Tips for Instructors - Teaching Basic Instruments
        Remember Pattern A?

Comments, questions,
or just want to talk airplanes?
Drop me a note
or call:

Printed in National Association of Flight Instructors - Mentor - November-December 2016

Instrument FlyingHandbookCover

A funny thing happened to me the other as I was looking for information regarding teaching instrument practices.  I realized that there were a lot of changes to the Instrument Flying Handbook, (H-8083) that I missed.  Okay, I acknowledge that this version came out four years ago, so you might logically think that a careful reading of the book long prior to this point would have allowed me to see all of the changes.  But in my defense – I have been teaching instrument techniques since the 1970’s and the basic skills needed for a competent instrument pilot have not really changed since that time.
Before I explain the changes, and why they bother me, let me briefly explain my syllabus / teaching techniques.  First of all, I will state that I pretty much agree with everything the book describes – Control instruments versus Performance instruments; Primary instruments versus supporting instruments; the need to learn pitch and power instruments. I get it.
I start my new students on the ground showing them the pitch picture on the attitude indicator for level flight.  Then, by moving the horizon reference line, I show them the pitch picture I will be looking for on climb-out.

Initially, I work on only one variable at a time.  On the climb out, I will have them concentrate on using full power and the pitch picture we described on the ground to hold a constant airspeed.  I am not too concerned at this point about heading, and of course the altitude is changing anyway.  After leveling off and arriving at our practice area, we will work on holding a heading with a constant attitude and power setting, and then we will work on holding airspeed.  When there is some amount of skill here, I will bring one of the other two variables in.  We will work on maintaining two out of three until there is some mastery, and then bring all three, heading, airspeed, and altitude, in together.  We will work on holding two of those constant and changing the third until we have crosscheck understood, if not completely mastered.
At this point there are several exercises that were once included in one of the Handbook’s appendices which are no longer included.  And I have used them for so long that I did not realize that they were gone.

The first exercise is called the Vertical S.  There are four variations on this theme, and I think that they are an excellent means to practice all of the skills that we have been working on to this point.

Vertical S – “A” requires the pilot to fly a constant rate climb on a constant heading for 1,000 feet, and then without leveling off, to begin a constant rate descent at the same airspeed for 1,000 feet.  And repeat.  I love this exercise because it demonstrates that if the pilot can get the aircraft trimmed for the desired airspeed, the aircraft will maintain that airspeed with little or no stick input while climbing or descending.  The pilot only needs to be aware of the power setting which will produce the desired climb and descent rates.

My rate of climb/descent and my airspeed depends on the plane I am flying.  For example, in a Piper Archer or Cessna 172, I like 500 fpm at 90 kias.  This allows for some excess power in the climb.  In a Cessna 182 or Bonanza, I will probably be using 1,000 fpm and 100 or 110 kias.  The point is that we are working to maintain a constant heading, constant rate of climb/descent, and a constant airspeed.  I point out to the student that while we very seldom fly constant rate climbs (this is just an exercise), he will see constant rate descents on every instrument approach.

Vertical S – “B through D” are variations on this theme.  For “B” fly the entire maneuver with a constant rate turn, one direction or the other.  Point out to the student that the heading can come out of the cross check, but that there is now a different pitch and power combination.  For “C”, switch from a right turn to a left turn at the top of each S.  For “D” change bank each time you change from a climb to a descent, and vice versa.  Again, I tell the student that this is not a procedure that they will ever see.  It is merely an exercise to become skilled in crosscheck.

Up to this point, the student has only been juggling airspeed, altitude, and heading.  Time to throw a couple more variables into the mix.  And this is the second omission from the Handbook that rankles me.  For years, the Handbook included a pair of maneuvers with the catchy names of “Pattern A” and “Pattern B“. 

As originally described, these two patterns added the clock into the cross check.  And, because it is impossible to remember all of the steps of the process, it required the student to take his eyes entirely off of the flight instruments to interpret his progress through the procedure.  The ground track of the pattern is shown here, and it could be practiced in two different scenarios – level flight only, and with a descent/climb.  The astute instructor notices immediately that we have described holding patterns and procedure turns.  The straight legs can all be timed, but the turns can either be turns to a heading, or can be timed turns with no regard for the resulting roll-out heading.  And I would have the student fly the pattern each way.  The first several times through, I coach and remind the student to watch the clock.  Then later, I put that responsibility onto him.

I began using Pattern A and Pattern B when I began teaching, 40 years ago.  (And Pattern B differs only the fact that it includes a rate descent and then a climb at the end.)  But instrument flying, and society, has changed over the past few years in several ways.  And one of those changes is that young people don’t wear watches or look at clocks anymore. And in the airplane, I think that that is generally an improvement - DME, and now GPS mileage, is such an improvement over timing when determining a position.  Yes, determining a position with cross radials and timing was a great challenge for navigation.  But a GPS position is a lot easier and a whole lot more accurate.  Which brings me to my update of the Pattern A.

One of the features of the GPS that is often overlooked is the OBS function.  This feature is similar to selecting a VOR radial and flying inbound or outbound on that radial.  But with GPS, you can select the radial off of any waypoint in the database – VORs, airports, fixes, etc. 
When flying the Pattern A, I have started using this feature of the GPS rather than timing because I think it has an advantage over timing.  As I noted, this is entire procedure is merely an exercise.  But the closer we can bring it to actual procedures the better off the student is.  And it is rare in the world of IFR GPS that the clock is used in any approach.  All of our distances are based on GPS distances. 
There are some skills that the student does not use when using this procedure, but there are some that he uses that were not used in the timed procedure.  Obviously he does not use the clock.  But the requirement to keep track of distance is just as difficult for the student as timing.  Also, the student needs to learn to judge a rollout onto a radial rather than just a turn to a heading.  This is a skill that is necessary for all approaches that was not practiced when merely turning to a heading.
As a practical matter, I generally pick a way point that is quite a way out – at least 50 miles.  And for the first attempts I will find some waypoint that is due east/west/north/south of my position.  This allows the student to begin the exercise on a cardinal heading which is a little easier for the beginner.  And one advantage of using a GPS radial over a VOR radial is that if you have picked an airport as the waypoint and you are at least 30 miles away, full-scale deflection on the CDI is a constant three miles.  Using a VOR, full-scale deflection is 10 of course, and the mileage off-course will vary.
While I think that the OBS feature is a handy little gadget, I don’t make too big of a deal of it for my instrument students.  I have them so immersed in other GPS features that I don’t want to load them up too much.  But there is a handy use for this feature for all pilots.
Some GPS units have a feature called extended runway center line, or something similar.  With this feature turned on in map-mode, the pilot can see the runway extensions for all runways at the destination airport.  This is a great tool for lining up on a five-mile final, for example.  But if your unit does not include this feature, the OBS function can provide it for you.
So what are your new techniques for instrument training?  Please share.


Don’t Practice Until You Get It Right - Practice Until You Don’t Get It Wrong