ID #1106

Conducting Introductory Flights by Ralph Butcher

Use the priciple of primacy when introducing individuals to general aviation.

Insights  :  Ralph Butcher


Introductory Flights


Use the principle of primacy


"Be a pilot. Stop dreaming. Start flying." You undoubtedly know about this successful program--sponsored by AOPA and other aviation entities--which was developed to promote flying with a $49 (now $59) introductory flight at participating flight schools.


As an active participant, I was surprised when someone from the program called to complain because "we do stalls" during these flights. That call reminded me of what I frequently see in today's media: Something is taken out of context and reported, which generates an erroneous assumption by the reader or viewer.


Years ago, I realized the benefit of an introductory flight for people who were contemplating flying--and for people who just walked in the door and signed up for lessons. Consequently, I made that flight the first lesson in my private pilot flight training syllabus in order to take full advantage of the principle of primacy, which the FAA Aviation Instructor's Handbook, FAA H-8083-9, defines as "The state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable, impression."


Most people when introduced to flying have three deep-seated beliefs: The flight instruments are critical--you can't be without them. Stalling an airplane is extremely dangerous. Engine failure will result in a crash.


The erroneous thinking regarding flight instruments is understandable. During my years of airline flying, the first comment that nonpilots would make when they visited the cockpit was, "Wow, look at all those instruments!" That made an everlasting impression on what, in their opinion, it took to fly an airplane.


For the introductory flight, I start applying the principle of primacy as we walk out to the airplane. At some point I stop and tell the person that this is when a pilot evaluates airport wind conditions and traffic flow. Wind direction and velocity is a critical concern to all pilots at all times.


At the airplane, I explain the importance of the preflight inspection, and as I perform that task, I explain how the flight controls and the wing work: The wing pushes the air down and because of the wing's shape, the air pressure above the wing is reduced. Short and sweet. They'll learn the technical reasons at the proper time.


In the cockpit, I explain why pilots use checklists. Humans make mistakes, and aviation safety mandates that we back up our actions with written checklists at specific times.


I then cover up the six flight instruments with one half of a manila file folder and explain that the instruments are not needed to fly the airplane safely, providing the pilot has a full understanding of airplane attitude--which I define--and engine power relationships, knowledge that's easy to acquire with proper instruction. I keep the instruments covered for the entire flight, which makes it much easier for an instructor to keep the student's eyes outside the cockpit during subsequent lessons should they occur.


After engine start and when on the taxiway, I have the individual taxi the airplane. I explain that when turning the airplane on the ground the control yoke is not rotated, as they would turn the steering wheel in a car, and that the relative position of both rudder pedals is opposite to that of a bicycle's handlebar.


After takeoff, I fly toward our scenic coastline, point out familiar landmarks, and let the person experiment with the flight controls and fly for a few minutes; I then ask him to stay on the controls while I perform an imminent stall. This is a gentle, power-off, flaps-up approach to a stall with a power-off recovery. When the initial buffeting occurs, I explain what's happening and have him push the nose down and observe that the buffeting stopped. Stall recovery is quite simple, and with proper use of the flight controls and the throttle, there is no way that the airplane will do something that he can't control.


While still at idle power, I trim for the glide and again have him fly the airplane. I explain that if the engine had quit--something that's highly unlikely--the airplane would remain fully controllable and fly exactly as it's now doing. He will be taught proper flight planning and how to pick out suitable forced-landing areas so that he can always land the airplane safely. We then return to the airport and conclude the flight.


No one has ever walked away from one of these flights without extreme enthusiasm. Little do they know that I have dispelled many myths and created a few insights that will make it much easier for an instructor to teach them how to fly.

Ralph Butcher, a retired United Airlines captain, is the chief flight instructor at a California flight school. He has been flying since 1959 and has 25,000 hours in fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.



"Insights - Introductory Flights" by Ralph Butcher

AOPA's Flight Training magazine

May 2006, page 66


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