Change in Phraseology for Taxi Instructions

Something that’s not terribly relevant for us, but after June 30 there’s going to be change in taxi clearances that include crossing another runway. AOPA has a good article on this, with scenarios, so I’m not going to try and top them. You can read it here. Well…they coulda given you the airport diagrams for the scenarios, so here are those (answers stuck in the first comment). But you should still read their article.

Situation 1: Lincoln Airport, Lincoln, Neb., taxiing from the east ramp to Runway 14, no other traffic.

Situation 3: Baltimore/Washington International, Baltimore, Md., taxiing from the GA ramp to Runway 22, no other traffic.

Situation 4: Crystal Airport, Minneapolis, Minn., taxiing from the southwest ramp to Runway 24R, no other traffic.

Situation 5: San Antonio International Airport, San Antonio, Texas, after landing Runway 12L taxiing to the FBO on the far south part of the airport east of Runway 03.

First ADM Lesson: 1*

Way back, I took an Emergency Medical Technician course. On the first day they put up the star of life and Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). Right there I though WTF, I’m taking this to save lives and “do no harm” is the industry motto??? But this simple message lays the foundation for many EMS concepts that accomplishes the greater goal. The obvious medical application comes from the days when ambulance drivers would just scoop up patients, throw them in a station wagon, and race off to the hospital (often making spinal injuries worse or getting into an accident along the way). The not so obvious one is that making more patients by rushing into an unsafe scene, or blowing through a red light and wrecking an ambulance, doesn’t serve the patient well. That simple motto comes back again and again throughout EMS training and in practice, and it becomes cemented in your head.

ADM should be the same way, and I’m a proponent of introducing it early in helicopter pilot training. Set the precedent in every prospective pilot’s head that safety is their first consideration. I also recognize the practical limitation to doing this. A private pilot student is overwhelmed with “important information”, and isn’t mentally prepared to accept a  full-blown ADM lesson when they 1) are still just excited about being in a helicopter and 2) might not be in the mindset of undertaking professional training. Instead, what happens is that ADM/safety get pushed off until some undefined later point in time.

Take the SFAR. We all should have gotten the SFAR training before our very first demo ride. At that time, how many of us understood anything about energy management, low-G maneuvers, or mast bumping? I remember standing there in front of the helicopter, the instructor said “We have this training that we have to do for Robinsons.” He then took a deep breath and gave a well-rehearsed summary of the required training. Looking back, I remember it being thorough and accurate; at the time though, only bits of it even registered (wait, what was that about separation of the main rotor??!). But he ended with “Don’t worry about it, I’ll be monitoring all these things to make sure we don’t get into any trouble.” In terms of the principles of primacy and readiness, the lesson here is that the safe operation of the helicopter was not my responsibility. That’s not what was intended, but it’s what was received because the SFAR training isn’t really at a level that is appropriate for somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about flying a helicopter. This is the precedent that the typical demo flight establishes.

In this month’s safety article by J Heffernan in Rotor, he essentially validates this problem.

Even ab initio programs do not produce pilots right out of their cribs; just the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals really puts a delay in the learning process, and training delays are where bad habits can be learned…Before you can teach, you have to unteach.

One way of taking this statement is that Mr Heffernan is saying, if you want safety to be a core value in your organization, you have to undo the bad habits acquired (in part) during initial training…the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals… To me, he’s talking about this grace period student pilots get where safety, ADM, situational awareness, and all that is somebody else’s responsibility. Thus, the powerful effect of primacy has to be overcome somewhere down the line. I disagree that it has to be that way, in part because Mr Heffernan provides a solution which could easily be applied to flight training.

This is where 1* comes in. I’m not going to tell you what it means now because I want you to be bothered and a bit annoyed that I didn’t tell you right off what 1* has to do with safety. Then you can read the lesson plan or Mr Heffernan’s article and his personal story (it’s in the Spring 2010 issue, which isn’t online yet).

The simple symbol/mnemonic 1* is appropriate for a brand new student’s level of experience, and like “First, do no harm” it’s something you as an instructor can build on throughout a student’s training. Start off on that demo ride by giving them the required SFAR73 Awareness Training, then make a point of writing “1*” on that endorsement and telling them This is all you need to remember for now. If they ask what it means, tell them it’ll become clear later–you’ve done your part in associating 1* with their first flight, and unconsciously set them up for thinking safety before flying without overwhelming or scaring them. Later, as you progress through the ADM lessons, you just need to associate that mnemonic/symbol with the pre-flight preparations that will enhance their safety consciousness, risk management, and situational awareness. From 1*, you can associate lesson plans on weather (Is 1* worth making a flight with forecast low ceilings at night?). Want to make sure your student is doing a good pre-flight? Get your school to slap a 1* sticker on the door leading out to the hangar.

The payback–hopefully–is that down the road, this little mnemonic will pop up whenever there’s a critical safety decision confronting your student, and it’ll trigger all those other ADM lessons.

Captain Easy and SBT

Sometimes watching the Original Forum on JustHelicopters can pay off. For most of the last 1.5 weeks, “Capt Easy” has been throwing out training scenarios and letting everybody bicker over them. Just sorting out the trash talk though, can be difficult enough, but on top of that, scenario based training (SBT) also requires a little bit of extra effort to arrive at the take-home lesson. In this scenario, Capt Easy was looking for problem solving skills when faced with inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) at night. It looks like a pretty nasty situation to begin with, and not something a low time pilot should be faced with for many years (most of the scenarios have been targeted at HEMS pilots it seems). This scenario does get at one thing that is introduced into every pilot’s early training though, and you’ll see it come up in the discussion. Also, the scenario assumed the aircraft was equipped with at least basic instruments (ie, not your stock R22) or was IFR-capable. Okay, here’s the situation (slightly edited):

It’s winter and there’s snow on the ground. It’s also night time, and there’s an overcast layer that’s not real high, but it’s high enough that you can easily fly below it. The visibility is >5 sm. The METAR and TAF both say you can easily make the 30-minute flight back to your base under VFR.

You depart with full fuel for home. About halfway through the flight, you find yourself flying through a snow shower with good (but still reduced) visibility. Suddenly everything goes black–no lights in front of you our below you on the ground. You just went IIMC. What’s your plan?

The first step, which will be a post for another day, is figuring out what just happened. Sitting here reading words on a screen, it’s not so difficult, but imagine it happening real-time. There’s actually a mental process that you go through when the unexpected happens, and getting through that is the first step to making the proper response. But that’s not at issue here. What matters is that you are  now in IMC.

The “discussion” broke into 2 camps: do a 180 degree turn back to VMC, or climb and contact ATC.

The 180-degree turn back to VMC

The rationale here is that you know what the weather is behind you, so why not just go right back to it? I can’t say where I heard this first, but I’ve heard it many times: the lifesaving 180 degree turn. Detractors to this response have a good point though: many good pilots–even instrument-rated pilots–kill themselves trying to make that 180 degree turn out of an IIMC encounter. And it is true that turning puts you at risk for spatial disorientation and all those sensory illusions that you read about in the PHAK. Conclusion:never make a 180 degree turn, especially at night.

Climb, contact ATC, get vectors to VFR or an ILS

Okay, turning is dangerous, so climb out. Can’t hit the ground if you’re high enough above it, right? Additionally, you can then contact ATC and get their help. This is advice has also been doled out, especially with respect to lost procedures, and you might remember it as the 3 or 4 C’s (Climb, Confess, Communicate, Comply, Conserve, etc, etc). The other side of the argument goes that climbing will guarantee that you remain in IMC, increases your workload (especially if you aren’t proficient), and might stick you in icing conditions. Conclusion: climbing is for morons.

Other options then?

There is actually a “right” answer in there. Both sides make good points for and against their approaches to the problem. So how do you approach this scenario? It starts during your pre-flight planning, and from there adapts to your circumstance.

  • Plan an en route altitude for obstacle clearance. In my training, we usually flew as low as possible (500-800 AGL). Lots of reasons for that, but in this case it’s night with surrounding weather. You want to be high enough that if you suddenly can’t see obstacles around you, you know that you can safely make turns or continue straight ahead without hitting them. The easy way to do this is to fly above the Maximum Elevation Figure (MEF) on your route. Not always practical, especially if you fly adjacent to high terrain. What I’ve done for my night VFR flights is planned them as if they were IFR, climbing to some altitude above the highest obstacle within 4 NM of my flight path. Once you have your instrument rating, your ways of thinking about how to establish an en route altitude open up: MEAs, OROCAs, the 4 NM rule, MSAs….
  • In flight, set a hard deck that will maintain obstacle clearance. At the RHC Safety Course, somebody recommended turning around or landing if you have to descend twice because of weather. I think this advice is mostly a way of imposing a limit on how many times you’ll descend to stay clear of the ceiling, and not necessarily something you should follow. But if you do, plan your en route altitude to take this into account. If you’ve made a descent and are now below your highest obstacle, your options have changed.
  • In an IIMC encounter, you don’t have to react fast. IIMC might be an emergency, but your response shouldn’t make a bad situation worse. To me, this one bit of advice settled the whole argument. Fly the aircraft. Get level and in trim. Relax. Commit to flying by the instruments. Once you’re in a stable situation, decide what you’re going to do. Turning when you haven’t fully transitioned to instruments does put you at risk for spatial disorientation, and climbing might not be necessary. This article from AOPA summarizes the rationale nicely.
  • Once you are flying straight and level by instruments, decide whether a climb or turn is indicated. Climb if you’re below your highest obstacle. If not, consider a turn if you still think there’s VMC behind you. Or contact ATC and utilize that resource. Either way, with the aircraft under control and your mental state adapted to the situation, you have time to think.
  • Stay on your instruments. Transitioning back to VFR from IFR can be a challenge, and for most of us, the closest we’ve come is flipping the hood out of the way. Getting partial spatial information from your peripheral vision or as you’re coming in and out of IMC is another risky area.


This could start as a lesson in determining en route altitudes for a night flight. Set your student up to do a night flight, and ask him what altitude is appropriate (although for a lesson in an R22, the decision would probably be to not make the flight, so you have to tweak that). Once he’s IIMC, you can discuss the decision-making processes that his flight planning left him with. The last part is discussing alternative options that he might not have considered. In this case, Capt Easy set up his flight so he was high enough that obstacle clearance wasn’t a concern. He transitioned to instruments, and made a 180-degree turn back to VMC. If he’d been in an R44, not instrument-proficient, and had descended to below his highest obstacle, his decision-making process would have been different.

The key lessons here are:

  • Your en route altitude should take into consideration the conditions you expect to encounter during the flight;
  • Changes to your altitude en route will also affect the options available to you if you encounter IIMC;
  • If you are IIMC, aviate first: control the aircraft and commit to flying by instruments;
  • Once the aircraft is under control, you have time to determine the best course of action.

wikiRFM Proof of Concept

Last week this thread was on the Flight Training forum; in writing a response to it, I decided to just go ahead and develop the lesson plan for helicopter pick-ups/set-downs. I think it illustrates the limited tools available to new instructors and overwhelming task they’re faced with. From the student’s perspective, you can also see that there’s a lack of accessible, quality training resources to start with, and to fall back on when the instructor isn’t able to help. Here’s the OP’s question:

I’m…close to soloing, but not real happy with my lift-offs. Most of the time I don’t seem to have the cyclic centered properly while lifting off, so there is usually some horizontal movement that needs to be dealt with….

I also take way too long pulling the collective…. The last time I tried to speed things up I shot up off the ground and everyone got a little excited.

My instructor wants me to use a little left cyclic to make sure the left skid comes up first, pause briefly when light on the skids, correct and then lift off, but not being able to tell where neutral position is, things get a little hairy at times.

This is a student who’s getting frustrated. He’s not happy with his progress, and his instructor isn’t communicating what he needs. To me, this type of circumstance is exactly the type of situation where the wikiPPLH syllabus and maneuver guide can help a student (and instructor) out.

Think of the maneuver guide as a starting place for your training’s standard operating procedures. My experience was that most schools don’t have a published training manual/”SOPs”, and they don’t use the RHC R-22 Maneuver Guide. This is a critical problem: if your school doesn’t have a written reference for teaching flight maneuvers, how can you study for a lesson in advance? How can you be assured that you’ll get the same training from one instructor to the next? A secondary problem is that the guides that are out there (like the Helicopter Flight Instructor’s Handbook and R-22 Maneuver Guide) are pretty bare-bones manuals that focus on the technical aspects of the maneuver. Unfortunately, they lack context and practical training tips. Add into the mix an inexperienced CFI or two, and you can have a very confused student and an inefficient training program.

For students then, if your school doesn’t have a training manual, here you go. The day before you start practicing a new maneuver, wikiRFM is a place where you can start learning about the purpose of the maneuver, specifics about the configuration and completion standards, and different ways to go about learning the maneuver.

Back to the case that started this all. The student is concerned about his lift-offs, and needs help “centering” the cyclic/preventing lateral drift. Now, the student’s instructor is telling him what he needs to know, but for learning to occur, that info has be be presented and received. The instructor is essentially telling this student what he needs to know, but he’s not delivering it in a way that makes sense to the student: you can see this in the last paragraph, where the instructor is advising the student to prepare for the pick-up and use a 2-step process. You also get a hint about where the student’s confusion is coming from: does he need to neutralize the controls, or does he need to neutralize the movement?

From my own experience, I can think of a few things that could be going on:

  • No correlation: some aerodynamic (eg, translating tendency) and mechanical (torque/anti-torque) concepts aren’t getting translated to the real-world. If the student just reads the assigned books front to back, this is what happens (and was my point in this post). The instructor’s job is to correlate book knowledge with practical skills, and the easiest way to do this through a well-thought-out syllabus. It’s a hell of a task, and more trouble than it’s worth for any individual instructor: that’s where a Part 141 syllabus should help, but failing that, it’s what this site is about.
  • Inadequate pre-flight briefing: it’s so easy to just go out and fly. At a busy flight school that uses 2-hr blocks, you’re hard-pressed to get an hour of flight time, and an instructor that goes all out is lucky to slip in short post-flight briefings (most of which is filling out the log books) and get a drink of water between lessons. In this situation, there’s a good chance that the pre-flight briefing is going to happen on the ramp or in the cockpit–informal environments that lack access to learning aids, are fraught with distractions, and not conducive to quizzing and review to ensure that the student understands. Not the best set-up for an efficient lesson. In this case, the instructor might help drive correlation by setting the student up this way: “Eyes outside. Little left cyclic for translating tendency, little left pedal to correct for torque. Raise collective until we’re light on the skids….” For this to work, the student needs to start the maneuver knowing not only about the steps in making a pickup, but having also learned all those ground lessons that apply to it: that’s what the pre-flight briefing is for.
  • Inflexibility: sometimes cancelling a lesson or changing plans is the best course of action. If during a pre-flight briefing, the instructor finds that the student doesn’t have the required knowledge, a ground lesson is in order and a flight lesson is inefficient. This is where the intersection of a student’s enthusiasm for flying, an instructor’s motivations, and pressure from owners to maximize flight hours come together in a way that can screw a student.
  • Not sticking to a lesson’s goals and objectives: Have a plan for a lesson and stick to it. Sometimes this means going back to the ramp 20 minutes into a lesson. If you brief a lesson on quick stops and go out and do 3 or 4 perfectly, the lesson’s over. The temptation, of course, is to go practice or learn something else, in which case you aren’t getting the good pre-flight briefing you need to make the lesson valuable.
  • Limited tools/experience: This instructor is teaching his student in a way that made sense to him during his training. From what the OP said, it looks like the instructor hasn’t formulated the insight that the student is confusing “neutralized controls” and “neutralizing movement.” He also hasn’t impressed on the student that, for learning pick-ups, it’s okay to be slow and deliberate in the beginning. And the 2-step pick-up process’ purpose (minimizing the risk of dynamic rollover) also hasn’t gotten through to the student. Preparation, knowledge, and experience can all help an instructor recognize when and why a student isn’t receiving the message. Helping instructors prepare, developing and organizing their knowledge, and drawing on the experience of others is where I think wikiRFM can really help. In addition, several respondents to the OP’s question added other techniques that hopefully will add to the student’s knowledge and approach to learning pick-ups. This is a double-edged sword: some techniques were useful and things I had never heard of before, other things were probably inappropriate for this student’s level of experience.

I should also point out that being an armchair instructor is easy, and I’m not criticizing this guy’s instructor. Teaching takes practice, and I doubt I could reliably do a better job. This became obvious to me last week while I was reviewing the aerodynamics of vortex ring state with another pilot who’s sitting for his commercial check ride. Even though I know this topic pretty well, have practiced teaching it a few times, and had my lesson plan right there in front of me, this student threw me off pretty easily simply by saying “thrust” and meaning “induced flow” in a question he asked. Queue me up as the babbling idiot. From my experience teaching CPR, it took me teaching that class probably 20+ times to get to where I could feel confident walking into a room knowing that I could handle 95% of the curve balls students could throw at me.