Way back when I was a student, we often (always?) used the term "downwind check" for what I now call the "pre-landing check". The "pre-landing check" or "before-landing check" terms are pretty standard phraseology among commercial operators. But the "downwind check" term still seems to show up among private pilots and at flight schools—even those that train a large number of new commercial pilots.
I'm pretty picky with my own students—especially instructor candidates—and insist that they use "pre-landing check", just like I insist that they use "pre-flight inspection" instead of "walkaround", and "landing area" instead of "field" for forced landings. Why worry? They all mean the same thing, right? I don't think so.
There have been documented cases of pilots landing without doing a "pre-landing check" because they flew a straight-in final—no downwind leg, so no downwind check. I've personally witnessed a student ignore a perfectly good paved runway within gliding range during a forced landing because he was looking for a "field". Pre-flight inspections tend to be under-taught and under-done, in part because we often don't refer to them as "inspections", which is a term that drives home the whole point of the exercise.
The point here is that the terminology we use carries secondary messages, or connotations, that we may not intend. "It's just semantics, so don't worry about it", or words to that effect, is a response I've occasionally received from doubters. But they miss the point that semantics is the essence of communication, and communication is the essence of instruction. We need to be aware of—and to control—the mesaages we're sending students. This includes the subtle, hidden messages in the connotations of our words and phrases as well as the direct, literal messages we send.
If a check is to be done before landing, then it's title should reflect this. If a sequence of actions are intended to inspect, then it's title should reflect this. If we're not necessarily looking for a "field", then the term/phrase we use shold reflect what we are looking for.
This clarity of communication isn't just for instructors. Pilots in general need to be able to communicate clearly and concisely in order to operate safely and efficiently. We're helped along by the use of standard phraseology. But unfortunately, some of the standards and commonly accepted conventions need a little re-thinking. So the next time you want to do a "downwind check", ask yourself whether you, your crew, and your passengers might be better served by a small change in language.
About the Author
- Steve Pomroy
- Southport, Manitoba, Canada
- Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.