Home' Australian Aviation Magazine : November 2009 Contents 59
NOVEMBER 2009 AUSTRALIAN AVIATION
Finally, 'deliberate practice' is hard work.
Even in physically demanding sports
'deliberate practice' is mentally demanding,
which is why there is a limit to how much
of it you can effectively do in a day. As a
famous violinist once said -- "If you practice
with your fingers you will need all day, but
if you practice with your head two hours is
So in summary -- in order to improve
your flying skills you also need to work on
improving your ability to think about, and
critically reflect on, your own performance.
Without continuously increasing these
metacognitive skills you will be unable
to continue to plan, execute and monitor
the deliberate practice of your flying skills
as the level of these skills continues to
improve. In short -- to become an expert
you also need to continuously build expert
Going to the golf driving range with a
bag full of clubs to "work on your swing"
is unlikely to qualify as 'deliberate practice'
unless you know exactly which part of your
swing you are working on, exactly what
improvement you are trying to achieve and
how you will know if you have achieved it.
All of which are unlikely without having
a teaching professional in attendance, or a
On the other hand, airline simulator
endorsements programs usually meet all
the following requirement of 'deliberate
practice', which is why they are so efficient
(1) ese programs are carefully designed
to teach specific and necessary skills in a
progressively more difficult order.
(2) While the programs themselves are
generally designed with opportunities for
repetition, if any component needs to be re-
peated simulators provide an ideal environ-
ment to isolate and reinforce the specific
skills needing further practice.
(3) Accurate and timely feedback is
provided by both the 'inflight performance'
during the session along with the instruc-
tor's comments, and also during the post
(4) Finally, as anyone who has been
through an endorsement program knows,
they are mentally exhausting. While they
can be a satisfying experience, very few
people would ever call them fun.
Similar comments can be made about
the line flying component of any training
program, with the caveat that the 'quality'
of the training captain, and the effort and
preparation put in by the student, have a
huge impact on the success or otherwise of
General line flying presents somewhat
of a conundrum depending on how it is
approached. e 'fat, dumb and happy'
approach meets few, if any, of the require-
ments for 'deliberate practice', and as a
result the amount of expertise developed
will fall well below what could have been
the case given the amount of experience,
but this doesn't need to be the case.
Obviously there are many things that can't
be physically practised on an actual flight,
but this doesn't mean they can't be practised
mentally. Feedback doesn't have to be given
by a third party. Carefully reflecting on the
completed flight, what was done well, what
could have been improved, and importantly
why, has the same effect. As has been repeat-
edly demonstrated, mental practice is just as
useful as the real thing. Similarly, rather than
enjoying the view during quiet periods, the
cockpit environment and manuals available
provide an ideal opportunity to think about
and/or discuss scenarios and the different
ways they could be handled, especially if
you're crewed with an expert captain (expert
being a relative term).
Contrary to popular misconception, it
has been shown that none of the experts
studied demonstrated any identifiable
form of superior innate ability that set
them apart from their peers, other than
the motivation to continue with greater
amounts of 'deliberate practice' over their
lifetimes. Just as Chuck Yeager said, experts
are constructed, not born.
Naturally there is some form of survivor-
ship bias in these results, since someone
who is tone deaf isn't likely to be in the
group of budding young musicians studied
over their lifetimes to see who became
an expert. However, given that pilots are
recruited based on the general abilities and
competencies regarded as necessary for
success in the profession, it is reasonable to
conclude that the attained level of expertise
in aviation is dependent on the amount of
'deliberate practice' performed. is will
also mean that someone who is selected
into an organisation or position that
stretches them continuously (and supports
them with appropriate training and/or
mentoring) is likely to develop significantly
greater relevant expertise than a peer who
wasn't -- being in the right place at the right
time really does count!
Being able to fly the aircraft is a neces-
sary skill, learned the same way you learn
to hit a tennis ball (practice and feedback).
However, learning the increasingly complex
cognitive skills required in modern aircraft
is more difficult because they are, almost by
definition, hidden from view. Provided you
develop the metacognitive skills so that you
know what you are trying to achieve and
can structure your experience, so at least
some of it conforms with the principles of
'deliberate practice', these skills will slowly
develop. As to the level that is ultimately
attained -- this is simply a function of the
motivation of the individual concerned, the
environment he or she is exposed to, the
quality of the deliberate practice, the qual-
ity of the feedback generated and what use
is made of this feedback, and importantly
the perseverance to maintain this deliberate
practice regime for long periods of time.
Fat dumb and happy on the flightdeck
will make you into the same sort of driver
as someone who thoughtlessly sits in a traf-
fic jam every day driving to and from work
-- fat, dumb and unprepared when some-
thing unusual happens that requires more
than routinely practised skills.
Rob Fitzherbert is a retired Cathay Pacific
747 and 777 captain. He holds a Master's
in Risk Management and is studying the
development of expertise through a M.Ed
LEARNING ENVIRONMENT Learning the increasingly complex cognitive skills required in modern aircraft
with their integrated flight management systems (such as the 777, pictured) is difficult. (Boeing)
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