by Ken Schulte
It has been a long time since I was a flight instructor. I do remember my check ride and for me it was really a non event. One of the reasons it was no big deal was that I took the flight instructor course with the examiner that would be giving me the check ride. So basically on lesson one, the check ride started. That was very fortunate for me, especially as I listen to what some students are doing and preparing for their rides with the FAA for their ratings. My flight instructor, the examiner was a very interesting person, almost odd if you were to cast a first impression of him. He was a brilliant pilot and a master of his craft, which is something we all as pilots yearn to be. But he understood a couple of concepts 30 years ago that are just now starting to change in the world of aviation. This level of a “new era” as I like to call it has really started in the airline industry and is changing the way pilots are trained. However it has failed to make its way down to the elementary flight ratings which we all have trained for at one time or another. A HUGE part of this is the FAA, the infamous ruler of the rules of aviation. Rightfully so they spend a lot of time correcting and rebuking law breakers and holding the standards of the regulations. These are just a few bad apples, some of which you will come across in your career. But the other half of the equation is changing the way we teach aviation. I taught my son how to drive, a pretty simple task right? The real task was teaching him how to think, to see what was going around him, to look at other drivers and figure out in an instant if they are paying attention or not.
If I had one wish for the future of aviation, this is what it would be.
I wish that the leader of the FAA was a flight instructor. And I say that with a caveat, he or she must be actually active in teaching our new students their craft at least once a week. I know this may sound strange to you, but if you do not have your hand on the pulse of the aviation community, you cannot build the aviators of tomorrow. This is not limited to the FAA and the structure of government and this is certainly not an article about that at all. Its about leadership. If you are going to go into aviation as a career you are going to find one glaring principle. That principle is that the leaders do not come to the airport. This is especially true at the airline management level. Executives whisk themselves away to some corporate headquarter in some other city and do “big picture” planning. While that is all good in some aspects, it creates a dynamic where the leadership loses its pulse on what is actually happening at the airport, which is where the people are at. If that is the business you are in, then that is where you have to spend some of your time, not all, but some.
New Era So what is this and why in the world do I need to know this as a flight instructor? Slowly from the airline perspective training is evolving from a “memorize this and do that” perspective to a “lets slow down and figure out what items are urgent (and what are not) and what we actually need to memorize. For example, training as gone from jeopardy events, ones in which you feel like you put your license on the table when you climb into the simulator and hope you get it back, to the concept of “lets show you whats new” and let us teach you to proficiency. Here is what I mean, I already know how to fly, make me better, teach me something. Back to the example I gave earlier about my examiner, he would say, “You can teach a monkey to fly if you have enough bananas” Which basically means, so what, you studied all this, you completed all the lesson plans, now go out there and get some mileage and get better. Flying in itself is not that hard, but you have never taught someone to fly yet. The moment you start to teach is when you begin to understand. And why you are at it, be an effective communicator, which is teaching, it will serve you well through your entire career.
Ratings So how does this apply to you if you are getting your flight instructor rating? Half of the battle is mental, but what most do not tell you is that the lesson is for the lifetime and its starts with the check ride. What the FAA has not figured out is how to test for the basic elements of being a teacher and incorporating that into flying. I read forums and Facebook groups and hear of the horrors of five hour orals and busted check rides and I stand in horror with my mouth hanging open. Do you need to know the regulations? Sure, do you need to memorize them? I say no. If you were smart you would learn them, tab your regulations book with a bookmark or tab so that you can look up and reference what you need to know. What in the world would you talk about for five hours? By doing this we set this exhausting precedent of perform perform perform, instead of think and communicate. You already performed that you know what a stall is, you did that on your private certificate. But, can you teach it? Can you make the concept of what they read in the book transfer to the actual aerodynamics of the plane and then what that theory feels like when you are in that situation? That’s teaching!
When we have an engine failure in the airline training environment do we quickly take control and whip out this hurried memorized flurry of procedures? Not any more because we have figured out that when we do that, we make mistakes. Get ready for this, in today’s environment when we have an engine fire, the first thing Captains do is to transfer control of the aircraft to the First Officer ( take care of flying) then we take a deep breath, apply our memory items (if there is some) and asses the problem and then fix it. When we fix it, we pull out a quick reference book and go through it line by line to make sure we do not make mistakes. We manage the situation, that is what leaders do. So back to the check ride, a leader is also a teacher. The FAA has not gotten to you yet, they have not figured out that the rating isn’t about a long oral and spouting off rules and regulations, its about teaching and communicating. Its also about grooming our future pilots to be problem solvers.
So what is the point? If you have stayed with me through this article (thanks) you are probably wondering what in the world I am trying to convey to you or the FAA. When you become an flight instructor you will begin to learn more about flying than you ever were taught. That is how it works, when you teach it, all the lights come on in your brain, you become a master. Flying has become this world of “do this, do this and don’t do that”, its not healthy and to be honest it turns some pilots into jerks that the rest of us have to fly with for our careers. Do me a favor, don’t be that person, understand the FAA is what it is and that some examiners and instructors think the world evolves around the regulations and knowing what to say and when. Teach someone how to be a leader, teach them to think through and solve problems, teach them to communicate effectively and to be calm. Some day you will be that leader and everyone will turn to you for direction, its not just about flying the plane.