You Are Correct: I Don't Know Everything

Last week I received a comment on the Settling with Power lesson plan, but didn’t see it until recently (spam filters sometimes send valid comments to the trash).

This is far too erroneous. It is conflicting in places and the entry height is suicidal.
If you don’t understand the topic, please don’t spread your solutions on it to everyone else???

Feedback like this bothers me, not so much on a personal level, but on a big-picture, professional level. On a personal level, I’m a 200-hr pilot, and I don’t claim to know anything. Some might see this as a character flaw, but I’m also not ashamed to admit that, although I have learned a lot in the past 3 years, I still know relatively little about flying helicopters. Admitting what you don’t know is necessary to be open to learning. The whole point of this web site is to provide a forum for like-minded CFIs to expand their knowledge.

I also don’t take these lesson plans lightly. On average, a lesson plan takes me about 8 hours to develop, and involves a considerable amount of research. I start with some basic resources. Since I’m most familiar with the R22, most of my lessons start with the R22 Maneuver Guide, but I also go to the FAA Rotorcraft Flying Manual and the Helicopter Flight Instructors Handbook. From there, I draw on personal experience–especially where my actual training differed from what I later learned at the RHC Safety Course or what experienced CFIs have taught me (a good friend, Mike Franz, has a short course on how ab initio training diverges from real life, and he has been an invaluable source). I also go to the forums, where there are often discussions that draw in the experiences of active instructors and students. On occasion, I refer to instructional resources published by Transport Canada, the Australian Civil Aviation Authority, and Advisory Circulars (like AC 61-13b, the Basic Helicopter Handbook). It’s overwhelming, and there are many lessons that I stop midway through because I can’t consolidate all that information into a coherent lesson plan. It’s harder than just teaching what I was taught. And it’s also why fewer than half the lesson plans are populated with content.

The reason a comment like this bothers me–and should bother you–is on the professional level. This visitor basically tells me that I’m full of shit and putting others at hazard by disseminating erroneous information. I’m certainly not going to dismiss this feedback, and this response isn’t my way of snapping back. I’m also not going to defend that lesson or any of the lessons here because I think there are many shortcomings in the way ab initio training is conducted. BUT what’s in that lesson plan:

  • Is exactly what I was taught;
  • Is how I demonstrated VRS on my private pilot check ride (which was a clear pass);
  • Incorporates elements from what I was taught at the Robinson Factory Safety Course;
  • Draws on a talk given for CFIs at HAI;
  • Is what was covered with me during my recent BFR; and
  • Has been edited to incorporate some of the info from Transport Canada and CASA.

What does this tell me? It tells me that there’s a disconnect between what we’re being taught (and teaching) and the way things really work. An experienced pilot/instructor on VerticalReference said it very well:

We don’t need new methods to teach, we just need to utilize the methods we already have.

Here’s the problem: 200-hr instructors don’t know the methods. We have to make them up as we go along. By the time instructors have things figured out, they go on to “real jobs”, leaving a new crop of clueless 200-hr instructors to start the process over again. Students ultimately pay the price for this, and I’ll admit I’m an example of this: I received very little training on recognizing VRS and might not be able to recognize it from the feel of the aircraft alone in-flight. I have received very extensive training on how to avoid it, which is good. But what I learned at the Safety Course is that I was initiating a recovery way too early and not assertively enough. At the Safety Course, I did exactly what I was trained, but in that scenario, my recovery was too slow to recover from a more fully developed VRS condition.

So where does this leave me and other CFIs who were trained the same way (whether they admit it or not)? I can guarantee that I’m not going to go out with a student and do anything different that what I was trained. Ideally I’d teach at a school that invests in initial and recurrent training for their instructors but I can tell you that not every school does this (which is why I recommend that this is one question prospective students ask when selecting a school, and if the school doesn’t, find out if the instructor seeks out supplemental training on their own). I also would like to be at a school with an extensive, working syllabus (not just a meaningless list of maneuvers) that ensures consistency in training. What would I do now? I’d do the in-flight demonstration that I was taught with one important distinction: during pre- and post-flight ground lessons, I’m going to reinforce that I am illustrating a scenario that could lead to VRS, but that we will initiate a recovery before VRS actually develops by decreasing power and gaining forward airspeed.

Now the last thing that bothers me about a comment like this one is that I haven’t done my job to correctly convey the purpose of this site. I’m here saying that low-time CFIs and students need access to those methods that high-time instructors have figured out. That’s the only way training is going to get any better. Anybody who disagrees with something here, sees a flaw, or has a better or alternate way of doing something can easily add that by editing a lesson plan or making a comment. In this case, I’ll post this comment at the end of the plan, but it’s practically useless without some feedback from this user on how he teaches VRS recognition and recovery.

2 thoughts on “You Are Correct: I Don't Know Everything”

  1. I found this to be a particularly interesting comment….now the aforementioned “rude” comment posted by a reader was definitely a bit harsh and uncalled for. You have admitted more than once that you are a “new CFI”…and considering I train with and work for a 30K CFI, I’d say anyone under…say 5000 Dual Given…is a “new CFI”. If the reader was dishearted by your article, he should have either posted a CONSTRUCTIVE comment, or contact you privately to assist in editing the material. I think your articles are well-thought out, and do contact factual, FAA supported facts.
    I enjoy your site tremendously, and I DO have more hours than you, and I DO find much to learn-relearn from your articles. Thank you for you VERY hard work.

    1. Thanks for your support! Hope the flying is going well. Are you flying with Jerry? I was out there a few weeks back to do my BFR. Great guy. I had him show me his method for teaching VRS and it was basically this. After that, I’m not only more confident in this lesson plan, but also that we’re teaching how to avoid all-out VRS rather than letting it fully develop.

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