The Big Picture of Lesson Plans

Getting your Mental Map

It is really important to get an accurate mental picture of how the lesson plans are organized.  As you learn about the details and intricacies of how they are written, it can get pretty confusing, pretty fast.  We are not talking here about the content of individual lesson plans, but instead how they are structured overall, and how they relate to the various phases of private pilot training.

Below is a useful graphic of how the lesson plans are divided into various sections.  The titles of these sections are not formally used in the Flight Instructor Guide, but they nevertheless useful in visualizing how the lesson plans progress from initial training, right until the student’s flight test:

Flight Instructor Rating Lesson Plan Organization, Langley Flying School

Initial Segment

The initial training segment extends from Lesson Plan 2 through Lesson Plan 7, and this segment essentially prepares the student using progressive training from attitudes and movements, then basic maneuvers, and finally upper air maneuvers.  It is useful to think of basic maneuvers as the group of four—straight and level flight, climbs, descents, and turns, while upper air maneuvers include slow flight, stalls, spins, and spirals.  The exercise of slipping is somewhat awkward to fit into these two grouping, as it really relates to circuit training, which is the focus of the subsequent segment, but nevertheless, slipping is traditionally taught to the student after spiral dive recovery is completed.

The initial training segment requires the most organization by the flight instructor, especially with the early lesson plans of this segment.  This relates to the fact that many exercises taught to student later on in their training can be taught to students simply as drills, where—quite simply—the instructor demonstrates the drill, and the student practices the drill—a straightforward “I do” “you do” pattern of training that is referred to as the demonstration-performance method (the backbone of pilot training).  In the early exercises which appear in the iintial training segment, however, the drills have to essentially be created by the flight instructor out of such comparatively simple tasks, for example, as using pitch movement to generate the cruise attitude, the nose up attitude and the nose-down attitude.  Essentially, flight instructors have to “make a lot about nothing”—while seemingly “nothing” if you’re an experience pilot.  You will be pressed, therefore, in this initial segment to create air cards (air instruction plans of action) that provide meaningful and effective demonstration and practice of what might now appear as the mundane elements of flying.  This is, of course, one of the great challenges that make flight instruction interesting.

The initial segment is also where all we developmental exercises appear.  That is to say, such exercises (maneuvers) as climbing or descending are not simply taught in their entirety to the student in one lesson, progressing, for example from very simple forms of climbs and descents requiring simple attitude control, for example, on the one hand, to advance forms of climbing and descending requiring, by contrast, the use of flap variations and finite speed targets in the pursuit of maximum performance climbing or descending.  Instead, these variations in climbing and descending—which generally progress from simple variations initially, to more complex variations later on—are spread out over a series of training flights—that is to say, they are “developed” over a series of flight.  It is the great challenge for instructor students to learn the progression from simple to complex variations in this basis exercises, which are divided among a series of specified lesson plans.

Circuit Training Segment

The second segment, referred to as circuit training, is where the solo lesson plans first appear.  The first solo flight occurs in Lesson Plan 11, of course, and after this point every second lesson plan is of course a student’s solo flight—conveniently, they appear as the odd lesson numbers, for example, 11, 13, 15, etc., while the dual lesson plans remain even numbers, for example 12, 14, 16, etc.  Essentially, in most cases, what is taught in the dual flight is practiced in the subsequent solo flight.

The second segment, however, is somewhat misleading.  First reading of the sequence in Lesson Plans 8 through 19 might suggest that you simply start at the beginning, Lesson Plan 8, and eventually progress to advanced landing and takeoff training, such as appears, for example, with the advanced crosswind training specified in Lesson Plan 18.  This is not the case; in fact it would be extremely hazardous to teach advanced landings and takeoffs—including crosswind training significant winds—to a student who is just learn to land solo.  As a rule, advanced landings and takeoffs training is deferred—in the case of Langley Flying School, students, for example, until after the student has started pre-navigation.  So as a rule, flight instructors return to the circuit training sequence later on in the training, as required.

Review and Advanced Upper Air Segment

The next segment is called the review in advance upper air segment, and this begins when a student has returned to the practice area after completing their first solo flight, and their subsequent solo circuit training practice—in the cased of Langley Flying School, for example, students are not permitted to continue the review and advanced upper air until they have completed a prescribed 3 hours of solo circuit practice.

Generally speaking, the review and advance upper air segment prepares the students progressively to practice the various maneuvers that will be required on the flight test.  The emphasis here is on solo practice, but care and attention must be exercised to ensure that students are not permitted to practice solo maneuvers until individual maneuvers have been reviewed and cleared post solo by their flight instructor—it may have been many hours, for example, since the student has flown stall recovery, or slow flight just above the stall, and this has to be rechecked.

This segment also includes the introduction of students to new variations on advanced upper air maneuvers, including the advanced stalls and spins prescribed in Lesson Plan 22—stalls from critical flight situations and spins from practical causes.  This segment also includes full forced approaches—the expression full forced approaches is used here because students will have already learned how to deal with power loss scenarios during circuit training, but the emphasis here is checklist completion and getting to a landing area safety.

Pre-navigation Segment

The pre-navigation segment includes precautionary landings and illusions created by drift.  The precautionary landing skill is of course something that you want your student to have before they venture off on cross-country flights away from their home airport.

Navigation Segment

The navigation segment includes diversion training as well as formal flight planning for cross-country flights, and the associated skills of determining groundspeed, predicting arrival times at destination airports, and drift correction.

Flight Test Preparation Segment

The final section is the flight test preparation phase.  Here, the tone of instruction changes whereby the flight instructor puts on an examiners hat in helping the student prepare for the flight test.  Typically, the flight instructor will do a mock flight test so as to produce a short list of exercises that require working up.  Some exercises can only be practiced with a flight instructor on board, so that dual practice flights would subsequently occur focusing on remedial training; in contrast, some exercises can be practice by the student on solo flights.  When everything is brought up to standard, a second mock flight test is conducted, and again a second short list of workup exercises is produced, which are addressed through subsequent dual and/or solo training as required.  This pattern is repeated until the flight instructor views the candidate as ready, and the student is then referred to Chief Flying Instructor or delegate for a simulated flight test.  Once this is achieved, the flight test are scheduled.