Work Cycles and the Student Pilot
“Select the attitude; hold it, now trim out the force. Don’t look at the performance instruments yet, but allow the aircraft to settle.”
Words, I am sure, are familiar to instructors watching a student pilot intercept an ILS glide path, their eyes firmly glued to the VSI or the altimeter. There is so much to look at in an aircraft cockpit that often students are overwhelmed with information, information that must be sorted into a priority and processed, in order to achieve a desired outcome: be it intercepting an ILS or simply flying straight and level.
To effectively process this information, pilots have evolved into methodical creatures, using workcycles to focus attention upon what is important at the time. In this issue, I aim to introduce a number of workcycles taught by military instructors. Hopefully, this will allow all student pilots to reflect upon how they structure their thinking and techniques in the cockpit. If valid workcycles are used early in their flying careers, students may find they are building the foundations for solid technique which can grow from their first aircraft type and be adapted to even the cockpit of an airliner.
What is meant by ‘workcycle’? A workcycle is a repeated framework of actions that direct the pilot either where to look, what action to take or technique to use. For example, the workcycle of, ‘Attitude, Lookout, Attitude, Performance’ (ALAP) is the building block workcycle for visual flying. It tells the student pilot to look at the attitude indicator, then lookout, then the attitude indicator and finally a performance instrument. The cycle is then repeated. What does this do? It breaks the basic task of flying the aeroplane into steps which, when done initially slowly and methodically, allow the student to concentrate upon one thing at a time.
‘Attitude’ means looking out the front, visually checking the attitude of the aircraft is correct. If it is not, correcting then and there through ‘Select, Hold, Trim’ (SHT). ‘Performance’ means looking at a performance instrument to confirm your attitude and power settings are giving the required performance. If, for example, the VSI shows a rate of descent when level is required, the pilot returns to ‘Attitude’, looks out the front and adjusts through SHT. In this case, raising the attitude to a known point (either visually or on the attitude indicator if instrument flying) to halt the descent and returning the aircraft to level. Finally ‘lookout’ is broken into ‘Left, Front, Above, and Right’: a pattern repeated each time. The lookout workcycle is used slowly and methodically at first and, once the student gets used to both the rhythm, the head movements and linked with verbalising the actions, it becomes second nature.
What can be adapted to a workcycle? The following summarises three of the most basic workcycles. The list is not exhaustive, and for the student pilots reading this, if you want to begin to incorporate these into your flying, your instructor will be able to assist and ensure they are used both at the correct time and in the correct manner.
ALAP: Attitude, Lookout, Attitude, Performance
As described above the basic building block for flying and adapted to instrument flying through the removal of Lookout.
SHT: Select, Hold, Trim
Arguably the second most important workcycle: a new attitude is selected (while looking out the front or at the attitude indicator), the forces are held, and then trimmed out. This prevents performance flying by ensuring the pilot is looking at the attitude when it is adjusted and ensures correct trimming techniques.
SRS: Selective Radial Scan
Although not a ‘workcycle’ as such, this is the basic building block for visual flying and importantly, instrument flying.
Finally, in summary, workcycles are used in nearly all flying evolutions. Recognise that the most basic tasks you do in the cockpit can be improved through effective workcycles. For your own flying (with your instructor), dissect how each manoeuvre is done in the air into a series of steps, implement the new workcycle to modify your technique and watch your flying improve. While it may seem cumbersome at first, remember, the more these are repeated and re-enforced, the more natural they become
Workcycles bring the pilot back to the immediate task at hand. They ensure a methodical and systematic technique is used in the cockpit. For the young student pilot just beginning to learn to fly, realise that they will become ingrained and second nature the more you do them.