Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Based on the number of recent comments received from readers of my warbling’s, the interest in learning more about motivation, learning and education is quite high, especially in relation to aviation and its allied industries.

As a pedagogue I learned a while back that all people learn differently, but there is a common ‘set’ of styles that we all fit into, one way or another. Peter Honey and Alan Mumford , world famous clever chappies, created a test for these different styles – and called it ‘Learning Styles Questionnaire’ (a little Google-ing and you can even do some tests on line). They used lots of big words and technical stuff, aimed at the educational psychologists – and it was all, in my opinion, good and thought provoking. Sadly, the tests developed need to be used on people with sufficient education to truly understand the questions, and suits a ‘Business English Level’ of language skills. The concepts of Learning Styles are incredibly practical, and I apply them on a daily basis.

The four identified types of learner are

Activist: Learns by doing, actively seeks out learning opportunities.

Reflector: Thinks before they leap, and often like to go over the learning material several times.

Theorist: Like everything to fit into place. They like to have it all laid-out, fully, and need it all to be understood before they can move on.

Pragmatist: Often need everything to relate to the ‘real world’. They like role models, and like to see a practical application of the learning item, in order to give a meaning to their learning.

All of us have a mix of all four learning styles in us – the balance of them is our personal ‘learning style’. It changes over time, and it is the role of an educator to stretch the learner to enlarge the learning ‘kite’ – that is the ‘theoretical area of coverage created by plotting the learning styles on a graph’. The larger the area of the kite, the greater the ability to learn in any given situation.

In teaching somebody to fly, all four styles are needed, in large doses. The key ones are Activist and Pragmatist, but without the Reflector and the Theorist styles, success is hampered.

What sort of skills are needed to be learned as part of learning to fly an aircraft?

People management: Yes, the pilot has to be able to communicate with everybody, even if many pilots are found to be lacking that area, it is expected that they make the effort!

Theoretical technical knowledge: There is a lot of technical stuff to learn – the physics of the principles of flight, the mechanics of the machine, hydraulics systems, fluid dynamics (to do with the air-flow), the effects of flight on the human body, Air Law (like the rules of the road, but for the sky!), and more. There is also a lot of ‘theoretical’ that is all about ‘abstract thinking’ – this has to be grasped and fully understood, not just ‘memorised and repeated in parrot fashion’.

Map reading: This is a skill that must not just be mastered but needs to be ‘second nature’. In the cockpit you must be able to look at the pictorial representation of the terrain below and course ahead, and constantly interpret it in a split second – since you are flying at the same time! In an emergency, you have to look at that map and make decisions about deviations and potential emergency landing sites – and still fly the plane. A key skill!

Scanning and reacting skills: You must be able to scan the sky, the visible terrain, and the instruments, constantly. You need to be able to spot an anomaly. Imagine, you look ahead, you see a cloud, you see a shadow on the surface ahead, you see a large brown field, some birds circling in your three o’clock position, and you see that your Vertical Speed Indicator is beginning to twitch… that should be enough for you to estimate the sort of turbulence you may encounter and be ready on the controls to react as appropriate. Then you see a little white dot in the sky, in a constant position, growing, you need to now assess is that a bird or a plane, is there a collision risk… and it all needs to be ‘instant’, it needs to be a second nature – not something you sit and ponder on.

Physical, precision, co-ordinated movements: The very act of controlling an aircraft is about co-ordination of both hands, both feet, eyes, ears and even the nose and skin – feeling the temperature changes, smelling for smoke – aspects often overlooked by those thinking about a pilot’s role! Flying in itself, in calm conditions high above terrain, is not difficult. Most people learn to control the plane in a roughly co-ordinated manner in about one hour (if you doubt me, book a Trial Flight and we will see!). Learning to take off and to get that control to a ‘reasonable amount of precision’ takes about five hours. Learning to get the plane under even more control and to land the aircraft safely, around the twenty hours mark, for most people. Mastering the machine and having it do exactly what you want, to the nearest millimetre, well, we are all still working on that, but most people get something suitable in standard conditions to receive a pilot’s licence at around 40hours, and be in good control in even more challenging conditions at around the 100 hour mark!

Observation and Action: Even before you are within touching distance of an aircraft you must be observing. Observing the sky, considering the meteorological effect on your flight. Observing the way the aircraft sits on the ground – it can often guide you to check out a gear leg or tyre in more detail, or to check the rudder linkages. Then, as you walk around the aircraft, visually inspecting every available sign, you look at the wire-locking, scan for the presence of a ‘smoking rivet’ (a rivet with a little aluminium dust around it that could indicate that it needs changed or the airframe has been stressed), the condition of the surfaces, and of course the condition of the engine(s). The personal familiarity with an aircraft, how it looks, how it should look… the presence of a drip of oil on the surface under the engine area… a trail of smoke stain that was not there before… the tell-tale signs of an inanimate object communicating with the observant pilot. Then, the pilot must take suitable action in the interest of the aircraft and the crew. Tough decisions, not taken lightly, but taken as readily as a pilots takes their next breath – for their future breaths depend on what they have learned, how they have learned it and, above all, how they apply it and the decisions that they make.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail