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Why student pilots should start with round dials, not glass cockpits.

When a prospective pilot walks into our flight school at Sporty’s, one of the most common questions we hear is, “Should I learn to fly with steam gauges or a glass cockpit?” Like most questions in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the prevailing wisdom suggests it’s better to start on steam and transition to glass than vice versa. ( More...

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Mike Mohle 41
IMO start even more basic than "steam gauges". Flying sailplanes is a great way to learn basic aerodynamics, proper use of the rudder, lift, energy management, etc., without worrying about control towers, radios, fuel, and other distractions. Once a person knows how to "fly" they can add all of the other fun stuff. Thoughts?
paul trubits 12
I am sure Sully would agree.
Chris B 8
That's exactly how I started. Gliding license at age 16. All downwind since then..... :)
Colin Carroll 11
I couldn't agree more! I learned to fly gliders at 16! Beyond the energy management, and aerodynamic fundamentals, its such a peaceful form of flying!
Gliders, to tailwheel, to tricycle, all basic flight instruments, then progress to glass.
dicky11 1
I agree, "Gliders" should be the starting point of a certificate. IMHO
alfred mebane 5
Yep, I got my private in a glider. Then added on the SEL in a Citabria - have branched out significantly since then (still maintaining tailwheel currency). Between gliding & tailwheeling, it made flying planes like 172s or whatever seem simple. Crosswinds do not bother me ! Landing my DA40 in a 15 knot crosswind is a breeze - so to speak. :)
jptq63 8
Useful if the flight school / training facility has the equipment and instructors; unfortunately most places typically have / use 172s / 152s or Pipers as practical.
Bob Denny 2
^^^ the above^^^ ... End puppy mills
Alan Stultz 1
You said a mouthful! I've begun to question if they even teach slips and skids anymore?
skylab72 1
Ken Lane 8
Though I've not taught in seven years, I've got about 3,000 hours teaching glass that has some analog training thrown amongst that time. I started out in analog on a 152 way back in 1981 at Navy Jax. There was... well, nothing to it. I still learned basic instruments as did any other primary student. Roll forward twenty-five years and there's now glass in GA birds.

In the end, the same skills apply. A spoke pattern scan still applies though each of the "instruments" are thrown together on the same primary flight display. Their proximate position relative to the attitude indicator is unchanged.

What has changed is the integrated flight plan that has moved from a separate box like the KLN-94 or 430/530 to the PFD. Or, if you're good at leaning somewhat right while hand-flying and maintaining straight and level flight, you can make the changes on the MFD. (Seemingly, "George" never worked during a good bit of my instrument students' training.)

Along with that are all the other bells and whistles that are built into the G1000. Throw in the toys like XM radio and it gets busy. I never even bothered trying to listen to the music when I was on long flights alone as it was more annoying having the music broken up by radio chatter. If anything today, I'd more likely listen to talk radio.

So, with the mention of XM, there is the weather feature. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to use the available tools. For me, it was busy at altitude in solid IMC while trying to look at data while still flying (even with George) and monitoring ATC. It gets busy.

Granted, things are far easier overall with the use of George following the accuracy of GPS. There's no need to use VORs to crosscheck a position though I even did so to lighten the monotony. I'd play with the bearing pointer and DME to still verify my position.

And, then if ATC has you make a change that has a couple caveats thrown in like cross such and such fix at a given altitude, you have to know how to use the tools to place that descent profile into the flight plan. Will it be constant rate or constant speed? What if a fix is given to join an assigned approach but that fix is not on the approach flight plan. You have to look at the approach plate to find it. Know how? I hope so if you're not carrying paper. Ditto for the plate.

I've ticked off pilots on some boards when I stated it takes a good thirty hours to become "reasonably" proficient flying glass in VFR. Throw in IFR, it takes another good fifty hours. That entails multiple leg flights with each leg being at least 70-80 miles, flying all five phases of flight so you're carrying out each task in real time. You won't learn as well if it's compacted like I experienced. I know I did not pick up as much when my instructor was compacting three approaches at three different airports into barely an hour. If you're going to learn, take the time to learn and be willing to pay for it. Otherwise, you're just going to get a ticket handed to you and minimal skill to pass the practical.

In the end, there's one common issue that is underlying all flying but especially flying the "newfangled" glass panels, more so when you're in solid IMC and must know how to use the resources available to you....

Single Pilot Resource

It's just not taught much. Very sad. It's needed in analog panels as well.

Then again, we have no shortage of instrument and commercial pilots... and flight instructors... who have absolutely no clue what the purpose of slow flight is during primary training.
Robert Cowling 14
HAH! I'm a 'boomer'. I went through high school when the 'big change' was happening between doing math with tables in the back of the book, and using calculators. In high school, there was a war on people that brought them into school. One of the old math teachers had a drawer full of confiscated calculators.

But, if you rely on tables in a book, what's the big deal with using a calculator?

So, my training started in a dilapidated 150. It was 'old' by any measure of the world old. It smelled like something people spent hours in, concentrating, and sweating, and worrying in. There wasn't a bit of 'glass' in that plane except out cell phones, and the GPS, a Garmin Trek, velcroed to the dash.

I then had a reservation at a ground school in a neighboring flight school, and they had a literally brand new Cessna 172 Sky Hook with an updated GPS/autopilot and new radios and transponders. It still smelled new. What a change. Two weeks later, the local fishwrap had a story of how the 150 had an 'engine issue', where there was oil on the windshield, and a fire in the cockpit. The plane was successfully landed, but barely. Talk about 'emergency training'. Nothing like a warm cozy fire int he cockpit and no way to see out to further training.

I can see both sides. Yes, learning how to FLY is more important than learning how to 'fly'. You need to know WHY you fly, and how to tell if you are about to not fly, and how to get back to the point you are actually flying again. Watching gauges and 'feeling' the plane was so cool. Graduating to the majors and losing the 'feel' for the plane has got to be mild shock.

But gauges. YES! People *should* learn to fly the gauges! They should also learn to fly without them. The article on the meltdown of the 150 had a statement by the student pilot. The instructor helped him 'feel' the plane, and tell how fast they were going, and whether they were level, and how to read the gauges to 'see' where they were.

It was shortly after that, as if on cue, my FI told the class the way he taught. He was going to tell us how to read the gauges. We were going to learn to 'see' past them. We were going to learn IFR light, and how to be safe, but we learned the gauges. We learned how to deal with a 'glass cockpit' when the glass was inert. Learning the gauges is important. Learning to feel the plane is important. Learning to not depend on the automation is important. Learning to 'fly the plane' is important. Sorry so long, but people need to know WHY they fly, they need to know HOW they fly, and they need to know what to do when those things aren't working. When the glass goes dark is no the time to realize that you don't know how to read real gauges... My FI talked about removing gauges. He was pretty clear that if a plane was offered with no gauges, he'd turn it down. (Oh, and that we, as future pilots, direly needed to know how the gauges worked, what they showed, and how they could lie to us)

Stay safe...
A. Highsmith 1
Agree. I am a Silent Generation guy that learned on a Cessna 120. I flew a 22 year military career, both fixed wing and helicopters, with many hours IMC, and without a glass cockpit. I still believe all should learn on the "steam gages" and I also believe that they should still serve as a backup in case of failure an the like. Likewise, navigation (time, distance, heading)is important. We rely too much on GPS and the like. I am wondering, do they still teach basic flying (especially instruments) without glass? Just wondering. Retired now and not flying anymore. Miss it.
dee9bee 7
I think that the 'old school' way (glider-to-glass) would produce a better Pilot but most people wouldn't go for that, let alone be able to afford it. How about including a couple hours in the steam gauge aircraft into the PPL and,especially, Instrument curriculum?

I had to have a little night dual to get my Private. I needed spin training to get my CFI, etc...
Murray Palmer 5
Leaning to fly some sixty years ago I was taught stalling and spinning in the first 2 hours in a Tiger Moth ZK-ARX My instructor had been a flying instructor for many years I showed my log book to an instructor recently he was amazed that lesson was given so early. I still believe it was the most important early lesson.
patrick baker 9
those of us who trained on round dials for their instrument tickets are pilots, for we take the inputs from several dials, run them through our minds and make slight adjustments to make the aircraft behave. The glass cockpit folks are system managers, damn smug about it too, and could not fly the round dials so well. Partial panel glass cockpits, anyone???? G;ider instruction creates pilots who can feel the airplane and can control it well. Gliders are the true joy of my flying.
Alan Stultz 1
I always remember a cartoon in the back of some airplane magazine decades ago of a pilot screaming mayday into the mic because the battery in his new electric E6 -B just died. It's human nature to gravitate to these conveniences but some things just cant be improved on over the old ways IMO.
Best way to learn is Manual 1st then auto , so learn fly with the gauges , and old style instruments as you never know later in life you come a cross a job flying a plane with old style instruments and you on a deserted Island and you'll be able to fly it .
skylab72 3
O.K. Ancient Aero fanatic here. (VN Huey Crew-Chief, Computer Tech both Apollo and Skylab programs NASA, and author of flight-related software that I can plausibly deny even knowing about) Who feels compelled to weight in...

First, let’s set some ground rules. When it comes to aviation training do NOT offer me an either-or proposition. I cannot tell you how many times during Apollo I heard the phrase, "You have to do both, machine rate the man AND man rate the machine." Round dials are the best way to teach some basic principles and to emphasize what the minimum information needed is to actually maintain control.

However, Glass cockpit info is delivered by SOFTWARE! Just start out by delivering key data with, oh say six, round dials. Then with the help of actual flight training educators define how the >display< grows to support more and more complex flight functions.
When one has a power failure (not if), the basic steam gauges still work. For all the fancy navigation equipment in a particular SR-71, one flight almost terminated with prejudice when the crew had a power failure over the Pacific. However, they made it back to Kadena using the whiskey compass and the other basic flight instruments.
Cactus732 4
If students are being taught properly then the type of instruments instilled in your aircraft shouldn’t be relevant because it should be based on outside visual reference.
jptq63 2
Cactus - know what your thinking, as PPL is VFR flying (where I am flying darn easy to just look at the ground and follow a road, and if I can not see the road / ground, it never was VFR conditions...), but at least 1 of the FI I've been working with keeps saying +/- the ACS on heading, and using a compass that bounces around or just plain difficult to read tougher vs. looking at a digital number.
Bob Denny 1
The round gyrocompass gives you a HECK of a lot more info and SA compared to a numeric mag heading.
David Baldwin 2
My AFS glass panel has the option to display steam gauges, as I assume other brands do too. Practice with both!!
skylab72 1
I am not a pilot, however, my father taught a lot to me about flying including having stick time since I was 6 months old. He flew for Pan Am, starting in a Boeing B-377 after flying B-17 and B-24 in WW2. He loved anything with wings. He was "lucky" enough to be certified on both L1011 and 747 as check engineer, but loved to take out small planes for the sheer joy of just flying. He built a Taylorcraft, which at 5 years old, I standing on the brake so he could swing the prop. we were doing test runs on the grass field at Edwards on LI which were boring so I pulled back on the stick - my first take-off. Not long after I tried to emulate a WW2 pilot by peeling off and heading down. Flying was never boring for him when I was in the cockpit. But the one thing he instilled in me was to feel the plane and conditions, and to always be prepared for anything because it could and would happen.
Harry Thomas 2
Excellent article!
David Beaty 2
I agree with Mike Mohle. I’ve had my private 40 years. Now flying gliders. A person just starting should learn the basics of flying with gliders then advance.
ron baird 2
Our CAP squadron in Hawaii had a state of the art glass cockpit simulator for the cadets to learn how to fly. When they got to the airplane, which was a 45 year old Cessna, they often asked "What are all these glass faced dials and instruments?"!
To my way of thinking, this is sort of like learning to drive on an automatic and then being put in a stick shift car. or, better yet, a 4X4 with three shifters (like the OLD jeeps or Powerwagons)!
John Bergin 2
I learned to fly in a PA12. Some of the happiest flying hours I can remember were in that ragbag. I have flown using glass, but the fun is gone. Just a traditionalist with still some gray matter between my ears who doesn’t feel any safer with glass and can still figure where I’m going and when I’m going to get there. Life up there is good.
Why not just start out with hang gliders? Takeoff/ landings with your feet, Fred Flintstone style!!!!!
jeff slack 7
Does this mean we should have all learned to ride a horse before we drove a car? Learned on a manual before using automatic.

While I respect your comment it is extremely old school.

Should I have learned to use a slide rule before I grabbed a calculator?

Go on; you can think up your own analogies.

Film before digital imaging?
Walking barefoot for 50 years before learning how to wear walk in shoes?

Technology moves forward and so too every new generation of brains come, seemingly, hard-wired to accept the advances without too much knowledge of what was used before.
Does this mean we should have all learned to ride a horse before we drove a car?

If cars had a known failure mode that could instantly turn them into a horse while barreling down the freeway, then yes.

But then again, I'm kind of old school.
How many times does a warning light come on your dash board of your car and you have no Idea what it is with gauges the needle goes to the green or red zone you know their an issue so you take action .Again you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink it .
Yeah, I walked into the control room of a nuclear reactor and the operator was sitting comfortably in front of the Data Acquisition System (DAS) monitor while over his left shoulder, the old Kent pneumatic 10" 270 degree dial of the secondary cooling water pressure was bouncing around like an oil pressure gauge on a recip engine with no air in the tube. I asked him what was going wrong with the secondary cooling water pumps and he just said: "Oh, there's a problem with that old gauge". When I asked him how he knew it was the gauge, he pointed to the field on the DAS monitor displaying the pressure to 4 significant figures. It was a little below normal but changing by only a percent or two every 6 seconds. That was the sampling/update time interval for an analog instrument outside the containment: it was averaging the pressure over 6 seconds. I went to the Auxiliary Plant Room, found the Outside Supervisor and we went to the Secondary Cooling Water Pumps. One of the running pumps' shaft seal had failed. The Outside man called the Control Room, had the Operator start the fourth pump and shut down the pump with the failed seal and the old glass gauge was fixed. The DAS hardly changed and more serious (cavitation) damage to the pump was avoided.
About that horse: unless you give him salt............
paul scoskie 2
It means that driving a car does not mean you can ride a horse. I do not agree with original post. You just got a tighter scan. Guys do have trouble transitioning.Ask a SWA guy when they had the 737-300s but doable. I went from the 727 to Fokker 100, it was different but I referred to it as, from a scan to a stare. I have a six pack in my pvt plane and also fly the bus so I stay current on both dinosaurs and space ships. I am old school also but can live with both.
Such analogies are wrong and may show your immaturity.
You usually do have to crawl before you may walk and certainly need to accomplish walking before you can run!
So be said of understanding the basics and all the underlying theory. Some folks believe that they have it all figured out and will always go about learning things the hard way, all on their own by trial and error. Mistakes if we can survive them make for hard won and seldom forgotten lessons. But why must we repeat the same mistakes as others without respecting the wisdom of those more experienced than ourselves. Is that not insanity? Better practical engineering is based upon strong grasp of theory. It is much more efficient to have a strong understanding of basic theory and the science behind it, before you tackle thinking outside of that box. Otherwise you are wasting time, entertaining yourself and practicing psuedo-science at best.

When I was younger I knew everything, now that I am older I have done everything!
linbb 0
Steam gauges should be the first as they teach much more than glass does. Also when things go dark what is the next thing pilots do in glass only cockpits? Shit there pants and wait for the end yes its happened recently look at some reports. They didn't know how to fly without computers showing them the way.
I learned in a glass cockpit when I restarted my PPL training after a >30 year break (original was steam gauges of course). Working on my instrument, my instructors would often "fail" the glass part & I had to fly by the backup round gauge instruments. I don't think the type of instruments you have limits your ability (but you should have adequate failure mode training with both).
Nigel Rigg -1
I couldn't agree more. Aircraft dials were new once but there were likely the old school brigade insisting on still knowing how to navigate by the stars!
jptq63 3
Hybrid / “integrated cockpits” with digital screen in place of the attitude indicator and/or DG AND identical AND consistence with the locations of the controls from training plane to training plane (schools with multiple planes); i.e. a 172 is a 172 and a 737 is a 737, except when it ain’t… is my choice for initial learning / PPL is my vote. This perspective is from having a kid (finally) finish the PPL late last year and working on the instrument (well, sort of, keeping him in the local college vs. failing out from the last BIG school is primary…) AND finally (+ 1 year and ~ 100hrs now) doing well enough myself on the last stage check to earn my check ride pending all the COVID-19 Sh!t; had hurricanes, travel, and other stuff get in the way already, so patience take time to learn….

Since every landing made was a great landing (hey, not only could they use the plane the next day, sometimes there were people waiting to get into the plane before tie down), I will start with the identical / consistence with the controls thought here first. While the physics of having the plane fly does not change from plane to plane, while learning, having to look left vs. right, vs. up or down for the same control information depending upon cockpit layout while flying 7 different tail numbers in this learning process (3 carbs, 4 injected) and EXPERIENCING each aircraft’s unique performance / handling characteristic (think 1 was made even before I was…) tasking and difficult to ensure I was meeting the ACS specs. You get asked / tasked to make a TIME critical decision and the mental aspect of having to look in different directions for the critical info does make a difference in reaction time.

While still slightly different, I found the controls and performance far more similar with 1 carb and 3 injected models engines and adjusting to the different actual power output easier; all these had the hybrid glass / dial gauges. Along with the digital attitude indicator, having a compass heading that would not bounce around like a St. Pauli girl bringing beer useful when not permitted to look out the window to spot the local roads.... Radio controls, slightly different Garmin’s with each different display menu’s do add up to pilot fatigue / SRM issues, and not knowing what plane I would get / assign till flight time limited pre-flight planning / prep for some of the 5Ps. Nothing like telling your FI to please set the radio to the correct frequency or physically move locations so I could stick my head at an angle so I could read the radio display (think viewing angle of old LCD laptops or TVs); thankfully, at this point, I do get some preferential treatment requesting which plane(s) I want to use for the check ride.

In summary, think – A TOMATO FLAMES or GOOSE A CAT – (you pick) as the basics for flight training, and then adding the LIMITED digital to facilitate the learning process as key for the PPL. Moving to a glass cockpit (aka digital - complete) as you progress from PPL to an IR, to CDL, to ATPL as the better way to train; know using that C172N model is not an issue (ADS-B out) to build time and affordable.
Joseph Goodin 2
I personally think we should ban GPS and VORs in aircraft used for primary training. ADF only and a single radio. And no AI, just needle and ball. Yeah, and starting with no engine too, in a glider.

Just a bit of sarcasm... glass is pervasive today, whether a full blown Dynon or G1000 or partial, like an Aspen or couple of G5’s with a 750/650. The sooner you get used to it the better.
Back in the day when the Piper J3 (Cub) was the trainer du jour, it was needle, ball, and airspeed. That system produced some very good pilots with a vehicle that was cheaper than a glider. I remember making three straight touch and goes. on a 3500 ft. runway without ever changing a heading. A nice head wind was all one needed to do that in a Cub.
Peter Fuller 1
Makes me remember an old ‘I Learned About Flying From That’ column in Flying magazine, in which someone flying a Cub along the Massachusetts coast in an increasing westerly, barely made it back upwind into the Plum Island airport.

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