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Five Mile Final | A Flight Instructor's Sandbox

Aviation Instructor's Handbook


A knowledge of basic human needs and defense mechanisms is essential when creating an effective learning experience.

Students consider instructors authority figures, and they expect the instructor to exercise certain controls. Instructors need to know what controls are the most effective for a given set of circumstances.

Every student works toward a goal of some kind, which instructors must guide them to. Some basic assumptions include:

Instructors need to recognize untapped potential in students, even if they at first appear to lack aptitude. The proper set of controls can bring results from most students.

Human needs include primary (innate) and secondary (learned). A common hierarchy of human needs was created by Abraham Maslow in the 1950s, which is a pyramid that includes (from the base):

Instructors should help their students satisfy their human needs within a healthy learning environment.

Defense mechanisms are subconscious, automatic ego-protecting reactions to unpleasant situations. Defenses soften feelings of failure and guilt while protecting self-worth and adequacy. These include:

Defense mechanisms solve nothing; they alleviate symptoms but do not address problems. Most defense mechanisms fall within the realm of normal human behavior, while a few indicate mental illness. Other defense mechanisms include fantasy, repression, displacement, emotional insulation, regression, and introjection.

Anxiety is a state of mental uneasiness arising from fear, real or imagined. The most common human factor affecting flight instruction, and both normal and abnormal reactions to anxiety concern the flight instructor. It can be countered by reinforcing the enjoyment of safe flying.

Normal reactions to stress including "flight or flight" syndrome. Abnormal reactions include over-cooperation, extreme self-control, mood swings, and laughter or singing. Instructors should also watch for mood swings between lessons and extreme anger directed at the instructor and/or others.

Flight instructors must refrain from certifying students who may be suffering from severe psychological abnormality, and must assure that such a person does not continue training or become certified. Other instructors, the local FSDO, and an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) can be consulted in this process. This should be considered when taking into account the flight instructor's two primary legal responsibilities: certifying for solo flight, and recommending for flight exam. Action should be taken before these milestones occur.


Flight Instructor Test Questions

Before a student can concentrate on learning, the physical human need must be satisfied.

When a student becomes bewildered and lost in the advanced phase of training after completing the early phase without grasping the fundamentals, the defense mechanism is usually in the form of resignation.

When under stress, normal individuals usually react by responding rapidly and exactly, often automatically, within the limits of their experience and training, and not by extreme over-cooperation, painstaking self-control, and inappropriate laughing or singing, which would be abnormal reactions to stress.

When the instructor keeps the student informed of lesson objectives and completion standards, it minimizes the student's feelings of insecurity.

Robert Wederquist   CP-ASEL - AGI - IGI
Commercial Pilot • Instrument Pilot
Advanced Ground Instructor • Instrument Ground Instructor