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How Far Should CFIs Let Students Take Mistakes?

If you were the CFI, what could you have done differently in this situation?

CFI/Student: Runway Overrun On Landing

We found the following NASA ASRS report, written in 2018. A CFI flying with a student practicing landings describes a runway overrun event that, fortunately, ended with little damage to the airplane and no personal injury. If you have a CFI certificate (and even if you don't), ask yourself "what could I do differently?"

The incident occurred during a training flight on the final leg of our approach to landing. My student was manipulating the controls. He is currently fine-tuning his landings. We were a little high and a little fast. I told him to bring the throttle to idle to return to glide path and pitch for final speed. He complied. As we continue the descent, we were on glide path and still a little fast. As we transitioned into the flare it became obvious that we were not going to be able to touchdown and bring the airplane to a stop before the end of the runway.

I was concerned that if at that point we executed a go-around that we would hit the trees on the departure end of the runway. I decided to continue with the landing with the potential to overrun the runway instead of attempting the go-around. I immediately took the flight controls from my student and forced the plane on the ground and applied maximum braking. The plane came to a stop in the mud just past the end of the runway. We exited the aircraft then removed it from the mud and inspected for damage. The plane and its occupants were uninjured.

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The Stabilized Approach Concept

The FAA has made flying stable approaches one of its top priorities for pilots. So what can you do to make sure you're stabilized as you approach a runway? A quick and easy way to check yourself is with the acronym C-FLAPS:

  • Checklists complete.
  • Flight path (to the runway), proper.
  • Landing configuration, set.
  • Airspeed, within normal approach criteria.
  • Power setting, adjusted and constant.
  • Sink rate, not abnormal.

The training crew in the report above were flying too fast on final approach. Airspeed control was the crucial, lacking factor in their C-FLAPS acronym.

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Good CFIs Allow Students To Make Mistakes

One of the best qualities a CFI can have is the ability to let their students make mistakes. This is a really tough balance, however, since safety is the first priority. During CFI training, you'll do your best to learn how far is "too far" before you need to take controls. In reality, you'll learn that limit from real-life students, close-calls, and your own mistakes.

How Far Is Too Far?

Throughout flight training, one of the toughest times to judge mistakes is during landing. It's a fast-paced environment close to the ground and every second counts.

So what do you think? How far is too far? What's your strategy for letting students make mistakes? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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