Accelerated Training With Behavioral Modeling

Accelerated Training With Behavioral Modeling

By  Rod Machado 

Before you read article this please note that there are some folks who believe that the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! is a film about Biblical scholars who attacked Pearl Harbor. Sorry, not true. Neither is the idea that there's only one way to learn and only one way to teach. That said, the following article is primarily intended to help flight instructors dig deeper into the science of behavioral modeling and add to their training vocabulary. It's not an article intended for casual reading. Nevertheless, anyone who wants to accelerate their pace at learning anything can also benefit by applying the following tools and strategies in their own learning endeavors. So let us begin. 

Every flight instructor should know a little about modeling and I don't mean the kind that involves a runway—a runway you walk down after dressing up. I'm referring to behavioral modeling.

Behavioral modeling is the "precision" transfer of cognitive, perceptual and/or motor skills from one person (the master) to another (the student). Doesn't that sound like teaching? It is, except that teaching often involves transferring skills implicitly (skills that are implied or understood, but not directly expressed). For example, students often learn to land implicitly by mimicking their instructor's behavior over long periods of time. On less than a conscious level, the student absorbs the subtle behavioral clues used by the flight instructor to land an airplane. Yes, implicit learning is effective over a relatively long period of time. It doesn't, however, provide a clear idea of how behaviors are constructed psychologically, thus limiting the speed at which skills can taught and acquired.

Behavioral modeling, on the other hand, attempts to transfer skills explicitly (skills that are fully and clearly expressed, leaving nothing implied). This is accomplished by examining and dissecting the master's subjective experience. Once we know the details of how a behavior is assembled in the mind of the master, we can deconstruct and repackage that knowledge and transfer it to a student. Sounds like we're downloading software, right? I only wish teaching was that easy.

The first step in behavioral modeling is called skill disassembly. Once you find someone having the skills you desire to model, you need to disassemble that person's subjective experience into teachable components. You can elicit these components either through careful self-observation (if you're the model) or through well crafted questions (if you're using someone else as the model).

Since experience is primarily acquired through our visual, auditory and kinesthetic (feeling) senses, we can define someone's subjective experience in these terms. If we further divide these three senses into subcategories (something you're not likely to read about in any Flight Instructor Handbook), we can specify the individual components that make up the majority of known human behavior. Here are the categories I use in this process.

The visual (V) sense has four categories: Vi - visual internal: the image we see in the mind's eye; Ve - visual external: the image we see with our eyes; Vc - visual constructed: the image we construct with our imagination; Vr - visual recalled: the image we remember from memory. (Note: Vi is a separate category from Vc and Vr because it's possible to have a visual internal image that's neither constructed or recalled. For example, close your eyes and imagine the last word in this paragraph.)

Our audio (A) sense has six categories: Ai - audio internal: the sounds we hear in the mind's ear; Ae - audio external: the sounds we hear with our ears; Ac - audio constructed: the sounds we construct with our imagination; Ar - audio recalled: the sounds we remember; Aid - audio internal dialogue; Aed - audio external dialogue.

Finally, our kinesthetic (K) sense has four categories: Ki - kinesthetic internal: a feeling we have about something; Ke - kinesthetic external: something we actually feel; Kc - kinesthetic constructed: a feeling we construct from imagination; Kr - kinesthetic recalled: a feeling we remember.

With these sensory definitions in hand, let's use them to model the behavior known as making coordinated turn entries. I'll act as the model since I can provide an accurate sensory description of my turning behavior, (but I'm not wearing makeup and that's final!). The process begins by examining a behavior and breaking it down (disassembling it) into sensory components. The following represent the individual elements of the behavior I use to enter a turn. Keep in mind that, for me, this behavior is an habitual reflex. Nevertheless, all learned habitual reflexes started out as assembled components of behavior. Therefore, reflexes can be disassembled into component parts.

The first step involves the external feeling of twisting the aileron and simultaneously applying rudder pressure (Ke). As I apply control pressure I compare the external feeling in my foot (Ke) with my recollection of needing more rudder pressure (Kr) in right turns. As I'm rolling into the turn I look (Ve) at the longitudinal axis and adjust rudder pressure (Ke) to ensure that the axis doesn't move opposite the direction I want to turn (the longitudinal axis appears almost stationary while "entering" the turn). Finally, I check to ensure that the turn has the proper seat of the pants feel (Ke) by comparing it with my recollected feeling of coordinated flight (Kr). Then I adjust the rudder as necessary for coordinated flight. (Since students may be initially unfamiliar with what coordinated flight feels like, they can glance at the turn coordinator and ensure the ball in the inclinometer is centered. This makes the last sensory step for them a (Ve/Ke) in lieu of (Ke/Kr).)

The sequence in which these sensory steps occur are just as important as the steps themselves. Here's the linear sequence required for entering a coordinated turn: Ke -> Ke/Kr -> Ve -> Ke- > Ke/Kr. (I use the symbol "/" to show a comparison between one sensory step and another.)

Think of this sequence as the mind's DNA code for building a behavior (the behavior of entering a coordinated turn in this example). After you've identified this sequence, you can teach these individual components to your student. We call this process skill reassembly.  (I'll cover skill reassembly later in this article.)

At first glance, it may appear that behavioral modeling is more complex than traditional methods of teaching. In the long run, it's actually a more efficient means of teaching because you can define and convey the precise behavioral components necessary for your students to produce masterful performance. In other words, this method gives you a larger behavioral vocabulary with which to convey behavioral concepts. Instead of saying, "Add more right rudder when entering the turn," you are now able to say something such as, "Recall the right foot pressure during the last turn entry and how this kept the longitudinal axis static during the roll in." Your training vocabulary becomes much richer enabling you to specifically target behaviors to improve them.

Additionally, all skills (physical, perceptual and thinking skills) are made of similar components. Therefore, it's possible that any aviation behavior can be modeled and taught to someone else. This includes the behavior of decision making, landings, instrument scan, etc.

Keep in mind that you, the flight instructor, will often be the master whose skilled behavior (subjective experience) is decoded into its sensory components. Yes, you can use these steps to acquire the skilled behavior of others, but in this article we’re focusing on an efficient means of helping students learn what you know. As a final note, if the behavior you’re attempting to model is complex, then you’ll likely use all seven steps. Simple behaviors might require fewer steps.

The seven parts are:

  1. Identify the behavior to be modeled
  2. Separate the behavior into individual elements
  3. Identify the cause-effect relationship(s) within each element
  4. Identify the V, A, K sensory components for each element
  5. Specify the criteria for evaluating the sensory components
  6. TOTE (Test, Operate, Test, Exit)
  7. Link elements

Let’s assume that I want to teach my student how to enter and maintain slow flight without flaps, starting from a cruise flight condition (Step one). I’ll be the master for this example and we’ll model my behavior by using this seven-part format to disassemble my skill at performing slow flight.

Step two requires that we separate the chosen behavior into individual behavioral elements. Keep in mind that an element is the smallest action or event that’s independent of and separate from the actions or events that precede and/or follow it. Since we’re modeling my behavior, here are three distinct elements that comprise my strategy for entering slow flight: power reduction, transition to slow flight, and maintaining altitude, heading and airspeed in slow flight. Since this article has a length limit, we’ll only model the transition to slow flight element of this maneuver. This should provide a good guide on how to use the modeling techniques for other behaviors.

Step three involves identifying the cause-effect (C-E) relationship(s) within each element of the chosen behavior. This is the relationship that demonstrates how the events or activities within each element are contingent upon one another. Regarding the transition element of slow flight, I’ve identified the following C-E relationships: increasing the angle of attack (cause) increases drag (effect); increasing drag (cause) decreases airspeed (effect); increasing the angle of attack at the appropriate rate (cause), keeps the airplane at a constant altitude during the transition (effect). Failure to identify and explain these C-E relationships to your students might lead them to believe that luck, superstition or some unknown cause is responsible for the occurrence of that behavior. Once the C-E relationships are known, they become useful for assembling individual elements in step seven.

In step four, we identify the V, A, K (Visual, Audio, Kinesthetic) sensory components involved in the behavior we’re modeling (these were discussed in Part-1). Here are the sensory components I use after power is reduced and the transition phase to slow flight begins.

I apply rearward elevator pressure (Ke) to increase the angle of attack and compare the rate of aft elevator movement with the VSI’s needle position (Ve). Then I look at the altimeter (Ve), followed by a look outside the cockpit (Ve) to ensure level flight. Finally, I look at the airspeed indicator (Ve) to check the airspeed. I repeat the entire process until the airspeed is five knots above the desired airspeed, at which point I’d enter the third element of slow flight, maintaining airspeed. The entire sensory sequence looks like this: Ke/Ve -> Ve -> Ve-> Ve.

Step five requires specifying the criteria I use to evaluate the identified sensory components. For instance, the first two sensory components (Ke/Ve) require that I compare the elevator pull with the VSI’s needle position. My criterion for determining the appropriate amount of pull on the elevator is whether or not the VSI needle stays constant at a reading of zero. Keeping the altimeter’s hands fixed at the assigned altitude is the criterion for the next sensory component (Ve); keeping each wing equidistant above (for high wings) or below (for low wings) the horizon is the criterion for the following sensory component (Ve) and an airspeed reading that’s more than five knots above the desired slow flight speed (Ve) is the criterion to continue repeating the entire sensory-component sequence. (I use five knots above the desired slow flight speed because we’re discussing transition to slow flight. When you’re within five knots of this speed, you are now concentrating on a different and final element of flight known as maintaining altitude, heading and airspeed.)

Of course, if you have criteria, then you must also have a means of testing to see if the criteria are met. Therefore, step six requires that we test each criterion from step five using the TOTE (test, operate, test and exit) method (a concept originally coined by George A. Miller, Eugene Galanter, and Karl H. Pribram in the 1960s). For example, I test the first two sensory components (Ke/Ve) by looking at the VSI’s needle to see if it remains steady as I pull on the elevator. If the needle moves, I change how I operate by adjusting my pull on the elevator. Then I do the test again. When my pull is satisfactory, I exit and apply TOTE to the next sensory component in the sequence.

Finally, step seven links the individual elements together by practicing these steps until the behavior is learned satisfactorily. Practice is what makes a behavior permanent. Considering the seven steps mentioned above, it’s the cause-effect relationships (step three) associated with any behavioral element where practicing becomes especially important if your student is to learn new behaviors quickly. In other words, a student must have sufficient practice at pulling aft on the yoke with sufficient force and speed to keep the VSI and altimeter needles stationary as well as keeping the wing’s level during slow flight transition.


You can use this seven-part format to disassemble almost any flying skill (yours or someone else’s) into teachable components. Once these components, and the order in which they occur, are known, you can teach them to your students using the same seven-part format.

If you’re interested in a more detailed discussion on these techniques, there is one book that you should read. If it were printed south of the border, I’d say that this book takes behavioral modeling up a nacho. I’m speaking of a book titled, The Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence written by Leslie Cameron Bandler. Now, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s very detailed and the method used is far more complex than that presented here. But it’s your graduate class on behavioral modeling and it gives you more than just the chips and beans on the subject. You get meaty material for study if you’re so inclined. As of this writing, you can purchase a used book on for only a few dollars (plus postage, of course).

As with all teaching skills, behavioral modeling takes time to learn. This primer represents a practical beginning. And there's much more to learn, especially when you consider that beliefsvaluescause-and-effect relationships and other factors also influence the modeling process.  

Final Note: Please don't think you have to go through every step discussed above when training students. Sure, you can when it's appropriate, but in many instances it's not necessary. At a minimum, this article should offer you a much richer training vocabulary that can help you target your student's specific behavioral problems. 

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