10 things every club instructor should know

1. Take a logical approach. There is no right or wrong way to teach someone to fly R/C models, however there is a logical approach that breaks down the challenge into simple stepping stones. For instance, there is little point in teaching somebody how to take off unless they’ve learned how to climb out into a circuit first. Good instruction starts with some understanding that a level of meandering around the sky is required before you start to impose regimented flight on an individual. There’s a good chance that some will find it harder than they thought and after a few flying sessions may consider that the hobby is not for them. Don’t be disheartened by this, it’s simply a by-product of how easy it is to get into R/C flying these days.

2. Be well grounded. An instructors remit is diverse. For example, he must teach a pupil how to fly a model, advise on which model to buy, where to buy it, how to build it, how to programme the Tx, how to work the engine, how to charge the batteries, and he really ought to explain basic aerodynamics. He must also make his students aware of model flying legislation, insurance, basic safety, different model flying disciplines and integrate him (or her) into the model flying club. It goes without saying that an instructor should have a good grounding in aeromodelling and should lead by example.

3. Know how to communicate. As an instructor learns his art he will develop many and varied methods of communicating the same message to an individual. This is necessary as trainee pilots tend to try and assimilate a lesson by using principles they’re familiar with. A person from an engineering background, for instance, may better understand the terminology of the hobby than someone with a less practical upbringing. As such, an instructor may have to try various methods of explanation before the novice pilot understands what’s being said. Fear not, though, good communication skills can be developed over time.

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4. Don’t underestimate the advantages of model flight simulators. This is a particularly sticky point with old school instructors who pre-date the creation of the model flight sim. Although you may not gain anything yourself from time on a flight sim, it doesn’t mean your students won’t. Updated graphics and programming options are greatly improved over the earlier examples and are particularly useful at helping with orientation problems and basic helicopter training. Doubly so if the pupil is a child of the Nintendo generation.

5. Be prepared to crash models. Teach for any length of time and, sooner or later, you’ll end up being the one holding the Tx when a beginner’s model hits the floor. The key is to ensure the novice realises that at some time in his training, damage to his model is going to occur. Assuming all is well with radio gear and model integrity, damage usually happens as a result of a mistake when learning how to take-off and land. Of course, buddy box systems help to avoid an unsightly fight over a transmitter as the instructor frantically tries to regain control, however they don’t suit every instructor. Should damage occur, it’s essential that the cause is discovered and properly explained in a manner that the novice accepts.

6. Demonstrate, imitate, recapitulate. There’s no substitute for an instructor’s ability to demonstrate what is required of the novice pilot. If a novice can see his instructor demonstrate something using his own model it allows him to imitate the manoeuvre rather than have to interpret what he believes it should look like from a verbal explanation. After an element of imitation the instructor can recapitulate, or demonstrate again, highlighting areas of error to achieve an even better understanding of the task in hand.

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7. Know when to take control. As the instructor, you set the rules for when you retake control. Early on, you should tell beginners that there will be times when they may well be in full control of the aeroplane, yet you will still wish to take control. The first limitation you might impose could be to do with dead air space or a no fly zone. If it even appears that the student might accidentally cross it and fly over, say, the pits, you should retake control. While it is possible that the student may have been able to continue flying without crossing the line, you should not take any chances with safety.
While learning how to fly circuits, beginners often lose altitude in each turn. When the plane descends below a certain height you should retake control and regain the altitude. Even though they may be doing rather well this provides the challenge of keeping the aeroplane above your cut-off point. Finally, you might set a distance limit. If the model gets so far away that it becomes difficult to see, you should retake control.
As the beginner progresses, they may protest when you ‘cut in’ for they may feel they’re still in total control. Of course, by the time they finally acknowledge that they’re in trouble, it may be too late for you to save the aeroplane. As such, you should make it very clear at the start of your instruction that if the student protests when you ask for the transmitter, or flick the buddy switch in your favour, you will stop teaching them.

8. Know how to narrate a flight. The thing that instructors commonly struggle with is the narration of the flight, or talking whilst instructing. You should not be afraid to talk to the student while they fly, though you must be careful to stick to the point. You will also want to be sure that the student is not just mimicking your instructions as you speak. To confirm that they truly understand what you’ve been saying and are learning to apply it, keep your mouth shut for a while and just watch them fly. If they continue to do well, you’ll know they’ve been taking it in.

9. Know when enough is enough. We all have a limit with regard to the amount of new information we can accept in a given period of time and trainee R/C pilots are no exception. Keep in mind that your student will be concentrating very hard during practice sessions and there will come a point when he simply cannot absorb any more. One common symptom of this will be when student has been doing just fine for about eight to ten minutes, then, all of the sudden, he’ll start to make silly mistakes.
As the instructor, you must be able to recognise when the student has had enough, take the transmitter and land the model.

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10. Set realistic goals, brief and debrief. It’s important to set a goal. This may be a long term goal such as a BMFA ‘A’ Certificate with shorter, interim milestones such as a first take-off or a first landing. Each flight should have at least a ‘target’ whether it be a new manoeuvre or a consolidation flight of lessons already learned. The goal should be part of a pre-flight briefing made before the flight commences. A post flight de-briefing should review how things went and you should praise those areas where progress has been made. You will have the student’s full attention during a debrief and can now offer advice and constructive criticism. Analyse areas of the flight that went wrong, reassign the goals if required and take the student up again to consolidate.

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