The March “Since You Asked” poll: That problem student

“Dear Rod,

“I have a really difficult student problem. This student has been through two other flight schools for an instrument rating, failing the practical exam at both. I am his third instructor and his check airman for his third stage check. It took him four attempts before I passed him (with reservations). I am trying to prepare him for his final stage check and practical.

“I have found many faults that I have pointed out to him, and given him tools and techniques to help him fly better. Under benign conditions he is relaxed and can fly a decent approach. But if there is a wind aloft, he gets rattled and is all over the sky. When I point out his mistakes, he always has a ready excuse. He is a poster boy for defense mechanisms.

“I have told him he will only succeed with a lot of practice, which he feels he doesn’t need (or want). I’ve also tried to convey the seriousness of what we’re doing, that this training is vital because flying in IMC is for keeps. I haven’t gotten to the point of telling him to give up. However, I don’t know what else I can do for him. Any suggestions?”

Wow. That’s a tough spot for a flight instructor to be in, especially when you consider, as he did, that “flying in IMC is for keeps.” We asked our digital subscribers to play the role of the CFII and tell us what they’d do in this instance. Here’s how the 43 responses stacked up.

  • 2 percent said they’d pass the student off to someone else. (Maybe four times is the charm for this student?)
  • 30 percent said they’d hang in there, and keep trying. (A few votes for optimism here.)
  • 60 percent said they’d tell the student straight out, “I can’t sign you off for the checkride,” and they’d spell out the reasons why. (We’d like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation.)
  • 7 percent said “Other,” which we left unspecified.

What would you have done in this instructor’s shoes? If none of our answers is to your liking, what would you suggest? We’ll leave off Rod’s response so as not to influence your opinion.

“Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.—Jill W. Tallman

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  • Colin

    What an interesting account. I have worked with a student quite similar, though, he didn’t think he was great and I think deep down, he knew where his weakness(es) lay.

    Sometimes one can let a student teach themselves an example by the principle of “intensity”, ie. let them do something to scare themselves just enough to make a lasting impression. I’ll never forget sitting in my driver’s ed class and having the highway patrol officer showing us black and whites of a horribly mangled body and the impression that made on me to, well, sit up and drive right!

    Perhaps before having the sit-down conversation with this student, you may wish to get him some actual time. It’s not clear whether he’s shot an approach in actual conditions, but if not, perhaps he has a false sense of accomplishment under the hood (we all know there is the little corner we can see out). If he hasn’t been in actual conditions shooting approaches, try to find a day where the ceilings will permit being in actual past the PFAF or FAF so he gets this experience.

    Another “approach” might be to work more in a FTD or PCATD to continue working on approaches and holding patterns in an effort to reduce the cost to him and allow you to manipulate more environmental variables. You could also choose to simulate some abnormalities like a low voltage light as he’s beginning an approach. This will accomplish two things: 1) Show you how he can handle an abnormal situation flying single-pilot IFR; 2) Give you some leverage to show that he does indeed, need more practice.

    Barring any of the above or other attempts, I must admit this does sound like a student that you may need to have a serious conversation. As much as we learn about these defense mechanisms and emphasizing the positive, we must also remember to recognize a potentially dangerous situation with a student. Without having more information it’s hard to say, but it does sound like he has some hazardous attitudes and performance issues which could lead to an NTSB report. Personally, if it’s taken him this long, with this many instructors, and he’s “all over the sky” with as much practice as he’s had, imagine how it’s going to be if he waits 5 months to keep his instrument currency and goes up in actual conditions.

    Good luck!

    – Colin

  • Buddy Cox

    In the military, we would wash this pilot out. Some people lack what it takes. Let him go and quit trying to be the superman instructor.