When they lowered the landing gear, one of the green down-and-locked lights didn’t illuminate. Because they were on final approach, many of the crews would not even bother using the checklist, but would do the emergency gear blow-down procedure by memory. They were shocked to see that the green down-and-locked light was still not on. In all their training sessions, when they blew down the gear the light came on. Their brains seemed to freeze in shock as they gradually realized the predicament they were in.
This scenario was based on an actual case in which a crew blew down the gear and then discovered all airports in the vicinity were below minimums. They had to limp along at the maximum gear extended speed for several hundred miles, consuming fuel at a very high rate, before they were able to land at an airport that was above minimums. In the LOFT scenario, the crew would typically declare a missed approach, take stock of the situation and decide to land at Dulles, where the weather was a little better and the runways were a lot longer.
In another LOFT scenario, the crew experienced the failure of the primary inverter, which caused the loss of most of the instruments on the captain’s side of the instrument panel. This time they were not sitting there calmly assessing the situation while they were on position freeze and flight freeze. They were rapidly approaching a fix where their flight plan required a turn. It was fascinating to watch very experienced corporate crews professionally run through the loss of primary inverter checklist as they blithely sailed past the fix without making the turn. When the instructor couldn’t stand it anymore, the crew would get a friendly (and realistic) call from the controller asking where they were going.
Just about anyone can read and accomplish a checklist. In this scenario the instructor was watching to see:
• When the captain lost his primary flight instruments, did he assess whether the copilot’s instruments were functioning properly before exchanging control with the copilot?
• Once the copilot was flying the airplane, did the crew carefully assess the situation, review their clearance and ensure they were navigating properly?
• Did the crew notify the controller of their situation?
• Finally, after aviating, navigating and communicating, how well did the crew accomplish the inverter failure checklist?
While I am enthusiastic about the value of line-oriented flight training, it seems like the pendulum may be swinging too far to the other extreme. The FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) curriculum for technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) trains pilots using scenario-based training rather than maneuver-based training. The purpose is to enhance the development of critical thinking and flight management skills. This in turn should lead to the thinking and judgment skills necessary to prevent the pilot-error accidents that are common, especially in technologically advanced aircraft.
In scenario-based training, maneuvers are contained in scenarios that are similar to the kind of cross-country operation a pilot will be conducting in a technologically advanced aircraft. Each scenario emphasizes the goal of arriving at the destination safely, reinforcing the importance of single-pilot resource management (SRM) through the introduction of “what if” questions by the instructor to provide increased exposure to the need for proper decision-making. This helps to build judgment, preparing the pilot for real-world challenges.
While these are commendable goals, the entire curriculum is so heavily scripted and so focused on real-world operation in a TAA that there is little or no opportunity to develop basic “stick and rudder” skills by going out, having fun and getting a feel for the airplane. This is leading to pilots who never develop the instincts to fly an airplane by the basic sound of the air and the feel of the controls without using the instruments. This lack of a feel for the airplane is likely a factor in the growing number of loss-of-control accidents both in general aviation and in the airline industry.
Once again a balanced approach is necessary. While it is important that pilots learn how to operate the systems in technologically advanced aircraft and develop the judgment to operate safely in the modern air traffic control system, it is also critical that every pilot develop that innate sense of what the airplane is doing, how much energy it has and what the pilot can or can’t accomplish with that energy. Because the giant screens in front of the pilot in a TAA are such an eye magnet, perhaps the curriculum should start out with a few hours of flying something like a Piper Cub, so the pilot can learn that airplanes can fly without computers. Then periodically throughout the curriculum there could be an hour of performing maneuvers and just having fun in the Cub. When the computer gets confused or the screens go blank or the pilot has to do a low-altitude turn looking out the window, that pilot will be prepared to fly the airplane using basic attitude and power settings to stay under control and return safely to the ground.