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Povenmire & Associates
Aviation Safety Consultants

Training Design, Evaluation
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Seven Golden Rules of Instruction




     We have all heard that judgment is un-teachable - you either have it, or you don't.  That's not true.  Judgment can be taught.  We've all heard "Judgment comes from experience."  Instructors should construct their lessons so as to provide experiences.  In the 1964 version of the FAA Flight Instructor's Handbook AC 61-16A which has been superseded by the Aviation Instructor's Handbook AC 60-14, there was a brief discussion of a concept entitled "Contrived Experience."  Some bureaucratic nitwit took it out of the latest version.


     Students learn from experience.  Instructors should guide that experience.  Too often in training, students are told what to do on every flight - even solo flights.  They never get practice making decisions.  Their only experience occurs on solo flights.  Instructors should figure out ways to allow students to make decisions during all flights.  As soon as students have learned the basic knowledge required to make decisions in a particular area, they should be allowed to do so. 


     Rather than ask for a Short Field Takeoff, the instructor should ask the student to pretend that there is a 50-foot obstacle at some point near the published minimum takeoff distance.  At that point we must be 50-feet above the surface.  The student should respond by looking up the takeoff performance, provide a fairly accurate estimate or measurement of the runway available to the imaginary obstacle.  The student will also learn first-hand about performance deterioration due to older engines and dirty airfoils.


     "This time I would like you to land as if the runway was covered with tall grass."  This will allow him to decide which kind of landing to perform rather than to be told to "Do a Soft Field Landing." 


     "Pretend that there is a serious accident at that intersection and you are relaying directions to the enroute ambulance."  The student is now free to decide to do a Turn About a Point, or meander aimlessly around the area, losing site of the intersection.


     This type of instruction forces the student to decide which type of maneuver to do, just as in the real world when the instructor is not there.  Serendipitously, it is much more fun for both of you. 


     It is possible to overlook an important behavioral objective by using this framework for learning to fly.  It is of utmost importance that students learn to perform the maneuvers listed in the Practical Test Standard (PTS) when requested by the examiner.  They should be able to recognize the maneuver by the name in the PTS. 


     Judgment can be fostered in other areas as well.  Once the student learns basic VFR cloud clearance requirements it is fair to ask for a climb to 3000 on a day when you know that the clouds are at 2500.  If you get too close to the clouds you may ask  "How close can we legally get to the clouds?"  If the right answer is provided, you may provide some practical experience at estimating the distance from clouds. 


     If the clouds are in uncontrolled airspace, and both you and the airplane are IFR legal, you might not say anything until everything turns white.  An immediate decision to reduce power and descend should be rewarded.  If there is a moment of hesitance, you should take over, and demonstrate what you would do in this case.  Although this is legal, you should take reasonable precautions that nobody else is doing the same thing at the same time.


     If the mag drop is more than the maximum allowed, sit quietly and see if the student questions it.  If not, there is an opportunity for instruction.  Depending on the level of experience, the decision on what to do should be left to the student.





     Critiquing a person's judgment is a very delicate matter.  People are very ego-involved with their ability to make good judgments.  The secret to an acceptable critique is to start by saying "The decision you made was a good one based on the factors you considered.  This is always categorically true.  Nobody ever makes a bad decision o purpose.  "However a couple things come to mind that you might not have considered." 


     Then the instructor can provide additional data which might change the student's mind.  During a night flight, my advanced student noticed that the white position light on the tail was out.  I acknowledged, but continued to untie the aircraft.  He was anxious to get this instrument flight out of the way because it had been hard to schedule.  (This fact should have had nothing to do with the decision.)  He decided to fly because the rotating beacon was on the tail, and provided enough illumination for other aircraft.  I told him "That is a good decision based on most of the facts, but the various colors of the position lights indicate our aspect to other aircraft."


     Nearly as often the student may say "I thought of that, but ..."  and provide additional data that I had not considered.  Virginia was working on her instrument rating.  She was finally ready for serious instrument cross-country work.  We went from Mobile to Tallahassee for fuel, then on to Ft Lauderdale to attend a two-day aviation course before returning to Mobile.


     As we prepared for the return trip, she brought her flight planning data to my room and pointed out that if we went to Tallahassee we would not have a suitable alternate within our fuel range.  However, if we fueled at Gainesville, we could use Tallahassee as an alternate, and still be able to fly from Gainesville to Mobile with a suitable alternate.  I congratulated her on her decision, but wanted to make sure she understood that with the weather conditions we had been experiencing that an alternate might not be necessary.  She said "Yes, I thought about that, but ..."  At this point she turned her flight plan form over and said "Tropical Storm Bob is forming in the Northeastern Gulf, and ..."  Needless to say we went to Gainesville.


     If the student routinely makes decisions that are overly adventurous, the instructor should "counsel" the student as to the possible consequences of his risks.  In one radical case I refused to fly with the student, or to sign him off for solo, even though he was technically capable.  If the student is overly cautious, the instructor should try to help the student understand the reason behind the fears, and to provide real world information or vicarious experience to counteract them.