Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Smilies That Yahoo Doesn't Make

As cheesy as they are, I have to admit I am somewhat fond of the smilies on Yahoo's Instant Messenger. There is a practical limit to the level of expressiveness one can provide in written text, without becoming overly verbose. Written text simply doesn't carry the connotations that accompany specific inflections of spoken word, or a simple gesticulation that is pregnant with meaning.

Though I like those smilies, I think whoever coded them forgot some of the more useful ones. For instance, the "projectile-vomiting" smiley. I find I occasionally need that one, when the green nauseated one just doesn't work. There's also the "get away from me before I have to smack you upside the head repeatedly" smiley. Or the "I'm going to go now, and beat my head against this brick wall" smiley.

Those last two are the ones I wish I could use right now. My favorite student flew again today. If you heard me speaking that last sentence, it would be while rolling my eyes and letting out a loud sigh. Since there is no "I can't express this level of frustration" smiley, you'll just have to infer the vocal inflection.

Mr. Confusion himself is back from vacation, and quickly working to make me need one. Anyone who flies knows how far downhill a student's flight skills can go after even just a week or two away. So I expected some seriously impressive actions from him, and he did not disappoint.

We had to do the entire post-flight debriefing on the subject of "why he should be listening when I make suggestions." First things first: footwear. Current and aspiring student pilots take note, footwear is important. Wearing cowboy boots because you like them, can hinder the learning. I told him this before our intro lesson. I told him during the second lesson. I told him again several lessons in. I had to say it again tonight, after it was obvious that he couldn't hold the toe-brakes, or properly set the parking brake at all. He can't feel the rudder pedals beneath the hard sole, which means he can't sense what the proper controls are, much less pick up on any of the subtleties. So startup and taxi were both an adventure. The intro student I flew with earlier in the afternoon controlled it much better on his first try.

Bringing a camera on every flight, and wanting to photograph or fly over various work sites of his, are not helping. It costs him at least 20 minutes of useful training every time. I'm entirely in favor of enjoying the scenery, and snapping a few shots. But that is not our purpose there, and shouldn't comprise a third of every lesson. He's a 14-hour student with the experience of a 5-hour student. Maybe.

Communications. It is of paramount importance to learn how to communicate. 14 hours into the training, I would expect him to remember the radio frequency that we use at this specific airport. Or at least recognize it when he sees it. Or maybe even know how to speak a simple phrase over the radio. It really is simple. A few simple phrases, push the button, and speak. Speaking should be second nature after 45 years of residing in a populated portion of the world.

Checklists. These exist for a reason. Use them. In the proper order. There is no sense following the pre-takeoff checklist if we haven't started the engine yet. It doesn't work. There is also no sense trying to turn the starter key if the battery has not been turned on. We need that electricity for a reason. We also have to introduce fuel to the engine before it will start. Checklists are meant to be done in order, without skipping entire sections.

I could go on for another ten paragraphs there, but I won't. What really amazes me is not that he manages to get messed up so badly, but that when he does focus, he flies very well. His takeoff today was incredibly smooth. His steep turns were among the best I've ever seen from a student with his experience. He was focused at those times. Everything else was just amazingly bad, and only getting worse until I fixed it. Losing 1,000 feet of altitude while trying to figure out how to stay level in slow flight. Not doing any of the actual procedures necessary for landing, resulting in zooming across the threshold 400 feet too high and 35 knots too fast.

I'm actually wondering if there is something mental, that is preventing him from keeping his focus. Often, a student can perform an action perfectly, only to mess up when given just one extra thing to do. But I've never seen that disorganization occur to nearly the extent he creates.

If I hadn't been beating my head enough for the day, I found out during the post-flight debriefing that he had been studying the wrong things entirely. I tend to spend a little time with students right from the beginning, exploring what their best method of learning book knowledge is. If they can study on their own, I give guidance and let them save some of the instructor time. My initial assessment was that he would be capable, and I would have only to direct the studying, and prod him to make sure he kept up with it. I gave him explicit directions on how and what to be studying. Yet he managed to completely ignore the basic knowledge he needs, and spent what little study time he had, focused on cross-country navigation and performance calculations. Chances are, at the current pace, it may be next spring before we actually get to that. Now, despite what I know will be loud protestations, I'm going to have to lead him by the hand through 95% of the book material.

It really has been a long day. I was here at 7:15 this morning, and 14 hours later, finished up. I suppose now, after another hour has passed, I am relaxed enough to get off the computer and head home.

Tomorrow morning, I need to email someone at Yahoo, and convince them to create a "tearing my hair out in excessive frustration" smiley. Then I'll come back and put about five of them right here at the end of this post.


At 2:03 AM, Blogger Joseph Gaspard said...

:-) I am SO glad I never wanted to go the CFI route.


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