Fly Like a Pro – Part 12 Flight Training Carryovers

As flight students and instructors we work very hard to improve our skills and maintain our status as safe pilots. But can our methods of flight training actually create problems once the student has left the protected environment of the flight instructor? In some cases the answer to that question is YES!

A carryover, as I saw them while observing pilots in action, were instances where a pilot’s pervious training carried over into the real-world scenario. Often these were positive and quite helpful to the pilot. A pilot when faced with an inoperative radio, often remembered to try another radio. But a disturbing number of the carryovers were negative. During the study of over seventy pilots I saw constant signs of what I began to call “Negative Training Carryovers.” What the pilot remembered from their “training environment” became dangerously out of place in the “real environment.

The difference between a pilot who relies on the training environment and a pilot who is comfortable with the real environment, seems to be that elusive characteristic called seasoning. Expert pilots, for example, are seasoned and savvy. They know the ropes, the short cuts, the real workings of the system. The non-expert pilots showed signs of this seasoning at times, but often they were no match for the real world scenarios.

I saw the following negative carryover example play out many times during the experiment. During the first flight simulator session of the project, every pilot found themselves placed in a “missed approach versus land” decision situation. The first scenario was set so that even at Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) the pilots were still going to be in the clouds. In other words, the ceiling was too low and they could not see the runway; therefore they could not safely land. This forced the participant into a corner and a decision had to be made. Many of the participants made the decision to make a missed approach and began a climb out procedure. Remember I was outside the simulator and was acting only as an air traffic controller. When the pilot particiants made a missed approach, I asked them the same question a controller would: “what are your intentions?” This required the pilot to state a plan that many of the participants had not even contemplated yet.

It was clear many of these pilots had been “over instructed” — all the decisions that were faced during training had been made for them by the instructor. Now finding themselves in a spot where they and they alone had to make a decision, many of the pilots were un-nerved. Instead of making a well thought out decision, many participants simply fell back to what they had done many times before during their flight training … they asked to go back and fly the approach a second time.

Twenty-seven of sixty-two (44%) participants attempted to fly the approach a second time even though at that point in the scenario the alternator had failed and the battery power was depleting.

They were in a race against time, yet chose to fly away from alternate airport possibilities. They chose this course of action, not after a careful evaluation of the situation, but from a training habit. Results: Of the twenty-seven who made this “training-conditioned” response one ultimately landed safely.

What was the habit that got these pilots into trouble? Repeated instrument approaches. It is a common practice in instrument flight training to “script” the lesson. Flying an airplane is expensive and there is pressure on the flight instructor to pack as much into a flight lesson as possible. To help save the student some money a routine flight lesson might involve three or four consecutive instrument approach procedures. This allows the student to practice these approaches without much time spent between each approach.

This is good economy, but it robs the pilot in training the opportunity to make the crucial “miss or land” decision on their own. In real world operations, a pilot would never shoot the same approach four consecutive times. The goal would be to fly the approach once and land. If a landing were not possible, the pilot could decide to fly to another airport where the clouds are not so low. But in training, this is not done. If four consecutive approaches are planned for the flight lesson, it is clear that all the “missed approach versus land” decisions are already made before takeoff — regardless of weather conditions. The pilot will fly a missed approach on the first three attempts and expects to make a landing on the fourth. Plus, consecutive instrument approaches may trigger “non-real world” handling from the controller.

Danger: The practicality of expedient training is actually doing the trainee a disservice. The process degrades the pilot’s decision-making process by conditioning the pilot to react in a way that will most likely be dangerous if applied in the real world.

The controller will start to ask, “How will this approach terminate?” By asking this question the controller is planning ahead. But the controller would not have asked that question to an airplane inbound. Controllers don’t ask, “Delta 213 will this be a full stop landing?” That would be a ridiculous question, but when instructors answer this question by saying, “This will be a missed approach,” then the decision is instantly taken away from the student. The controller by their very question ruins the scenario. After about five lessons and twenty approaches like this, we have now taught the student that a decision is not expected from them. Was it any wonder they fell apart when they were forced to make their own decisions during the LOFT scenario?

If you are an instructor, do this. If you are a student, ask your instructor to do this. When the controller asks, “How will this approach terminate?” respond with, “I would like the option.” The “option” approves you to make a missed approach or make a landing … or even make a touch and go.

How it Works: Asking for the option means that the decision to “miss or land” is still in the hands of the student. The instructor can have the student remain under the hood until the Missed Approach Point to see if they execute the Missed Approach procedure, or the instructor can take them out from under the hood to see if they spot the runway and land. Using the “option” means the student is being taught how to decide, not just flying approaches by rote.

BOTTOM LINE: The experiment I conducted revealed to me the fact that well-meaning flight instructors and air traffic controllers have inadvertently insulated the student from real world operations. When the student from the unreal or “training environment” is one day placed in the real world; the student will be unprepared — even overwhelmed. The results are dangerous. They showed that the training environment can accidently teach pilots not to be decision-makers. Instructors, controllers, and students need to do better. We should look for ways to train in the “real world.

Next week a new series starts on how to make decisions from the cockpit and how to fly in the real world.