Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Learning To Fly 2.0: Cooler, Safer And More Fun Than Ever

Big changes in technology, manufacturing and design have changed the way we learn to fly

Training: How We Learn
In the recent past, your instructor would follow a course syllabus that taught you the necessary skills to pass your checkride. You’d practice a skill, and then move on to the next one. It was a predictable way to learn. Nowadays, traditional training methods are giving way to new ideas, such as scenario-based training.

An example of scenario-based training is learning to do turns around a point. It’s a skill every pilot must learn, but it’s not very exciting turning in circles around an intersection or water tank for hours. Instead, to teach the skill, a scenario is set up: Maybe the student is being hired to carry an aerial photographer who needs to shoot some feature on the ground. The student is expected to keep the same distance from the object while looking for conflicting traffic and maintaining altitude and airspeed. Scenarios like this make learning fun and pass on a valuable skill.

Traditional ground schools are disappearing in favor of multimedia courses that students can watch at home. Difficult concepts can be reviewed to make learning them easier. Interactive features, dialogs and graphics allow richer learning, and make certain concepts clearer than listening to someone explain them from a chalkboard. Also, militaristic instructors are disappearing as the armed services feed fewer pilots into the system, and a softer, gentler approach is proving effective.

Tools: Avionics & Gear

Some of the biggest changes in flight training have come about because of technological advances. Ten years ago, it was inconceivable that two-seat trainers would have the capabilities that modern trainers have. Touch screens, onboard real-time weather displays, GPS-coupled autopilots, 3-D terrain profiles, electronic charts and advanced engine and performance management were pipe dreams for anybody learning to fly. A tired two-seater with a VOR was all you could hope for.

But learning to fly today is a treat for anybody enamored with technology. The sheer amount of information available in a cockpit is staggering. Though student pilots must learn to avoid “information overload” and keep their eyes focused outside, the situational awareness these units provide is nothing short of phenomenal. Modern pilots quickly become “system managers” in addition to aviators.

Today, student pilots can learn in a glass-cockpit-equipped airplane from the very beginning. And the technology and knowledge is transferable as you move up in aircraft. Diamond, for example, provides a seamless upward progression from its two-seat DA20 trainer all the way to its D-Jet; the panel will look essentially the same in all the aircraft in the Diamond family. The same holds true for manufacturers like Cirrus and even Cessna and Piper. By employing glass technology, the cockpit becomes a familiar place, and students need only learn differences in handling and performance to master a newer, faster airplane.

Flight students also use different gear than their counterparts in the recent past. Manual E6B “slide-rule” computers are being replaced by their electronic cousins that instantly provide all the data previously available only by spinning the mysterious wheel of the E6B. Meanwhile, ANR headsets keep improving, making hearing loss from cockpit noise a thing of the past. Charts quickly are going all electronic, and handheld GPS units and portable communications radios have become common. Even flashlights and cockpit lighting are going to LEDs, with their long life, cooler temperature and miniature size.

Putting It All Together

Flight training has come a long way from the long-ago days of Piper Cubs and the more recent days of Cessna 150s and Piper Cherokees. Although we still fly the same skies, modern complexities and innovations have made flight training—and general aviation—a whole different animal than it was. From today’s safer skies to the comfort and confidence that technology provides, learning to fly is something that will pay you dividends for a lifetime.

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