At what point should an autopilot be introduced into flight training?
Martha King has helped make aviation knowledge more accessible to pilots worldwide by combining elegant technology with clear, fun teaching. Martha holds every category and class of FAA rating on her pilot certificate, and every flight and ground instructor certificate. Her company, King Schools, also provides the curricula for more than 275 Cessna Pilot Centers. She says:
One of the magnificent things about today’s flying environment is the wonderful advancement in technology that not only offers the opportunity to make flying more fun and stress-free, but also provides new resources that a pilot can use to manage the inherent risks of flight. Central to being able to take full advantage of this technology is the autopilot. It frees the pilot from the routine task of flying the airplane and allows the pilot to properly use other cockpit technology to better maintain situational awareness.
There is a concern among many training providers that if pilots are taught to use the autopilot, their physical skills will not be properly developed or, after time, will deteriorate.
All pilots certainly must develop their physical skills to the point where airplane control no longer requires conscious attention, but can take place in the background, while their conscious attention is devoted elsewhere. Once that point is reached, the next step is to ensure that pilots know how to take full advantage of the autopilot so that its use becomes automatic as well. This would usually take place about the time the pilots are starting cross-country training. While we want to ensure that pilots have command of such basics as pilotage and dead reckoning in case of technology failure, we also want to ensure that the pilots are able to use all the resources available to them.
We have the opportunity and the obligation to do a far better job of creating safe, capable pilots who are able to get full utility out of their airplanes. In order to make this happen, and greatly improve our accident rate, we have to move beyond what has been historically thought of as “the basics” and help pilots learn to take full advantage of the risk management tools available to them, such as the autopilot.
Matthew Golden was the 2007 Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He holds airplane land and sea ratings, flight and ground instructor certificates, a type rating for the CRJ-700, an aircraft dispatcher certificate and a graduate certificate in instructional system design. For nearly a decade, he has served as a flight instructor, check instructor and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. He says:
General aviation has come a long way from the days of round-dial gauges. Nowadays, most new training aircraft offer a glass cockpit with autopilot. Today’s autopilots do a lot more than simply hold the wings level; they can fly an entire flight from departure to approach.