I remember in grade school I would be sitting in class shaking like a leaf because I knew the teacher was about to collect our homework and I hadn’t completed mine.  Sometimes it was because I forgot, but more often than not, I just chose not to do it.  Typically, this was because the subject didn’t interest me and I didn’t appreciate its importance.  In actuality, I guess I was just a typical adolescent.

As a flight instructor I am now on the opposite side of the fence. I am the teacher and my flight customers are my students.  I am the one handing out homework, and I have to be honest, when a student doesn’t complete an assignment it is puzzling and confusing.  This training is an endeavor they chose, it’s one they have obvious interest in, and they are clearly no longer a rebellious whipper-snapper.  Further, the importance of the information cannot be denied and this is training they are directly paying for.

The reason for this article is an effort to assist students in understanding the importance of completing and comprehending the study materials we assign before a flight lesson.

As you probably have discovered, each lesson has a learning objective and an aviation skill to hone. Typically, we ask that you read a related chapter in a textbook or watch a relevant video, plan a cross country, or complete a navigation log prior to a flight.  The efficacy of the flight exercise we are about to engage in would be significantly hobbled if you did not prepare in advance.  Moreover, each flight lesson is a building block which supports each subsequent lesson to come.  Without proper study, the house we are attempting to build is being forged on a very weak foundation.

When an aircraft is scheduled, it is usually for only 2 hours or so and let’s break down a typical encounter:

  • After the usual pleasantries and small talk 10 to 15 minutes pass. The instructor knows that there will be significant time spent walking out to the plane, performing a pre-flight, calling for fuel, adding oil, completing checklists, starting-up, warming-up, running-up, taxiing and flying to the practice area…so he or she looks at their watch, closes their eyes and inquires with trepidation…
  • “…ok, so, did you read the chapter I assigned which covered Sectional Charts and Emergencies?”
  • The student is caught off guard by the question begins a sheepish apology of, “Ah, yea…I ah…well… sort of…I mean I ah.… you know…might of missed a little…or some…you know…basically all of it.”

It is now clear the quality of the lesson is compromised. The instructor won’t reprimand the student, send them to the principal’s office or demand penance, but trust me, the sentence is close at hand!  Now, instead of just a 5 or 10 minute synopsis of the lesson plan, the instructor must give a 90 minute lecture compressed into a hasty 30 or 40 minute oration of the subject matter.

This student arrived at the airport with the excitement of flight, but unfortunately they just deprived themselves of precious air time. They are now ground-bound, forced into self-inflicted atonement for the sins of educational neglect. They are forced to sit in a windowless classroom and listen to a middle-aged man droning on about some topic on a beautiful Saturday morning…one with the Sun bright, the sky blue, the winds calm and an aircraft beckoning from its tie-down.   For pity’s sake, I beg you to avoid putting yourself in this position!

There is so much more to becoming a pilot than stick and rudder skills. You are going to need extensive knowledge of aerodynamics, the weather, aircraft systems, cross-country planning, ATC communications, aeronautical charts, the POH, and the list goes on.  It is for pity’s sake that I implore you to study your assigned material before for the scheduled flight.  Escape the mindset that it is only your job to show up, sit inertly at a desk while an instructor pours knowledge into your head. This attitude is deeply flawed, because becoming a safe and knowledgeable aviator is not a passive activity…it is an active process; you and only you must take charge, take the initiative and take command of your   learning.

After solo, the instructor’s role transitions from teacher, to evaluator, to passenger, to peer. Therefore, take ownership of each flight!

In closing, your instructor will always be there as your mentor, your guide and your most dedicated supporter, but understand it remains your responsibility and it benefits you to complete required assignments, to comprehend the material, to show up prepared, and to ask relevant questions.

Gene Wentzel, ATP, CFII

Aviation HOMEWORK!
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