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.