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Decision Training for Pilots -- Cross Country

Flying away from the friendly confines of your home airport offers another great flying challenge. It also offers an unlimited number of "what if" scenarios. When the airlines use "LOFT" scenarios, they are always playing out a flight going to somewhere (LOFT is Line Oriented Flight Training -- Line, as in flight line or route). Creative instructors and inquisitive students can "war game" cross counties forever. Here is just one and it's a true story.

Flying away from the friendly confines of your home airport offers another great flying challenge. It also offers an unlimited number of "what if" scenarios. When the airlines use "LOFT" scenarios, they are always playing out a flight going to somewhere (LOFT is Line Oriented Flight Training -- Line, as in flight line or route). Creative instructors and inquisitive students can "war game" cross counties forever. Here is just one and it's a true story.

Scenario: A pilot and three friends pile into a light airplane for a flight to a small airport for the purpose of attending an auto race. It was the third consecutive year these friends had made the pilgrimage to this particular race. Almost, but not quite to the destination airport, the engine of the airplane quit. The fuel tanks were dry. The pilot made an emergency landing in a field just at dusk and except for a nasty black eye suffered by the pilot, all are aboard are unhurt. The local newspaper was on the scene within minutes and interviewed the pilot. "What happened?" the reporter asked. "I just don't understand it," the pilot wondered, "we made this trip down here on a full tank of gas the last two years without any problem!"

DO YOU GET IT?
What did the pilot forget? Could the wind have been different for this year's trip? Was there any way the pilot could have known that he had a headwind? How could this have been handled differently?

THE MORAL
This story has helped many of my students decide to plan checkpoints, keep track of their time between checkpoints, and calculate groundspeed while enroute. If they discover that their actual time between checkpoints is greater than their planned time, they will have time to decide whether or not an unplanned fuel stop will be necessary.

HOW WE'VE BEEN TRAINED
In the Past: The instructor would say, "Before we go cross country next week I want you to complete this worksheet of flight computer problems."

To become a Private Pilot by the Practical Test Standards the examiner must determine that the applicant:

VII. AREA OF OPERATION:
NAVIGATION
A. TASK: PILOTAGE AND DEAD RECKONING

REFERENCES: AC 61-21, AC 61-23, AC 61-84.
Objective. To determine that the applicant:

  1. Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to pilotage and dead reckoning.
  2. Follows the preplanned course solely by reference to landmarks.
  3. Identifies landmarks by relating surface features to chart symbols.
  4. Navigates by means of precomputed headings, groundspeeds, and elapsed time.
  5. Corrects for and records the differences between preflight fuel, groundspeed, and heading calculations and those determined en route.
  6. Verifies the airplane's position within 3 nautical miles of the flight-planned route at all times.
  7. Arrives at the en route checkpoints and destination within 5 minutes of the ETA.
  8. Maintains the appropriate altitude, ±200 feet (60 meters) and established heading, ±15°.
  9. Completes all appropriate checklists.

On this flight portion of the practical test, the examiner will test the applicant for Pilotage and Dead Reckoning skills, the use of RADAR and radio navigation systems, diverting to an unplanned alternate, and lost procedures. Of all the parts of the practical test this is the most "mission" or LOFT-based and the least "maneuver" based training. Most examiners do a good job of creating a scenario around these tasks.

BOTTOM LINE: Testing does not have to be just a series of maneuvers. Flight Instructors can incorporate decision-making skills inside scenarios that are used to prepare for the checkride and to help every pilot become a better decision maker. Apply your training to your flight experience. If you have no experience that seems relevant to your training, ask an instructor what the practical application of the training might be. Actively learn -- learn the maneuvers, learn the reasons, learn to make decisions.

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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