Chapter 8. Techniques of Flight Instruction


Incident/accident statistics indicate a need to place additional emphasis on the exchange of control of an aircraft by pilots. Numerous accidents have occurred due to a lack of communication or misunderstanding regarding who had actual control of the aircraft, particularly between students and flight instructors. Establishing the following procedure during initial training will ensure the formation of a habit pattern that should stay with students throughout their flying careers.


During flight training, there must always be a clear understanding between students and flight instructors about who has control of the aircraft. The preflight briefing should include procedures for the exchange of flight controls. A positive three-step process in the exchange of flight controls between pilots is a proven procedure and one that is strongly recommended. When an instructor is teaching a maneuver to a student, the instructor normally demonstrates the maneuver first, then has the student follow along on the controls during a demonstration and, finally, the student performs the maneuver with the instructor following along on the controls. [Figure 8-6]

Flight instructors should always guard the controls and be prepared to take control of the aircraft. When necessary, the instructor should take the controls and calmly announce, “I have the flight controls.” If an instructor allows a student to remain on the controls, the instructor may not have full and effective control of the aircraft. Anxious students can be

incredibly strong and usually exhibit reactions inappropriate to the situation. If a recovery is necessary, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by having the student on the controls and having to fight for control of the aircraft. students should never be allowed to exceed the flight instructor’s limits. Flight instructors should not exceed their own ability to perceive a problem, decide upon a course of action, and physically react within their ability to fly the aircraft.

Sterile Cockpit Rule

Commonly known as the “sterile cockpit rule,” Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 121.542 requires flight crewmembers to refrain from nonessential activities during critical phases of flight. As defined in the regulation, critical phases of flight are all ground operations involving taxi, takeoff, and landing, and all other flight operations below 10,000 feet except cruise flight. Nonessential activities include such activities as eating, reading a newspaper, or chatting. A series of aircraft accidents caused by flight crews who were distracted from their flight duties during critical phases of the flight caused the FAA to propose the rule. While the regulation grew out of accidents in the airline industry, it holds true for the entire aviation community. Pilots can improve flight safety significantly by reducing distractions during critical phases of flight. It is important the flight instructor not only teach the concept of a sterile cockpit, but also model such behavior during flight instruction.

Use of Distractions

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics reveal that most stall/spin accidents occurred when the pilot’s attention was diverted from the primary task of flying the aircraft. Sixty percent of stall/spin accidents occurred during takeoff and landing, and twenty percent were preceded by engine failure. Preoccupation inside or outside the flight deck while changing aircraft configuration or trim, maneuvering to avoid other traffic, or clearing hazardous obstacles during takeoff and climb could create a potential stall/spin situation. The intentional practice of stalls and spins seldom resulted in an accident. The real danger was inadvertent stalls induced by distractions during routine flight situations.

Pilots at all skill levels should be aware of the increased risk of entering into an inadvertent stall or spin while performing tasks that are secondary to controlling the aircraft. The FAA has established a policy for use of certain distractions on practical tests for pilot certification. The purpose is to determine that applicants possess the skills required to cope with distractions while maintaining the degree of aircraft control required for safe flight. The most effective training is the simulation of scenarios that can lead to inadvertent stalls by creating distractions while the student is practicing certain maneuvers.

Instructor responsibilities include teaching the student to divide his or her attention between the distracting task and maintaining control of the aircraft. The following are examples of distractions that can be used for this training:

  • Drop a pencil. Ask the student to pick it up.
  • Ask the student to determine a heading to an airport using a chart.
  • Ask the student to reset the clock.
  • Ask the student to get something from the back seat.
  • Ask the student to read the outside air temperature.
  • Ask the student to call the Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) for weather information.
  • Ask the student to compute true airspeed with a flight computer.
  • Ask the student to identify terrain or objects on the ground.
  • Ask the student to sdentify a field suitable for a forced landing.
  • Have the student climb 200 feet and maintain altitude, then descend 200 feet and maintain altitude.
  • Have the student reverse course after a series of S-turns.

It is a flight instructor’s responsibility to teach the student how to take charge during a flight. A pilot in command (PIC) must know when to tell any passengers, even a DPE, when the PIC finds actions in the aircraft that distract and interfere with the safe conduct of the flight.

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