Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fun During Primary Flight Training

The Question:

What do you do to add fun to primary flight training?

My Thoughts:

  • Saturday Tri-Tip at KCMA. It’s great for pre- and post-flight debriefings. Of course, there's always Lunch or Dinner at KWJF, breakfast at KRAL, KRIR, K3O8, dinner on the beach at KSBA, and so on...
  • Flying down the LA River below the airliners to LAX is a trip.
  • When weather rolls in, the primary students practice their turns to headings, climbs, and descents, in the world's safest IFR; a block altitude in a holding pattern off Pt. Mugu. We can climb into and out of the clouds in a few seconds. This also allows for turns around a point and other ground reference maneuvers using the flat cloud layer and any mountain peaks that stick out.
  • As traffic is usually too busy for us to linger, we only do a fly-by of the student's house at some point.
  • Rudder coordination exercises are a game.
  • Trim practice is also a game, can we fly the aircraft with body language alone?
  • Learning to taxi can be done with the airport diagram that’s painted at the Airport Observation Area.
  • Tower and SoCal tours are an eye-opener.
  • Climbing through the clouds at sunset or sunrise is always a life-changing experience for the student and any passengers.
  • If there’s a dull moment, there’s always a freeway to look down upon and reflect that we’re both glad we’re not in that traffic jam.
  • There’s the “breaking the law” fun of tuning a working ADF to a local sports game, or the traffic report on the news station.
  • During landing work, there’s always time for a landing contest. 
  • And a spot landing contest. 
  • And a smoothest landing contest.
  • “Scaring the Runway” keeps the flare, rollout, go-around, and approach practice interesting.
  • When digging through the regulations, we’re the prosecution and defense of Lawn Chair Larry, figuring out how the FAA could violate such a trip today, and what Larry would need to do now to be in compliance. It helps that there are now Sport Pilot rules and Ultralight rules, which encourages the students to think of all the other air traffic out there that is not flying point A to point B.
  • Once in the practice area, there are synchronized maneuvers for play, two or more of us instructors sharing the practice area working on the same maneuvers with our students. “Who’s going to stall last?” while working slow flight, “Aw, you stalled, we win!” which encourages both traffic scanning, division of attention, situational awareness, and fun.
  • There’s the always critically important first passenger flight, with the spouse or significant other who’s usually uncomfortable with small aircraft, and if we can fly well enough and go to a special destination, all while the students appears to be the most competent and safe pilot there is, we’ll have earned the other’s blessing and maybe encouraged them to become a pilot as well.
  • There’s the communications game, which is the hunt for jelly-beans amongst the pro pilot conversations with ATC, and the tone and character changes in communication when weather goes from severe clear to IMC.
  • Mother-in-laws are always great to keep a weight and balance discussion interesting, “so if we tied her to the tail, how would that affect…?”
  • Quoting “Airplane!” and any Monty Python flicks keep us going for hours, especially when reading the regulations in the same intonations of Brother Maynard.
  • Fly-ins, type-specific training courses, weekend flying clubs, AOPA Expo, and other gatherings are wonderful for fly-ins, and bring different perspectives to the safety message.
  • GPS, autopilots, MFDs, and PFDs keeps things amusing for me, the instructor. We play endless rounds of “what’s this button do” during cruise, or “what if” as we discuss cascading systems failures (once the student is competent with basic and advanced operations).

In summary, for me, every flight lesson is a time for play. While there are serious topics to cover, we do those and still have fun. My goal as an instructor is to keep the session fun so my students learn without feeling like idiots.

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