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 Advanced Flight Instruction FAA Written Test Preparation

Career aviation instructors Anthony Cirincione and Scott Felton reveal the tools and techniques world class instructors use to stand out as the best-of-the-best. For 24 years they've continued to develop their skills and ‘practice what they preach.’  

With this guide, conveniently organized by the various settings in which we teach, you’ll be able to quickly refine your individual teaching style.  For those instructing in the classroom, simulator, or aircraft, there are chapters specifically dedicated to each setting. 

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Expanded Table of Contents

Chapter 1:  Elements of Learning  

Book Knowledge; Cognition: Making Sense of Book Knowledge; Perception and Perceptual Speed; Psychomotor Skills; Decision Making Skills; Synthesis and Integration; Situational Awareness; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 2:  Learners and Students 

Expectations; Differences; Learning Styles - Sensory (Visual, Audible, Tactile), Cognitive (Inductive, Deductive, Contextual), Experiential; How to Use Learning Styles; Top 10 Errors   

Chapter 3:  The Role of the Instructor  

Teaching Styles - Bucket Fillers, Expert Guides, Craftsmen; Responsibilities of an Instructor - To Other Instructors, To Students, Modeling Good Performance; Learning and Teaching Summarized; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 4:  Teaching in the Classroom  

Organization, Presentation (Application, Association, Reinforcement);  Feedback and Assessment; Presentation Tools; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 5:  Teaching during Flight Planning  

Organization: Planning to Plan; Teaching How to Plan Flights; Teaching During Flight Planning; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 6:  Teaching in the Aircraft

Planning;  Presentation - Focus on the Objectives, Create Experience, Brevity and the Timing of Instruction;  Discipline - Recognizing Student Limitations, Losing the Training Wheels, Providing a Safety Net, Balance; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 7:  Teaching in the Brief 

Organization;  Presentation - Presentation Tools;  Assessment of Learning; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 8:  Teaching in the Simulator  

Time Management;  What to Teach;  How to Teach; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 9:  Teaching in the Debrief 

Preparation; Tape  Review - Four-Part Format; Time Management, Holding Student Attention, Using Models; Other Teaching Habits for the Debrief; Top 10 Errors 

Chapter 10:  Teaching and Evaluation  

What Teaching is Not; Show You are on the Student’s Side; On Being a Critic; Rules for Critiquing; Evaluation; When a Student Busts a Ride; Top 10 Errors

Chapter 11:  Writing the Gradesheet  

The Purpose of a Gradesheet; What to Write; Top 10 Errors


Here are some excerpts from the book:

Offered to contribute to your success!


This is from Chapter 1:

Psychomotor Skills

Psychomotor skills connect knowing what to do with being able to do it. Students primarily learn these skills in the aircraft, but sometimes in the simulator or elsewhere. The term psychomotor means essentially connecting and coordinating brain and body. The brain side is where we make our money, because that is what controls the body. Instructors help students develop skills and habits, which give their brains better command over their bodies to perform flying tasks. There are four basic ways to facilitate this learning:

1.      Allow more time to perform tasks. In effect, this means walking through a task slowly to allow an inexperienced student more time to perceive, recall, and act. When we script an engine failure for the first time (high altitude, VFR, methodical checklist use) we are building in more time for our students to work. With experience we expect pilots to handle the same tasks with far less setup time – perhaps just after takeoff on a later training flight.

2.      Use part-task training. For some skills, there is simply no way to slow down the pace, so we break the tasks into component sub-tasks and practice each separately. This reduces the amount of information a student has to process by breaking it into “bite-sized” pieces. When we practice slips, slow flight, and ground reference maneuvers, we are dividing crosswind landings in the traffic pattern into sub-tasks. The idea of skills flights versus integration flights (in Chapter 6) takes this idea a step further.

3.      Build habits. Brain scientists have shown that unfamiliar tasks require a lot of conscious brain activity, commonly known as attention or working memory. Repeating a task in the same way gradually drives that activity into the subconscious, so we can do it without thinking about it. This frees our limited working memory for other things. The more tasks our students can perform as habit, the farther ahead of the aircraft they will be. Instructors help by teaching them to prioritize and sequence tasks and by directing their practice. How much do you actively think when you drive a car? Compare that to the amount of thought it took when you were first learning.

4.      Provide guided practice. Instructors guide practice to help students develop habits more quickly and to make sure their habits are based on effective procedures and techniques. Instructor guidance sets the pace of practice, accelerating as student proficiency improves. It also schedules part-task practice and ensures that students understand how the parts fit into the whole. Instructors should gradually reduce the amount of guidance as students build proficiency. This teaches them to perform independently but with an available safety net.


This is also from Chapter 1:

Situational Awareness (SA)

Situational Awareness is the “Holy Grail” of the aviation community. There isn’t even a single, unanimous definition of SA. Here is one “official” definition from the US Air Force.  While it’s a bit broader than we normally encounter in civil aviation, it is still very good.  It includes several key ideas (in bold) that highlight how teaching and training work to develop SA:

These components of SA parallel the types of learning outlined in this chapter. As we focus on these types of learning, we help develop students’ potential for SA. Relating the elements of learning to situational awareness is helpful in two ways. First, it helps instructors decide what to teach and to focus on SA-building flight activities. Second, by thinking of the elements of learning as components of SA, instructors can use the types of teaching most likely to help students improve.


This is from Chapter 2:

Cognitive Learning Styles

The next layer underneath sensory learning style is cognitive style. This is the way people reason and remember. Sensory learning style shapes how we present information and how students perceive it. Cognitive learning style shapes how we analyze the information, and how students make sense of it.  There are several ways to look at cognitive learning styles and, like sensory learning styles, no single approach works best for everyone. Instructors must understand the basics and be able to teach from any approach.

Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning 

These two, opposite approaches are based on whether a person sees information as a large body, or as a collection of pieces working together. Most people can think from either approach, but tend to default to one or the other in most situations.

Inductive reasoning means seeing the whole first, then applying truths about the whole to its parts or to specific situations. For example, we learn in basic flight training to “aviate, navigate, and communicate,” in that order. We apply this broad rule to all of aviation. Using inductive reasoning, a student accepts the truth of the rule, then applies it by looking at which tasks fit in each category for a specific situation. Another name for this cognitive style is “whole-part” thinking, where a student understands the objective and premise of an event, then mentally takes it apart to learn the subtasks which make up the event.

Deductive reasoning means seeing basic components and applying information about them to generalize to a larger situation. In landings, we learn to eliminate drift by slipping and to touchdown near stall speed. We teach the smaller elements first in the practice area at higher altitude.  Then we put it together in the traffic pattern. This is deductive reasoning, also called “part-whole” thinking: a student learns the significance of small pieces of information, then examines their relationships, and pieces them together to understand the whole.


This is from Chapter 5:

Organization: Planning to Plan

Instructors need to have a plan for teaching just like we have a flight plan, and the teaching plan comes first. It does not have to be long or detailed, but it must be targeted to specific student “knowledge needs.” The plan starts with the syllabus and gradebooks (or personal experience with the student). The syllabus will show what planning elements are essential to meet the objectives. Instructors must make sure these things happen first. Gradebooks will show unaccomplished tasks and areas students have struggled with. These are the next things to plan for.

Once you know what you want to teach, you are ready to design the flight. This should happen well before flight planning time. Too often it does not. Designing the flight means planning the sequence of events to achieve all desired learning objectives (DLO), unaccomplished tasks, and advanced techniques you want to introduce. Design the scenario and events to exercise specific planning and execution skills students need to meet the objectives. On most flights, the sequence of events is critical. First, clean up any gaps in knowledge or skill from previous flights. This is essential to ensure students have the foundation required to progress to the next step. Second, put the upcoming events in the best order to maximize the building block approach. Let each event develop skills and prepare the student for the event to follow. End the flight with any instructor demonstrations, observe, or practice items. Last, determine which of these events you’ll be teaching during flight planning.

As you begin flight planning, organization is even more important. Time is short. Be ready, start & finish on time, and apply short, precise teaching at appropriate times.


This is from Chapter 6:

Provide a Safety Net

There are obviously limits to how far we can allow a bad decision to progress. While our main focus is on helping students learn, instructors are always responsible for setting and enforcing safe limits on training. This means staying far enough ahead of the aircraft to anticipate and avoid unsafe situations. It also requires being able to multi-task and monitor the performance of the other aircraft in the area. Here are a few skills you should focus on that will improve your ability to supervise safe, effective training:

§         Work on your ability to perform the essential flight duties from habit. This will free more of your attention for what the students are doing.

§         Develop a cross-check of student performance, just like your instrument cross-check. Key items are where the student is looking, trends in aircraft performance (like repeatedly drifting off heading/altitude), and quality of radio calls (phraseology and tone of voice).

§         Develop a cross-check to monitor the other aircraft in the area.

§         Don’t just watch for dangerous situations, look for trends toward them and intervene early.

There are many indications of dangerous performance. The important point is to prioritize your own performance to be effective, look outside, and develop cross-checks to monitor student performance. Start on the conservative side, then work toward permitting more aggressive performance as you grow more comfortable with your own ability to recognize the limits of safety. There will be (and should be) times when you cancel an event earlier than necessary—you can always start over. If you let a dangerous situation go too far, you may not make it home that day. As an instructor, you will often be the only one able to provide a reliable safety net.


Each Chapter ends with a Top Ten Errors summary like this:

Top Ten Instructor Errors in the Aircraft

 1.      Being too directive; correcting every mistake before it happens / not allowing students to make decisions

 2.      Saturating the student with too much commentary

 3.      Treating the flight like a checkride or test; silently evaluating instead of actively teaching

 4.      Trying to fix too many student errors at once

 5.      Showing frustration when a student doesn’t perform well

 6.      Not enough focus on what the student is doing

 7.      Exceeding student limitations on a task or event

 8.      Moving on before a student has necessary proficiency (except demonstration events)

 9.      Not looking far enough ahead of / outside of the aircraft for developing safety issues

 10.  Trying to teach when the student is unable to listen


Here is the introduction to Chapter 8:


This chapter focuses on full scale simulators like those used by FlightSafety, Simuflite, and the airlines. The simulator is an outstanding instrument for teaching habits and perceptual skills, but it has some important limitations:  

1) Visual & Tactile Fidelity,

2) ‘Simisms’, and

3) Instructor Proficiency.

The first limitation is fidelity. While the ‘indications’ may be correct, simulators simply do not ‘fly’ like aircraft. They can be either too sensitive or too stable, and until the recent generation, the visual fidelity was truly lacking. Thankfully the newer simulators are much better visually, but there are still many in use that leave a lot to be desired. Worse yet, any ‘seat-of-the-pants’ sensation programmed in is usually imperfect.

Next are the ‘simisms’. These are the things that happen in the sim that are not like reality. Some common examples are the rate of movement on displays (especially during hot starts) and the problem of using the microphone switch to talk to ATC. These and other ‘simisms’ are limitations we have to live with, but we should make sure students understand them, so that we can minimize their impact.

Last, and maybe this should have been first, is instructor proficiency. New (at least to the particular simulator) instructors have difficulty making things happen as they intend. This can cause unintentional problems, or result in desired items not happening. To make the most of sim time and the sim’s capabilities, instructors need to be proficient and organized, manage available time, and focus training on the types of skills and pacing the simulator can best support. For limitations that you can’t avoid, at least talk about them before the session and again in the debrief. The single most important thing we can do to maximize simulator training is to always strive for more realism.


Meet the Authors 

"T" Cirincione MS Aeronautical Science

Anthony Cirincione has over 24 years of aviation experience and holds the following ratings: ATP, Gold Seal CFI, CFII, MEI, FE – Turbojet, and A&P with Inspection Authorization. He's typed in Cessna, Learjet, Dassault, and Boeing aircraft. He has a Master of Science in Aeronautical Science. He has taught A&P students for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Learjet 60 initial and recurrent classes for FlightSafety International. Prior to that, Anthony was a Flight Examiner in the US Air Force, and an instructor at the USAF Fighter Weapons School flying the mighty F-4 Phantom. He has over 5000 hours in fighters and corporate aircraft. When not immersed in aviation, he enjoys fly-fishing, bow hunting, and four-wheelin’ his Jeep.

D. Scott Felton MA Education

Scott Felton leads the US Air Force’s Follow-on Test and Evaluation of the F/A-22 fighter.  He has Master of Education in Adult Education, and is a Graduate of the USAF Fighter Weapons School. Scott is a Flight Examiner in the US Air Force and an instructor in the F-15E Strike Eagle. He has published over 20 articles on flying and flight instruction and has designed over two dozen training programs for fighter aircraft. He has over 2500 hours in fighters and civil aircraft. When not immersed in aviation, Scott enjoys writing, fly-fishing, and other outdoor sports.



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