Fly Like a Pro — Part 4: GA Pilots and LOFT

Figure 2

The airlines use a form of training called Line Oriented Flight Training or LOFT. “Line” refers to the “flight line.” In a LOFT scenario a pilot and crew are in the simulator but instead of practicing maneuvers, they fly through an actual flight from Seattle to Los Angeles as an example. Along the way, the simulated flight will encounter many decision-prompting situations called “event sets.” It is this type of training that has yielded declining accident rates for the airlines, so why not use this type of “scenario-based” training with General Aviation pilots? I decided I would…

First, I drew on my experience preparing students to become airline pilots. I have sat in on many airline training sessions over these years. Some of those sessions have been for newly hired pilots, some have been recurrent training for veteran pilots. Some have been in the classroom and some have been in the flight simulator. I have been able to see first hand how they do it, so I wanted to take the real-world approach that seems to have been proven by the airlines and test it out on General Aviation pilots.

I used typical Flight Training Devices (simulators) that would be common and readily available to General Aviation pilots. My local FAA Safety Program Manager agreed to give me the names and addresses of pilots living in the three counties surrounding where I live. I narrowed my focus to “non-expert,” instrument rated pilots — all Airline Transport Pilots, Commercial Pilots and Flight Instructors were eliminated from the list. What remained was a list of 1,189 instrument rated pilots living in those three counties.

The Letter: I sent those pilots a letter inviting them to participate in a free project that involved flying in the Flight Training Device (FTD). The initial letter described the project and offered incentives to the pilots for participation.

Incentives: The individual pilots could use the work accomplished in the Flight Training Devices to maintain FAA required instrument proficiency. This proficiency is ordinarily obtained by paying a flight instructor, so participation in the project potentially saved individuals up to $250 in flight proficiency costs. Also each participant received a certificate of completion, and attendance at the seminars held within the project were also credited toward the FAA’s Pilot Proficiency Awards program, otherwise known as the “Wings” program.

The Draw: Contained in the initial letter was a postage paid response card. Volunteer participants were asked to return the card prior by a deadline. Response cards that were postmarked on or before the deadline became the pool of participants for the project. Respondents were contacted by telephone. During the telephone conversation it was verified that the volunteers were aware of the study’s requirements and their first session in the FTD was scheduled.

All the pilot volunteers would fly the exact same LOFT scenario in the Flight Training Device. Then after everyone had flown the first session, two seminars would be held. I told all the pilots that the reason for having two seminars is that I could not get a room big enough to hold all of them at once. That was true, but the real reason was that I gave the groups different seminars. After the seminars, all the pilot volunteers were scheduled back into the FTD for a second LOFT Scenario.

One hundred and thirty-nine response cards were eventually returned. Twenty-five volunteers on the initial telephone contact said that they were unable to attend the seminars and therefore were eliminated from the pool. From the remaining 114 volunteers there were some cancellations and the resultant 72 participants were randomly divided into two groups which would become what I called later the “Traditional and Naturalistic groups.

The project began and the participants were scheduled into the Flight Training Devices and given the opportunity to fly the first LOFT scenario. During a 24-day period 72 participants flew the first LOFT scenario. These 72 participants flew a combined 82.3 hours in the FTDs.

I met the pilot volunteers one by one and took them to a classroom. I asked them to read over and then sign a permission and agreement statement. The pilots were asked not to discuss the project with anyone while the project was ongoing, and permission was asked of the pilots to use the results of their work in the project for future analysis and publication.

  • I wanted to make sure that each and every pilot volunteer received the same instructions, so I had each pilot volunteer read the same instructions from a card. They were told that they would be placed in a mini-scenario involving instrument flight.
  • Once in the FTD and the scenario started the participant would not receive any instruction and all communication between the participant and myself would be like talking to an air traffic controller.
  • All participants were given a brief opportunity to “fly” the FTD in order to become familiar with the device.

» View Figure 1

The first scenario began with the FTD on the ground at the Fayetteville Airport in Fayetteville, Tennessee (figure 1, position A). The flight’s intended destination was Smyrna, Tennessee (figure 1 position B). The route of flight was from Fayetteville to the Shelbyville VOR station and then to Smyrna using radar vectors. When the pilots finished their “warm-up” they flew over the Shelbyville VOR and at that point I started a timer. Then, following the exact timed script I began to add elements to the flight that the pilot could not have anticipated. I first used the computer terminal outside the FTD to cause the airplane’s alternator to fail. The failure of the alternator is signified in the cockpit by the illumination of a red light that is marked “Alternator” (figure 2).

Soon after the alternator failure the participant neared the Smyrna airport. The participant was given the Smyrna weather report. Remember, I was speaking to the pilots over the headset and at all times as an air traffic controller. The weather at Smyrna was reported to the participant as: “Estimated ceiling 300 overcast, visibility one and one half miles, wind 360 degrees at 10 knots.” I, the controller, told the participant to: “Expect the ILS runway 32 approach to Smyrna.” But before the participant intercepted and began to fly this approach I caused the airplane’s Glide Slope needle to fail.

At that point in time there were three elements working together to place the participant in a decision situation…

    1. The failed alternator meant that all electrical equipment was now being operated from battery power only, with the threat that the battery would run down and lose its charge. Without electrical energy to operate the radios the participant would not be able to fly any instrument approach and become stranded in the clouds with no safe way back down. The alternator failure was a race against time.

» View Figure 3

  1. The cloud ceiling was reported to the participant to be 300 feet overcast. This means that the space between the ground and the underside of the solid layer of clouds is 300 feet high. The ILS approach at Smyrna allows pilots to fly to within 200 feet of the ground (figure 3). This means that a pilot could logically assume that a landing at Smyrna is possible, but the third element changed that assumption.
  2. The third element was the failure of the ILS approach’s Glide Slope. Without an electronic Glide Slope capability the approach at Smyrna is less accurate and only allows the airplane to descend to within 403 feet of the ground. This meant that the lowest altitude that the airplane could go would still be in the clouds.

What would you do in this scenario? How do you think the instrument-rated, General Aviation pilots in the project did? Who found a way down safely and who didn’t? Find out next week!