Certified Flight Instructors (CFI) are taught that there are four basic levels of learning: Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation.1 There are other variants of these levels, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses this set in their publications and exams, so we will also. Let’s review each level.
The simplest level of learning, rote is where you can memorize an item of knowledge and repeat it back. For example, if I told you that the Airbus H130B4 has a maximum gross weight of 2427 kilograms (kg), and you studied this little bit of information for a few moments and could answer back correctly, without looking, when asked what the maximum gross weight of the H130B4 was, you have learned at the rote level.
This rote learning level is appropriate for some knowledge, like aircraft limitations and aviation regulations, but we find that most essential knowledge requires a higher level of learning achieved to keep ourselves safe, legal, and effective with decision-making in flight operations.
Sticking with the maximum gross weight example, knowing that the limitation of the H130B4 is 2427kg is important in understanding (a) that the aircraft cannot handle weight higher than this limit due to the capabilities of the engine, strength of the airframe, balance issues, etc…; (b) the need to accurately measure and calculate weight and balance prior to flight; and (c) that performance will also vary depending on the aircraft’s weight and balance.
So, now you know the numerical limit (rote) and see the reason why this information is critical to safe flight (understanding).
When transitioning into the H130B4 you’ll study the weight and balance graphs in the Limitations section of the Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM). Then, for every flight, you will calculate the weights of the crew/passengers, baggage, fuel, and other items to find whether or not the weight exceeds either the numerical 2427kg limit and/or the lateral and longitudinal limits for proper balance.
You have just applied this knowledge to achieve basic, safe compliance with the aircraft’s weight and balance limitations.
What about dynamic situations where you don’t immediately know the weight of a potential passenger? In Helicopter Air Ambulance (HAA) operations you have a set crew and default fuel load, but have the potential to transport anyone weighing from just a few pounds (lb) up to several hundred pounds.
Let’s say that company policy requires 2.0 hours of fuel on board, and the ability to transport a 300lb patient within 20 minutes of fuel burn. Crew weights are already limited so that the math works out to an approximation based upon this policy, but sometimes fuel can be a little higher than an exact 2.0 hours, and each aircraft may have slightly different empty weights depending on their configuration.
As a pilot, you have to determine that the aircraft is within weight and balance limitations at the starting point, then calculate what patient weight you can carry immediately after start. If this starting patient weight is less than 300lb (and in the H130B4 example you will also have to convert this to kg), you then need to know the fuel burn rate of your aircraft to determine how long it will take to be able to transport a 300lb patient. You could remember this burn time or calculate the fuel quantity that would allow for a 300lb patient, and simply remember that once the fuel gauge indicates X gallons you can carry the patient. If the patient is even heavier, again knowing the weight burned per X gallons of fuel indicated allows you to do easy math while in the air.
You’ve just correlated all the knowledge you have about weight limits, fuel burn, aircraft fuel quantity indicating systems, and company policies to meet your job’s expectations.
As long as you study effectively throughout your flight training, you will see yourself progress through these levels of learning and build further confidence in your abilities to one day act a Pilot-in-Command (PIC).
- Federal Aviation Administration. (2008). Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, Chapter 2: The Learning Process.