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Read More: Training to the Individual
May 20, 2019

Flight instruction shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all.

A colleague of mine once told a story about a student pilot who could not be talked out of making large inputs to his helicopter controls. This never worked, of course, but the student kept making the same mistake, no matter how many times he was corrected. The student didn’t understand how to fix his mistake.

Finally, the instructor asked the student if he had a wife or a girlfriend. “Yes, I have a wife,” said the student. His instructor then asked, “When talking to your wife, if you yell, ‘This is what I want!’—does that communication style work well for you? Or do you get better results by saying a little, then waiting for her to say a little, and then talking back and forth?

“Just make small adjustments to the controls,” said the instructor. “If you communicate with the helicopter, then it will tell you what it needs.”

After this feedback, the student began to get the hang of making smaller control inputs. Whenever he overcorrected, his instructor would say, “Stop yelling at the helicopter.” Over time, the student was able to overcome the bad habit he had struggled with for so long.

We all have different personalities, backgrounds, and ways of viewing the world, and therefore, we all have different ways that we learn. For those of us who are flight instructors, it is our job to see our students as individuals and to find the techniques and strategies that work for them, while still providing the structure that ensures they have the skills and attitudes to be successful, safe pilots.

Not everyone must travel the same path, but we all need to end up at the same destination. Some students will be ready to be a PIC as soon as you give them the controls, while others will consistently rely on their instructor to give them permission to make decisions. Flight instructors must be flexible and able to work with differing personality types, while still enabling each student to reach their potential.

Not only will each student learn differently, but they may learn differently from day to day. A student may come in for a flight lesson tired from a poor night’s sleep. Or she may be worried about something unrelated to flight training. These are just a few of the situations that can affect a student’s ability to learn. Flight training is an excellent time to introduce the student pilot to the importance of human factors in aviation safety and the IMSAFE checklist.

As instructors, it is our job to first read the student’s performance. Are they distracted or tired? Have they prepared for the lesson? Are they having trouble with a particular maneuver?

Next, we must determine how to provide the student with the strategies they need to succeed. The strategy that works for one student may not work for another. That student who was having trouble with flight control inputs had been told many times that he was doing it wrong. But it wasn’t until his instructor told him how to fix the issue—in a way that student could understand and use—that the student could move ahead in his training.

Be aware of the need to adapt your teaching style to suit each student’s learning style. Think of this as a feature, not a bug, of the flight instructor’s job. Your ability to approach students as individuals will make you a better instructor and will reinforce your own knowledge of flight principles.

As your students progress and eventually become pilots and perhaps flight instructors themselves, the foundation that you laid during their training will affect not only what kind of pilot they become, but how they train their students, who will probably go on to teach other students, and so on. The way you teach will affect the industry for years to come.

Read More: Is Technology Killing Us?
May 20, 2019

Pilots need to maintain basic stick-and-rudder skills.

When I was a brand-new US Navy officer and pilot in the SH-60B Seahawk, one of my first commanding officers was a guy feared among the newbies for being extremely demanding during training flights.

If you flew with him, it was almost guaranteed that he would secure the hydraulic boost in the aircraft at some inopportune time during the sortie. There were times when he would go hydraulic “boost-off” almost immediately after lifting into a hover, and then leave it off for nearly the entire flight. For this reason, he earned the “affectionate” nickname Boost-Off among the wardroom pilots. I’m sure that, like me, some pilots still think back to the dreadful flights they had with him.

I now realize that those training flights with Boost-Off were not so dreadful. The skill he forced me to practice made me into a proficient instrument pilot. In fact, that earned skill could have been responsible for saving my life more than once.

As I advanced through the ranks and became an instructor pilot and pilot examiner myself, I continued to shoot many an instrument approach with the stability augmentation system and trim secured (and yes, even the hydraulic boost), and I frequently required my students to do the same. It was that adherence to basic stick-and-rudder skills that kept me right side up on many a dark and stormy night when, after essential stabilization equipment failed in flight, I had to depend on my instrument skills to get the crew home safely. This was typically at the worst possible moment (think dark nights over the water with no visible horizon, or flights through driving rainstorms).

Advancements in aircraft stabilization have created stability augmentation systems, autopilot, flight directors, coupled flight, and now the ability to fly from point A to point B completely hands-off. Some commercial airliners are now equipped and certified to fly required navigation performance (RNP) radius-to-fix (RF) terminal arrivals, and then descend on a glide slope to a landing—all without a human hand on the controls.

This all sounds wonderful—but not at the expense of basic flying skills. Many of the younger pilots today have never experienced flying an older generation aircraft equipped with steam gauges and “the basic six,” arranged for viewing in a circular scan pattern during instrument flight.

Yes, pilots have benefited from safety technology such as HTAWS or ADS-B In. And there’s no question that electronic flight bags, GPS, and other flight aids have made our lives easier.

But according to the US Department of Transportation and the FAA, pilots are becoming dependent on technology to the point of losing their stick-and-rudder skills. Overreliance on onboard computers and cockpit complacency has been named by the National Transportation Safety Board as a contributing factor in some recent high-visibility international mishaps.

In the world of helicopters, could pilot overreliance on technology be causing deterioration and breakdown of pilot instrument skills and scan habits? This could be a causal factor in the all-too-common accidents involving loss of control and controlled flight into terrain that plague our industry.

Read More: The Pressure to Fix
May 20, 2019

Pressuring maintenance technicians to rush helps no one.

Feeling pressure to fly is a common topic of conversation in aviation safety circles. Flying an aircraft while maintaining the expected level of safety for all aboard is complex and should command our full attention.

There are many policies and industry best practices aimed at preventing external stressors from affecting pilots and crewmembers. These stresses are many and varied. They may include personal stressors from home or family; work stresses from co-workers, bosses, and customers; or flight conditions such as the current or forecast weather.

But what about the pressure on maintenance technicians? The number of aircraft in service today has outpaced the supply of maintenance technicians, resulting in fewer mechanics to service an ever-growing fleet. They perform both mandated maintenance and unexpected repairs, often in a rapidly changing environment. In many cases, the people they work for are concerned about the amount of time the aircraft will be out of service or the cost of the work to be performed. 

Human factors are a direct cause of or a contributing factor to most aviation accidents, and we should not forget that this applies to maintenance technicians too. One simple way to prevent an A&P from feeling pressure is to give them the time and space to do their job.

I was recently asked to repair the engine of a Beech Debonair that had developed an internal gear problem. I accepted the task and assembled a capable team to assist me. This not only enabled me to get the job done faster but also provided redundant quality assurance.

Read More: Rotorcorp Serves the Global Market
May 20, 2019

Doing its part to keep Robinson helicopters flying.

Tucked back in a corner of Atlanta’s Fulton County Airport (KFTY), the Rotorcorp office is small and unassuming. You’d never guess that this humble operation maintains the largest in-stock inventory of Robinson Helicopter Company parts in the world.

An authorized service center for R22, R44, and R66 helicopters, Rotorcorp has just five employees. In addition to its Atlanta headquarters, the company also has maintenance facilities in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In an industry where AOG is defined as “lost revenue,” Rotorcorp’s challenge is to process and ship orders to customers in more than 45 countries quickly and efficiently.