firehoseCFIs- Work for your client, not yourself!

We all remember our first flight lesson-a sensory overload of gauges, instructor input, and of course, the gigantic distraction of being in an airplane. It’s really overwhelming and that’s why nearly every flight instructor recognizes   that the airplane is a terrible classroom..

Because the airplane is such a poor classroom, general aviation has an 80% dropout rate of new flight students. Most new flight students come in knowing that the FAA minimum is 40 hours, but too many are woefully ignorant of the fact (or refuse to believe) that the average number of training hours is anywhere from 65 to 85, and even when they are told that, they are still surprised when they run out of money and yet still don’t have their license. I believe this is why the dropout rate is so high- it’s not because getting a pilot’s license is so expensive, because they are told up-front how much it’s going to cost them at a minimum. Student pilots drop out because it’s so much more expensive than they anticipated. As flight instructors, we have a professional and ethical obligation to get our students through the process as quickly and completely as possible, and the quicker they get through, the less money they spend, and the less money they spend, the more likely they are to finish.

So, it all boils down to how quickly we can get our students through. Until about 10 years or so ago, we had to train the same way the Wright Brothers did it- put the student into the airplane immediately where they would spend several hours trying to get comfortable enough so that they can actually listen to us as we talk to them.

But we now have alternatives. Since July 2012, we have used a Redbird FMX full-motion AATD, in an attempt to get people up to speed before they actually get into the plane. We weren’t the first to do this- there are several flight schools in the country using similar products to change how flight training is done. What we are learning is that when the student has an opportunity to learn in the simulator and transfer that knowledge to the airplane, the training is greatly accelerated.

Before any of our student pilots get into an airplane, they spend 2-3 hours in the simulator, following our written syllabus, and practicing what they will need to do when they get into the airplane for the first time.  For example, in an hour, we can do 20 to 25 takeoffs. Within the first five or six takeoffs, they generally get the idea of power settings, airspeed, and rudder control. What they have those basics down, we start adding crosswinds. In the simulator, we can pause and point out what’s going wrong, or right, then either resume or move them back to the beginning on the runway so they can try again.

The simulator also allows us to practice emergencies that we just can’t do in the airplane. For example, the engine can be failed during any phase of the takeoff. Engine loss on takeoff is something that we discuss with the student, asking them what they would do in different scenarios. It’s easy to tell them about pitching for best glide and making a decision based on their altitude, but nothing drives it home as well as actually doing it in the simulator. We also spend some time with the checklist, running through engine start-up,  run-up, and emergencies on takeoff.

When we get into the actual airplane for the first time with the student, they know how to take off. They know where to put their eyes, their hands, and their feet. As they are rolling down the runway, if the CFI tells them to add some right rudder, they know what a right rudder is. They are now doing some tasks by habit as if they had been training in the airplane for five or six hours. Yes, there is still some anxiety about being in an airplane, but they are more confident and comfortable.

The same goes for every new maneuver- the student learns the maneuver in the simulator first, and then practices it in the airplane. Once they’ve mastered it in the airplane, we take them back to the simulator for the next new maneuver. Here’s the question: how many hours would you have to spend in an airplane to get 20 to 25 takeoffs? How much time (money) have you saved your student by doing those takeoffs in an hour in the sim?

I’ve heard flight instructors argue against using aviation training devices, but I haven’t heard a good one yet. Yes, less hours in an actual airplane means less revenue for the airplane owner, and less loggable time for a CFI trying to move on to a better paying job, but neither of those are valid reasons to keep a student in an airplane, learning at a slower rate and spending more money, when they have the opportunity to use a better, and cheaper, teaching tool.

People don’t walk into the door of the flight training school and say “What can I do to get your flight instructors into the airlines as soon as possible?” They want to learn to fly, as quickly and economically as they can. When flight schools and instructors make decisions based on what is best for them, but not the student, they are acting unethically, and in doing so, damaging general aviation.

If you are a flight instructor, please keep this bigger picture in mind: the few hours you lose in an airplane by using a simulator or anything else that will help your student get his training done quickly, is more than made up by the additional students you will attract once people learn that you can get them done quicker and cheaper. Remember your obligation is to your student, not to your career.