Words from our CFI Duncan Stewart

One of the most interesting things to come out of the Ridge Workshops we ran for cross country pilots in the autumn was Max Mingay’s ‘Gliding Competency Matrix’. Max has come up with an interesting way of categorizing the skills and knowledge required to fly gliders competently based on ICAO concepts, but leaving out the power related issues. It gives us a very useful framework to identify areas where glider pilots might be falling short. Max describes the matrix elsewhere in the magazine, so read that before proceeding here.

Some of the competencies are taught and assessed specifically in the BGA pre-solo practical training syllabus, some are incidental and inferred by observation. Some of the knowledge required to make good flying decisions is presented in the Bronze Theory subjects, but pilots can easily miss how to apply it. The practical flying training usually starts with the instructor telling pupils what to do and when to do it. As basic skills develop, pupils are allowed to start making their own judgements and decisions. Clearly, judgement and decision making are harder to assess than handling skills as they take place in the pupil’s head and so are not directly observable. We like pupils to tell us what they are thinking, if indeed they are, but thinking, flying and explaining at the same time can be hard work, especially for a beginner. The SPL License flying test is very prescriptive, and It is quite possible to fly to an acceptable level for a License Test without actually being able to deal with difficult situations in the future.

In the license Flying Test the examiner asks the candidate to go through the procedures to prepare for flight, do a normal launch, fly in a straight line, make a turn and so on. This tests their ability to follow procedures and control the glider, but doesn’t demonstrate any competence relating to Situational Awareness, Workload Management and Decision Making. Perhaps that is why it’s often been said that once you go solo the real learning begins. Maybe we teach the basics to Licensed level, and then the safety organisation draws your attention to pitfalls caused by poor workload management, situational awareness and decision making.

The recent GASCO safety evening highlighted the high number of gliding accidents that are ‘Controlled Flight into Terrain’. In these accidents pilots with perfectly adequate handling skills come to grief because of poor situational awareness, or poor decision making, or most likely both. Poor situational awareness(SA) or decision making(DM) may be due to lack of experience, eg flying at a new site, or flying the ridge for the first time. That is why we offer visiting Qualified Pilots a briefing and training flight if they are going to fly our ridge for the first time. But, poor SA and DM may also be caused by workload exceeding cognitive capacity. Under stress the pilot might use all his capacity to focus in on one issue, while other threats or future threats are put on hold, eg this might result in deferring a decision to land until the only remaining option is a controlled crash.