Grading a Pilot

This week was a bit of a weird one in terms of work days. We switched to a night flying schedule so that students who needed to accomplish night missions could do so. This means that the first flight of the day was at 230pm and the last flight was around 930pm. As such I didn't start my workday until around 1pm, and ended around 9 assuming I wasn't flying in the last wave. It was also a short week since last week was a long weekend. On top of that we had lots of thunderstorms, cumulus, and towering cumulus roll through for most of the week, so two of the days I didn't fly due to weather. In the end I only got two missions done this week, but I am now only a handful of missions away from my Initial Clearhood Test (ICHT), which is essentially the final exam for CH. There are also rumours that selection is taking place next week, so I really want to get this test done so that I have two test scores for selection. Whit that in mind this week I want to talk a bit about the details of how a pilot is graded. How do you place a numerical score on flying performance, and how does that affect the pilot on course? As I mentioned before, a big factor in selecting a student for jets, helo, or multi is performance on course. Academic scores obtained during ground school do affect overall performance, but flying scores and specifically flying test scores weigh more heavily in the selection process.

So, the overall theory for grading a pilot's flying abilities is that every mission is broken down into a series of maneuvers, and each maneuver is scored from 1-5. Each maneuver has a minimum level to be met depending on the phase of course the student is in, and each mission is given an overall grade. These overall marks for a mission range from Unsatisfactory, Marginal, Low Standard Achieved, Standard Achieved, Achieved High Standard, and Standard Exceeded. These are abbreviated into U, M, A-LS, A-HS, A,and  S. A Standard Exceeded flight is the equivalent of an A+ on a school test, and when a student is awarded an 'S', it is called "Snaking" a flight. As such, it is possible to have conversations such as "How did your flight go?", with a simple reply of "Good, Snaked it". Why a snake you ask? No idea. I guess it was the first animal they could think of that started with an S. These overall mission marks are what are used to calculate a student's flying score. Think of it as a sort of GPA for flying. Effectively each missions is given a score of 0-5 based on the overall grade, so a perfect GPA would be 5.0, but an accepted "good" GPA is anything greater than 4. I don't know the details of how this GPA is calculated (tests have more weight than normal everyday missions, and I don't know how re-tests are graded), but the thing to know is that the Jet stream has a minimum grade requirement of approximately 3.75. Both multi and Helo don't have aminimum grade requirement.

A example of a Snake prog card

So above is an example of a Standard Exceeded mission. These grading sheets are called prog cards, and every mission has one. As you can see, maneuvers are listed down the left hand side, and the number in the grey column represents the minimum grade required on that maneuver. Beside that you can see the level attained on the maneuver, and if a comment was justified, it is added to the right most column. To provide a bit more context, the definition for each level 1-5 are as follows.

  1. Instructor Pilot had to provide direct verbal and physical direction
  2. Instructor Pilot had to provide verbal or physical correction
  3. Errors made with minor prompting required to correct
  4. Minor errors made with self correction applied
  5. No errors in the maneuver

This second prog card is a bit tougher to talk about. This is a Marginal mission card. As you can see, there is one item that I achieved below the minimum grade on. This becomes highlighted in red, and the comment is in red. As soon as one item is below the minimum standard, the entire mission grade is a Marginal, regardless of how the rest of the mission went. Looking at the rest of the grades, they are all fine, or slightly better than fine, but nothing incredible. This mission probably would have been in the A to A-HS range if it wasn't for that failed item. When you get a Marginal mission, the card gets passed to the Flight Commander (my boss) so he can be aware of the failure and take action if required (normally only if its a repeated event). Talking about and sharing a Marginal mission card isn't a fun or easy thing to do. Due to the fact that students are ultimately competing against each other to get the best grades, and thus get what they want during selection, grades are mostly kept private. Student's will normally share the mission grade if it was successful, and occasionally talk about Marginal or Unsat missions to share lesson's learned. However, sharing entire prog cards like this is not normal. So why did I fail this mission? Ultimately I messed up several ground checks. We have several pages of checks to run before even starting the engine, and these are normally memorized. I either forgot or messed up several different items in this long checklist. Why? I could try and give a reason, we switched to CH from IF last second and in IF I wouldn't have run this check, and as such didn't prepare. I could say I felt rushed. But ultimately, I f*****d up. It's a hard thing to come to terms with, but everyone has bad days, and everyone messes things up that they do everyday. All you can do when you have a marginal or unsat mission is learn from it, and ensure you don't make the same mistakes again.

As mentioned earlier I hope to fly my ICHT this week, and have selection in the next week or two so there are a couple big events coming in the near future. As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe and share with anyone you think might be interested in this!