As CFIs (and DPEs) we get to see a lot of “imprecise” flying. Some of this is new learners gaining skills, but unfortunately, it often also occurs with experienced pilots who never discovered the secret of precise control. The secret involves where you are looking when you are moving the yoke (or stick). Proper visual reference must be taught in the very first flight lessons to defeat the negative transfer of “driving” (we all do this more than flying). This important instruction is often missed with the “this is so easy” sales pitch. Once a pilot discovers this control secret, the results are dramatic and immediate, it is a magic key to precise control.
It is absolutely critical to have your eyes on the proper attitude reference (continuously) when you pitch or roll an aircraft (either VFR or IFR). New pilots are not used to turning with their feet and people do not sense yaw well. VFR control input requires your eyes to be outside and directly over the nose (until you stop moving the stick). Only when the control input is complete should you “check” your desired quantitative reference (scan).
The same strategy is essential for accurate IFR flying, though the control inputs are more subtle. Proper IFR control requires fixation on the attitude reference whenever the yoke is moving – yes stare, not scan! Only when the control input is complete should the pilot “check” the quantitative or trend instruments. The last step is optimizing and trimming off the pressure – and again this requires eyes on attitude. For VFR, 80% of your time must be outside for accurate control. Similarly, for IFR 80% of “scan time” should be fixated on the attitude reference. These skills are not as different as most pilots believe.
So why is this critical, and what makes this so hard?
Unfortunately, incomplete instruction is the root cause of these problems. Instrument instructors tell new students to “scan,” but never explain how to do this successfully (I just completed a few CFI-I add-on ratings). Secondarily though, humans are predisposed to watch what is moving, so we naturally refer to inappropriate references unless we discipline our scan. A third problem is an urge for immediate perfection; but perfect altitude with lousy heading is not a winning strategy. So first we must get all the darts on the dartboard, and only then move them closer to the center.
One very compelling IFR demonstration involves covering everything except the attitude indicator while your pilot flies a full five minutes. Issue vectors to headings right and left (and please do this imitating ATC precisely to build your learner’s radio aptitude). When uncovering everything, your learner will be within +/- 20 feet of the starting altitude without ever having a VSI or altimeter reference! Instrument instructors must use this to “prove” this point to the learner and gain “buy in;” it is magic! And as soon as a new IFR student has all the instruments back, they actually fly less accurately. This is very non-intuitive, but when someone simply instructs you to “scan” your eyes are everywhere except where they should be for control. A good CFI-I must discipline the proper scan right from the beginning (just like a new VFR student). For both environments, “change” (stabilize) then “check” (and optimize) is th magic key. Using a glass panel, a couple of post-it notes on the A/S and Alt provide the same scan discipline.
Have you seen how a (historic) Air Force T-38 panel is arranged? The size is in order of priority. The A/I is centered and HUGE! This is necessary to precise flying in all attitudes (even upside down). You had better be flying attitude (with proper trim). The new glass cockpits have a huge attitude reference also, but many pilots fixate on very small (quantitative) indications and miss the bigger (attitude) picture when applying control pressure.
The correct mantra for the CFI-I (and the pilot who wishes to be accurate) is “change” (with eyes on the attitude reference), then “stabilize” (stop moving the yoke) and only then “check” to the most relevant information source to see if the result is working. That final step “optimizing” is the fine-tuning that yields precision.
In VFR flying, you will notice pilots looking over the wing as they roll into a turn This is a natural transfer from driving, and needs to be corrected immediately. Watching the wing is the primary cause of poor rudder coordination. With this reference, a pilot never sees the adverse yaw occurring (though the CFI/DPE does continuously). By contrast, if a pilot looks directly over the nose while rolling (in any aircraft) they will immediately discern the correct amount of rudder required to coordinate the turn. (Yes, clearing is essential but watch the nose for the roll). Improvement in coordination is immediate, but it takes quite a while to establish this visual habit.
When rolling out of the turn, it is again necessary to direct the visual reference over the nose (or on the attitude indicator for IFR). You will be amazed at how dramatically your flying improves (immediately)! Embedding this new habit takes time (everyone drives). And experienced pilots with the same problem take even longer to build the habit; but the new precision makes it worth the effort. You really will become a smoother, more efficient pilot almost immediately (your back seat passengers will love you). Fly safely out there (and often)!
Enjoy the new courses available to members in the new safe website. And please download and use the (free) SAFE Toolkit App. This contains all the references a working CFI needs plus provides continuously new safety content.
SAFE developed an insurance program just for CFIs! When you are an independent CFI, you are a business (and have legal exposure). This program is the most reasonable but also comprehensive insurance plan you can have (and every agent is a pilot!)