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.

Just Let Me Explain

Those of you who are paying attention noticed 2 new tabs at the top of the page…the Career tab, which I already posted on, and FL005 T-shirts, which takes you to a storefront with helicopter-inspired T-shirts. Just to put your mind at ease, wikiRFM was not some ruse to get you to buy a T-shirt so I could pay off my credit cards. From a financial perspective, both of these sites are pretty stupid ideas, and with the software, domain names, and time invested, I won’t ever come close to recouping my costs.

FL005 is actually a way an investment in the wikiRFM. Follow my logic, flimsy as it is. The T-shirt shop is interactive–you can rate and comment on the designs, recommend designs if you think mine are kinda lame, and eventually I’ll engineer a way for you to post pics of yourself in an FL005 T-shirt on the front page. Likewise, wikiRFM is completely interactive, and after fooling around with FL005, maybe you’ll come back here and rate some articles, or comment on/edit some of the lesson plans.

The bigger picture is that there aren’t a lot of good helicopter T-shirts out there. Try Googling “helicopter T-shirt” and you get a deluge of truly lame T-shirts from CafePress and Zazzle. They suck, and you can waste hours trying to find one that isn’t shameful. So it’s a good advertising opportunity. Anybody who runs that search will find FL005 (eventually), and on every page at FL005, you’ll find a link back to wikiRFM. FL005 will draw more traffic back here. That’s the plan anyway.

If you have time, check out, poke around the site, and let me know what you think.

Emergency Procedures: Bloody Mess or Packed to Go?

It’s been about 8 years since I took my last Emergency Medical Technician/Wilderness First Aid class, but I bet I could still do a rapid trauma survey (and probably long board a patient) from memory. For those of you who don’t know, the goal of the RTS is to quickly assess a badly injured patient–think unconscious after a car wreck–so you can fix any problem that is going to kill him or get worse if you move him around. The benchmark is to have the patient in the ambulance within 10 minutes of arriving on-scene, and you can’t make that happen if you stop after every step to think about what is next. When I was getting ready to sit for my EMT certification exam, I’d take anybody who’d lay still for a few minutes and practice on them. If I couldn’t find a volunteer, I’d work the dog or the coffee table from head to toe. And I’d go to sleep visualizing each step. It got to the point where doing the RTS was the most natural thing for me, and scenarios that would throw other students off (like doing it in a dark, confined space) didn’t phase me a bit.

The emergency procedures in section 3 of the POH are the same way. Each of them requires prompt action, and an inopportune brain fart can make a bad situation worse. We should all be able to smoothly move through each procedure, even if the cockpit is filled with smoke or there are horns and lights going off around us. So when I was putting my lesson plans together, I thought pretty hard about what would be the best path to making these second nature.

I knew how not to do it. My introduction was while I was flying patterns to practice straight-in autos. On downwind to base, my instructor asked what I’d do if the alternator light came on. I blurted out “Auto?” Up to that point in my training, I’d only indirectly considered the possibility that the helicopter might not always fly perfectly in the course of practicing autos. At that moment, an auto was the only EP on my mind. The response from my instructor drove the point home: “You’d do an auto over a stupid alternator light?” I went home, focused on the EPs for a few hours, and nailed them by the time my EPs ground lesson came around.

From that experience, I learned that the first step in learning those 10 pages in the POH is for the student to know when to expect to start having to recall them. If you’re like me, your helicopter honeymoon is going to last right up until a few weeks before your check ride. There’s so much to learn during your private pilot training, and everything needs its place. And the right place for EPs is pretty early in your training. I know a new instructor who was doing practice autos with a student pilot, rolled off the throttle, and killed the engine. Between the 2 of them, they performed an air restart and were able to land with power. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen whether you’re ready for it or not. That’s why I placed the Emergency Procedures lesson at the beginning of the Pre-Solo section of the PPLH Syllabus. But before a student starts doing the EPs in flight, I think there’s a lot more preparation that’s needed.

This goes back to primacy: learn it the right way the first time, because that first time holds a special place in our brains. Why make the first impression at 500 AGL, when the 20-or-so hour pilot is just getting confident and comfortable in controlling the aircraft during normal flight? I think the first step is making sure the knowledge is there, and that takes a solid ground lesson where the instructor can quiz the student. You also have the luxury of being able to discuss the reasons why the EP is the way it is, and the instructor can correct any mistakes right away. With the Rote and Understanding parts out of the way, you can move on to Application in the cockpit. Why do that at $2++/hr though? Make time to get in a helicopter that isn’t flying–either with or without an instructor–and practice. What would this emergency look like? Where should my hands go? What happens when I lean over to fumble for that circuit breaker? What’s the easiest way to get my vent open without going aerobatic? Yes, you will look retarded doing this alone…best to have an instructor with you so you can share the shame.

Now, the other thing I didn’t fully appreciate was the degree to which an instructor can and should simulate EPs. At the Robinson Safety Course, one of the instructors goes into what he does. He doesn’t go into the specifics to the point where, after listening to him, I’d feel good about taking a student out and trying it. For example, in the EP for an electrical fire, you kill the battery and the alternator. The tachs still function, but the governor and Low Rotor RPM system don’t. According to this guy, the loss of those systems is under-appreciated by most of his students, and he ends up having to point out the degrading RPMs to them. I would have been one of them–during my training, I would simulate flipping the switches, but never actually did it. Sitting here at home, I know what happens and why, but I would have puzzled over those sinking RPMs if it’d happened to me for real.

Onto a related topic. I’ve gotten a good bit of positive feedback on this site so far–all through email and PMs, but nobody’s fully taken advantage of the interactive nature of this site. That’s why I have added and opened up the Emergency Procedures lesson plan for editing. This is a weak one for me, and I think the lesson that I have up is sorely inadequate. So, how did you learn EPs? What precautions do you have in place? How do you simulate EPs?

p.s. After looking at the Emergency Procedures lesson plan, take a look back at this post on VR about fire extinguishers and electrical fires.


I want people to be able to come here and comment freely. But, in the beginning anyway, I’m requiring that all comments be approved before posting. If your comment doesn’t show up right away, patience. I’ll get to it.

Wiki Rotorcraft Flight Manual: Ground Zero

I’m sitting around, trying to figure out how I’m going to get from 246 hours of helicopter time to 1000 hours. Networking has never been my strong suite, and I don’t have anybody who’s willing to mentor me through this phase. That means I need to be a flight instructor. For me, personally, this is no problem. Flying is a second career for me, I’ve taught before, and I think it’s great fun and rewarding. Right now though there are 13.2 million CFIs out there, some of who just finished their CFI yesterday. I need a way to stay sharp, and if I’m not working or working on a rating, I just can’t keep up.

I thought I would expand on my otherwise basic lesson plans, and in doing so I came up with an idea. Since I’m on VerticalReference every day, and there are many knowledgeable pilots there, why not draw them in? So I put this post up: Teaching Techniques: Hovering. I thought this could evolve into a great series–the “Teaching Techniques” tag could be a search term that anybody could go back and look at in the future. I thought there’d be enough idle CFIs that it’d get a lot of comments. I even committed to updating the first post based on the comments.

By the time the topic was dead, it got a disappointing 14 comments (3 of them were mine). Hopefully that isn’t foreshadowing…. But it has over 1800 views, which is 2-6 times the views that other posts in the Flight Training forum get. I thought the outcome was pretty useful, although it took me processing people’s experiences and drawing a lot from conversations I had. In the end, I didn’t think it was successful enough to warrant a follow-up.

Well, I came back to the idea after looking into a WordPress blog for another project. Since that project didn’t pan out, I now have time to work on this one. Anyway, check out About Wiki RFM if you want to know why I think this is a good idea and how it works. If you agree that it’s worth it, contribute once I start adding content! Otherwise I’ll just let it join the rest of the electronic jetsam that’s drifting out there. If it takes off, even a little bit, I’ll figure more out about how it should work.