‘Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.’

Robert Anthony

The simple word ‘trainee’ hides a huge range of characters and personalities. Along with that continuum are a wide variety of backgrounds and histories. It helps if you know something about what is driving your man (or woman). Are they there under duress or are they willing to put in the work needed to make the course a success? For some the prospect of a new type brings with it a change of workplace and that is not always as welcome as you may imagine. That simple fact may strip away their enthusiasm and commitment to the course. What is their total experience and what is their current experience? What job they were doing before they came to the type they are now learning and what job will they be doing when qualified on the new type?

In my time I have encountered degrees of enthusiasm that range from the downright hostile from a gentleman who believed his sole purpose for visiting Milan was to improve his shopping skills, to the exquisitely well prepared and thoroughly professional crews from Japan whose preparation and work ethic make them a pleasure to teach.

Having made examples of these two I should be clear about the population of trainee pilots I have had the pleasure of meeting. No one corner of the globe has a monopoly on perfection it seems for I have seen some dreadful samples from parts of Europe that would make you cringe and remarkably competent and professional young men from small and – in aviation terms – insignificant nations.

Some will arrive confident and relaxed but many, perhaps the majority, will be anxious, some even extremely nervous and perhaps the odd one or two actually shaking at the prospect of their first encounter with a full flight simulator and this ‘god-like’, all-knowing, all-seeing high priest of aviation  – the SFI. Don’t laugh. I’ve met both these extremes and everything in between.

I make a point of saying to those that appear anxious that I am their teacher and their friend, not their enemy or their torturer. That their success is my success and that we are in this together. I smile whenever appropriate and try to always remain upbeat.

Role experience is not essential when teaching Type Rating courses but helps a great deal when conducting Recurrent Training. Each branch of the helicopter world, Offshore, SAR, HEMS, Military, Fire Fighting, VIP, Corporate has its own language and if you don’t talk that language then it is a tough job to retain credibility and makes it harder to design and run effective LOFT missions. It is often a lack of understanding of this facet of recurrent training that leads to dissatisfaction amongst our customers. This often results in the use of their own instructors in the SFI role. Sometimes this can work but many TRI/SFI’s who work in this way have insufficient simulator operating time to be truly effective teachers in this complex environment.

Pressure, as in applying pressure to your trainees, is an essential part of the teaching process but it has to be applied with a great deal of caution and precision. In the wrong circumstances too much pressure on the trainee will ‘break’ his or her will to continue.  Recognising the degree of pressure your trainee is under is a skill acquired with experience but studying the facial expressions and ‘reading’ the body language are essential ingredients in this process.

Remember that we are working in an artificial reality. To treat it as if it were the real world requires all on board and especially the pilot flying to suspend his perception of reality in favour of believing he is in the real aircraft. Too much pressure can break that willingness to ‘believe’ in our artificial world and that then destroys the effectiveness of the lesson. When you sense that the trainee is firmly in control of things and delivering all you ask then that is the time to consider stepping up the pace, demanding a little bit more, challenging them with tasks that demand a little bit more effort and little bit more thought.

And don’t forget…

You may have seen it a hundred times but the trainee probably hasn’t, don’t take out your boredom on them.

You know the aircraft intimately but they have only just met it.

They may have passed the tech exam but that often means diddly-squat. I have had those with a 98% pass mark ask me why the aircraft cannot be flown without hydraulics and similar questions reveal huge gaps in their technical understanding. The technical training in any school is subject to the well-known problem of ‘retention’. It is amazing how rapidly knowledge delivered just two weeks earlier can evaporate. I have thought for a long time that a way of improving post-graduate support for our TR customers would be an excellent way of ensuring that ‘retention’ is maximised.

Imagine leaving the Training Centre knowing that you have an experienced Instructor allocated to you as a personal mentor. He will initiate E-mail contact the week after you leave and run you through some distance learning each week for the next three months. The opportunity for Q & A sessions will provide an extremely valuable conduit for the two-way exchange of information about technical and non-technical subjects.

It is my belief that the lack of post-training support is a weakness of the training system that has yet to be addressed. My ATO often provides flight instructor support at the customer’s operating base but many customers are unable to afford that expense.

What do you think? Express your opinions and feel free to comment.