CFI-PRO™ Conquer the “Driving” Habit!

Every subtle movement of a pilot (or missed action), if watched carefully without intervention, tells a huge story to an alert CFI (or DPE). The most revealing is probably the first take-off; game on! Going beyond all the (very important) checklists and line-up prep, watch the initial power application very carefully. Many new pilots, and even some experienced ones, apply yoke and aileron to the right as the plane pulls left with initial power application. Call this out and reduce power immediately – start over and do this correctly. This pilot is still “driving!” This simple action reveals a multitude of sins (mostly deficient flight instruction). And this is “perfectly natural” since we all drive much more than we fly. This mistake is so basic and so wrong that this pilot’s flying in every other area is going to have serious problems. BTW, DPEs on a flight test, do not/cannot intervene here; this is not a violation of standards. (They just watch and take notes; never teach). The CFI is the source of excellence and great flying technique (or not).

Another place where”driving” is obvious is while making a simple level turn at altitude. Hopefully, we all visually clear in the direction of turn (and I teach a verbal “clear left/right” to stay honest). But if your pilot continues to look over their shoulder in the direction of the turn as they add aileron (turning into Walmart?) the nose will usually be swinging one way or the other with too much or too little rudder. It is essential to initiate a turn, with your eyes directly forward over the nose to perfectly cancel the adverse yaw of the aileron application. This is super simple and very basic but requires correcting the “driving habit.” A level turn is even worse when people are “playing soccer” and watching the inclinometer. Try this visual trick immediately if you haven’t and you will see your flying improve immediately. Rod Machado has a great YouTube here to illustrate the correct way to bank with eyes straight out over the nose: https://youtu.be/UV8xcm5xsuo

The beauty of this correct visual cue out front (established on lesson #1) is that every pilot will get perfect turns, in every plane they fly, the first time! This includes gliders, big hairy-chested tailwheels or even jets; it works! And your poor pilot in the left seat never learned this because unfortunately, no one taught them correctly. They are looking in the direction of the turn (where they already cleared) like they are turning into the MacDonald’s drive through. It is certainly fine to take a glance to clear again after the turn is established, but please watch the nose for the roll so coordination is perfect.

Why their CFI did not demonstrate and fix the “driving habit” on lesson one, or detect and fix this problem later is unforgivable. This poor pilot is still laboring under a completely wrong control paradigm. On take-off, not only is this control input not going to move the plane to the right with yoke right, this error is going to introduce multiple adverse effects on the rotation that are going to make the whole job of piloting harder. Many loss of control accidents happen right on the runway for this very simple reason.

A perfect take-off is much harder than most people think (and remember >24% of fatal accidents happen on take-off and initial climb). Watching a take-off from the right seat is a very large “tell.” First, there should be a smooth application of power (tracking perfectly straight with rudder) and all the cross-checks complete (while maintaining control). Then a smooth rotation straight up to a known outside sight picture with no wiggle/waggle and over-control (how many times do you see this go well?) But take-off can be fully taught and mastered by lesson #3 if it is introduced correctly. A fully mastered take-off is a great opportunity to motivate your student by turning this operation completely over to your student; “you got this!” (incremental mastery) Unfortunately in many cases, I see even “experienced pilots” that cannot make this happen consistently. This is a failure of instruction.

Early “drive-in-the-sky” ads didn’t help!

Here are a couple important exercises to break the “driving habit” and make your “aircraft operator” into a pilot. First, ensure the correct seating and fit in the plane to ensure a “perfect picture” as described in last week’s blog.  As you taxi, add and remove the power to make sure your client is correcting right and left with the rudders only (have them sit on their hands the first few times – new pilots often feel “out of control” without their “hands on the wheel”). It is important to speak directly to this “driving problem” immediately to defeat it and make it cognitively obvious to them. Every pilot will have to self-correct in the future. We all will drive to and from the airport; they must be aware so *they* can suppress this urge in the future.

On the runway, ready for take-off (after all the pre-checks and ready for power application), demonstrate the effect of power application: “your plane pulls left every time (physics!)” Also strongly emphasize the need to simultaneously apply right rudder *with* power application. Many pilots *react* with rudder and see-saw their “yaw and correction.” An ideal smooth application of BOTH power and rudder holds the centerline nicely.

As the nose is rotated, MORE rudder is required (and actually a little left aileron to correct proverse roll). Emphasize the control pressures necessary to hold wings level and nose straight (eyes outside initially then perhaps “tuning” with the ball). Pretty soon your client’s take-offs will be smooth and straight; under control every time. There are lots of forces at work here and they should be dissected and explained thoroughly during a ground discussion. This training is ideally presented on lesson one and two and pretty well mastered by three and four. But I have had to perform this “deconstruction” with very experienced pilots to break bad habits (and that takes a lot longer). Fly safe out there (and often)!


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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

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