Assessment of Piloting Ability

Assessment is an essential component of the teaching process and determines how, what, and how well a student is learning. A well designed assessment provides a student with something constructive upon which he or she can work or build. An assessment should provide direction and guidance to raise the level of performance. Students must understand the purpose of the assessment; otherwise, they will be unlikely to accept the evaluation offered and little improvement will result. There are many types of assessment, but the flight instructor generally uses the review, collaborative assessment (LCG), written tests, and performance-based tests to ascertain knowledge or practical skill levels. Refer to chapter 5 for an in-depth discussion of the types of assessment available to the flight instructor.

An assessment can also be used as a tool for reteaching. Although not all assessments lend themselves to reteaching, the instructor should be alert to the possibility and take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. In assessing the ability of a student, the instructor initially determines if he or she understands the procedure or maneuver. Then, the instructor demonstrates the maneuver, allows the student to practice the maneuver under direction, and finally evaluates student accomplishment by observing the performance.


Demonstrated Ability

Assessment of demonstrated ability during flight instruction must be based upon established standards of performance, suitably modified to apply to the student’s experience and stage of development as a pilot. The assessment must consider the student’s mastery of the elements involved in the maneuver, rather than merely the overall performance.

In order for a student to be signed off for a solo flight, the CFI must determine that the student is qualified and proficient in the flight tasks necessary for the flight. The CFI bases this assessment on the student’s ability to demonstrate consistent proficiency on a number of flight maneuvers. Also associated with pilot skill evaluations during flight training are the stage checks conducted in FAA-approved school courses and the practical tests for pilot certificates and ratings.

Postflight Evaluation

In assessing piloting ability, it is important for the flight instructor to keep the student informed of progress. This may be done as each procedure or maneuver is completed or summarized during postflight critiques. Postflight critiques should be in a written format, such as notes to aid the flight instructor in covering all areas that were noticed during the flight or lesson. Traditionally, flight instructors explained errors in performance, pointed out elements in which the deficiencies were believed to have originated and, if possible, suggested appropriate corrective measures. Traditional assessment depends on a grading scale of “excellent, good, fair, poor” or “exceeds standards, meets standards, needs more training” which often meets the instructor’s needs but not the needs of the student.

With the advent of SBT, collaborative assessment is used whenever the student has completed a scenario. As discussed in chapters 4 and 5, SBT uses a highly structured script of real-world experiences to address aviation training objectives in an operational environment. During the postflight evaluation, collaborative assessment is used to evaluate whether certain learning criteria were met during the SBT.

Collaborative assessment includes learner self-assessment and a detailed assessment by the aviation instructor. The purpose of the self-assessment is to stimulate growth in the learner’s thought processes and, in turn, behaviors. The self-assessment is followed by an in-depth discussion between the instructor and the student which compares the instructor’s assessment to the student’s self-assessment.

First Solo Flight

During the student’s first solo flight, the instructor must be present to assist in answering questions or resolving any issues that arise during the flight. To ensure the solo flight is a positive, confidence-building experience for the student, the flight instructor needs to consider time of day when scheduling the flight. Time of day is a factor in traffic congestion, possible winds, sun angles, and reflection.

If possible, the flight instructor needs access to a portable radio during any supervised solo operations. A radio enables the instructor to terminate the solo operation if he or she observes a situation developing. The flight instructor must use good judgment when communicating with a solo student. Keep all radio communications to a minimum. Do not talk to the student on short final of the landing approach.

Post-Solo Debriefing

During a post-solo debriefing, the flight instructor discusses what took place during the student’s solo flight. It is important for the flight instructor to answer any questions the student may have as result of a solo flight. Instructors need to be involved in all aspects of the flight to ensure the student utilizes correct flight procedures. It is very important for the flight instructor to debrief a student immediately after a solo flight. With the flight vividly etched in the student’s memory, questions about the flight will come quickly.


Correction of Student Errors

Correction of student errors should not include the practice of immediately taking the controls away when a mistake is made. Safety permitting, it is frequently better to let students progress part of the way into the mistake and find a way out. For example, in a weight-shift control aircraft the control bar is moved right to turn left. A student may show an initial tendency to move the bar in the direction of the desired turn. This tendency will dissipate with time, but allowing the student to see the effect of his or her control input is a valuable aid in illustrating the stability of the aircraft. It is difficult for students to learn a maneuver properly if they seldom have the opportunity to correct an error.

On the other hand, students may perform a procedure or maneuver correctly and not fully understand the principles and objectives involved. When the instructor suspects this, students should be required to vary the performance of the maneuver slightly, combine it with other operations, or apply the same elements to the performance of other maneuvers. Students who do not understand the principles involved will probably not be able to do this successfully.

Pilot Supervision

Flight instructors have the responsibility to provide guidance and restraint with respect to the solo operations of their students. This is by far the most important flight instructor responsibility. The flight instructor is the only person in a position to make the determination a student is ready for solo operations. Before endorsing a student for solo flight, the instructor should require the student to demonstrate consistent ability to perform all of the fundamental maneuvers.

Dealing with Normal Challenges

Instructors should teach students how to solve ordinary problems encountered during flight. Traffic pattern congestion, change in active runway, or unexpected crosswinds are challenges the student masters individually before being able to perform them collectively.


SBT lends itself well to visualization techniques. For example, have a student visualize how the flight may occur under normal circumstances, with the student describing how he or she would fly the flight. Then, the instructor adds unforeseen circumstances such as a sudden change in weather that brings excessive winds during final approach. Other examples of SBT can have the instructor adding undesired landing sites for balloon student pilots, rope breaks for glider students, and radio outages for instrument airplane students. Now, the student must visualize how he or she will handle the unexpected change.

During this visualization, the flight instructor can ask questions to check the student’s thought processes. The job of the instructor is to challenge the student with realistic flying situations without overburdening him or her with unrealistic scenarios.


Practice Landings

The FAA recommends that in all student flights involving landings in an aircraft, the flight instructor should teach a full stop landing. Full stop landings help the student develop aircraft control and checklist usage. Aircraft speed and control take precedence over all other actions during landings and takeoffs.

Stress landing in the first third of the runway to ensure there is stopping distance for the aircraft. If the student is unable to land in the first third, teach him or her to make an immediate go around. If the student bounces an airplane on landing, teach the student to make an immediate go around. By following these teaching guidelines, the student is better equipped to properly execute landings when he or she solos. Furthermore, by requiring the first solo flight to consist of landings to a full stop, the flight instructor has the opportunity to stop the flight if necessary.

In gliders, a low energy landing is the most desirable, based on current winds. This helps the student develop good off-field landings techniques. This is dependent on current weather, such as excess winds including crosswinds.

Practical Test Recommendations

Provision is made on the airman certificate or rating application form for the written recommendation of the flight instructor who has prepared the applicant for the practical test involved. Signing this recommendation imposes a serious responsibility on the flight instructor. A flight instructor who makes a practical test recommendation for an applicant seeking a certificate or rating should require the applicant to demonstrate thoroughly the knowledge and skill level required for that certificate or rating. This demonstration should in no instance be less than the complete procedure prescribed in the applicable PTS.

When the instructor endorses the applicant for the practical test, his or her signature on the FAA Form 8710-1, Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application, is valid for 60 days. This is also true with the flight proficiency endorsement that is placed in the applicant’s logbook or training record (Advisory Circular (AC) 61-65). These two dates should be the same.

Completion of prerequisites for a practical test is another instructor task that must be documented properly. Examples of all common endorsements can be found in the current issue of AC 61-65, Appendix 1. This appendix also includes references to 14 CFR Part 61, Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, and Ground Instructors, for more details concerning the requirements that must be met to qualify for each respective endorsement. The examples shown contain the essential elements of each endorsement. It is not mandatory, but recommended for all endorsements to be worded exactly as those in the AC. For example, changes to regulatory requirements may affect the wording, or the instructor may customize the endorsement for any special circumstances of the applicant. However, at a minimum, the instructor needs to cite the appropriate 14 CFR part 61 section that has been completed.

FAA inspectors and DPEs rely on flight instructor recommendations as evidence of qualification for certification, and proof that a review has been given of the subject areas found to be deficient on the appropriate knowledge test. Recommendations also provide assurance that the applicant has had a thorough briefing on the PTS and the associated knowledge areas, maneuvers, and procedures. If the flight instructor has trained and prepared the applicant competently, the applicant should have no problem passing the practical test.

A flight instructor who fails to ensure a student meets the requirements of regulations prior to endorsing solo flight or additional rating exhibits a serious deficiency in performance. The FAA holds him or her accountable. Providing a solo endorsement for a student who is not fully prepared to accept the responsibility for solo flight operations, or providing an endorsement for an additional rating to a pilot not meeting the appropriate regulatory requirements, is also a breach of faith with the applicant.