How to Get the Most from Your Dual Instruction

Copyright 1988, 2002 Jeffrey Geibel, CFII - All Rights Reserved

(Note to non-pilots: This article was originally written for both student and licensed pilots. However - you don't need to be a pilot to get a sense of what it takes to get the most from flight instruction. To help you get the full meaning of the article, certain aviation terms are clarified in italics.)

The dual instruction flight environment has to be one of the most demanding learning environments for both the instructor and the student. This is true regardless if the student is primary or advanced, and regardless if the instruction is an organized training program or a periodic recurrency ride. (Note: Licensed general aviation pilots are required to take recurrency rides with either instructors or pilot examiners, from a minimum of once every 24 calendar months - a biennial flight review - to every six months for instrument flight currency. These are FAA requirements.)

The high workload comes about from the fact that the instruction is given is the actual operating environment, that is, while you are flying the aircraft. (Except for those who have the luxury of training on simulators.) The instructor has a limited time to explain, demonstrate, evaluate and critique, all while monitoring the safety of the flight. Conversely, the student must comprehend, perform and (hopefully) improve their performance, again while flying the aircraft.

Good instructors are accustomed to this environment, and can vary their teaching techniques according to the student's ability to accommodate the workload. Students, on the other hand, have a limited amount of flexibility in their ability to adjust to an increased cockpit workload. That is, after all, why they are students.

Ironically, students unnecessarily increase their workload and increase that of the instructor by not paying sufficient attention to the two key characteristics of a good student: attitude and preparation. Time and time again I have seen students engage in self-defeating behavior that increased their workload and had the instructor regard them as a 'difficult' student.

As a CFI (Note: the term CFI means Certificated Flight Instructor - someone who is licensed by the FAA to train pilots for various licensing exams and give proficiency or recurrency training.) at a suburban Boston aero club, I had students with over 4,000 flight hours and students who had never been at the controls. My own experiences have evolved into a 'sixth sense' concerning students, and coupled with discussions with other CFIs, resulted in an informal 'instructor's checklist' for evaluating a student. If you want to get the most from your dual instruction, look over the following items, which will give you an idea of how your instructor evaluates your interest in becoming a good pilot:

1. Plan ahead - planning is an essential element of being a good pilot.

Show me a pilot that doesn't plan, and I'll show you a sloppy (dangerous) pilot. Planning shows up in a lot of ways, as demonstrated by (but not limited to) many of the items that follow.

2. Show consideration for the instructor's schedule

I love students who would call me up and expect to fly that afternoon (I am a part-time instructor), then proceed to rattle off the times that are convenient to them. I have a lot of students, and my desire to accommodate another one is partially based on their consideration (or lack of it) for my schedule.

3. Develop an ability to check weather for a go/no go decision.

Flying in the Northeast, IFR (Note: the term IFR means Instrument Flight Regulations - specific meteorological conditions that require that the flight be conducted by the pilot by reference to flight and navigational instruments, and under the direction of air traffic control (ATC)) conditions or winds often weather down students. One of the first things I teach a student is how to check DUAT, ATIS and PATWAS, (Note: DUAT is Direct User Access Terminal - a Internet service that provides reported and forecast weather and permits the filing of flight plans. ATIS is the Automatic Terminal Information System - a recording of the current weather at the airfield that is broadcast by radio and also accessible by telephone. PATWAS is an automated weather briefing service that is available by telephone from a FAA Flight Service Station, and also a means to reach a real-person weather briefer.) and what the criteria are (ceiling, visibility and winds) for flying. I then expect them to check the weather and have a good idea if it is flyable before contacting me to cancel or reschedule. Just looking at the clouds isn't good enough.

4. Determine what will be covered during the lesson, and prepare as much as possible.

Good instructors like to see their students do well, and are not into making instruction a mysterious experience. Most instructors follow a syllabus or flight checklist, and will share it with you. The objective is demonstrated competence, not mind reading. What is particularly aggravating is for the instructor to brief the student on what will be covered, and have the student show up having done no preparation or review.

5. Determine the instructor's performance criteria - and remember it is their criteria that counts, not yours.

I would get a kick out of students that used to show up and tell me how long it's going to take them to get a license, or how much instruction they need. They act as if they're doing me a favor by letting me sign their log book. Usually the ones that talk the most are the least competent. Self-delusion has no role in good piloting skills. If you're as good as you think - it will become obvious to the instructor - you don't have to say a word. Otherwise, you're better off not laying claim to superior flying skills.

6. Review the flight maneuvers on the ground

Communication is a big element in the learning process. The flight cockpit is not the best place for extended discussions. It's a good idea to go over the flight maneuvers on the ground and have a good idea of what will be done before you leave the ground. You then put theory to practice and gain the most from the instructor's subsequent critique and demonstrations.

7. Ask intelligent (sincere) questions -

Don't use the question format to challenge the instructor or to disguise blatant opinions. I had a student not too long ago whose approach was "I'd like to ask a question..." at which point he would challenge just about everything I was trying to explain to him. I don't mind a student who asks an honest question that catches me on a point here or there. But the continuing challenge is a ruse that is quickly discovered.

8. It helps to take notes

In over a decade of instructing I've learned (and forgotten) a lot. If I'm getting new material or emphasis on old material from fellow instructors or check pilots, I take notes or using a high-lighter. With all the information that a pilot needs, you can't depend or your memory (that's why we have checklists). With a new pilot (or a rusty pilot) the need to take notes is even more critical. When they don't take notes - that usually means that I will have to cover that ground with them -again, and again, and again.

The items listed above give you an idea of how an instructor will evaluate your attitude and pilot skills before you even set foot in a cockpit. If you feel that you've not been getting the most from your dual instruction, or can't seem to stick with the same instructor (they get real 'busy' after one or two flights with you) maybe you should change your approach. The instructor can only do so much to help you become a good pilot - the rest is up to you. Most of that success is dependent on your attitude and preparation.

Jeffrey Geibel is the principal of Geibel Marketing & Public Relations, a marketing and public relations consulting practice located in Belmont, MA. He is a CFII (Airplane/SEL), and holds Commercial Pilot privileges for helicopters.

© 1988, 2002, Jeffrey Geibel CFII, All Rights Reserved

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