As children, most of us had vivid imaginations. As we get older, we tend to forego thinking about the future in the abstract and, instead, prefer to think in terms of facts and hard numbers. This is bad, according to AVweb's Howard Fried. Using imagination to visualize flight training maneuvers, to warn us of the dangers involving a planned flight operation or to stay ahead of the aircraft helps us stay out of the weeds. Howard shows how using our imagination helps us anticipate our next move and ensures a likely and safe outcome to our next flight.
March 18, 2001
|About the Author ...
Howard Fried started flying with the Army Air Corps in WWII, where he
served both as a multi-engine instructor pilot and in combat piloting B-17s.
After a stint teaching sociology and on-the-air and management jobs in the
radio business after the war, he turned to teaching flying again full-time.
Over 40,000 general aviation hours later, he is still instructing
and running his own flight school. Along the way he administered over 4,000 flight tests
as a Designated Examiner until victimized by rogue FAA
He has authored two popular flying books aimed at student pilots and
instructors, Flight Test Tips and Tales and Beyond The Checkride, and a
series of audio tapes, Checkride Tips from
Flying's Eye Of The Examiner.
children have vivid imaginations. They create imaginary playmates and re-enact
stories, movies, etc. Unfortunately, as we grow older we tend to lose the
ability to apply imagination to our activities. In training instrument
students I explain the three skills required of an instrument pilot
instrument cross-check (scanning), instrument interpretation (what are these
gages telling me?) and, finally, aircraft control about the three axes through
which the flying machine can move. I then try to get the student to imagine
him/herself as a computer and the panel a programmer, feeding information into
the computer during the scanning stage. Then I ask him or her to imagine that
the roles are reversed, as the pilot becomes the programmer, making inputs
into the panel through yoke, rudder, throttle and trim by means of which
he/she controls the aircraft. If the student has the ability to apply
imagination to his/her activity, this technique works very well and keeping
the airplane upright without visual reference to the horizon becomes easy. By
means of pitch, bank, power and trim the pilot causes the airplane to do what
he or she wants it to do and go where he or she wants it to go.
One technique which I have found very helpful in training instrument
students in approach procedures is to have the student fly a couple of
approaches, both with radar vectors from an approach controller and the full
approach including the procedure turn WITHOUT A VIEW-LIMITING DEVICE
provides the student with the opportunity to see exactly what those lines on
the chart are doing for him/her. He can see the controller putting him on a
wide downwind, a far-out base, and a 30-degree cut to intercept the final, all
the while adjusting his altitude so that he will be in a position to cross the
final fix at the appropriate altitude. After this experience, when the pilot
executes an approach in IMC or with a view-limiting device in place, he can
apply his imagination as he follows the directions of the controller or
follows the lines on the approach chart, and be fully aware of exactly where
he is spatially and what is happening to him. Makes the whole experience more
meaningful. I have found this to be a very valuable training technique. It
works for me, and any instructors reading this, if you haven't tried it,
please do. Believe me, it works, and will make your job a whole lot easier.
Human beings are not designed for flight. A few furred mammals, most
insects and most birds are designed by nature for flight. For these lucky
creatures, flight is a natural activity. However, for us it is a highly
unnatural activity. Although we can swim in the water, our natural environment
is the land. And our natural means of transportation involves movement on the
surface of the earth. We are designed to walk upon the earth, and we can swim
through the water. But to fly through the air is an entirely different matter.
The air, to us, is an unnatural environment, and to operate in this medium we
must use a machine created and built by man.
are gadget lovers what with GPS, Loran C, CRT displays, moving maps, flight
directors, HUDs, etc. Still, the most important computer in the airplane is
the one between the pilot's ears, and the use to which this computer is put
defines the degree of success of each flight. The human nervous system may be
likened to a computer, having hardware (input-CPU-output-feedback systems) and
software, which includes what the pilot is, knows, and is capable of doing.
The input is received by all our senses the visual system, the vestibular
system and the somatosensory system (seat of the pants). Hearing is another
vitally important sense as we are tuned to the slightest change in the noise
of the engine(s) as it or they drone along. Any slight change in vibration
that we feel or in the sounds we are hearing gets our immediate attention and
produces an instant reaction.
on the subject of hearing, I frequently fly across Lake Erie in a
single-engine airplane. I climb to a high enough altitude so that there is
only a two or three minute period during which I cannot glide to land. As soon
as I reach that point, the engine starts making the strangest noises. Somehow
it seems to become rough. And when I have progressed far enough to glide to
the far shore, it smooths right out. Happens every time. Weird, isn't it? We
even have a name for this phenomenon. It is called "automatic
I have a policy. I never tell anyone how to fly. I tell 'em what I do and
why, and if they like that technique, they're welcome to adopt it. When asked,
"Why did you do so and so?" I frequently have to say, "I
honestly don't know. I just keep my mind on the objective what it is that I
want to accomplish, and then I do whatever I have to do to make it come out
right at the end." This system of keeping my eye on the objective works
very well for me. And when I was a DPE (designated pilot examiner), I didn't
care what technique the applicant used just so long as the published objective
of the practical test standards was met for the particular task at hand.
never tried it myself, but I know a very successful professional flight
instructor who sits down his students in a straight-backed wooden chair and
talks them through an imaginary flight, or rather has them talk him through
it. This guy specializes in instrument training, and he plays controller while
the student plays the role of a pilot on an instrument flight. They plan a
trip on airways using a low level en route chart, and the instructor throws
curves at the student (changes in the routing, holds, etc.). I believe this is
a very valid approach to the problem, for the really difficult part of
learning to fly on the gages is not manipulating the airplane in IMC, but
learning to live in the system. After all, when the weather is really grim and
you can't even see your own wingtips, there's nobody up there but the pros,
the guys who earn their living by shoving tons of aluminum around in the sky,
and they know what they're doing. If the lowly general aviation pilot wants to
play in that ballpark, he or she had better know what he/she is doing as well.
I have always maintained that the difficult part of learning to fly on
instruments is not keeping the airplane upright (there was a time when this
wasn't true, but now it is infinitely easier to control the airplane without
visual reference to the horizon), but rather learning to live in the system.
(Also passing the knowledge exam I have seen numerous bright guys bust that
most important single attribute a pilot can have is the ability to be mentally
far out in front of the airplane, and that may not be easy in a machine that
is traveling at a speed in excess of two miles per minute. Rod Machado
advocates a policy of always thinking of the next two things you are going to
do as you charge along through the sky, and this is an excellent rule to
follow. When the weather is really grim, the turbulence is tossing you around,
you have your hands full of airplane and some controller, sitting in a nice,
dry room with no windows, is rattling off instructions, it's no time to be
playing "catch-up." Of course, personally it is all I can do to stay
one step ahead, let alone two. But then I'm not as sharp as most pilots. I'm
just a tired old man who blunders around the sky and usually manages to reach
his desired destination (and all in one piece without bending the metal or
hurting anybody, including myself).
A pilot should always be anticipating what is coming up, yet be flexible
enough to change course as new instructions are issued. And if you are
thinking two steps ahead it is not difficult to change when ATC throws you a
curve. Really, the key to every successful flight is that there should be no
surprises. By anticipating what's coming up you shouldn't be surprised, and
the flight should be successful. By the bye, this business of staying ahead of
the airplane doesn't begin and end with the takeoff and landing. It starts
with the preflight and ends when the airplane is completely secured after
landing. I firmly believe that the most important attribute a pilot can have
is the ability to anticipate what is coming up next.
Do I have any symptoms?
Have I been taking prescription or over-the counter drugs?
Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Do I have money, health,
or family problems?
Have I been drinking within 8 hours? Within 24 hours?
Am I tired and not adequately rested?
Have I eaten enough of the proper foods to keep adequately nourished
during the entire flight?
It has been said that the penalty for having imagination is fear that
this is the price we pay for having and exercising an imagination. Remember,
panic derived from fear is the killer in aviation. There is a narrow line
between being bold and being afraid, each of which can result in disaster and,
although fear is a killer, a healthy respect for the equipment, the weather,
and one's own ability is essential to the survival of an aviator. If you keep
your cool there is almost nothing that can happen with or to the average
general aviation airplane that is not only survivable, but that won't result
in little or no injury (and even little or no damage to the aircraft).
Although I'd rather be lucky than skillful, I have supreme confidence in my
ability to successfully handle almost any situation in which I find myself.
Long ago I determined that I would "assume the risk" involved in
aviation. All we can do is carefully analyze the options. Using the personal I'M
S.A.F.E. checklist, obtaining and understanding a thorough weather
briefing, and ascertaining that the aircraft is indeed airworthy will prepare
the pilot for virtually anything he or she might encounter. Having done all
this, and adding the factor of imagination, we are as prepared as can be to go
forth and slay the dragon.
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