Straight and Level – Teaching for the exam

Learning to fly is so dynamic; From the technical side to the practical application of the skills learned, it can be quite an undertaking. A student comes with a vision of being a pilot that can effortlessly go from point to point and no real understanding of the education needed to achieve that goal.

Instructors are the gate-keepers. They have learned through their experiences what it takes, and now have the credentials to teach a student and create new pilots. They ultimately have the biggest influence on a student’s performance and ability to achieve their goal.

If learning to fly were like taking a history class, you simply would read the material, review and take the exam. Flying is a life skill that involves so much more than reading a book, and expecting results. The journey to the pilot certificate requires a person to immerse themselves in the material to get the most out of it.

There is so much to learn and only reading the material to pass a test will not cut it in aviation. It involves books, multi-media, practice, challenging conditions, professional guidance, time, and opportunity. If all the tools are available, then a pilot can be created.

As a flight school owner, you can see those with the passion, and it is enjoyable being part of their journey. The passionate student becomes intuitive and learns far beyond what a book may say and begins to develop an instinct. It is the instinct and intuition that makes them successful. All the study and good intent in the world will not develop an ability. It takes a team: A passionate student, a dedicated instructor, and the opportunity to practice and develop the skill.

The instructor has to know how to handle and mold the student. Often an instructor may, by teaching and preparing the student for the test and what the examiner might ask, has met the definition of their job. Simply being able to fly a helicopter on a beautiful sunny day and handle the necessary maneuvers in the Practical Test Standards is not going to create much.

Problem-solving, and decision-making while under stress is a critical skill that sometimes is not adequately taught and tested. The devil is in the details. Whether it be related to maintenance of the aircraft, the minute details of the weather or the flying that present a risk; an aspiring pilot has a lot to learn and absorb. Without the exposure to the areas outside the PTS and life flying outside of books, they will not be educated to make the right decision for each problem that presents itself.

When it comes to maintenance, a pilot is often told to call the mechanic and then waits for the fix. This is an excellent opportunity for the student to learn how things work and how things get fixed. Maybe there is a chance for the student to participate in a 100hr inspection and get their hands dirty. Learn about the maintenance department and what they go through to provide an airworthy helicopter. In regards to weather, can the student see through the wording of the DUATS report? Beyond decoding the report, can they draw a mental picture of what the conditions are and what is predicted to be happening?

There are so many excellent sources for the weather with predictions and graphics, but many don’t understand weather theory, and without that, it is like watching Grandpa with his new iPhone.

What an Examiner hopes for is not a robot who can pass a test, but someone who understands the environment around them and can use all the available information to make safe decisions. We do not need pilots in the industry; we need Aviators. This is the goal. For it is this person that has a higher level of learning and dedication to the profession which makes our industry responsible and safe.

 

As the flight training industry, we have a responsibility to go a step beyond and develop the skill set that helps a pilot decide it is time to land, or on questionable days, to feel secure enough to say “I am not taking this flight.” The flight instructor is the gateway to the incredible freedom of flight. Preventing accidents starts on day one. The test is not all that important in the big picture of a pilot’s journey. It is only a small step. The real test will be the intuition and instinct that the student has gained through a  full circle of education and experiences. Expand their mind to think and to be decisive in the dynamic environment of flight.

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Ben Fouts

Columnist

Ben Fouts is an accomplished flight instructor and business owner located in Hawaii. Ben is the owner of Mauna Loa Helicopters, a flight school located in Hawaii that has trained thousands of pilots in its over twenty years of operations. Ben writes the helicopter training column "Straight and Level" each month for Collective Magazine along with providing expert input into various other stories from his years of experience as a Flight Instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. Ben can be reached at ben@maunaloahelicopters.com