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Testing vs. Teaching - Private Pilot Syllubus

September 2021

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When I was a DPE for the FAA I did basically every test you could do except type ratings and warbirds. I did Recreational, Sport, Private, Instrument, Commercial, ATP, Multi-Engine ratings, Initial CFI airplane, CFII and MEI tests. I gave around 3000 flight tests over 11 years and I have always had a strong opinion about the maneuvers that were to be tested in almost every one of the practical tests I conducted. So, what am I getting at?

I have no idea why I needed to test ground reference maneuvers, Chandelles, Lazy Eights, and so on. I was also a Flight Examiner for the CAA in the United Kingdom. Ground reference maneuvers were not tested. Not a Lazy Eight or Chandelle in sight.

I think that we fail to see the difference between a maneuver that develops a skill and one that is an essential flight skill. Landings are an essential flight skill. A Chandelle is not. It’s a teaching tool to develop energy management, orientation and coordination. I don’t think I need to see you do a Chandelle to observe whether or not you are managing the airplanes energy, in awareness of your orientation and coordinated. The same goes for the ground reference maneuvers. I always ask my class what the purpose of a ground reference maneuver is. Many really don’t have a good or any answer at all. The purpose is not to make patterns across the ground. It is to develop the student’s awareness of wind drift and to stop it. The patterns just add interest and because they cause a change of direction that will cause the wind to vary. This of course leads for the amount of crabbing and/or bank to change. That’s the whole point. I can’t tell you how many Private Pilot applicants that could perform S-Turns across a road, Turns around a point and Rectangular courses on the checkride but then allow the wind to drift them when back in the pattern.

I once asked the examiner standardization team from the FAA in OKC about why these were tested. The answer was pretty obvious once he told me. He said “When you evaluate a maneuver its very objective. +/- 100 feet, +/- 10 Kts etc. So, it’s easy to determine satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance. When you evaluate a scenario, you are evaluating decision making, risk management and judgement. That is subjective and difficult to score.”

If I could change things, I’d make the flight tests just like a real flight and test the applicant’s operational ability. Certain maneuvers should be tested like the stall series, emergencies and so on. Those aren’t practiced often and maybe not until a flight review, so I get the importance of show proficiency on those.

It’s also important to understand that a maneuver such as S-Turns across a road is not the first thing you’d show a student. The is prerequisites prior to getting to that level, like tracking a straight line while stopping drift and showing how changing the angle of bank when turning changes, the radius of the turn. The same story is true with the 180 Degree Power off landing. If you just read that part of the Airplane Flying Book, you’d not have a complete explanation of the maneuver because prior to that there is the 90 Degree Power off landing which talks about the base key position and other things not repeated in the 180 Degree Power off landing section.

The last thing I’ll cover is that the maneuvers that are in the ACS and PTS are selected from the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8080-3B). If you have a look at that book in the section on ground reference maneuvers, you’ll see a section called Elementary Eights. There are other maneuvers like 8’s across a road, 8’s along a road, 8’s around (not on) pylons. Those could have been used instead of the current ones and maybe in the next versions of the ACS some will be there.

So, in summary, things in the testing world aren’t going to change anytime soon, but as flight instructors and flight instructors in training we should recognize the difference between a teaching maneuver and one that makes a pilot operational. We should also always be looking for the underlying reason for performing a maneuver and any prerequisite work that we should have already done.

How to Correctly use a syllabus in a Part 61 environment

Ok, you’ve all been told to use a syllabus. You were explained that by doing so the student would be aware of their progress and you would be sure that you covered everything required for the aeronautical knowledge, flight proficiency and aeronautical experience. So why do so few flight instructors actually use one? Good question.

First lets examine what a syllabus is. It is a lesson by lesson guide that sets the minimum number of hours for a flight, ground or flight/ground lesson. It contains all of the items to be taught and includes anything that needs to be done in the air as well. It will also contain the completion standards and anything the student needs to do to prepare for the lesson to follow.

Sounds like a good idea. In all Part 141 schools the instructor must follow the syllabus so they become very accustomed to using it. One of the big differences between a Part 141 and 61 school is the academic training. Most 141 schools have ground schools that the student performs either during the flight side of training or before. This means that the 141 flight instructor only needs to do the pre and post flight briefings and not all of the academics. This makes for a pretty efficient way to deliver a lesson.

In a Part 61 school there may or may not be a ground school. You can approve the use of a home study course or do the ground instruction yourself. The issue comes when you open the syllabus and see what you have to cover if the academics are going to be taught by the flight instructor. For example in ASA’s Private Pilot Syllabus there are about 2 hours of aerodynamics that need to be taught and about 4 or so maneuvers/procedures that will be done in flight. So how does the instructor go about teaching this. As a new CFI or one in training you’d probably pull out your lesson plans, align them to the syllabus and then teach from those. It’s here the problem shows through. The lesson plans most people have either created or bought are comprehensive ground lessons on either an academic subject or a flight maneuver. So they take a long time to deliver. They are not pre-flight briefings which are 5 or 10 minute briefings and how to do something in flight and a review of the weather etc. ASA’s first lesson is set to be three hours. Two hours ground and one hour flight. I think most people would find a two hour lecture on aerodynamics to be too much and the hour of flight not enough, but that meets the Part 141 requirements.

So how do we fix this problem in our Part 61 school with no ground school. The solution is to have the student purchase a home-study course and use the syllabus as a checklist. You should assign what the student needs to read, watch or complete prior to the lesson. When you begin that lesson you would verify the student did their part and then you can review the ground side of things and check off those items in the syllabus. On the flight side you can deliver the pre-flight briefings for the maneuvers you will be doing. Probably 20 minutes for most lessons. When you’ve done that flight you can check off those items in the syllabus as well. In this manner you use the syllabus as a checklist. You can also write a short lesson plan for that that includes any quizzing you want to do etc. You may also use a short lesson plan to cover part of a lesson the syllabus because you or the student feels the content is too heavy for one lesson and maybe two lessons would be better. Your short lesson plan would say what you’d cover from the single lesson shown in the syllabus over two lessons.

An easy way to have everything you need to teach a lesson is by using our Teach Brief-Fly system. It has a comprehensive set of lesson plans for maneuvers and technical subjects then it has the pre-flight briefings that you’d give prior to flight and finally it has a section on what to say as you are demonstrating each maneuver. This works with any syllabus you want to use.

There is also a Student companion version that introduces the student to the maneuver or academic lesson, instructs them on what to read and then has a quiz to validate that they did they did the work prior to the lesson.

Great Training Videos from the US Navy – Starring Robert “Bob” Taylor

So when you’re tired of studying and just want some interesting things to see take a look at these videos. These are training videos the US Navy made during the Second World War. Robert Taylor was a famous movie star at the time with over 80 films. He was drafted and the Navy probably didn’t want him to go into combat so they put him through flight training. After that the war wasn’t over yet so they made him an instructor pilot. While they had him they decided to use him to do these instructional videos that the Navy used in their training. They are insightful, still relevant and entertaining. I hope you like watching these. Some are lost but a fair few survived.


“Flight Sense” US Navy Primary Flight Training

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