Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Low maintenance.

I have no idea how this has happened but I appear to have become … well, a low maintenance student, I guess.

I’ve blogged before how it’s kind of weird when I just jump in the plane and fly, no “tester” circuits with Bob beforehand. It’s even weirder when he schedules a student at the same time as my solo flights so that he’s up there with someone else. But now I’ve reached the epitome of low maintenance. Bob had made his way home before I’d even landed!
For those of you familiar with the solo student supervision requirements for the PPL, don’t think I was being short changed or anything here. We’d done over an hour’s worth of ground briefing for various bits and pieces, and we both knew what I needed to do on this flight. So Bob saw me off and then really didn’t need to hang around. He left me a text message to call him after I’d landed and we debriefed from there. To be honest Bob probably gets all the info he needs from reading this blog.

For those of you who are not so familiar with all the nuances of getting your PPL, here’s how it works. Initially you fly with an instructor, many people choose to have the same instructor each time, some don’t. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of each approach in another post. Before each flight you brief with your instructor about what you are both trying to achieve. Yes, it may be as simple as “today we will try straight and level flight”. You then go and fly the lesson and afterwards you debrief; on what went well, what didn’t and what the plan is for next time.
Even during this phase your instructor gradually passes over the reins of responsibility to you. You start off doing the walkround together for example. After a few lessons your instructor will say to you “Ok go start your walkround, I’ll be out in a few minutes” and will observe from afar. Eventually you will be expected to do the walkround on your own, without prompting. You become slightly “lower maintenance” from an instruction point of view because your instructor can time it so that they are debriefing one student while you are preflighting your lesson.

After a while you reach the stage where your instructor decides that you can possibly manage this flying thing on your own for a short period of time, AKA “your first solo.” Basically they get out and watch with bitten nails as you attempt to bring the plane down in one piece.
For a while after that you gradually build up your solo time, usually your instructor will fly with you for a few circuits, to check that you still remember what all the bits do and then will get you to drop them off on the apron and send you up for some circuits on your own.

After this you go back to flying with your instructor but you’ve broken the leash of your local airport. The idea now is to get you used to flying to other places on your own.  As a student pilot you need to build up solo time. You need a certain number of hours of it before you can get your license, but you can’t just turn up and grab a plane. Any solo time has to be logged under the supervision of your instructor, as ultimately they have the responsibility as to whether you fly or not. Depending on how far on in your training you are, this may mean that they spend half an hour briefing you before you fly. It may mean that they jump in the plane with you for a couple of circuits before releasing you or it may mean that you have a pre agreed plan in place and they leave a note at the flight school for someone to sign you out, conditions permitting.

For career instructors (not so much Bob) or people actually trying to earn a living from this, it is important to get the logistics of this right.  You don’t get paid for the time your student is clocking up solo time, so ideally you want another student booked for instruction while you’ve signed out your solo student.
Even during this phase though, your instructor is still nudging you to make those command decisions yourself. It might be that at the start you both sit down together and look at the weather and make a joint decision as to whether you are going to fly. Eventually it becomes more of a “looked at the weather? Yep? Good to go or not?” conversation, with the emphasis being on how you came to the decision more than the decision itself. It may be that you start off with a very definite set of instructions “I want you to practice X then Y then Z” Ultimately it becomes “so what’s your plan for today’s flight then?”

It’s only since I started putting this down as a blog post that I’ve realised how much I’ve migrated from the “it starts out as...” to the “eventually...” end of the spectrum.

I really have become a low maintenance student and I’m really not sure how I got here!


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