Friday, July 11, 2008

Single Seat Instruction

That title is an oxymoron: who is your student in this single seat aircraft? Yourself, of course!

One of the ironies of teaching is that it is impossible to do directly. A teacher can organize important facts and present them coherently, but that's rote, the lowest level of learning. The real craft of teaching is arranging a series of experiences through which the student comes to understand. "Learning is a change in behavior due to experience," according to the FAA. This is one thing that they got right. In other words, you have to lead the student to a place from which he or she can learn.

The FAA likes the Socratic Method, where the student is led to understanding by a series of questions. (They seem ignorant of the idea that Socrates probably had Asperger's Syndrome.)

So how do you teach yourself? It's pushing a rope, because you don't really know the destination (if you did, then you wouldn't need to be taught). The best you can do is arrange a series of experiences, kind of like experiments, and then contemplate the results. In some areas, reading or calculating might be enough, but in flying there's the John Dewey tension between action and contemplation: neither suffices.

You also need to avoid experiments that will kill you. That's why a pilot certificate is a "license to learn:" you know to avoid a lot of danger.

Right now, I am teaching myself to fly a my single-seat glider; see my previous post. Thanks to Brad and Larry, I managed another flight yesterday. Listen in on the debrief...

Salviati: How was your flight?

Simplicio: Fun.

Salvi. Fun? Did you improve?

Simp. Yes. My coordination was much better. I remembered to let off on the rudder after rolling into or out of a bank. The yaw string spent much more time in the center.

Salvi. Excellent! What else?

Simp. I still have not mastered seeing my pitch attitude in a turn. This is difficult near the mountains, but I should do better.

Salvi. How do you know that you haven't mastered this skill?

Simp. I got some stall burbles while thermalling.

Salvi. [Oooff!] You must learn from this. What else have you learned?

Simp. This is an old lesson. I was fumbling around looking for a place to write down my takeoff time and release height, and I lost a lot of altitude.

Salvi. Yes, you must focus on the task at hand. That is like losing fuel through some silly error like forgetting a fuel cap.

Simp. There is one more thing. There is interference between the radio and the variometer. A few seconds after beginning to transmit, the vario indicates 1000 feet per minute in climb. At first I chased these false climbs, but I learned not to. [I think that the draw from the transmitter reduces the battery voltage below the reference voltage for the vario.]

Salvi. Well done. What about your landing?

Simp. [blushes] The glider came to a stop at exactly the point that I had told Brad before the flight.

Salvi. Excellent! How did you achieve this mastery?

Simp. I remembered that the dive brakes are very powerful, so flew the pattern with less drag. Then I added drag when I decided to touch down. I did not get so nose low during the rollout, so lost less energy.

Salvi. And the touchdown?

Simp. [blushes] Main and tailwheel touched at the same time, and there was no bounce. There was a little weathervaning from the crosswind, but I fixed that. I did not get so nose low during the rollout, so lost less energy.

Salvi. Excellent! What else?

Simp. I had a low-altitude save. Not scary low, but 200 feet above pattern altitude. I would not have tried this in the Blanik, but I felt that this ship could safely try a circle in lift that low. I gained 4000 feet from there.

Salvi. Excellent! There may be hope for you yet.

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