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Tune up your scan: from IFR newbies to crusty old freight dogs, the scan is the foundation for flying in the soup. Sometimes it needs a fresh look.

It has always seemed to me that having instrument students puzzle over which instruments are primary and supporting for various phases of flight is a poor substitute for the venerated building block system of learning.

No matter what we say before we throw a student in front of seven or more moving instruments, they are at a loss for where to look. In FAA parlance, this is the distinction between primary and supporting instruments.

Questions from the FAA are supposed to address this. Unfortunately, "What are the primary and supporting instruments during a straight and level stabilized climb at a standard rate?" is a far-removed, theoretical concept compared to actually flying a runway heading on a missed approach.

For students, the issue is building a solid scan from the start. But even high-time pilots can get lazy and sloppy in their scan. A little time on a desktop simulator can get newbies off on the right foot and lazy pros back on their feet.

Look Here

The primary/supporting and control/performance concepts are both skill sets that can and should be learned in front of the gauges. These skills are like the fundamentals of any practice and are best mastered one at a time. (More on control/performance in a minute.)

You'll need a desktop simulator that lets you click on the face of an individual instrument to cover and then uncover it again. With a click, you can force (or allow) your student or yourself to take a quick peek at an instrument without fixating on it. On Top by ASA is the best simulator I've found for this, but others will presumably work. Don't worry about a fancy system with sheepskin seats and cup holders; a plain PC with a joystick works fine.

To make the discussion simpler, we'll assume you're a CFI or you're working to help someone else's scan. You can figure out how you might use these techniques on yourself. The idea is to coach the student to look at the pertinent instrument at the pertinent moment.

Generally these exercises will start with all instruments covered except the AI and power gauge (tachometer or manifold pressure). From there you just cover and uncover the instruments in proper sequence for the task being worked on. The technique is surprisingly effective, and especially so if it takes place right off the bat.

Let's review the control/performance concept. This idea is that the AI and power gauge are the instruments used to control the airplane, whereas the other five instruments are used to monitor performance (Pitch + Power = Performance).

Everything except control instruments is covered at first. The student flies the AI for a minute to get their eyes and hands trained. Then the instructor introduces a regimen change and, say, has the student repitch for one-bar-width pitch up.

Once the student has the airplane stabilized, the instructor takes a peek at the performance instrument that is appropriate. That could be the airspeed indicator to verify a target speed or the vertical speed indicator for a target rate of climb or descent.

The peek should only last for a second or two and then the gauge gets covered back up and the student's eyes go back where they belong. Start the session with power changes made while maintaining straight and level, with peeks at airspeed and altitude. Then add in straight climbs and descents, and turning climbs and descents.

In this way students will learn how primary and supporting instruments complement each during the execution of a maneuver, in contrast to just reading about it. Hopefully it will also give them a better idea of what supporting means.

There are certain flight conditions where a systematically developed scan will pay off hugely. Among these are transitioning from descent to a climb (missed approach) and a precision approach descent. In fact, traditional unusual attitude training is a variation of this method, if only left to the whimsy of a student's wildly gallivanting eyeballs.

Building Blocks

I admit that my main takeaway from the FAA's Aviation Instructor's Handbook (AIH) was an awareness to the notion of inappropriate singing in the cockpit. (What constitutes inappropriate singing still baffles me, though. Is a little "Muffin Man" during a hold OK but "Jimmy Crack Corn" inside the marker signals a problem? And what kind of "I don't care" attitude is that one good for?)

Voice lessons notwithstanding, the AIH makes a good point about building blocks for learning. The primary/supporting and control/ performance concepts are both skill sets that are mastered in front of the gauges. Like the fundamentals of any practice, these skills are best studied one at a time.

Time spent doing these exercises won't go into any logbook. But I think folks get too hung up on how many hours of PC-ATD/B-ATD time they can log. Logged or not, this is an area where IFR students can get a major boost in development of the raw fundamentals.


Here's an example of the peek-a-boo process applied to the start of a standard rate turn to a new heading.

The first step is getting established in straight and level flight (top). The next step is a roll with the student forced to use only the pitch and power instruments because they are all that is available (second from top).

Once established in the turn, you can uncover the turn coordinator (second from bottom) or the heading indicator (bottom).

You could also leave the turn coordinator uncovered to emphasize performance, or cover it back up in order to work the scan. The idea is to control what instrument the student uses to make control inputs as well as to tune the monitoring function of their scan.

In this way students will learn how primary and supporting instruments complement each during the execution of a maneuver. That's in contrast to just reading about it or being asked to ignore certain instruments during the sound and fury of flight in the real airplane right off the bat. Hopefully it will also give them a new idea of what primary and supporting means, even if only looked at briefly.

Here are some other building blocks that lend well to scan coaching:

* Entering straight and level descent at a constant airspeed/rate

* Changes in configuration, especially to and from straight and level

* Non-precision approach descent

* Climbing turns

* Partial panel (don't have too much left to cover)

* Rolling to a steep turn

* Level off-climb/descent

* Localizer intercept

The system works for pretty much anything you can think of. If you're an experienced instrument pilot who's working on tuning up your own scan, try a series of maneuvers or a full approach, peeking as little as possible. You might be surprised how much it smoothes out your own approach gyrations.--C.K.

Craig Kilcourse is a CFII and commercial pilot in Seattle, Wash.
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Title Annotation:TRAINING; Instrument Flight Rules
Author:Kilcourse, Craig
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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