Golden Age Aviation, Inc.
Earl C. Downs, President
The State of Flight Training
By: Earl C. Downs
If there was ever a time in the history of flight instructing in the U.S. that it was important to have an experienced flight instructor, it had to be during World War II. At the beginning of the war experienced pilots were brought into the military and often placed in training units rather than in front-line action. These pilots didn’t like that, but their experience proved invaluable as thousands of new pilots were trained.
The same thing held for experienced combat pilots. In the U.S., the policy was that a highly rated combat pilot would eventually return from combat to become a valuable asset to the training command. This policy led to thousands of pilots having a better chance at surviving combat flying.
This little piece of history simply points out that the value of experienced flight instructors was recognized and acted upon in that era of mass pilot training.
Let’s move from the lessons that were learned in World War II and talk about flight instructing today. It is common that flight instructors in this day and age are frequently new pilots with relatively low flying time. This has come about because of an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Most people entering into civilian piloting as a career are looking at a long road to meet the experience requirements to be hired by an airline or a corporate flight operation. Recent regulation changes now require that a prospective airline pilot must have a minimum of 1500 hours of flight time to even be considered for an airline job.
It is common that the new pilots build these hours by using flight instruction as a tool to log time, which results in flight schools with flight instructors that have low total flight time and only a few years of flight experience. In other words, flight instructing is simply a way to build flying time as fast as possible while trying to find a “real job.”
There is no doubt about it, the general aviation training industry needs to fix this by recognizing the value of a dedicated pilot training profession, and there are some excellent organizations that are working in this direction; but that’s another story.
As determined as these low-time flight instructors may be, they can only train their students to the extent that they were trained. They may do an excellent job in preparing trainees to pass a test, but the trainees are left on their own to learn the finer skills of the art of being a truly good pilot. This is why I offer training programs that are built on a basic training foundation to help general aviation pilots to be better and safer.
I chose aviation training as a career and have been at it for more than 55 years. I have made a living in this field, and am rewarded every time someone I have trained succeeds.
In a 2015 safety conference, Airbus safety official, Harry Nelson, said that there is too much emphasis on cockpit automation and not enough on manual flying skills during training. In my opinion, Mr. Nelson is right but his statement goes beyond being applied to highly automated airliners.
General aviation training has morphed over the years into a concept that if you don’t teach pilots to operate at the limits of their aircraft, they will never reach those limits, and therefore do not need pilot skills required to fly to and from the limits at will. I believe this has been a function of the FAA designing training and testing standards to emulate a static situation that would be more applicable to a classroom situation than to operating an aircraft.
It has been my experience that simply being trained to a rigid test standard is not well suited to the fluid situation that is involved in actually flying an airplane. There is an old adage that an excellent pilot never gets in a situation that requires excellent piloting skills. In my opinion, this may sound catchy…but it doesn’t work.
This is why I have developed a curriculum for training already-certificated pilots in the skills that can help them avoid loss of control (LOC) accidents through the knowledge of how to fly their airplane throughout its entire performance range. I’ve been working on this program for many years and am convinced that teaching fundamental manual piloting skills in the type of planes that general aviation pilots are likely to fly can help prevent LOC accidents.
My method of preventing LOC accidents is a combination of understanding the basics of aerodynamics and the importance of angle of attack control, good aeronautical decision making, risk assessment and management, planning ahead, and improving piloting skills to put it all together in flight.
During that conference, Mr. Nelson also said that as more of the instructors have less experience with manual flying skills, they won't be able to teach from experience, they'll be speaking from hearsay.
Once again, Mr. Nelson is right. When you fly with me you will be learning from experience.