Decision Training VS. Maneuvers Training

When was the last time a controller asked, ‘Hey give me a Lazy Eight out there!’ What is the value in learning the ‘commercial maneuvers?’

THE CASE AGAINST THE MANEUVERS: I often ride in the rear of an airliner as I travel on business. It makes me a little nervous knowing that during that flight countless decisions will be made by the crew that I will know nothing about. As we make our final approach at night, in the rain, through turbulence and a low overcast, I hope that my flight crew is able to bring in information, process that information, and make safe decisions. At that moment, I am not too concerned about whether or not the Captain could execute a perfect Chandelle. At that moment, decisions not maneuvers will decide the outcome of the flight.
Translation: I want my flight crew to have spent hours practicing real flight situations as opposed to many hours practicing the “Pylon Eight.”

THE CASE FOR THE MANEUVERS: The Chandelle, The Lazy Eight, The Pylon Eight, and The Steep Power Turn are the set of maneuvers that are included on the Commercial Pilot Practical Test that are *not* listed anywhere else. So, they are unofficially called the ‘commercial maneuvers.’ The maneuvers have had practical uses:

  • The Chandelle to escape a box canyon.
  • The Lazy Eight flown by faster fighters in WWII to stay with the slower bombers.
  • A variation of the Pylon Eight used to cut tight corners during air races.

The commercial maneuvers require excellent flying skills and technique to be done properly. Flying the perfect commercial maneuver will display that you have reached a high level of flying skill. Conversely, flying a poor commercial maneuver will quickly reveal a pilot’s lack of skill.
Translation: On the Commercial Pilot Practical test, the examiner must use something to measure the applicants progress towards excellent piloting skill – they use the commercial maneuvers, because these maneuvers will either show off your skills or expose your lack of them. This becomes very easy to grade and at the end of the test the examiner can make a pass/fail decision.

It would be much harder to grade someone on his or her future decision making skills than on maneuver performance. So today, to become a Commercial Pilot you must have flying skills that are displayed by maneuvers, but once in the real world of commercial flying you are paid for the decisions you make. The Commercial Pilot Practical test does have some decision-making elements embedded, and an applicant can fail for poor decision making, but it remains predominately a test on maneuvers. The flight instruction given that prepares an applicant for the commercial test is almost completely focused on the maneuvers. Are we teaching and testing to the wrong emphasis?

If maneuvers training and decision training are on opposite ends of the same spectrum, then shouldn’t we aim for a blend of both somewhere in the middle? The airlines have been training with decisions emphasized over maneuvers now for about 15 years. Some say that they have let the pendulum swing too far, and now find pilots who are well versed in CRM but react slowly to engine out drills. What can general aviation pilots learn from all this? I believe the flight instructor is the key. Flight instructors should teach piloting skills in the form of maneuvers, but they should also intentionally place their students in decision-making circumstances during every lesson. In this way the student is practicing both maneuvers and decisions. And maybe someday the FAA might catch up with the rest of us and better balance the emphasis of the Commercial Pilot Practical test.