IFR into “Non-Controlled” Airspace!

Once upon a time, long ago, only an ILS got you to the ground in seriously crappy weather and the FAA protected that arrival from local “VFR” traffic with a 700agl echo transition airspace (and even a surface area echo). This assured some legal separation for IFR from VFR traffic. But now we fly LPV approaches into almost every small county field right down into the weeds and the FAA provides no airspace protection. You are IFR in the clouds down through the uncontrolled airspace into all kinds of local flight possibilities; potentially operating “one mile clear of clouds” with no radios!

Let’s review this quickly so we understand the problem clearly. When Orville and Wilbur were flying, everything was G airspace or “go for it”; no IFR, no serious restrictions. But as the instrument flight system was created, the 3 mile visibility minimum was created in controlled (IFR) airspace and the “buffer” of 2000 horizontal, 1000 above and 500 below was created to provide separation VFR/IFR. Visual separation was at least possible for faster moving IFR plane transitioning into visual at a smaller, non-tower; and remember no communications are required. These fields look like Watertown if an ILS is in place with weather protection to the surface. On the other side of the equation is the IFR approach plate which seemingly insures a safe descent from the clouds.

But with the advent of the many wonderful RNAV IFR letdowns into smaller county fields – right down to the ground – our current airspace now provides no separation for IFR operations from the local traffic potentially operating “one mile clear of clouds.” The even scarier issue is no requirement for communications at these non-tower fields. (And remember, I own a 1946 7AC Champ and love “low and slow”). Take a look at Raleigh Executive Jetport (KTTA) with only a 700agl Echo transition airspace. This field has an ILS approach that goes right down to 200agl in the clouds and records 172 operations a day at this busy reliever airport. You are “flying naked” into the “go for it” (G) airspace!  This is just crazy.

This all was all precipitated by the latest VFR sectional, where the 700 agl transition around my local airport mysteriously disappeared on the last issue of the VFR chart. With RNAV approaches down into the weeds, anyone could be flying up to 1200agl “one mile clear of clouds” (and don’t think this does not happen). The FAA needs to get serious about this IFR/VFR separation problem. We have fast movers shooting these approaches everyday and the potential for collisions is definitely an “accident waiting to happen”. Fly often (and safely).


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SAFE CFI-PRO™ Released @ SnF!

Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ initiative was well received by the press and industry on April 3rd at Sun ‘N Fun and we had an  amazing show here in Florida. See all the industry visitors to our booth on our SAFE Facebook. There are many livestream videos from our booth with manufacturers like Piper, Cirrus, Lightspeed, Bose, Appereo and industry partners like Patty Wagstaff and Richard McSpadden.

We announced the date for our initial CFI-PRO™ workshop on October 2nd and 3rd at AOPA in Frederick, MD. This ambitious program is the ultimate expression of our SAFE mission of elevating aviation educator excellence. The purpose of these workshops is to codify and transmit the knowledge and skills that make a CFI professional truly proficient – far beyond the perfunctory FAA initial training. We are addressing the “CFI Gap” between “good and Great!” The heart of this workshop is our “Envelope Expansion Maneuvers.” We will present these in detail and explain the aerodynamics behind them. We hope to also fly them at the workshop so we can ultimately transmit these to every pilot at every airport (though our  CFI-PRO™ cadre) and expand pilot’s abilities to reduce the incidence of Loss of Control accidents.

There are great learning opportunities at this two-day course for every CFI. For new CFIs we will provide the “missing manual” of skills and techniques to elevate each educator from “good to great” taking you far beyond the FAA minimum standards. For the more experienced CFI we will reveal new and modern concepts of scenario-based training and testing and also focus on client-centered instruction. Everyone will also love the networking opportunities with some of the best educators in the country. A passion for excellence is energizing and a shared mission for improvement is  contagious.

What we mean by “expanding the flight envelope” is getting away from just scenario-based training and exploring flight outside the standard 5% “comfort zone” where we all fly. By definition “scenarios” are pretty tame flying. Envelope expansion maneuvers are non-operational, skill-building techniques and focus on full control authority. As an example, take a normal steep turn at the commercial level and reverse the heading after 180 degrees of turn. After you gain proficiency with this, reverse after only 90 degrees of turn. These 60/90s have been a standard tool of senior CFIs to build proficiency for many years.

As another example, perform a standard power off turning stall and recover in the turn without adding power – just reduce the angle of attack; what a confidence booster for both CFI and pilots. A normal turning stall is a required maneuver on the Private Pilot ACS but seldom taught by CFIs or well known by most students sent to a private pilot test. How about a power off stall in a full slip…what will your plane do? If you don’t know you are a good candidate for SAFE CFI-PRO™. We will cover the aerodynamics of this situation and also teach the maneuver in flight. You will become a more proficient CFI-PRO™. As we travel this program, we will depend on our growing cadre of professionals to spread these SAFE Expanded Envelope Maneuvers to other CFIs and our general aviation pilot population. Moving every pilot out of their complacent “comfort zone” by refocusing on confident “yank and bank” maneuvering is the antidote for LOC-I.

More people die in every sector of aviation due to LOC-I than to any other cause. The NTSB has been excellent at keeping this fact in front of the public until we figure out how to change the way we train pilots.” Realistically, however, Brooks adds, “If we look at how we spend our training time versus the LOC problem, there’s a huge gap, yet we continue training pilots the way we always have.”

The secret of success for SAFE CFI-PRO™ is teaching a syllabus of maneuvers that can be flown in a any standard part 23 training aircraft (no parachutes or exotic aerobatic planes required). This program is scalable to every pilot at every airport in the hands of a skilled CFI-PRO™ and ends up being highly effective at building skills. Pursuing an Upset Prevention and Recovery Course as the next step would be a great addition. Find more information here and please enter your contacts to receive more details as they become available. Registration will be available in about a month; stand by for a great educational experience.

In the meantime, fly safely (and often) and keep in touch. Together we are going amazing places.


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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

 

Visit SAFE @ Sun ‘N Fun C 53-55

It’s beautiful here in Florida as we count down the days to Sun ‘N Fun 2019 (2K overcast and 1 celcius back home…). The SAFE show booth this year (C building 53-55) will be a triple with the full Gold Seal Studio *and* a Redbird Horizon TD (3 Screens) for CFIs to practice teaching scenarios for the Pilot Proficiency Center. Thanks to collaborators Redbird Flight Simulations and Community Aviation for making this happen. Please stop by and try this fully provisioned simulator (Cloud Ahoy, ForeFlight all operational in a virtual flightscape). Jon Harden who writes the SAFE CFI Insurance Program will be at the booth every day from 1-2PM also.

The big news for SAFE is the release of the CFI PROficiency™ program. This amplifies and expands the core mission of SAFE; elevating the excellence of aviation educators. The release to the press will be at 11am on Wednesday and we will send the SAFE eNews shortly after with full details. If a connection allows we will livestream this event on SAFE FaceBook and YouTube to our channels. Very exciting. If you haven’t read previous issues of this blog click here for a couple of blog summaries. (The specific core websites are not active until our Wednesday release though)

Show specials include a FREE FIRC from Sporty’s for all instructors joining SAFE at the show. All SAFE members get the 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy (along with a whole list of promotions and free subscriptions). Gleim publications has been a longtime SAFE sponsor and is again providing a free FAR/AIM to joining members. One of the huge opportunities to SAFE CFIs is FREE membership in Gold Seal Groundschools This not only gives you access to all the training materials, you get to create your own CFI website (with a dedicated url) and can track all your students in training (in detail; progress, quiz scores and wrong answers on quizzes!) Gold Seal was the first online groundschool.Stop by and see SAFE at the show! Fly safely (and often)


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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

 

“Mind the (CFI) Gap!” Go “Good to GREAT!”

FAA pilot certification is a carefully monitored pass/fail process, but surprisingly, only minimal performance is required to earn a pilot certificate or rating.  The PTS/ACS standards only ensure that all elements are completed successfully and that applicants meet at least the lowest acceptable level of skill, knowledge, and judgment. And by regulation, if the standard is met, the DPE must issue a temporary pilot certificate, despite any personal misgivings. So it is entirely possible to get a 70% in every area of operation – achieve a “minimum viable product” – and achieve certification. Not only does this system permit mediocrity, but that low level could also theoretically persist since the flight review is only designed to restore the same low standard. (See the AOPA Focused Flight Review for better). Excellence in aviation is entirely voluntary and a function of good people trying harder. The old joke about the person at the bottom of their medical school class still being a “doctor” comes to mind.

Thankfully, most pilots do much better than the bare minimum standards on tests thanks to their CFI’s extra preparation and a motivated applicant pursuing a higher personal standard. The important point here is that the impulse and effort to do better is voluntary and must be supplied by a good aviation educator and a culture that promotes excellence. Also notable here is the conspicuous lack of any official testing mechanism that requires “correction to 100%” of weak areas discovered (as occurs with the knowledge test). Since the FAA requires neither real proficiency over time nor personal improvement, aviation safety depends entirely on a pilot’s personal integrity and an urge for excellence. And this is where professional organizations like SAFE are critical; inspiring and enabling this excellence. Our modern cultural obsession with minimal effort (and also minimal time, money, and hours) is directly at odds with our aviation safety system. We also all realize that know most well-intentioned safety seminars and excellence programs end up “preaching to the converted” and often do not reach those in need of improvement.

I have seen disparaging remarks on social media for anyone getting more than a 70% on the FAA knowledge test; “you left a lot of effort on the table dude!”  Anything more than “minimum” requires the inspiration and effort of a good aviation educator and willing client. To create a safe pilot it is essential to embed this personal standard of lifetime learning and continuous improvement; an urge for excellence.

Now let’s consider the new CFI applicant who has just passed their flight evaluation (and perhaps only marginally). They certainly worked hard and attained a minimum level of skill and knowledge, but are they truly equipped to go forth and teach flying without seasoning or supervision? The new CFI certificate is a dramatic example of a “license to learn”.  But surprisingly, it is not regarded this way by the flying public. I am continually amazed by the trust and confidence the public grants every new FAA instructor. Extending the medical analogy, they might be putting their lives in the hands of an intern. But since the FAA says they are “good to go” so we are off to the races.

The Canadian aviation system, by contrast, requires all new CFIs to initially teach under the supervision of a senior CFI (seasoning and supervision). I have a sarcastic helicopter buddy who takes my new CFIs down a notch with his cynical advice; “Now all you need are five new students to mess up as you can learn how to teach.” SAFE CFI-PRO™ is designed to eliminate that kind of “trial by fire” learning. We are providing the tools and resources to address that gap between minimal and excellent. Both our 80% drop out rate and the Loss of Control epidemic are implicated in our current system of minimal education. Thankfully, many thoughtful, diligent new CFIs join professional organizations – like SAFE – (thank-you!) but these are usually the already the superior performers. Our membership roles are a “who’s who” of aviation professionals. Now we intend to more actively leverage this CFI experience and excellence.

As a though experiment, mentally compare a newly certificated CFI to the best veteran aviation educator you know. The huge unaddressed gap between “good and great” is the target of our CFI-PRO™ initiative. (And we have had diligent new CFI members asking for this kind of program-thanks!) Our goal is a more efficient path to the master performer that psychologist Anders Ericsson says takes 10,000 hours to develop. We know, careful training by our senior educators, national instructors and pilot examiners, and deliberate practice can accelerate the new or rusty CFIs’ transition to mastery by providing the “missing manual” of teaching tools, knowledge and maneuvering capabilities. There is no longer a need to flounder seeking resources. Loss of Control in particular requires specific “Envelope Expansion Maneuvers” (in lieu of Upset Training) to build proficiency and confidence. These work in non-aerobatic planes so are scalable to your local field and pilot. Every senior CFI employs some version of these maneuvers but they are often unknown (and not taught) to “modern” CFIs.

In aviation, every educator is the “impingement point” of aviation safety where improvement can be exponentially spread to raise all boats. If we reach out and improve each aviation educator, we also touch most pilots in the process. Safety is a group effort and that is the plan. Support our CFI-PRO™ initiative  (announced in detail at Sun ‘N Fun). Fly often – and safely! And LMK your thoughts?


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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

SAFE CFI-PRO™: Scenarios, Maneuvers, or Both?

This is one in a series of posts by special guest authors about SAFE's new CFI-PROficiency Initiative™ (aka SAFE CFI-PRO™). The goal of the initiative is to make good aviation educators great!

Rich Stowell authored many articles in the early 2000s on “The Problem with Flight Instruction” that helped precipitate the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta. That SAFE initiative spawned the current FAA ACS. Now the focus is on raising the level of excellence among aviation educators with the new SAFE CFI-PRO Initiative.

Top instructors and examiners continually debate and lament the state of stick and rudder flying skills. The FAA flight training pendulum has swung from the traditional WWII maneuvers-based training (MBT) to the newer scenario-based training (SBT) standard. And though SBT is a vital part of risk management training and testing, inflight loss of control (LOC-I) continues to top the list of fatal accident categories. The number two occurrence category isn’t even close.

Should we resign ourselves to accepting LOC-I as inevitable? Or maybe the current focus on scenarios is as short-sighted as the focus on maneuvers once was? Perhaps aviation educators need to adopt a more balanced approach.

…what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery. – Wilbur Wright

Flight instructors teach in the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective domains. Maneuvers-based training falls in the psychomotor domain. It’s where pilots learn stick and rudder skills (aka manual flying skills). Scenario-based training overlaps the cognitive and affective domains. It’s where pilots learn aeronautical decision making skills.

Most anyone can learn specific patterns of movement. For instance, a person can follow steps laid out on the floor without ever looking in a mirror, getting a critique from a dance teacher, or listening to a beat. Does that make the person a dancer? Similarly, most anyone can learn how to apply a solution model to a scenario. A baseball fanatic with a grasp of analytics can choose statistically better options without having played the game. Is the fan a baseball player?

What does it take to train pilots capable of integrating body, mind, and emotion so the successful outcome of a flight is never in doubt? Memorizing a series of control movements without context, purpose, or rhythm won’t do that. As cognitive load increases, performance deteriorates and inputs become more spastic. Tackling complex scenarios without a solid foundation of stick and rudder skills won’t do it, either. Preoccupation with the mechanics of flying deflects mental focus from aeronautical decision making.

The psychomotor domain is the bridge to the other domains. We entice potential customers into aviation through the physical act of intro flights. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate is our most repeated mantra, with “fly the airplane” our default rule. The Aviation Instructor’s Handbook puts “Acquiring Skill Knowledge” several sections ahead of “Scenario-Based Training.” If word count is an indication, the skill section has nearly 40 percent more words than the scenario-based one. The handbook says skill acquisition is “the ability to instinctively perform certain maneuvers or tasks that require manual dexterity and precision [allowing] more time to concentrate on other essential duties such as navigation, communications with ATC facilities, and visual scanning for other aircraft.”

Developing competence in manual flying skills breeds confidence; injecting realistic scenarios counters overconfidence and develops better judgment. A path to follow to improve stick and rudder competency includes:

• Building from fundamental movements of the controls to skilled movements;
• Practicing manual skills often and with clear educational intention for growth; and,
• Striving to be able to do complex patterns of actions skillfully and automatically. [More here]

Could more technology be the answer to LOC-I? Is the purpose of technology to help well-trained pilots achieve peak performance with greater precision, or to conceal deficiencies in piloting skills?

Blue Threat author Tony Kern advises: “Error control will never be engineered out of existence with technology.” In fact, manual flying errors have increased because of overreliance on technology. This compelled the FAA to remind pilots to hand fly their aircraft more often in SAFO 13002 and SAFO 17007

Advisory Circulars 120-109A and 120-111 include templates for recovering from stalls and nose high and nose low attitudes. The first action listed in each case? Disengage the automation. The next steps in the procedures require (deeply ingrained) manual flying skills. And only greater proficiency and envelope expansion will give pilots fluid and immediate access to these often counterintuitive skills.

While the above ACs primarily target air carrier operations, they provide sound advice for general aviation pilots, too. When the time comes to prevent or recover from upsets that could lead to LOC-I, our lives, the lives of our trainees, and the lives of others will boil down to what the pilot does with the flight controls.

Stick and rudder skills will be relevant as long as flying involves pilots touching controls. Pilots interact with instructors throughout their flying careers; thus, improving the manual flying skills of instructors—and their ability to pass those skills on to others—is essential to reduce loss of control. This is why instructors are at the heart of the SAFE CFI-PRO Initiative.


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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

SAFE CFI-PRO®; Good to Great!

At the heart of flight safety is the aviation educator. Our cadre of professional instructors interact and wrestle with flight training and proficiency on a daily basis – we are on the front lines of safety. By elevating the level of skill and professionalism of the aviation educator, we exponentially improve every pilot and reduce loss of control accidents. At SAFE, inspiring and enabling aviation excellence is our core mission. We not only do this on a daily basis with resources,  tools and advocacy, but now have a great new program rolling out to enhance your learning; CFI-PRO (more soon!) What qualities/skills/aptitudes make a truly great aviation educator? And are these skills and secrets currently taught, or is that kind of education even possible – born not made? Let’s look at this together.

Our current FAA system for pilot (and CFI) certification is only designed to guarantee “good enough” (if everything is done correctly in training and testing). We work very hard and often only achieve a “minimum viable product.” Though some applicants are a lot better than the minimum, as DPEs we are counseled to assure each applicant that “perfection is not the standard.” Our FAA system assures that every new pilot achieves the ACS minimum level of safe, smart and skillful. And though I fought with this idea initially to raise the regulatory standards, would we really want a harder, more comprehensive CFI intitial? The process of achieving excellence and exceeding the standards is voluntary. This responsibility for continued improvement falls not only on the pilot but also directly on the educators. It is our responsibility to model excellence and to inspire, motivate and educate our aviators as they continue  to grow from “good to great.” With your FAA 8o60-4 (temporary), the learning has just begun!

So the challenge to every caring pilot and commited, safe educator is to exceed the minimum FAA standard and commit to lifetime learning and continued growth. Our aviation world is changing and growing daily and we need to adapt and grow to stay safe. Our job is also motivating and inspiring continuous improvement in our clients as we simultaneously persue excellence in our own careers. And though the Master Instructor is the obvious target for many CFIs, of the 101,000 FAA-certificated CFIs in the United States, fewer than 800 of them have successfully earned Master CFI accreditation.  For many part-time CFIs, full MCFI accreditation is a daunting challenge. But SAFE membership and commitment to CFI professionalism is worthy path to excellence.

There are two very different domains evaluated to become a flight instructor through the FAA system and each is a worthy target for improvement. The technical flying skill – piloting – is based on physical talent, training and experience. And for initial certification, a basic level is almost assumed here since every applicant has climbed the aviation ladder through at least the commercial level to apply for CFI. The new and challenging domain evaluated on the CFI test is mastering and demonstrating effective communication and teaching ability (on the white board and while simultaneously flying). And the term “flight instructor” is badly flawed because this person is actually an aviation educator, motivator, and coach all rolled into one. A great deal of “flight instruction” is more properly education that happens not just in flight but on the ground, online, in a simulator…etc.

For both newly certificated pilot and aviation educator, growing the flying skills requires pursuing more “exciting” flying – getting out of your “comfort zone” – to expand your personal flight envelope. This also keeps us motivated and charged up as educators combatting “right seat rust.” I personally think every flight instructor should be upside down a bit (because planes can go there). And the one or two spins required for CFI certification are an embarrassing minimum for CFI competence that should be continually refreshed. If you never go to the edge of the envelope you are vulnerable when suddenly tested by an “instructional surprise” (it might happen). I also personally think every pilot should try a tailwheel or a glider to experience the wonders of adverse yaw and the necessity for real rudder control. These opportunities are everywhere (and less expensive than you might think).

For the CFI we have many wonderful maneuvers that are perfectly legal in Part 23 trainers, that will expand your personal skills and be a great challenge for your clients. These include turning stalls (which are in the ACS and available to be tested at the private pilot level) rudder boxing, dutch rolls and steep turn reversals at 180 and 90 degrees of turn. If you don’t know what these are, find a CFI that is proficient and get some practice. Each of these maneuvers is a tool in the experienced instructors palette to enhance the safety of their clients. Surplus proficiency (margin) defeats LOC-I.

Free online as pdf or html

A second area to grow for your CFI abilities is in the human interaction world of communicating and teaching. Consider digging further into learning theory and the many wonderful books available free online. Refresh your perfunctory FAA exposure to learning theory with a good review here. Then dig deeper into the amazing new texts and courses to expand your technique and improve your effectiveness. A large part of aviation education improvement has nothing to do with flying but requires a keener understanding of human psychology and motivation. Working with youth groups like Young Eagles or the Aviation Explorers will expand your abilities and challenge your educator skills. And watch for our CFI-PRO clinic coming up this fall.

A third domain never trained or tested by the FAA but essential to success in aviation education is leveraging your emotional intelligence (a foreign world for many pilots). Though “failure to establish and maintain a strong student/instructor relationship” is repeatedly listed as the primary reason for the loss of instructional effectiveness and failure in training, there is no FAA training for emotional intelligence, compassion or empathy. And these are the qualities most often listed in surveys as the marks of a great flight instructor. But how do you teach passion and caring? The only way to develop and maintain this elusive quality is to invest daily and completely in what you are doing. Being a “people person” does not come naturally to many pilots. You need to truly like your job and socialize be a good CFI in the community. Staying excited about flying keeps you motivated and fresh for teaching – all the repetition requires variety to avoid burn out (again, try to fly other aircraft and missions as much as possible). The ultimate secret is to realize that every lesson is the first time for your unique client. Making that very personal focus your primary awareness helps grow better pilots one individual at a time. Fly safely (and often)!


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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Spread Your Wings!

As pilots, we have an amazing diversity of “flying machines” available to us.  Unfortunately, most of us never take the time and money necessary to explore these unique experiences. In other articles here I have advocated for “envelope expansion” in your regualr piston flying. This builds skills and enhances safety. But other categories and classes of flying machines are also a pathway to build transferable skills and also provide new perspectives. To stay safe in aviation, it’s essential to challenge our skills regularly and also reexamine our procedures from time to time with a fresh perspective. In this article I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone a little and explore some new kinds of flying machines. This could be as simple as finally taking up your friend’s offer to experience flight in their Long-Ez – or try a glider ride at the local soaring school.

After a while in the air, everyone gets first ‘proficient’ at what they do regularly, then ‘comfortable’, and the very next stop is often ‘complacency.’ With complacency also comes the boredom of the “same-same round the pattern” flying and a diminishing safety margin if a surprise occurs. Very few of us challenge ourselves on a regular basis to get out of our “comfort zone” and build skills. The original excitement (and even the twinge of fear) from the new adventure soon goes away and we can get stale and rusty if we are not careful.

Not only is complacency damaging for safety, there is a definite trend of pilots dropping out after a bunch of years after they lose the original excitement of flight – the secret to longevity and growth is exploring new aviation adventures! The AOPA is currently partnering with the Recreational Aviation Foundation to encourage back-country flying From Peaks to Pavement: Applying Lessons from the Backcountry”  This is an excellent opportunity to  restore challenge and adventure to your flying while building skills transferable to your everyday environment.

The amazing Ron Bragg when I got my DPE…years ago!

I learned to fly in 1970 and after acquiring all my ratings I ran a 141 flight school for 25 years. By necessity that means a lot of the same kind of repetitive flying. After 5 or 10 thousand hours of dual given, there is diminishing level of new input in this flight environment (ask any CFI). No matter how conscientiously you approach each day as a “fresh learning event” there is limited novelty and the human machine tends to stereotype each repetitive experience. As a pilot and especially as an instructor, you inevitably get stale and start “pattern matching” or stereotyping. This is a natural neurological process called “normalizing” – it’s complacency at work and not only is this bad for the piloting skills, it is also destructive to the instructional environment and safety. How many burned out CFIs have you experienced?  I could feel the excitement diminish hour by hour, day by day and year after year!

Fortunately, I discovered gliders (and then everything else that flies) could provide not only a lift in excitement and motivation, but also a unique set of skills to reinvigorate my daily world of flight. Once you are a proficient glider pilot (or instructor), the way you understand (or teach) a power failure in a piston plane is increadibly richer and more detailed…what a unique perspective to bring to a piston lesson.

Maybe you are a Zen Master and can approach each moment as unique, but I found the easiest path to escape “normalizing” is exploring a variety of new aviation experiences. Humans adapt readily to each new environment and we stereotype internally  without knowing it as part of our predictive perception. After a very short time, the scary edges and unusual procedures neurologically disappear and we get “comfortable” – even in the strangest environments – through normalizing. This process is a huge problem for safety because any pilot can subliminally adopt unsafe procedures through “drift” in everyday operations. Anything we do repeatedly becomes the “new normal.

Long EZ N26SB Sport Aviation Assignment

Exploring other aviation environments  – and especially seeking instructional oversight and guidance with a creative professional – is necessary to gain perspective on our previously comfortable groove. We all need a shot of insight and excitement from time to time. I would encourage you to seek out and try some different flying. This experience will pay you back with new insights and skills that improve our skills and outlook. You will come back with a new perspective and fresh appreciation for your “normal” experience. Fly safely (and often!)


Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Situational Awareness: 3 Keys to Safety!

Situational awareness (SA) requires the accurate gathering of data (despite physical and mental obstacles) then filtering and making sense of this buzzing cacophony and finally projecting this all forward in time toward an intended outcome. In the context of a busy and distracting aviation environment, this is a complex undertaking. Understanding and mastering this critical mental process is the heart of aviation safety but  gets little examination or instructional focus; “you’ll figure it out…”. And though in every area of aviation our mental content will vary – be it VFR mountain flying or busy IFR in the Bravo – the mental process and tool kit are the same.

Level One SA is data gathering and being present entirely in the moment.

Given perfect situational awareness (SA) a pilot will perceive an environment completely free of physical or physiological hindrances. But human factors problems complicate this objective; is it too dark, or blinded by the sun, you forgot your glasses? And psychological problems also provide challenges; fatigue, stress or complacency limit our attention/perception. Distraction and “multi-tasking” – ATC calling, pax or pilot interaction – are a fact of life in aviation and they limit our ability to focus and filter signal from noise. And with every distraction to attention “situational awareness recovery” time is required to regain our focus.

According to researchers most errors (76.3%) occur at the Level 1 (perceptual) area – we simply miss the cues, don’t see the signs or we are naturally distracted, bored or blinded in some manner. This is the reason for “sterile cockpit” SOPs in busy environments. A defective mental model also interferes “top down” with perceptual clarity because what we see/hear is driven by what we think is important – we essentially create our own reality. Psychologists call this “attentional blindness” and “perceptual tunneling”  – we miss data that might be critical to safety.

Level two SA is developing a “mental model” and understanding/interpreting the current situation.

What does all this gathered information mean in reference to the current, evolving flight profile? At level two our brain assembles the filtered input data (<10%) and assigns probable meanings; “sensemaking.” This process functions continuously and interactively and is often entirely at the subconscious level. We operate largely “on autopilot” when we interpret our world, especially in a time-critical, high-stakes environment.

Level 2 is where “hours and experience” help a pilot assemble an accurate mental model. “I’ve seen this story before” is often how we comprehend an evolving situation. The human mind is really a “prediction processing machine” that filters and fits data into an existing mental model. “Cleared for the ILS” engenders a whole spectrum of related and relevant skills, experience and expected patterns. Without this largely subconscious “scripting” we could not function efficiently in our busy buzzing world.

But “hours and experience” is also a problem when we stereotype and  “overfit” a  model or assume everything is as it was before; complacency. Every mental model blinds us to unique occurrences in the perceptual field (attentional blindness – we see what we “expect”). These missed data may be critical to safety (NASA’s leaking “O rings”?) In studies of accidents 20.3% were Level 2 errors; comprehending the data and assembling the mental model to assign meanings.

Level 3 SA is projecting the currently evolving situation into the desired future outcome.

You would think imagination would play no role in aviation, but level three is entirely the creative extrapolation of our current situation into a desired or intended outcome; “I will intercept the LOC, couple to the glideslope, break out at 400′ etc.” As with other levels, fatigue, distraction  and lack of time can damage SA, but Level 3 SA is especially the vulnerable to these demons. Briefing expected actions and mentally testing expected outcomes is a critical safety tool that often gets skipped or overlooked when time is short. Level 3 SA is our primary method to “get ahead of the airplane” and direct a flight rather than just reacting. Level 3 SA is also where we need to step up to a higher order thinking “conscious oversight” level and test our mental model with Daniel Kahneman’s” System 2″ critical analysis. We cannot operate totally on “decision autopilot” if we want to be safe.

So how can we improve our situational awareness?

Constant, active vigilance of the level we are operating in (and where we should be) is one important method to increase SA. As much as possible, I recommend constantly shifting the levels of SA (like a telephoto lens) dynamically changing from big picture to detail view (micro/macro) in a conscious scanning manner. This is what psychologists call “metacognition” and requires both time and practice. We often get fixated at level one (fiddling with a frequency or some frustrating detail) when we should be engaging the bigger picture. “SA scanning” like an instrument scan improves with practice. We respond physiologically to shiny bright buzzers or screens and often miss subtle cues unless we consciously push our mental focus.

Another important method to improve SA is by constantly testing our assumptions (mental models) both internally and with others. We all have human limitations and need to accept the fact that our personal perceptions and mental models may be flawed. Whether we are single pilot or have a partner or co-pilot, it’s critical to solicit input and stay curious and humble. No harm in pinging ATC with a verification or talking through the next leg with your co-pilot. A rigid mindset in a dynamic and evolving environment can be dangerous. We must enforce flexibility and constantly test and  adjust as necessary. Committing to  vigilance and continuous data gathering (rather than numb butt) has saved many flights from disaster.

Most “I was there and survived” stories (I love Ernest Gann) involve an “angel on my shoulder” that reveals a sudden awareness of the bigger picture or just a subtle clue (level 3 SA). Building more time into your flight profile if possible permits this metacognitive magic or conscious oversight to function. Many accidents are precipitated by time pressure – the airplane was way ahead of the pilot’s mental models. Let me know if any of that helps? Fly safely (and often!)


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Flight Simulation; Turbo-Learning!

The first effective flight simulator was developed by Edwin Link in Upstate NY in 1927. Prior to this creative device, it was also thought that piloting required inborn skills that training could not supply. In the view of the Wright Brothers, a pilot had to possess superior balance and other physical attributes to ever consider becoming a pilot. The Link Trainer demonstrated that necessary pilot skills could be trained with careful repetition and study to any reasonable adept client. Thousands of pilots were trained for the airmail service and later WWII saving the world from fascist domination. Here is an excerpt from The Talent Code illustrating the imense impact of the original Link Trainer:

“Early pilot training was built on the bedrock belief that good pilots are born, not made….The U.S. Patent Office declared Link’s trainer a “novel profitable amusement device.” [and the world ignored this innovation]

In the winter of 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt had a problem. Pilots in the US Army Air Corps–by all accounts the military’s most skilled, combat-ready airmen–were dying in crashes…The carnage was not caused by a war. The pilots were simply trying to fly through winter storms, delivering the U.S. mail… a group of Army Corp brass grew desperate…[and] in one of the first recorded instances of nerd power trumping military tradition, the officers understood its potential [and] the generals ordered the first shipment of Link trainers.

Seven years later. WWII began, and with it the need to transform thousands of unskilled youth into pilots as quickly and safely as possible. That need was answered by ten thousand Link trainers; by the end of the war, a half-million airmen had logged millions of hours in what they fondly called “The Blue Box.”

In 1947 the Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, and Link went on to build simulators for jets, bombers, and the lunar module for the Apollo mission. Link’s trainer permitted pilots to practice more deeply, to stop, struggle, make errors, and learn from them. During a few hours in a Link trainer, a pilot could ‘take-off’ and ‘land’ a dozen times…He could dive, stall and recover, spending hours inhabiting the sweet spot on the edge of his capabilities in ways he could never risk in an actual plane. The Air Corps pilots who trained in Links were no braver or smarter that the ones who crashed. they simply had the opportunity to practice more deeply.”

Modern day pilots in 121 or 135 operations are intimately familiar with flight simulation as the defacto method for effective learning. Due to the cost of operation and the hazard of real emergency operations, all initial jet training and the “type rating” are taught in a full-motion simulator. Pilots usually never see the actual aircraft until after certification during “Initial Operating Experience” (the familiarization and standardization in the real flight world). Simulators are the most efficient tool we have for efficiently building procedure skills and muscle memory (the neurobiological basis for this is fascinating).

In the last 10 years with lower-cost computer systems, affordable full-motion simulation  have returned to the GA world of small planes. SAFE was an early adopter developing scenario-based training and the Pilot Proficiency Project in the very first Redbird Simulators. One of the most imaginative and encouraging new uses for low cost flight simulators is introducing young people to aviation in venues far from an airport. Many STEM curriculums utilize desktop sims and courseware to allow experimentation and skill-building in a classroom setting. For the motivated and inspired individual a Young Eagle flight and then guided discovery in the real flight environment brings another person into the amazing world of flight. If you do not know where a local simulator might be located, try AvMkt.com one of our members who organizes shared usage of simlator time all over the world.


Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

CFI Cover Your Ass(ets)!

Consider the facts: in aviation we teach in a high-risk environment (compared to golf?) and as educators, we often guide high-value clients. When you add the two of these together the result is an incredible amount of, what insurance guys call- “exposure!” Every CFI needs good insurance designed specifically  for the flight training environment.

Just log onto Kathryn’s Report…

If you teach aviation, you are an obvious target for a lawsuit in the event of a tragedy (whether it is your fault or not). In our last article we discussed how to legally set up your “business” – because you are in business“as a CFI selling services. One critical first step is acquiring good insurance to protect your assets. When we started SAFE 10 years ago, the #1 request from members was a “comprehensive, affordable policy specifically specifically designed for CFIs” No one in the industry (except SAFE) provides this. It actually took almost three years to get this program fully developed and accepted in all states (and SAFE gets no $$ from this- – it’s a service to our membership.)

It is almost impossible to read, understand and buy a good insurance policy unless your agent is a knowledgeable, willing partner in the process. “Blanket policies” can have huge loopholes for CFIs you may never be aware of unless you have an agent on your side. When an accident occurs, all you want to hear as a CFI is “you’re fully covered.” DPEs especially can pay huge premiums unless they embrace this program (one DPE had a policy over $6K a year…with lower coverage limits)

When we developed the program at SAFE we insisted the CFI be covered in every category and class for which they are rated with an incentive for pursuing excellence and professional standards. If you are a new seaplane or multi-engine pilot, you are covered. You can even add UAS Instruction (try finding that elsewhere…) If you are a Master Instructor or FAA WINGS participant, you get a discount (we incentivize safety!) To me, one of the best  features of this program is that the agents who manage this program are active pilots in every category and class, they know your problems and can customize your coverage. You can buy and bind your coverage on line or pick up the phone and call Aviation Insurance Resources today…I guarantee you will sleep better at night. Fly safely (and often)!


Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).