The greatest gift an educator can provide after presenting the basics is creating a safe place for the learner to independently make and correct small errors; “flub it up and fix it.” This is the famous “learning opportunity.” Humans learn by doing, trying, experimenting. Once you have put the puzzle pieces on the table, your learner needs to move them around and assemble them for themselves. This has to be handled carefully in aviation and the conscientious CFI carefully avoids helping too much once the learner has achieved a level of basic competence. The CFI is there to coach and assist; guiding the learning situation with a velvet glove. Remember our ultimate goal in flight training is to get out of the plane – and we can’t do that if we have micro-managed the training and created dependence instead.
All pilots tend toward perfectionism and CFIs can easily fall into the micro-management habit. It takes conscious effort and commitment to overcome this tendency but these become the truly great educators. The new and scared CFIs most commonly exhibit “over-control” and never release the yoke (or the mic) for any “experimentation.” They can create an oppressive environment and also never stop talking long enough for a learner to process and assemble information. The end result of a nervous new CFI is usually is a pathetically nervous and dependent pilot with no “command authority” or true skills – a “mouse in a maze.”
I personally advocate putting training pilots totally in charge as early as possible. I call this exercise the “half solo” and it should happen as soon as a learner has command of the basics. This challenge is carefully briefed and designed to be fun and diagnostic – for both parties involved. This experience validates the training and immensely empowers the student. If the CFI is a micro-manager they squirm and suffer in the right seat but often discover some new personal strengths also – trust takes time.
By 3-5 hours in the air, most eager learners can accomplish a weather and risk analysis, preflight, run-up, take off and mostly fly safely out of the pattern and level-off in cruise. Briefing and accomplishing this “half solo” is amazingly empowering and educational for the learner. They immediately see the result of the time, money and effort they have already invested (listen to them debrief their own performance after the flight – you will be surprised!) The larger process at work here is “incremental mastery” and this process should continue right up until the check ride. Moving forward, every time the learner exhibits competence in a maneuver or area of flight, they “own it” and command the process from that time forward – e.g. “show me your stall series.” Of course polish and correction can be added to tighten accuracy and enhance understanding later but it is vital to have your student “in command” as early as feasible.
By the time a pilot in training departs the nest, fully alone for “solo landings,” they are more confident, skilled and safer. They already know they can climb, turn, descend accurately because they have continuously demonstrated this component of the flight. Full “solo landing” is just another incremental challenge in the full contimuum of becoming a pilot in command. And for confident, empowered flight applicants, the FAA checkride is much less intimidating and they generally excel. By contrast, evaluating a cosseted candidate attempting true control is painful on so many levels. This is made worse by the realization that the CFI who recommended this person actually created these problems rather than solved them.
More ideas and techniques for flight instructor excellence will be part of our SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop at AOPA, October 2&3. More details on the way soon. Fly safely (and often)!
BTW, there has been some buzz online that resonates with this idea – “I do that” but not fond of the “half-solo” name. We certainly need a better name but also community support and industry awareness for this technique grow. Our initial 80% drop-out rate is toxic; LMK!
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