Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 National CFI of the Year

Improving the learning process

During solo cross-country training, decisions about weather have to be expanded. In this phase, the emphasis should be on evaluating changing weather conditions and developing a new plan to deal with those changes. Good instructors would assess the student’s decision making through discussion. The student’s mind-set would be characterized more as, “Can I reach my destination?”

A well-known accident like John F. Kennedy Jr.’s continued VFR flight into IMC makes a great scenario. Ideally, an instructor would use a flight simulator or training device to give the student an opportunity to experience gradually deteriorating weather. The scenario could make scud running look like a viable option, allowing the student to underestimate the risks involved with flight into deteriorating conditions.

Students who become aware of the deteriorating weather often will react with overconfidence in coping with the conditions. The perfect training scenario would include those social pressures that influence “get-there-itis” so that students could learn firsthand how pilots get caught in the trap.

Scenario-based training at this phase should enhance methods for the student to update weather en route using FSS, ATC and onboard technology. The scenario should allow a possible 180-turn-back as a realistic option. It should introduce the concept of reconfiguring the aircraft for a slower speed, allowing the student to think and assess the situation. And it should promote patience—that is, the student should land and wait for the weather to improve.

A safe, weather-minded pilot is one who understands that weather conditions are dynamic—moving and changing in three dimensions, with different conditions at different altitudes. Before graduation, the correct student mind-set is, “Should I continue the flight as planned?”

Presentation software like PowerPoint can be used to construct scenarios during this phase of training. The presentation should feature weather across a lengthy cross-country outside of the student’s familiar flying area. The instructor should provide natural points throughout the scenario to ask the student to choose between “Should I continue?” “Should I divert?”or “Should I land?” Phases of flight where students may be asked to make the continue/divert/land decision might include: (1) before leaving the flight-planning room, (2) before takeoff, (3) hourly en route updates, (4) before initial descent and (5) before beginning approach.


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