Too Much (Useless) Talking!

Most CFIs talk way too much (guilty). I was reminded of this listening to a very good Sporty’s “Fast Five” podcast with AOPA’s Dave Hirschman. His primary advice for improving flight instruction was “HUSH!”

Every CFI learning to teach spends a lot of time mastering the ability to fly and talk (cogently) simultaneously. This dual-channel processing takes practice to develop because it requires a lot of mental capacity. The British aviation system requires new instructors to memorize specific scripts called the “patter tape.” But step two in becoming an effective educator (after passing the FAA test) is to talk less. Savvy CFIs quickly learn that talking less allows an aviation learner time and mental bandwidth to process and internalize their flight experiences. Human communication, even in an undistracted environment is only 25% efficient!

Continuous “CFI chatter” is largely just “interference” during a flight lesson and can actually impede learning. A student who is appropriately challenged is mentally at full capacity just trying to manage their flight experience. The majority of our precious CFI “pearls of wisdom” are just flowing past unheard. Too much talk is just an unnecessary distraction. Important corrections should be recorded for the debrief at the end of the lesson. Any critical inflight corrections should be very carefully formulated and delivered only in brief “chunks” at an appropriate low-workload phase of flight. The majority of educator input should happen in the debrief – where 70-80% of all learning occurs.

Unfortunately, CFIs who talk too much usually also handle the controls too much; micromanaging the entire experience.  After some basics, and except for emergencies or a few demonstrations, the learner should be doing all the flying. We all have to remember that the real job of a CFI is to get off the controls (and the radio) and actually ultimately all the way out of the airplane – one step at a time. Our objective is to create capable, independent pilots as efficiently as possible.

Another consequence of CFI chatter is that the pilot can also become a talking machine. I have had applicants on flight tests nearly ruin their evaluation by attempting to continuously narrate their whole flight. This “technique” consumes mental bandwidth and often jeopardizes their ability to fly. And in addition to blocking out ATC, this continuous narration often reveals mistakes and mental errors that would not be otherwise obvious.  Fly safely 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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