the learning never stops!

Instructor Limitations


  1. The instructor must be fully qualified and proficient. Nothing else can happen until this requirement is met.
  2. The instructor must know his or her own limitations and must never exceed these.
  3. When the student is brand new, unqualified, or simply unproficient, it may be necessary to challenge the student by expanding his or her own limitations. The instructor must do this carefully, realizing that a mistake could push the operation outside even the instructor’s limitations.
  4. Once the student is proficient, there is no further reason to expand his or her limitations.



Figure: Limitations Philosophy, from Eddie's notes

Anticipating trouble

A student may place too much faith in the instructor’s ability to rectify any situation gone wrong so the instructor must anticipate what can go wrong before it does. Before initiating any action that is “out of the ordinary,” the instructor must come up with a plan to ensure the mistake will not impact safety of flight or can be quickly corrected. A worst case scenario illustrates this.

An extreme example

In the big airplane Air Force we would practice engine failures after takeoff when 200 feet above the runway. The instructor would bring an outboard engine to idle to test the student’s reaction. The instructor had to anticipate a wrong rudder reaction. A common technique would be for the instructor to brace the leg on the opposite side of the engine to be failed as a way of being able to sense the wrong rudder. If failing the left-outboard engine, for example, the instructor would first brace his or her right leg. The correct reaction would be to press the right rudder. If the student pressed the left rudder, the right rudder would move aft and the instructor could, theoretically, counter it with the correct rudder. But even this failed to work if the student was extremely aggressive with the rudder. A good instructor would precede the maneuver with a thorough briefing requiring all rudder inputs to be made gently and only after confirmation of which engine had failed.

With the advent of full motion simulators, few operators would risk a practice engine failure after takeoff in an airplane. But there are still opportunities for instructors to fall behind a student’s mistakes in an airplane.

A commonplace example

We are often tasked with supervising a pilot’s first ever landing in the airplane after having been blessed with a type rating from a full motion simulator. With enough experience most pilots do just fine. But a pilot without a lot of seasoning in a large aircraft can often be miles behind the airplane, especially with the added factor of winds, other traffic, and perhaps a short runway.

If you are flying an airplane without full controls from the right seat you should probably have the student fly from the right seat so as to give you full control if needed. From the right seat, you may not be able to recover from an improper nosewheel tiller input at high speed from the left seat.

You should also stack the odds in your favor by ensuring these first few landings are on a long, wide runway. Don’t assume the student can do this safely without a good, thorough pre-brief. A pilot used to flying a 12,000 lb. King Air, for example, will revert to those procedures when attempting to land a 70,000 lb. Gulfstream without a proper briefing.


Before the flight, start with an overall briefing about the objectives of the flight, the anticipated maneuvers, and a safety briefing. For example: “Today we will be flying from Bedford to Portsmouth with the objective of logging three takeoffs and three landings for your initial currency in this airplane. I expect you to fly the airplane in accordance with all limitations and our standard operating procedures. If at anytime you are in doubt as to what the required action is, say so. If at anytime you feel rushed or uncertain, speak up and if you want me to fly the airplane, say ‘you’ve got it.’ I will let you know if corrective action is needed and if at anytime I say, ‘I have control,’ I expect you to relinquish all flight controls and the power levers and assume pilot monitoring duties.”

Before each maneuver include a quick briefing about what is expected and what to do if something goes wrong. For example: “You will be landing the airplane from the left seat using our standard operating procedures. I expect you to keep the airplane on a 3-degree glide path with the autothrottles engaged until they disengage themselves after touchdown. You will fly the airplane with a crab into the crosswind until it is time to flare, at which time you should use rudder to align the aircraft with the runway and ailerons to kill any drift. You should begin your flare at 20 feet and land main gear first in the first 2,000 feet of the runway. Then you should gently lower the nose, pull the thrust reversers to the locks, and then use the thrust reversers fully. You should have the thrust reversers at idle by 70 knots. You should not have to use the brakes until that point with a runway of this length. We should exit the runway at the end. If at any point I believe the landing should be aborted, I will say ‘go around’ and you should activate the TOGA switch and raise the nose into the command bars. I will ensure the throttles go to ‘go around’ thrust, let you know when we have a positive rate of climb and raise the gear. If we do land I will let you know if more or less braking is needed.”

It may be helpful to have a script of sorts memorized for each maneuver. If you are improvising in the traffic pattern your situational awareness can be compromised. For a few pointers, see: Visual Approach.

When things go wrong

We often see instructor mistakes when things go so wrong the safety of the airplane is compromised. It is important to realize that when the airplane is damaged or when the situation is such that a continued training sortie is no longer possible, the instruction part of the sortie is over and it is time to simply fly the airplane. It is helpful to know a “safe place” for the aircraft in terms of power settings and attitude.

  • Power: Go around thrust will almost always serve you well, unless in an extreme nose-low attitude.
  • Roll: When in doubt, wings level should be a priority unless the current heading will fly the airplane into an obstacle. This should almost always be done with ailerons only.
  • Pitch: When in doubt, climb. You should have an idea of what pitch setting works for a go-around. On most airplanes this works out between 10 and 15 degrees.
  • Yaw: If operated quickly, the rudder can get you into an unrecoverable situation. If operated slowly, you might have a bit of adverse yaw but that can be easily addressed a few seconds later.
  • Automation: The autopilot and autothrottles can reduce your workload and give you the time needed to sort things out.

Don’t forget that the requirement to keep it safe outweighs any training objective. When things go wrong, your priority should be to get the airplane on the ground in one piece with everyone uninjured.

Book Notes

Portions of this page can be found in the book Flight Lessons 2: Advanced Flight, Chapter 8 and Flight Lessons 3: Experience, Chapter 2.

Revision: 20160809