Assessment of Piloting Ability

Assessment is an essential component of the teaching process and determines how, what, and how well a learner is learning. A well-designed assessment provides a learner with something constructive upon which he or she can work or build. An assessment should provide direction and guidance to raise the level of performance. Learners must understand the purpose of the assessment; otherwise, they will be unlikely to accept the evaluation offered and little improvement will result. There are many types of assessment but the flight instructor generally uses the review, collaborative assessment (LCG), written tests, and performance-based tests to ascertain knowledge or practical skill levels. Refer to Assessment for an in-depth discussion of the types of assessment available to the flight instructor.

An assessment can also be used as a tool for reteaching. Although not all assessments lend themselves to reteaching, the instructor should be alert to the possibility and take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. If the instructor observes a deficiency and determines a task needs reteaching, the instructor demonstrates the maneuver, allows the learner to practice the maneuver under direction, and finally evaluates learner accomplishment by observing the performance.

Demonstrated Ability

Assessment of demonstrated ability during flight instruction must be based upon established standards of performance, suitably modified to apply to the learner’s experience and stage of development as a pilot. The assessment must consider the learner’s mastery of the elements involved in the maneuver, rather than merely the overall performance.

In order for a learner to be signed off for a solo flight, the instructor needs to determine that the learner is qualified and proficient in the flight tasks necessary for the flight. The instructor bases this assessment on the learner’s ability to demonstrate consistent proficiency on a number of flight maneuvers. Pilot skill evaluations occur during the conduct of courses at FAA-approved schools, and teaching instructors should verify that learners meet the proficiency requirements prior to sending them for any stage check.

Postflight Evaluation

In assessing piloting ability, it is important for the flight instructor to keep the learner informed of progress. This may be done as each procedure or maneuver is completed or summarized during postflight critiques. Postflight critiques should be in a written format, such as notes to aid the flight instructor in covering all areas that were noticed during the flight or lesson. Traditionally, flight instructors explained errors in performance, pointed out elements in which the deficiencies were believed to have originated and, if possible, suggested appropriate corrective measures. Traditional assessment depends on a grading scale of “excellent, good, fair, poor” or “exceeds standards, meets standards, needs more training” which often meets the instructor’s needs but not the needs of the learner.

With the advent of SBT, collaborative assessment is used whenever the learner has completed a scenario. As discussed in The Teaching Process, and Assessment, SBT uses a highly structured script of real-world experiences to address aviation training objectives in an operational environment. During the postflight evaluation, collaborative assessment is used to evaluate whether certain learning criteria were met during the SBT.

Collaborative assessment includes learner self-assessment and a detailed assessment by the aviation instructor. The purpose of the self-assessment is to stimulate growth in the learner’s thought processes and, in turn, behaviors. The self-assessment is followed by an in-depth discussion between the instructor and the learner which compares the instructor’s assessment to the learner’s self-assessment.

First Solo Flight

During the learner’s first solo flight, the instructor needs to be present to assist in answering questions or resolving any issues that arise during the flight. To ensure the solo flight is a positive, confidence-building experience for the learner, the flight instructor needs to consider time of day when scheduling the flight. Time of day is a factor in traffic congestion, possible winds, sun angles, and reflection.

If possible, the flight instructor needs access to a portable radio during any supervised solo operations. A radio enables the instructor to terminate the solo operation if he or she observes a situation developing. The flight instructor needs should use good judgment when communicating with a solo learner. Keep all radio communications to a minimum. Do not talk to the learner on short final of the landing approach.

Post-Solo Debriefing

During a post-solo debriefing, the flight instructor discusses what took place during the learner’s solo flight. It is important for the flight instructor to answer any questions the learner may have as result of a solo flight. Instructors need to be involved in all aspects of the flight to ensure the learner utilizes correct flight procedures. It is very important for the flight instructor to debrief a learner immediately after a solo flight. With the flight vividly etched in the learner’s memory, questions about the flight will come quickly.

Correction of Learner Errors

Correction of learner errors does not include the practice of taking over from learners immediately when a mistake is made. Safety permitting, it is frequently better to let learners progress part of the way into the mistake and find a way out. For example, in a weight-shift control aircraft the bar is moved right to turn left. A learner may show an initial tendency to move the bar in the direction of the desired turn. This tendency dissipates with time, but allowing the learner to see the effect of his or her control input is a valuable aid in illustrating the stability of the aircraft. It is difficult for learners to learn a maneuver properly if they seldom have the opportunity to correct an error.

On the other hand, learners may perform a procedure or maneuver correctly and not fully understand the principles and objectives involved. When the instructor suspects this, learners should be required to vary the performance of the maneuver slightly, combine it with other operations, or apply the same elements to the performance of other maneuvers. Learners who do not understand the principles involved will probably not be able to do this successfully.

Pilot Supervision

Flight instructors have the responsibility to provide guidance and restraint with respect to the solo operations of their learners. This is by far the most important flight instructor responsibility. The flight instructor is the only person in a position to make the determination a learner is ready for solo operations. Before endorsing a learner for solo flight, the instructor should require the learner to demonstrate consistent ability to perform all of the fundamental maneuvers.

Dealing with Normal Challenges

Instructors should teach learners how to solve ordinary problems encountered during flight. Traffic pattern congestion, change in active runway, or unexpected crosswinds are challenges the learner masters individually before being able to perform them collectively.

Visualization

SBT lends itself well to visualization techniques. For example, have a learner visualize how the flight may occur under normal circumstances, with the learner describing the progress of the flight. Then, the instructor adds unforeseen circumstances such as a sudden change in weather that brings excessive winds during final approach. Other examples of SBT can have the instructor adding undesired landing sites for balloon learner pilots, rope breaks for glider learners, and radio outages for instrument airplane learners. Now, the learner gets to visualize how to handle the unexpected change.

During this visualization, the flight instructor can ask questions to check the learner’s thought processes. The job of the instructor is to challenge the learner with realistic flying situations without creating an overburdening unrealistic scenarios.

Practice Landings

Aircraft speed and control take precedence over other actions during landings and takeoffs. Full stop landings help the learner develop aircraft control, allow for careful checklist use, and allow time for detailed instruction.

Instructors should stress touching down in the first third of the runway to ensure stopping before the end of the runway. This means teaching learners to go-around if they do not touch down within that distance. Instructors should also stress the need for a go-around if the landing develops an oscillation or results in a significant bounce. These techniques equip a learner for safe solo. Furthermore, requiring the learner to make full stop landings during the first solo gives the instructor the opportunity to stop the flight if necessary.

When instructing in a glider (other than a motor glider), a go-around will not be possible. Instructors should teach learners to make low energy landings based on current weather and wind conditions. This technique prepares learners to make an off-field landing if or when necessary.

Practical Test Recommendations

Provision is made on the airman certificate or rating application form for the written recommendation of the flight instructor who has prepared the applicant for the practical test involved. Signing this recommendation imposes a serious responsibility on the flight instructor. A flight instructor who makes a practical test recommendation for an applicant seeking a certificate or rating should require the applicant to thoroughly demonstrate the knowledge and skill level required for that certificate or rating. This demonstration should in no instance be less than the complete procedure prescribed in the applicable ACS/PTS.

When the instructor endorses the applicant for the practical test, his or her signature on the FAA Form 8710-1, Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application, is valid for 60 days. This is also true with the flight proficiency endorsement that is placed in the applicant’s logbook or training record (Advisory Circular (AC) 61-65). These two dates should be the same.

Instructors need to document completion of prerequisites for a practical test. Examples of all common endorsements can be found in the current issue of AC 61-65, Appendix A. The appendix in the AC also includes references to 14 CFR part 61 for more details concerning the respective endorsements. The examples shown contain the essential elements of each endorsement. It is not necessary for all endorsements to be worded exactly as those in the AC. For example, changes to regulatory requirements may affect the wording, or the instructor may customize the endorsement to accommodate any special circumstances concerning the applicant. However, at a minimum, the instructor needs to cite the appropriate 14 CFR part 61 section that has been completed.

FAA inspectors and DPEs rely on flight instructor recommendations as evidence of qualification for certification, and proof that a review has been given of the subject areas found to be deficient on the appropriate knowledge test. Recommendations also provide assurance that the applicant has had a thorough briefing on the ACS/PTS and the associated knowledge areas, maneuvers, and procedures. If the flight instructor has trained and prepared the applicant competently, the applicant should have no problem passing the practical test.

If a flight instructor fails to ensure a learner pilot or additional rating pilot meets the requirements of regulations prior to making endorsements to allow solo flight or additional rating, that instructor is exhibiting a serious deficiency in performance. The FAA may hold that instructor accountable. Providing a solo endorsement for a learner pilot who is not proficient for solo flight operations, or providing an endorsement for an additional rating for a pilot not meeting the appropriate regulatory requirements also represents a breach of faith with the learner or applicant.

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