Brian's Blogs

A New Approach to Training

What turns a good fighter pilot into a top gun? Ask airmen and they’ll probably tell you “you’ve either got it or you haven’t.” But are they right?

Professional pilots’ skills and dedication to the job are second to none, but recent research at BAE Systems suggests that new approaches to training can bring out ‘the right stuff’ in every capable pilot. By first defining the sometimes abstract concept of airmanship as a combination of skills, experience and drive for self-improvement, BAE Systems have been able to recommend new approaches to training. These approaches hold the notion of airmanship as a central theme around which all specific skills are developed. This way, aircrews are encouraged to create a mental picture of what it takes to be an outstanding airman against which they can constantly judge their performance.

Airmanship is a term that has relevance throughout aviation from commercial and general aviation through to the military domain. It applies equally to pilots and non-pilots (e.g. navigators) and is as relevant on the ground as it is in the air. It is regarded as the key to modern aviation and yet it is a concept that causes considerable confusion particularly when attempting to define it. Airmanship is something that all aircrew seem to understand but are unable to put into words other than “I know what it is when I see it.” To some, airmanship simply means developing expert ‘stick and rudder skills’; to others, it means effective decision-making and good judgement. Some even regard airmanship as simply a professional attitude or a code of conduct.

BAE Systems has concluded that true airmanship is the ‘total package’ requiring both physical and cognitive skills and an appropriate attitude. These three essential ingredients can be labelled as judgement, control and discipline. Airmen need a balance of these to excel at their job. Airmanship is more than having the requisite skills and knowledge; it is about having an appropriate attitude and a desire to perform optimally at all times,’ says Louise Ebbage, psychologist in the Human Factors Department at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology Centre. To be outstanding, aircrew must adopt a self-improvement mind-set. ‘This centres on their desire to perform to the best of their ability in every flight and to seek continuous improvement in every aspect of performance. The text-book approach to aviation will not produce top flight airmen,’ says Louise.

Despite a widely held view that airmanship cannot be taught, this work proposes that air-crews can be shown how to create an internalised model of the skill. This helps them to build appropriate expertise and place experiences into a meaningful context.

A new approach to training includes less emphasis on behavioural learning which focuses on conditioning students. In its place ‘constructivist’ teaching is recommended in which students take more responsibility for their own learning and play a more active role in the learning process. This will be achieved by placing airmanship at the heart of a training system rather than as an add-on.

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