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Keywords and the Student Pilot

Keywords and the Student Pilot

Previously, I have concentrated upon broader topics written with the aim of getting student pilots to think about preparation for flying beyond merely learning numbers. This time I will start discussing specific teaching sequences and the learning points the instructor is attempting to teach the student.

To begin this series I will however start with a discussion on keywords. Used in the air by your instructor, these simple words, spoken at specific times, are much more than simple commands. Good keywords are designed to get a student to think for themselves, discover errors and correct them, rather than just react to the spoken command of their instructor. So how do they do this?

Take the example of an aircraft turning base. The instructor, noticing speed around base is 10 KIAS high, has a number of choices of how to point this out to the student. He/she could mention conversationally, “Bloggs, look inside and take a look at your airspeed indicator, you are 10 knots fast, how about raising the nose?” Not only does this take too long, wasting precious time allowing the speed to increase further, Bloggs has learnt absolutely nothing about how to identify and correct high airspeed – apart from reacting to the instructor. The instructor could simply state, “Bloggs you are 10 KIAS fast.” Better, but this is still taking too much time and still simply telling the student what is wrong. What a good instructor should say is simply “airspeed.” Short, simple one word statement: a keyword.

How does this benefit Bloggs? Firstly, it doesn’t overload Bloggs by making him or her listen to a sentence in the middle of a base turn when their attention span is likely to be divided between many other competing, higher priority tasks. Secondly, of the examples given, all but the keyword have told Bloggs what to do to fix the problem. It is a much better teaching technique to force the student to figure out for themselves what is wrong with the airspeed, why the speed is fast in the first place and, finally, how to fix it.

So, your instructor half way around base calmly says, “airspeed;” what should you as a student think? Firstly, look at the ASI, read it, remember it and return to your base workcycle. Compare the speed with the required speed and decide how to correct. In this instance, speed is fast, therefore raise the attitude. Rather than simply telling you what to do, your instructor has managed through the use of one word, to get you to decide what was wrong, how to fix it and, finally, to implement that fix. Your next step, once you have finished the circuit and have some time to think, is to ask yourself, “why was the speed fast?” What did you have to do to correct it? You had to raise the attitude: a good indication that the initial base turn attitude you set may have been too low. Resolve on the next circuit to set a higher attitude on base. This is the process of learning.

Keywords are used mainly in time compressed sequences. Keywords in the cruise on a navigation flight are more conversational than in a loop or a stall. In time compressed sequences, when directing a student, keywords are heavily used. For example the keywords I use to direct a student through a loop may be, “pitch…G…head back…horizon…wings level…G…horizon…speed…horizon.” The student follows the directions as I say them. However, while monitoring a student through a loop I may simply point out a gross error that requires attention now. For example; “G” if the student has set 2 G rather than 4. My aim here is to get the student to correct the errors themselves.

Coming up soon, I’ll begin commenting on specific sequences, directing your attention to keywords and techniques in order to extract the most value out of the limited flying time we have.

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