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Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Military Spin: It's All in the Training

Lt. Col. Steve Colby, USAF

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF training time is a difficult task unless you’ve prepared with flight planning, conducted an instructional flight briefing, performed deliberate flight execution, and accomplished a thorough debriefing.

A great training flight starts with lesson planning. Effective training flights must have these elements: a mission objective stated (or written on a white board) that can be as simple as: "Conduct a contact/EP sortie." Supporting that objective are key or desired learning objectives — measurable goals that can be compared to in-flight performance, i.e. "Complete all turning autorotations such that the aircraft is wings level and aligned with the landing area prior to 150 ft agl." The astute instructor has a notebook or fundamentals manual that clearly codifies common student errors. It’s easy to write a learning objective to capture a common student error.

The instructional briefing should include an overview with reference to the objectives. It should continue with a snapshot of the sortie’s step, fly, and land chronology. After the overview, it covers key elements like weather, notices to airmen, performance numbers, training rules, packet review, and fuel planning. The briefing should transition to sequential, in-depth, procedural instruction. Every maneuver should be discussed in the order it will occur to lock in the sequence of events. When the autorotation sequence is presented, for example, it is good to instruct at a detail level that includes termination criteria, which should be simple, black-and-white limits like flare altitude, rotor rpm, or airspeed. Follow-on actions for terminations must be briefed such that they are automatically executed. Meeting a learning objective is also cause for a "terminate." Exceeding the instructor’s comfort level or a training-rule violation may trigger a "knock-it-off." In Air Force lingo, that means we go home because something biblical (near disastrous) happened. After covering all the phases of contact and emergency procedures, the instructor should conclude with a comprehensive review of the objectives and then open up the brief to questions. The student will then walk to the aircraft with a solid expectation of what will happen during the sortie. His in-flight performance will be reinforced by the law of recency.

During the flight, pilots should delineate each event with a start and termination time and annotate them on a kneeboard. This punctuates the event sequence, preventing the proverbial "event blending" that detracts from effective reconstruction. This punctuation creates mentally manageable blocks of information. Capture a few key memory-jogging words and the key start, stop, or termination times. In flight, instructors should draw small diagrams that can help the student reconstruct that event. In-flight instruction should be minimized and focused to support learning objectives. This helps prevent task saturation or student distraction. If saturated, he’s learning very little. In-flight recording devices that capture video, intercom, or flight data (on a GPS unit, for example) help pilots effectively recreate the flight. A few seconds of tape, diagrams, or GPS flight playback saves hours of inaccurate reconstruction from fallible human memory.

Post-flight debrief is the pearl of instruction. The debriefing should be an objective measurement of performance against the plan and analysis of learning-objective failures or deviations. The instructor should start his formal debrief with alibis for equipment failures, ATC procedures, etc. that may have detracted from accomplishment. He then should chronologically review the flight, including ground ops, taxi, and takeoff, and then roll into the sequential event reconstruction. Good instructional debriefs employ a Debrief Focus Point for critical learning points, stated as a question. For instance, "Why did the third turning auto end in a power recovery at 80 ft agl?" Next, the instructor lists all the contributing factors, such as excessive descent rate due to poor trim and rotor control. Then the instructor must make the leap from causal factors to the root causes, which in this case was a slow crosscheck (failure to detect out-of-trim condition and poor rotor control) combined with a failure to sense g-loading during the turn and subsequent failure to listen and react to gearbox whine to prevent rotor rpm climb. These root factors caused the abnormally high rate of descent and failure to meet the "wings level and aligned prior to 150 ft agl" goal. Lastly, the instructor must write down and explain an instructional fix that will assist the student in rectifying his crosscheck and energy management during the auto. Apply this procedure for all of the deficient flight events and you’ll have a very effective instructional session in a "one-g, lighted room" that will remedy errors during the next sortie.

I hope this review of "the method" will afford civilian and military operators a tool to improve or augment your instructional techniques.

The views expressed are the author’s and not an official position of the U.S. Air Force. This article has been approved for release by the USAF Air Warfare Center Public Affairs office.

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