with him to discuss aviation, get advice on your flight training, or utilize his pilot services.