Since the airplane first flew and one pilot showed another how to fly, aircraft have continued to change and evolve. I think we are seeing today one of the greatest evolutions of the airplane in the history of flight and I believe that evolution is taking place faster than any of us could have imagined.
I’ve been involved as a flight instructor, teaching in “glass panel” aircraft almost since the beginning. I too was skeptical at first, but became a quick convert and have never looked back. We, as flight instructors, need to adapt to this rapidly changing environment. Indeed we have the FAA’s Practical Test Standard as a guide, but we all know how slow the wheels of government move. We can not wait for the FAA to tell us how to teach in these new aircraft. First and foremost we must teach our students the correct and safe way to fly these aircraft and at the same time manage to meet the requirements of the current PTS. Remember the PTS spells out only the minimum requirements.
As Vice President and Director of Training for Platinum Aviation, one of the largest and busiest Cirrus Training Centers in the Cirrus Partner Network, I am often called upon by the FAA to speak on the topic of teaching and conducting practical tests in technologically advanced aircraft. My annual presentation last year at the FAA Production Studios during Sun N Fun was specifically along this topic.
Sometimes I see instructors, seemingly stuck in the past, trying to teach and apply yesterdays methods to today’s aircraft. I find this approach fundamentally flawed and the arguments for teaching that way just as flawed. Today’s aircraft, especially the Cirrus, are changing the way we fly and the way we should teach. Our students, after gaining their certificates, are never going to draw lines on charts, fly carefully calculated headings corrected for wind drift, magnetic variation and compass deviation to then watch their navlog to see the first waypoint go by at exactly 10 minutes and 25 seconds. In school, as a child, I was taught how to use a slide ruler. When calculators came out they were at first forbidden. Later they were required and today, in many schools, laptop computers are required. The “Whiz Wheel” E6B is a circular slide rule. I’m certain that most instructors that still insist on teaching with the whiz wheel have no idea how to work a slide ruler!
As with all things aviation, things change and we must adapt. At some point along the way we stopped teaching the four course range as a method of navigation. We are still rightfully teaching VOR navigation although we all know that GPS is the standard going forward. At some point the VOR will go the way of the four course range. Aviation technology is moving fast in a way that will lead to an easier and safer experience for the general aviation pilot. These advancements can only be taken advantage of if the instructors teach them properly and teach how to use them in practical flying. I’m not saying that we should leave out theory, ignore the basics and not focus on basic airmanship, but we should not teach old methods in these new styles of aircraft. If we ignore the technology we are doing the client a severe disservice.
Never in aviation education have we pretended that we are teaching people how to fly all airplanes or even all airplanes in a single category and class when we are teaching a primary student. If someone gains their private pilot single engine land in a Cessna 150, it’s always been clear that additional training would be required even to fly a Piper Warrior. Yet some instructors, some examiners and even some FAA inspectors, want to teach people how to fly a technologically advanced aircraft using old methods, while ignoring the technology, saying we have to teach you the basic way first. This is incorrect. While teaching a primary student in a Cirrus SR22, we should teach them to use everything available to them from the beginning. The FAA’s own fundamentals of instruction points to the principle of primacy to reinforce this idea. My customers that are learning from zero time in 22 Turbos, most likely will never find themselves in a steam gauge 172. If they do, they too will require additional training. The FAA currently allows people to earn their Commercial, multi engine, airplane certificate in a Diamond DA42, an aircraft with no prop control that does not have any way to teach the students how to manage engine failures in any other multi engine aircraft. In this extreme case the FAA clearly understands that persons trained on one aircraft may need additional training to fly another. Yet some, even within the FAA, would have us teach in a Cirrus SR22 Turbo and pretend it’s a J3 Cub!
The first few hours of a pilots learning are among the most critical. If we ignore the technology and try to pretend we are in a simple airplane when we are not, a great deal of long term damage can be done to a pilots future skill level. As instructors we have all had the students that came to us that we had to help “un-learn” bad practices taught by a previous instructor. Pilots taught incorrectly in technologically advanced aircraft will be unsafe and experience a long an expensive path to learning how to fly these aircraft correctly.
I sometimes have to argue this method of instruction with other instructors, DPE’s or individual FAA inspectors. To me it is rather clear. It is theoretically possible and completely legal to do your initial training in a King Air 200. It’s under 12,500 lbs and does not require a type rating. If you were teaching this person, I doubt when it came to cross country flying that your primary focus would be on dead reckoning. It would most likely be proper use of the FMS, management of systems and emergency procedures. Yes we must teach the PTS areas of operation, however our first and foremost goal is to teach safe operation and practical flying in the aircraft they are learning in and to do that properly in these new advanced aircraft we must teach people to use all available resources as they were designed to be used. I’ve seen people get their private in a Cirrus and not be taught how to use all of the features of the MFD and not know even the basics of the fuel management features offered. Fuel mismanagement contributes to a large percentage of GA accidents. If use of these features is taught properly in a Cirrus, even with limited or incorrect preflight planning, fuel mismanagement accidents would be a thing of the past.
By now it should be fairly clear that I’m passionate about taking advantage of new technologies to make flying easier and safer. I recently took this one step further and was probably the first instructor ever to send an applicant in for an instrument practical test completely paperless! My student sat at the DPE’s desk with no charts, no approach plates, no books, no printed weather briefing and no paper navlog. All he had in front of him was his Apple iPad loaded with ForeFlight HD Mobile, and all of the required books and PDF files he would need. The oral and flight test went fine and I kept my 100% pass rate for students I have sent in for practical tests. The examiner was 74 years old, holds a Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and had been a DPE for 27 years and still is one of the most productive examiners in South Florida. Clearly he understands that we must adapt as the aircraft change.