Sunday, January 15, 2006

Confusion sets in a little deeper

On to the next part of the update. Mrs. Confusion.

Let me preface this discussion: some people should not fly. She is one of them. So is her husband. Her husband already has a license, and thinks he will get an instrument rating before long. She thinks she will have a private license before long. Both are most likely wrong. I can't do anything about him, but my responsibilities require me to stop teaching her.

Recognize, that perfection is basically impossible, and most pilots understand that. But the majority of truly skilled pilots share a common trait: they refuse to accept anything less. They know the FAA requirements, and can consistently perform better than that, not because they are all highly gifted, but often simply for refusing to be average. People who accept mediocrity should not be pilots. Ever.

My evaluation of Mrs. Confusion may sound harsh, but bear in mind, that everything required to get a license has been presented to her more times than I care to recall. She currently has about double what most people need to complete a license (right now, nearing 150 flight hours).

We flew a few days ago, and I suspected this was a waste of time, but since we hadn't flown lately, I wanted to give her a last chance. At some point, I have to give up on her, but one more try seemed appropriate.

I started her training nearly two years ago now, and knew that she would be trouble, and she would be slow, but hoped she would put some actual effort into this. I told her then, that it would require real studying, and a concerted effort to perform correctly, or it would all be a waste. I flew a while with her before leaving the school. After a few months, she followed me over. My first talk with her then, was that she should be prepared for a harsh evaluation. I knew that the instructor she had bene using, was prone to taking short-cuts. Good guy, but not truly serious about turning a student into a proficient and safe pilot. Up front, I told her I would expect studying on a consistent basis. A few months ago I actually suspended all her flying for a while, until she showed me she actually was studying.

Apparently, the grey matter in between her ears does not operate in the recognized manner of normal sapient creatures. She just doesn't get it. At the beginning of the flight, I explained that since she is anxious to go to a checkride, I was going to be in examiner mode. Not teaching, just telling her which task to perform, and expecting her to do it. I've been saying for 8 months that I expect her to study and know the test standards. She knew from previous flights that when I say I am in that mode, I am not there to help her, and I won't help her. I'll either say she passed that portion, or I will say she failed it. We are much too far along for her to not know the answer before I say it though, or to not understand how to do things properly.

I knew going in that I was going to have to be harsh about it. She thinks she is almost ready, and that is so far from the truth. And from my own post-flight briefings, she has no basis for believing that. I've said many times that the onus is on her. She's been taught every single thing over and over, but she isn't going anywhere until she starts performing up to standards on a routine basis.

Here, I would describe the flight in more detail, but it would only make me irritated. Not a single thing on the flight was performed properly. Nothing. Very few portions were even up to the standards I expect of a student approaching a first solo flight. There were times I had to take the controls from her, for safety reasons. Being 200 feet over a cell tower, 4 miles from the airport is a really good example. Losing several hundred feet during a steep turn that wasnt actually steep, is another. She couldn't figure out where to go to practice the maneuvers, and asked me, even though I have a solid history of trying to force her to make safe decisions without my help. She couldn't grasp how to transition from slow flight with flaps, to slow flight without flaps. We've only done that one a few hundred times. Stalls, were worse than I expect of a 10-hour student pilot. She couldn't make a safe entry to the pattern. On crosswind, she had no idea if the last plane used the same runway she was planning on, or how long ago that was, or any of that, and hadn't asked for any advisory from unicom.

She usually tries to blame anything or anyone but herself. It is never her fault. If she didn't study at all in the last two weeks, it is because her business is busy. Sure, I understand that, but it is still on her to find that time. Not my fault. Occasionally, she will actually say "that was me" when something goes wrong. I've started responding by saying "I know it was you. There are no other options. I'm not touching the controls, and the plane doesn't fly itself, so everything that goes wrong here is your fault."

That may sound harsh, but I have to be honest. Making excuses will not turn her into a pilot. I have never expected skill from a student who hadn't been taught that skill numerous times. We've done hundreds upon hundreds of steep turns and stalls though, and I expect her to know these.

To cap off the flight, we ended by having her become lost 3 miles from the airport. Perfect visibility outside, not a cloud around, numerous geographic and man-made features staring up at us, all very obviously telling where the airport was. She's only lived 4 miles from that very spot for the last 5 years, and that spot is a significant highway intersection that she drives past every single day. And all the flying she has ever done, started and ended right at this very airport 3 miles away which I was curently staring at. With mountains spread the way they are around this valley, I have never visited a place that was easier to remain unlost in. The terrain makes it pathetically easy. I know not all people have a good sense of direction or scale, but I still can't fathom how after all this time, she can't have known how to look southeast from the interstate directly under us, to see the airport directly south of the road she drives to get to the airport every time.

So, I have officially given up on a student now. I've dealt with plenty that were never going to get their licenses, and recognized it themselves quickly. This is the first time I've ever had to give up completely on someone who is absolutely convinced she is capable.

Maybe she will get a license someday. But I know her too well now, to have my signature on her application. If she does get a license, I suspect it won't be more than a few months after, when she does something truly stupid, and if she is lucky, survives. And I hope nobody else gets caught in that. For my part, it is over. I was so irritated at the end of the last flight, all I did was get out of the plane and walk away, saying I would call her. The next conversation is to explain that the only way she can ever become a safe pilot, is to put a whole lot more effort into it than she is displaying. I understand flight skills getting rusty at times, but there is no excuse for lack of knowledge now. There is no excuse for her inability to tell me what causes a wing to stall. (yes, I asked her that, and no, she had no idea).

Barring an extreme effort on her part, (something I can't even imagine at this point), then my part in this is over. She can either quit, or find someone else to teach her.

I wish it was my place to also tell her husband that he really shouldn't be a pilot either. I trained him some too, and until flying with her, thought him to be the most difficult student I had ever seen. Unfortunately, after I left that equation, he found an instructor whose standards weren't very high, and then he had a lucky day on the test. I've flown with him since then, and found no improvement there. So that is just a matter of time.


At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're living my life...

..or vice versa.

I'm working with a Cape Verdean girl now. Her story and the story of others like her is that she is planning on going back to her homeland of Cape Verde and becoming a pilot for her country's airline, TACV, where they fly the ATR-42. I'm trying to imagine her sitting in the right seat of an ATR and I have as hard of a time with that as I have with the concept of Dakota Fanning Flying for an airline.

She has turned out to be one of the most challenging projects I have ever had to work with, as when we first met she could barely speak english, something I had to show her in the FARs was a requirement in the pursuit of her PPC.

As in your case, the truly scary part of her personality is that she can demonstrate repeated incompetence and do it WITH CONFIDENCE.

On a recent cross-country, we were 10 miles out, and she made her radio call to the Class D tower. They cleared her for whatever entry they wanted her to perform and she repeated the clearance back...and then, in what I can only describe as a complete and total demonstration of complete ineptitude occurred.
She just started heading towards the center of the airport. When I got that "my ass cheeks are clenching" feeling that instructors get as they decide how far they let a situation go with a student before taking over, I said "so whatcha doin?"
To my complete and total disbelief, her answer was "I'm going to overfly field and land on that one over there" as she gestured towards an industrial park.

I feel your pain my brother.


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