Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 National CFI of the Year

Improving the learning process

guest speakerRecently, a VFR pilot flying a Cessna 172 departed after dark in VMC and flew into IMC. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot reported an electrical failure to ATC, but continued into a thickening blanket of fog. The accident chain continued to build until its predictable conclusion.

Weather-related accidents continue to be a problem. It’s time for a new technique for training students about weather. Scenario-based training stands out as the best tool because of its ability to capture the whole range of possibilities in rich detail. By identifying accident causes and other uncertainties, an instructor can construct a series of scenarios that helps students learn everything—from estimating distances from a cloud to exercising good judgment—that’s appropriate to the phase of training.

Experienced instructors know that a student’s perceptions about weather evolve as training progresses. During the solo phase of training, students center on the weather regulations and compare them to local meteorological conditions in making the go/no-go decision. Information of most concern to the student pilot at this point in training is wind, ceiling and visibility. The question on the student’s mind is, “Can I take off?”

Instructors and their students can incorporate scenario-based training into this phase with the help of a computerized weather program such as DUATS. Sitting at the computer, check for METARs at several different locations around the country. For instance, could you legally take off from St. Petersburg, Fla., today? Could you land with the current conditions in Oshkosh? Survey airports in different airspaces and practice decoding and interpreting conditions. Look at favorite vacation destinations—the airport near grandma’s house—and at favorite locales, and decide if a legal takeoff can be made.

This may sound overly simple. However, in 2002, a survey of pilots visiting EAA AirVenture found that only 55% of pilots correctly interpreted weather reports and forecasts, and only 61% scored correctly on questions pertaining to weather-related regulations. As a group, the survey participants didn’t understand weather as it pertains to real flying.

Without scenarios like the one mentioned above, METARs are only a collection of numbers on the computer screen. Scenario-based training brings these numbers to life by applying them to a specific flight the student is likely to fly.


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