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FITS and Scenario Development

by Tom Glista
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

The FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) team has been out putting on Pilot Proficiency Program (WINGS) approved FITS instructor seminars across the country over the past year. One of the most interesting aspects is what instructors think they understand, but don't. During the last three seminars we asked, by a show of hands, who uses scenario-based training? Most instructors raised their hands. But, by the end of the seminar, many of these same instructors were asking us if there is a database of scenarios they can use. What they thought was scenario-based training, really wasn't. This article is about how to develop scenarios to meet lesson (learning) objectives.

But first, why haven't we developed a bank of scenarios? Three reasons: time, money, and specificity. Considering the FITS program was just an idea four years ago we have made great strides working with industry partners, developing curricula, working Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) issues, developing lessons learned, partnering with aircraft manufacturers, and training providers, etc. We had to work the big issues first. The second is competing priorities within the FAA. With limited resources we must prioritize our work. Developing a bank of scenarios has not risen in the priority level to fund. Third is specificity. FITS philosophy is one size does NOT fit all. Training should meet the needs of the pilot. There are so many possible permutations it could take years to develop a comprehensive bank of scenarios. It's like the old saying, 'How do you want it'good, fast, or cheap? Pick two.'

Scenario-based training is a training system that uses a highly structured script of real-world experiences to address flight-evaluation in an operational environment. The key words here are 'highly structured' and 'real world.' The instructor must structure the scenario to meet the desired training objective of that lesson. A loosely developed scenario is easily brought off track and the training objective may not be reached. And, of course, it has to be real. The intensity principal of learning implies that the student will learn more from the real thing than a substitute. Also, failures must be realistic. An engine failure, in instrument conditions, with severe icing, and a dual screen failure is not realistic.

Consider the following example: The flight instructor provides a detailed explanation on how to control for wind drift. The explanation includes a thorough coverage of heading, speed, angle of bank, altitude, terrain, and wind direction plus velocity. The explanation is followed by a demonstration and repeated practice of a specific flight maneuver, such as turns around a point or S turns across the road, until the maneuver can be consistently accomplished in a safe and effective manner within a specified limit of heading, altitude, and airspeed. At the end of this lesson, the student is only capable of performing the maneuver.

Now, consider a different example. The student is asked to plan for an arrival at a specific uncontrolled airport. The planning should take into consideration the possible wind conditions, arrival paths, airport information and communication procedures, available runways, recommended traffic patterns, courses of action, and preparation for unexpected situations. Upon arrival at the airport the student makes decisions (with guidance and feedback as necessary) to safely enter and fly the traffic pattern. This is followed by a discussion of what was done, why it was done, the consequences, and other possible courses of action and how it applies to other airports. At the end of this lesson the student is capable of explaining safe arrival at any uncontrolled airport in any wind condition.

The first example is one of traditional learning where the focus is on the maneuver. The second is an example of scenario-based learning, where the focus is on real world performance. Many learning developers in flight training have built on the former option. Traditional training methods in many instances are giving way to more realistic and fluid forms of learning. The industry is moving from traditional knowledge-related learning outcomes to an emphasis on increased internalized learning in which learners are able to assess situations and appropriately react. Knowledge components are becoming an important side effect of a dynamic learning experience.

Reality is the ultimate learning situation and scenario-based training attempts to get as close as possible to this ideal. In simple terms, scenario based training addresses learning that occurs in a context or situation. It is based on the concept of situated cognition, which is the idea that knowledge cannot be known and fully understood independent of its context. In other words, the more realistic the situation is and the more we are counted on to perform, the better we learn. Simply put, train the way you fly, and fly the way you train.

Now think about this. Which pilot has more experience and which one would you trust to fly a loved one to a destination? Pilot number one has 500 hours, but has spent most of the last 400 hours in the local area or doing touch and goes. Pilot number two has 250 hours, but has spent the last 200 hours flying across the country. Although pilot number one has more flight time, pilot number two has more experience. Scenario-based training more quickly develops the student's experience. Students are exposed to more situations in a shorter amount of time than the traditionally trained pilot.

Now let's construct a couple of scenarios. This first scenario is for a student pilot training for a private pilot certificate. The lesson objectives are to develop proficiency in ground reference maneuvers, stalls, and slow flight. The day before you call or e-mail your student that the scenario will be that you are a news photographer who is doing a story on a nearby town that was flooded the day before. (Use your imagination, the camera crew is heading to an accident site, doing beach reports, pipeline patrol, taking photo of wild life, fish/animal counting'anything that would realistically require flight around 1,000' AGL.) Your student arrives for the flight with a flight plan. The flight plan should include performance planning, a risk assessment, fuel requirements, weight and balance, etc. During the flight, you pick out objects that need to be photographed that would require circling around the object (turns around a point, s-turns, and eights), and flying along property lines (rectangular course). You, as the photographer (and yes, bring a camera), can apply situations that would require aeronautical decision-making and risk management by the student. You tell your student that you cannot get the shot you absolutely must have unless you fly lower (below safe minimums). Put pressure on the student, if you don't go lower, you will complain to the pilot's boss and will not pay for the flight. After that portion of the flight, on the way home, you can climb to altitude and practice the flight maneuvers. There are some things that must be done in a non-scenario environment for safety sake. Do not do accelerated stalls on base to final. But good ground school training with 'what if' scenarios can help explain why we practice certain maneuvers.

Another flight scenario. Your student is working on an instrument rating. The lesson objectives are GPS and VOR navigation, non-precision approaches, and equipment failure. Again, the day before the flight you call or e-mail your student the mission. The student needs to pick up his/her mother at airport AXX and fly to airport BXX for his/her sister's wedding. The student again arrives with a plan that includes performance planning, a risk assessment, fuel requirement, weight and balance, etc. As an instructor you may need to provide fictitious weather for this scenario. En route the instructor can play controller and/or Flight Watch bringing the weather down to a point where a decision needs to be made whether to divert. If they do divert, what about Mom? What about the wedding? They are depending on the transportation. Did the student prepare alternate plans? Other realistic situations can be thrown in. For example, loss of RAIM (Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring), the wind-favored runway is closed, PFD or vacuum system failure, flying a DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) arc, holding, etc. The student not only meets the objectives of the flight, but the student is also demonstrating and developing risk management and aeronautical decision making skills. The student will also demonstrate single pilot resource management with the appropriate use of automation by getting weather en route (either through air traffic control/Flight Watch or data link on the Primary Flight Display or PFD), prioritizing tasks, etc.

Appropriate scenarios are dependent on aircraft type, aircraft systems (complex, high performance, glass cockpit, etc.), where the student is in the training process (private pilot not yet soloed or a CFI preparing for the practical test), environment (mountainous terrain or flat lands), or what type of flight it is (e.g. flight review, instrument proficiency flight), and what is the objective of the lesson. The possible combinations and, therefore, possible scenarios are almost endless. For ideas on scenarios look at 14 CFR sections 119.1(d) and (e). It describes both commercial and non-commercial operations. For ground reference maneuvers there are banner towing, aerial photography or survey, pipeline patrol, and sight seeing flights. For high performance maneuvers, you can consider aerial applications. For short and soft field takeoffs and landings, cross wind operations, operations in different classes of airspace, IFR operations (including approaches), or cross country scenarios, you might think about delivery of human organs for transplants, package delivery, or taking the boss to a meeting. Flight schools should develop banks of scenarios to meet the needs of their clients.

Of course, scenarios alone do not make FITS training. I will discuss another FITS tenet in my next article. Fly safe.

Tom Glista is an Aviation Safety Inspector in Flight Standards Service's General Aviation and Commercial Division and is the FITS Program Manager.