Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Basic Skills in the Automation Age

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, January, 2007
CFIDarren Newsletter, May 22, 2012

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I recently flew with a pilot who was trying to finish his instrument rating.  His instructor had gotten another job in another city.  The student was left hanging with incomplete training.  "Can you finish me up?"  He had all of his requirements met and felt that he was skilled enough to do the minimum training required to get a signoff (3 hours within the preceding 90 days).

I did a diagnostic flight and found his basic hand flying skills adequate.  He owned a brand new Cirrus so he would have to demonstrate full use of the automation as well as all its failure modes for his checkride.  This included hand-flown approaches without the computer showing him the way.  I found the student's skills with all the automation adequate for a checkride.  It was clear he could probably squeak by in a Cirrus but put him in a basic Cessna with a 6 pack of steam gauge instruments and he would surely fail. 

Here's the bad news: there was no way he was ready for a checkride.  The PTS surely dictates that the applicant using a technically advanced aircraft will need to demonstrate all the fancy features but not at the expense of basic skills.  Its a trend I'm finding with students who come to me with Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA).  Your instrument rating PTS will still require you to:
  • Be able to manually tune in a navaid and identify it by morse code.
  • Perform instrument cockpit checks on airspeed, attitude, heading, altimeter, turn coordinator, slip/skid ball, VSI, and compass.
  • Perform any approach with and without the use of an autopilot if installed.
  • Perform any approach with and without the use of graphical GPS display.
  • Perform ILS, LOC, and VOR approaches without automation of any kind.
  • Perform a GPS approach and identify RNP modes, RAIM availability, and properly identify correct minima.
Whatever your method of training... whether it be DVD-based or a class taken at the local airport, you'll need to meet the standards of the PTS.  You'll never be able to use the excuse that your instructor didn't teach that to you because you're fully aware of the PTS for your rating.  As the informed consumer, you drive the process of your training. And as such, you are responsible for obtaining the proper resources to help you meet those standards. 

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