40 Years in the right seat
April 1, 2019
Sitting right seat for most pilots means that the Pilot in Command is the person who is seated next to you and your job is to do what they ask you to do, or what the Crew Resource Manual dictates. For me it has meant something much different. As the guy in the right seat or in back in some cases, I was the one responsible for the flight. You see, I am a Flight Instructor, however, I take exception to the term Instructor. I'd rather think of my 40 years as a CFI has been one of teaching. I see teaching as a nobler endeavor. When you teach somebody to fly you don't instruct them. When teaching, you use a set of learning principles that ensure the student will actually learn the concepts that will apply to various applications and then correlate this knowledge to new maneuvers, situations or experiences. I feel instruction simply means; the steps or procedure necessary for a specified task to have a predictable outcome. You can instruct a monkey do most tasks to achieve such outcomes. Don't get me wrong, there are times when this rote method works well for various procedural tasks; checklist procedures, is one such area.
When you are teaching, or being taught, you begin to see a process occur where the student begins to apply a level of understanding to the concept at hand. This first step of "understanding" is a critical brick in the learning foundation. By understanding the "why," you get to the next step of learning experience, "application." The topic doesn't matter. Performance, Weight and Balance, Weather. Once a teacher is sure the student has a solid understanding you move to this next step. The students new found knowledge and clear understanding of the subject now requires only practice.
I enjoy reading all the posts on social media on how to do a cross wind or wheel landing for example: you read all sorts of techniques from an array of self-proclaimed experts. What Mods make it easier or harder, what airspeed you should be using, the flap settings ect....
As a teacher of flying, (of 40 years), there has never been just one way. I remember one night flying an A320 into Chicago O'Hara. It was in the midst of a winter blizzard. It was my leg. It was a stiff cross wind. As I descended and came out of the 200 foot overcast, I saw the airplane was in a fairly strong crab angle. I applied enough rudder to straighten my nose and aileron to keep me on the centerline, adding just a touch of power. When we touched down the Captain asked "where the hell did I learn that!" I simply said, "I cut my teeth flying off of roads as a young Crop Duster." He asked what made me think it would work in an A320? I just said I applied the concepts I understood worked for cross wind landings, it was habit. I wasn't sure if he was mad or impressed. As we taxied in, he looked at a senior crew member who was jump seating and said, "Next time, I expect to see your landing go as good as that." Understanding the concepts and then applying them to a task is not the last step in the learning process. You need to get to the top of the learning curve. This is when you can correlate things you have learned to new situations. When you can correlate your knowledge to a new situation you know you are at the top of your game. I like to call it "connecting the in the dots." I can think of so many scenarios where this comes into play. Whether its back country landings, (that begin with the right approach) or AirBus crosswinds, connecting what I call the "knowledge chain" is what will help with successful outcomes for many maneuvers and procedures.
So, friends, next time you go flying think about being in the right seat. Think about the various situations that come with each flight. Understand the basics, apply your knowledge and see if you can recognize when you correlate this knowledge to a successful outcome to a new experience.
When you get home, go thank your old Flight Instructor...he was a true teacher.