Why Lesson Plan Analysis is Necessary

Instructor students have to master the lesson plans published in the Flight Instructor Guide (FIG) in order to get there Flight Instructor Ratings.  To do this, it is not difficult, but students have to be aware of the general nature and organization of the lesson plans, including some interesting yet subtle variations in how exercises are written out.

To begin with, the lesson plans contain two categories of exercises, the first are considered the primary exercises, and the second is considered, well, for lack of a better word, the secondary exercises.  As a general rule, but this is not always the case, primary exercises required Preparatory Ground Instruction, while secondary exercises are typically reviewed only in the Pre-flight Briefing.  This requires some judgment and practice.  Essentially, the primary exercises focus on the core skills required to become a pilot—speed changes, stall recognition, spiral dive recovery, etc.—yet much of the critical learning lies in the secondary exercises—navigation to and from an airport, learning how trim operates, radio communications, learning how to join a circuits—tasks and skills that are equally critical to becoming a pilot, but which appear to us as only supporting exercises.  Failure to learn how to recognize airspace boundary and failure to learn how to join a circuit in accordance with ATC clearances can appear as unexpected roadblocks to a student’s aspirations, and they therefore required due care and attention from the Flight Instructor

A second feature of the lesson plans is that they include exercises that are developed over a series of individual lesson plans.  This is the case, for example, with straight and level flight.  When it first appears in the lesson plans, it is simply a platform from which other basic maneuvers are conducted.  The next time it appears, students learn how to do power changes in straight and level flight, requiring a fine balance between pitch and power changes.  Then they proceed to speed changes in straight and level flight in the next lesson plan, requiring greater precision, and finally they are exposed to flap and speed variations in straight and level flight in a subsequent lesson plan.  So you can see, that the exercise is developed over a series of lesson plans.  The same is the case with the exercises of climbs, descents, stalls, etc., and these exercises are therefore referred to as developmental exercises.  In contrast, some exercises, such as range and endurance, precautionary landings, and diversions, for example, appear only once in the pre-solo lesson plans, and they are therefore non-developmental in nature.  For lack of a better description, we refer to these as monotheistic exercises.  Instructor students, therefore, must learn how to slice up developmental exercises into segments that are delivered methodically over a series of lesson plans.

A third feature of the lesson plans is the management of review exercises versus exercises that are taught—teaching exercises (even though and Instructor is always teaching).  Review is a critical component of every training flight, as exercises previously taught are brought forward in order that the student remains current and continues to develop skills required for the exercise.  Typically, once a training crew arrives in the practice area, new exercises are not taught until after a review of previously learned exercises has been completed.  If the review phase of a training flight is neglected, previously learned skills will fade from the student’s skill set.  Instructors have to learn be selective as to what exercises are in fact reviewed,  as time is limited and expensive for the student, and there must be progression to the new exercise for which Preparatory Ground Instruction was provided on the ground before takeoff.  Also, Instructor students must learn that the role of the flight instructor during review practice is quite different from the teaching role associated with presenting new exercises; while instructors during review sit quietly in their seat and observe students control inputs and monitor student decision-making, instructors actively direct events in the cockpit and create structure for the student learning during the teaching of new exercises.

There is another feature of the Lesson Plans.  Every lesson plan has a takeoff, departure, departure navigation, return navigation, arrival, and landing component.  When you think about it, there is a lot of action and learning going on during these extremely compressed and critical phases of flight.  A Flight Instructor must therefore learn to deploy a well-thought-out strategy for exposing the student to ever-increasing roles and responsibilities during these phases of flight.  Instructors must have plans of action for getting students more progressively involved during takeoffs and landings.  Students must learn how to navigate inbound and outbound from the airport in reference to specified geographic landmarks, and they must simultaneously learned in a progressive fashion how to depart and arrive in airports circuit.  Students can be easily overwhelmed by these transitions from into the airport and it is critical that instructors have strategies for teaching that are both methodical and effective.

A final, yet very interesting feature of the FIG Lesson Plans is that they are the only place where expectations for student performance are communicated (besides the Flight Test Guides, of course—but they only address the end product).  In no other document are instructors advised as to where their students should be with respect to performance at the various stages of their training.  While we are all capable of assessing whether or not the performance of a steep turn, for example, meets the flight test standards for private pilots, it is more difficult to assess, for example, when a student should be capable of flying back to the airport after training flight without support or guidance from the flight instructor.  The FIG Lesson Plans therefore provide benchmarks as to when students should be progressed from one lesson plan to another, and of course instructor students must make themselves familiar with these.

These, then, are a few of the interesting features of lesson plans, and during the course of your training, you want to become an expert in their application to training flight; they will become a critical component during the course of your instructor rating qualification.