“Super Solo” and Lifetime Landing Focus!

Accidents during the landing phase of flight represent almost 50% of total airplane wreckage but remarkably less than 5% of pilot time. We obviously have a problem here (and this goes right up to overrun accidents in jets!) Refocusing on how we teach landings and regard solo can help this problem. During initial flight training, we need to embed increased regard for landing well and emphasize the need for excellence – not mere survival. Landing well is a lifelong challenge, not just a hurdle to hop over during training to move onward. As an examiner, I see an amazing number of crappy landings and often wonder, “don’t applicants and CFIs care about this poor performance?” Landing is certainly not a place to be “minimally acceptable!” The landing should be a point of pride that every pilot should continually work to improve. I posted this clip on FaceBook and got lots of input.

Though the landing phase is obviously the most complicated part of most missions, refocusing on solo can help improve all landings. As educators, we need to emphasize that first solo is only the “minimum viable product” and there is a lot of work ahead to achieve checkride level performance and lifelong proficiency. Landing well is an endless process of refining and improving our skills in all kinds of aircraft and conditions: AOPA Safety Spotlight on Landings.

A student who is ready to solo has consistently demonstrated good safe landings (probably not perfect but certainly safe) in varying conditions and on different days. A “lucky day” is certainly not a sign for solo. Additionally, a savvy CFI has already provided all the emergency challenges that *might* occur (loss of airspeed, loss of engine, etc) and the student handled all this well.

The final challenge is the psychological issue of being “all alone” for the first time. If the instructor has been allowing the student to operate independently without micro-managing their flight training this should not be a big problem. A “hands-on CFI” that is constantly on the controls and the radio (bad technique) is going to have a hard time getting out (see “incremental mastery” here).

Knowing When to Solo a Student
(From a CFI seminar in 1971 given by D.A. Henriques)
As instructors, it goes without saying that all of you will be dealing with the issue of deciding when a student is ready to solo, and what to do when this stage of training is reached. There are many methods a CFI can use to determine when the student is ready to go it alone. Let me explain one method to you. This method has never failed me. As you form your own method, it might give you a starting block in understanding the issue.Somewhere during the takeoff and landing stage, using full stops and NOT touch and go’s, I will reach a decision on solo based on a demonstrated consistency and performance level from the student. This is the easy part! As the solo decision is reached, I inform the student in a calm and quiet manner while taxiing back to take off again that in my opinion, solo is now possible WHEN THE STUDENT IS READY, AND TELLS ME SO!!!. This is stage one of the solo process. It informs the student and begins the student’s mental preparation for what is to come next.

Stage two now begins. By informing the student of possible solo, I have effectively changed the student’s thinking process from a dual scenario into a solo scenario so that as the airplane takes the active for the next takeoff, the student is now thinking in that all important solo perspective. I now repeat to the student, “I feel you can fly this airplane. When YOU feel you can fly it, let me know and I’ll get out”. I have always considered this statement critical to the solo equation .Telling the student that the student is ready opens the door for the critical change from dual thinking to solo thinking….and that change is CRITICAL!!

Now stage three. The student is now on the active and ready to take off. In his/her mind I’m not really there. The student, whether or not he/she actually realizes it, is thinking as though I wasn’t there. At this juncture, I make it a point to avoid all physical contact with the airplane; letting the student do everything.If the student has a question, the answer I give is something like ” What do YOU think you should do?” The student should be required to solve and perform with the instructor keeping a watchful eye but not interfering. Any physical interference at all constitutes a solo abort until the problem can be addressed with further dual. I should note here that if such a failure occurs, the CFI has made an initial error in the solo judgment going into the problem and should seriously evaluate his/her own performance!

Assuming no CFI error at this point, as the student applies power to the airplane after being told that solo is his/her choice, his/her entire mental process will now be focused at the solo level. Mentally, the student will now be filling in the gaps in confidence that are a must before a safe solo can be accomplished. Some students will breeze right through this process, but many need this last extra step to firm up what the instructor should already know…that they are ready to fly the airplane without the CFI being there!!! The key here is that although the student is thinking on a solo level, the CFI is still in the airplane.This last time around the pattern will be critical. The instructor should make every effort not to interfere PHYSICALLY at this point. Every effort should be made to allow the student to solve any problem encountered during this last pattern. Verbal prompting should be kept to a minimum, and encouragement should be freely given as the student enters into and solves a problem of altitude/airspeed/ configuration/and position.

Assuming a good landing; on the way back the instructor should ask, “Well, what do you think?” If the answer is positive at this point, (as well it should be ) the student can be soloed.This procedure is what I have used with all the students I have soloed and it has never once failed to produce a successful solo. Every CFI will find their own personal method for making the solo decision. This decision is one of the most important single decisions made by any pilot at any time in aviation. It deserves careful and serious study and a constant self evaluation by a CFI to fine tune the factors that go into the making of this decision.    Dudley Henriques

Share *your* tips here and stay safe as we restart aviation. The AOPA has just come out with an excellent guide to COVID procedures.

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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.

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