Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required

Any activity, regardless of its complexity, can be dissected into smaller, easily learned parts. This is what got me through dance lessons and it would for you, too. “One, two, three, one two three, one....” Insert a few “I’m sorrys” for those toe stomps and bingo, you’re Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. The ability to breakdown complex maneuvers into components, practice those parts then reassemble them as a complete maneuver is a powerful teaching tool. Used properly, it makes difficult tasks easier to master.

I first recall using this technique with a student named Bob (his real name is Fred). Bob wanted his commercial license in the worst way. Unfortunately, the great white whale in his struggle was the chandelle. He stripped three instructors of their emotional gears in his attempt to acquire even a modicum of proficiency in this maneuver.

On our first flight I asked him to demo his version of the chandelle. He hesitated, made a left turn then I said, “Bob, you don’t need to do clearing turns prior to a chandelle.” He replied, “Ahh, that wasn’t a clearing turn, it was my chan....” It was time for the heavy artillery.

I decided to reduce the chandelle into components and have him master each part individually. Then we’d reassemble the parts into a whole.

First, let’s recall that a chandelle is a high performance, 180 degree climbing turn. It’s entered with the wing on a reference point followed by 30 degrees of bank and a climbing turn. The highest pitch attitude is reached at 90 degrees of turn. At this point the airspeed continues to decrease while the attitude is held constant. From 90 to 180 degrees of turn the bank is proportionally reduced to zero and the airplane is just above stall at this point.

We began with the turn.


Many students seem to have trouble coordinating a roll into a crisp 30 degree bank. I had Bob put the wing on a reference point and roll right and left to 30 degrees of bank. The secret to coordinating the roll is to keep the airplane’s longitudinal axis perfectly straight with rudder pressure until reaching 30 degrees of bank. It took Bob seven tries before achieving a reasonable proficiency at turn entry. Then we moved on the second component, the rollout.

After establishing the bank, a climbing turn is made toward the reference point. But instead of climbing, I had Bob remain in level flight. I wanted him to turn until his nose passed through the reference point (that’s 90 degrees of turn), then gradually reduce his bank (from 30 degrees to zero degrees) so his wings were level at 180 degrees of turn.

Most students have difficulty timing the bank reduction during the last 90 degrees of turn. Keeping track of the reference point is the main difficulty. Typically, they roll out too quickly and are wings level before completion of the 180. Then they try to roll back into the bank while hoping no one is watching. Nice Try. Remaining in level flight prevented Bob from worrying about maintaining the constant climb attitude during bank reduction. It took him about eight tries before he achieved acceptable performance in timing the rollout.

You can even make the 90 to 180 degree rollout more realistic by retarding the throttle at the 90 degree turn point. This simulates the affect that decreasing airspeed has on the airplane’s turn radius in the actual chandelle. It also simulates the elevator back pressure required during the last half of the chandelle.

The third and final component involves demonstrating the airspeed decrease associated with a constant nose up attitude. And some students have difficulty understanding how airspeed can decrease while the attitude is held constant during the last 90 degrees of the chandelle. To simulate this I had Bob raise the nose slowly on a constant heading and stop at a prechosen attitude (let’s say 15 degrees nose up). We watched the airspeed decreased even though the nose up attitude was held constant. At a point just above stall we lowered the nose.

That’s it. I disassembled the chandelle into three components and practiced each until Bob attained acceptable proficiency in each. Then we reassembled them into a complete maneuver. In one hour, Bob’s chandelle went from an unrecognizable maneuver to a checkride passing commercial maneuver.

There are very few maneuvers that can’t be disassembled into manageable bites for your student’s consumption. The chandelle is only one example. When students have difficulty mastering a skill, attempt to isolate the appropriate parts (the building blocks) of that behavior. Have your students practice these parts to proficiency. This technique works on almost any maneuver: pylon eights, S-turns across a road, slow flight or stalls. It works with thinking skills, perceptual skills and, of course, motor skills. You’re only limited by your imagination.

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