ACS Presents the “Three Dimensional” Pilot

The Practical Test Standards was a great tool for its time but clearly represented the dominant view of psychology back in the 1970s; behaviorism. The sum total of human evaluation was what you could see from the outside. As we prepared for our CFI tests many years ago we all recited “learning is a change in behavior as a result of experience” to prepare for our CFI evaluations and humorously referred to the government CFI training manual as “good dog, bad dog.” If a testing standard is a presentation of what a good pilot should look like, the PTS was clearly a one-dimensional, black and white sketch of a three-dimensional, color world. Of course we all knew there was more and the manuals were evolving to reflect more modern practices. For me personally, Greg Brown’s original Savvy Flight Instructor book changed my whole world view of the instructor’s role and brought motivation and inner psychology into a more central role. The government manuals at the time still presented  what you could see from the outside, how to “wiggled the stick”not think your way out of a problem. Good instructors, of course, always covered extensive cognitive topics…but these were not tested. As a consequence many unlucky pilots were trained without this “added value” and never developed higher order thinking skills like risk management.

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And as a pilot examiner “back in the day” I remember writing out more than one temporary certificate (yes with a pen on carbon paper) for an applicant who had “performed” very well, but gave me a sense of unease. Though this new pilot clearly met the practical test standard, there were also most definitely missing elements that a safe pilot should know and consider; primarily judgement and thinking skills. And though as examiners we may counsel, advise (and pray) in the debrief, we are held to the legal government testing document. We give the “government’s test” and not some personal version. The PTS toolkit of the time did not include a lot of cognitive, risk management elements. As time passed, emphasis items in the PTS preface multiplied to reflect cognitive “best practices” but the PTS tool was outdated, limited and increasingly disjointed. The FAA manuals had evolved considerably over time but the testing standard had not.

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The new Airman Certification Standard presents a more comprehensive vision of what a safe pilot should be. It includes the historic PTS skill elements but integrates the thinking skills of what a pilot should know and consider as well. There have been criticisms of its length (of course) but this document is designed to be more comprehensive. We now have a full color picture of a pilot rather than the PTS pencil sketch. And now that examiners have this tool to evaluate the whole pilot (skill, knowledge and judgement) the applicants as a group seem (to me) to be improving and better prepared to be safer, comprehensive pilots. In the past three months my pilot applicants, prepared to the new ACS, seem more thoughtful and well versed in the thinking/planning skills…because we can test this. Of course there will be some wrinkles to iron out in this new standard but it is a superior testing/training tool. My appreciation goes out to those who worked so hard to create this document (and endured the slings and arrows…) This is an ambitious move on the part of the FAA and a hopeful new step toward safer flying.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.

Two Pilots; Support Excellence in Aviation!

The Sully story is reborn on the big screen and all pilots get to bask in the glory of this amazing aviation “save”. Please take pride in Sully’s success and  use this opportunity to promote “SAFE aviation” in all your social circles. But I wonder how any of us mortals would do with two engines out in an “Airbus Glider?” Sully dead sticks his plane successfully into the Hudson and all 155 lives are saved. You could not dream up a better professional piloting story!screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-5-05-57-pm

ntsb_colgan3407Unfortunately, less than a month later we suffered a tragic piloting failure with Colgin 3407. This new academy-trained Captain decelerated into a mushing, slow flight condition on final approach into Buffalo, NY. Tired and distracted, he not only ignored all stall indicators, but actually defeated the shaker/pusher stall protection system. All 49 on board and one person on the ground died horrible deaths as a result of his errors. This is not my analysis, it comes from the NTSB report. As pilots we are held to an incredibly high standard.

ntsbfaultsrenslowI can’t help but think this is a “teachable moment” for all pilots and motivation to try harder everyday. I present this story of contrasting pilot skills at Oshkosh and Sun ‘N Fun in just this manner with the question, “Who would you rather be?” Obviously we should all strive for excellence and professionalism and channel “the Sully” in our flying.

The unfortunate Colgan 3407 captain had taken the “flight academy short course” and had failed 5 evaluations on the way to his Colgan Captain slot. He was obviously not prepared to cope with the disaster he helped create. But viewed in a wider lens, someone in our flight training industry  had made promises and failed this unfortunate pilot. He never got the complete training and true skills he needed to be a safe pilot. These flight training loopholes should not exist if we value safety.

At SAFE we promote excellence in aviation education and no story could make the need for our resources and safety advocacy more obvious. Creating and sustaining superb aviation educators exponentially creates a safer aviation industry, one pilot at a time. This horrible accident resulted in new ATP requirements and stall training was modified in our advanced pilot testing standards. But this discussion continues, the need is still there, and the standards are still evolving. SAFE is again leading the change.

newptsstallstandardSAFE just sent our 6 page proposal for improving the controversial ACS slow flight maneuver to the FAA. This will go to committee on September 14th. We have numerous people on the AWS panel all passionately committed to creating a better testing document. We are all volunteer and encourage you to help. Join SAFE and support our safety advocacy and commitment to excellence in aviation education.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.

Experience “Slow Flight” for Safety!

By Sherry Knight Rossitor. Flying since 1973, Sherry holds Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor Certificates for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She owned and operated an aviation training business for 18 years prior to making a midlife career change to become a licensed mental health counselor. Sherry holds a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in psychology.

We live in an age where we are told on a daily basis that more laws, stricter regulations, and the latest technology will keep us safe from harm.  In regard to general aviation, we have more regulations and enhanced technology than ever before, but we still have a certain number of accidents every year attributed to human error.  The FAA and NTSB are asking why.  Pilots and flight instructors are asking why.  The list of possible reasons why grows longer each year, and yet, accidents still occur.
It seems that nobody wants to actually consider the possibility that “a zero accident rate” is impossible to achieve.  But that might be the case simply because of how the human mind works.  Each of us perceives safety (and conversely, danger) in our own particular way.  Some pilots have no perception of danger because they lack the knowledge and experience necessary to understand the inherent risks associated with flying.  Other pilots are aware of certain flight hazards, but believe those hazards are no threat because their airplane has the latest and greatest instruments and avionics.  Many pilots do understand the hazards of flight, but have somehow convinced themselves nothing calamitous will ever happen to them.
In 2016, pilots have a wide range of useful instrumentation and technology available to them in the cockpit, but we still have accidents.  Again, we must ask why.  I still believe it goes back to human factors, which include inadequate risk assessment skills and false feelings of competency and/or proficiency.

Basic stall avoidance and stall recovery procedures must be demonstrated, not just talked about, to improve flight safety.  Too many pilots are overly reliant on instruments and technology to keep them safe rather than a basic understanding of aerodynamics.  An angle of attack indicator may be nice to have, but it should not be the only way a pilot can detect an impending stall.  All the technology in the world can’t save a pilot from stalling the airplane if he/she doesn’t (a) recognize the wing(s) is no longer producing lift (hence, stalled) and (b) know the most basic fix, which is to reduce the wing’s angle of attack.

SherryAOAPic     As a seasoned aviation educator and licensed mental health professional, I believe our efforts to enhance flight safety need to focus on teaching risk assessment skills and “best practices” in maintaining aircraft control.  The laws of physics do not change with the installation of an angle of attack indicator or the latest Garmin.  It still takes x-number of air molecules moving over the wings (or blades) to produce lift.  Airplanes can still stall at any airspeed and any attitude.  These are proven facts, not conjecture.
I’m a strong advocate for teaching pilots about aircraft control pressures and what they mean.  How does the airplane control yoke “feel” in your hand?  Is it heavy, stable, mushy?   What is causing the controls to feel that way?  While using a trim tab to adjust control pressure is necessary for larger aircraft, a pilot still should know the conditions under which the airplane controls feel heavy or mushy and what that may mean for safety of flight.
I also believe basic stall avoidance and stall recovery procedures must be demonstrated, not just talked about, to improve flight safety.  Too many pilots are overly reliant on instruments and technology to keep them safe rather than a basic understanding of aerodynamics.  An angle of attack indicator may be nice to have, but it should not be the only way a pilot can detect an impending stall.  All the technology in the world can’t save a pilot from stalling the airplane if he/she doesn’t (a) recognize the wing(s) is no longer producing lift (hence, stalled) and (b) know the most basic fix, which is to reduce the wing’s angle of attack.  Even with all the technology available in the Airbus 330, Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, killing 228 people because the pilot did not recognize the airplane was in a stall.

SherrySlowFlight     While we can certainly teach safety concepts and risk assessment procedures in a classroom setting, the only way a pilot will learn how to truly recognize potential loss of control situations (requiring the implementation of those concepts and procedures) is by flying the aircraft.  This is one reason why the current debate about the FAA changing the definition of “slow flight” is so important.  The FAA’s new definition of slow flight does not allow a pilot to actually experience how the airplane reacts when flying in a potentially dangerous region of the airspeed envelope.
I believe a prudent flight instructor should not allow a student to solo who hasn’t experienced what the stall warning horn sounds like, how the airplane controls “feel” when the wings are stalled, and what the proper stall recovery procedures are. In my opinion, there is no substitution for the student actually practicing stall recovery and experiencing other simulated flight emergencies.  Reading about it or watching a video are not the same thing as actual experience.  I urge each of you to think about how you as an instructor can help ensure the safe flight of your students once you exit the cockpit.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun

The “ACS Slow Flight” Controversy

The Airman Certification standard (ACS) replaced the Practical Test Standard (PTS) for the certification of private (and instrument) pilots as of June 15th this year. The primary thrust of this testing transformation was to update the knowledge testing questions and philosophy, replacing ancient, irrelevant test questions in the data bank with more timely, calibrated questions correlated to the areas of operation in the flight test. The intention (and some involved parties say “FAA promise”) was to not modify the flight test maneuvers or completion standards during this process. It does appear though that on the way to the alter, one critical vow was transformed and quietly embedded into the new ACS. Now that it has been discovered, this slow flight modification is creating quite a dust-up in the flight training community.

Doug Stewart in Flying Magazine; “Prior to the ACS, the PTS specified slow flight as ‘an airspeed at which any further increase in angle of attack, increase in load factor, or reduction in power would result in an immediate stall,'” Stewart said. “The ACS now specifies slow flight as, an airspeed, approximately 5 – 10 knots above the 1G stall speed, at which the airplane is capable of maintaining controlled flight without activating a stall warning.”

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The new FAA SAFO highlights this controversy and presents the FAA position. The FAA does not want pilots in training flying with the stall warning horn blaring with the supposition this will lead to ignoring this critical warning device. [FAA ACS FAQ] This new FAA focus developed directly from accidents such as the Colgin 3407 crash in Buffalo, where the pilot decelerated rapidly into a high AOA configuration and aggressively held the plane in an aggravated stall defeating the stall protection safety devices and resulting in 50 deaths. To me this seems like a one off pilot error more than a symptomatic problem with the entire flight training process. From the Wall Street Journal May 11, 2009;

An aerial view of the site where Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a home on Long Street in Clarence, N.Y., is seen Saturday morning, Feb. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee) ** TV OUT, MAGS OUT,  FOREIGN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT **
An aerial view of the site where Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a home on Long Street in Clarence, N.Y., is seen Saturday morning, Feb. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

The captain of a commuter plane that crashed Feb. 12 near Buffalo, N.Y., had flunked numerous flight tests during his career and was never adequately taught how to respond to the emergency that led to the airplane’s fatal descent, according to people close to the investigation.

Capt. Marvin Renslow had never been properly trained by the company to respond to a warning system designed to prevent the plane from going into a stall, according to people familiar with the investigation. As the speed slowed to a dangerous level, setting off the stall-prevention system, he did the opposite of the proper procedure, which led to the crash, these people said.

GAPioltStallAwarenes1976Practicing and demonstrating pilot knowledge, skill and control in this slow flight area of airplane operation is critical to flight safety and is the holy grail for most CFIs and DPEs. There is great training value in mastering (and regularly practicing) slow flight with the stall warning horn operating, coordinating your plane carefully at the maximum angle of attack right up to the aerodynamic stall. The FAA’s own 1976 FAA Stall Awareness Study clearly demonstrated that “extra stall and slow flight training was effective in preventing unintentional spins.” Inflight-Loss Of Control is the major causal factor for fatal accidents in aviation so understanding and controlling this phase of flight is critically important to pilot safety. If a pilot never experiences and trains in this critical phase of flight their reaction might be an inappropriate panic response like Cpt. Renslow.

Send your comments supporting retaining slow flight in it’s previous (slower) form as an essential part of flight training to the ACS focus team at the FAA Aviation Working Group. Please mention your flight training experiences and viewpoints. They meet on September 14th (that should be an interesting meeting…) Have fun, fly safely, and best wishes for a wonderful holiday weekend.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun!

Command Performance (Revisited): Sully!

We all know the “Miracle on the Hudson” story. I think pilots especially have watched those videos many times and perhaps even viewed the personal interviews or read Sully’s book. There is a wealth of data here, but also important lessons to be learned that can be applied to our everyday flying. This story will be revisited on the big screen soon with Tom Hanks playing the starring role (releasing on September 9th so prepare for more questions from your friends and relatives). I was personally perplexed at how they would expand 208 seconds of action into a full two-hour movie. The focus (I was delighted to learn) seems to be on the pilot decision-making process. This area is especially valuable for pilots because we can extrapolate directly from Sully’s actions into our everyday flying experience. (This subject has fascinated me for years and my recent Masters Thesis in Psychology at Penn was on decision-making) So let’s explore how every pilot can better execute decisions in emergency situations and be “more like Sully.”

First, in my opinion, “The Miracle on the Hudson” had no divine intervention at all but instead revealed Olympic Gold Medal quality piloting and decision-making skills. And though this whole event only took only 208 seconds, Sully’s performance required years of preparation and training. Unlike an Olympic performance, the time and place of this contest was never revealed before the required test! And that is the critical mandate for pilots; to maintain sharp flying skills, be constantly mentally prepared, and stay endlessly vigilant since we never know when we will be called upon to perform beyond the “normal” level.

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Probably the best method of untangling the Sully emergency decision process is to imagine other possible outcomes. What if Sullengerger had executed his first impulse and attempted a return to LGA? I think with the necessarily higher speed and uncertain accuracy, pointing a fuel-laden airliner at a relatively small urban airport would have resulted in a 9/11 kind of inferno and many innocent lives lost. From the movie trailer I have seen this was a point of controversy and discussed endlessly in the media. The official report from the NTSB reveals prepared pilots in simulators did achieve an acceptable result. Perhaps as Sully came through that left turn he discerned the implausibility of a successful outcome from this course of action. This option was surely the “text book solution” and suggested by ATC as reasonable and expected. The key skill Sully executed here was pilot in command authority. If there are two parts on rewind that give me absolute chills in those videos it’s the phrase “unable” on the return to KLGA and also when rejecting KTEB “we can’t do that.” The courage and creativity to select the largest flat surface in view, the Hudson River, made this whole scenario turn out successful (along with the piloting skill and discipline to make this work). As pilots, we can easily be led into trouble if we let someone else make decisions for us and “remotely fly” our aircraft. PIC authority and the requisite skill to “cash those checks” is what make emergencies resolve in the best possible manner.

The literature on emergency decision-making points out other common, but unsuccessful reactions and strategies seen in the thousands of accidents investigated. “Failure to accept the emergency” is a common occurrence when the fertilizer hits the fan. Pilots, initially startled and confused, fail to respond at all. They are psychologically unprepared for any emergency and as a result get lost in panic. This response results from the “fat, dumb and happy” approach to piloting rather than the “ready for action” approach. If we wish to be safe pilots, we have a mandate to always be mentally alert and neurologically “code yellow” during critical phases of flight. This predisposition will usually assure a more correct emergency response. If we are not vigilant, we are incorporating “hope” and “luck” as part of our planning process (search for those products in your Sporty’s Catalog).

3p-modelAnother common pathway to failure in emergencies is seeking only a “perfect outcome” when searching for a solution. Aeronautical Decision Making is necessarily what the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon called “satisficing.” Given limited time, resources and computational power, we can only achieve “the best among our limited options”. I am sure Sully would have preferred 13R at Kennedy; 200 feet wide and 14,511 feet long, but that option was not on the table. As a group, pilots necessarily strive for perfection daily but also unfortunately as a group, also tend toward the flaw of “perfectionism” in it’s fully realized form. This can be especially disabling in emergency situations, leading to inaction through endless search (wasting time) and multiple solutions (failure to commit and conquer). In emergencies we must accept the “best available” and strive aggressively to make our chosen plan successful. George Patton’s famous quote in this regard was “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Timeliness is critical.

And though checklists are a wonderful, important resource in everyday flying (and in emergencies that allow time), there are times where “immediate action items”, memorized and rehearsed are the essential pilot tools and long lists distract from “flying the plane”. In most checklists these are the bold face items that must be available for immediate recall and action without consulting a list. One NTSB take-away was the necessity for flight departments to create short, immediate action references available to pilots and not exhaustive multi-page CYA documents written by the company legal department.

One last suggestion for emergencies is to keep your pilot toolkit sharp and ready for action. Though Sully was continuously flying a largely automatic airplane in a fairly predictable environment, he had the piloting skills to take over manually and without his familiar electronic guidance, achieve an almost impossibly perfect glide into the Hudson. A carefully honed set of skills, ready for execution, is a huge advantage when the “same old day” turns into a “surprising situation” (a pretty good definition of an emergency). Automation dependency is an increasing problem as we fly modern automatic airplanes. Professional pilots are required to “tune-up” every 6 months in a simulator…and we should too. Fly safely, stay sharp and let’s hope none of us have to generate miracles to survive…but we should be ready!

Your comments are welcome; Pilot take-aways from this “Miracle”?

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun!

 

AOPA Fly In at Bremerton Awesome!

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    Aviation enthusiasts set an AOPA regional fly-in record by flying 690 aircraft and driving 1,064 automobiles to Bremerton National Airport for the AOPA Fly-In at Bremerton, Washington, Aug. 20. Photo by David Tulis.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Fred Salisbury, the airport director. “That back runway probably hasn’t seen aircraft for fifty years and it was packed with parked airplanes all the way down.” The airport’s second runway had long since been converted into a drag strip until it hosted overflow aircraft arriving for the event.

Read more about the AOPA Regional fly in!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun!

The Instructor’s Purpose (RSVP!)

By: Rich Stowell, Master Instructor, SAFE Charter and Life Member, 2006 National Flight Instructor of the Year, aka “The Spin Doctor”

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose as a flight instructor. While I have verbalized pieces of this over the years, this is the first attempt to articulate purpose in a more formal way. The result seemed applicable not only to my approach to instructing, but also to the way I’ve seen many excellent instructors ply their trade. Hence, the leap from “Rich’s Purpose” to “The Instructor’s Purpose.”

The Instructor’s Purpose is not about detailing the specific roles and responsibilities of instructors. It is not about instructor professionalism or codes of conduct either, though purpose certainly dovetails with discussions about professionalism and ethics. For more information about instructor roles and responsibilities, professionalism, and ethics, see the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, Aviators Model Codes of Conduct, and Society of Aviation and Flight Educators.

Please share your thoughts and provide suggestions for improving The Instructor’s Purpose.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 10.27.31 PMThe Instructor’s Purpose

• Promote a Learner’s Mindset. Learning something new is often a messy process. A certain amount of failure is normal and should not be feared. Promote a learner’s mindset by appealing to the motivations many of your students have for flying: mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
• Escape the “Cult of the Average.” Go beyond merely teaching to the test. Help your students move toward the correlation level of learning by identifying, and teaching within the context of, overarching principles. Raise the bar by helping your students reach higher levels of knowledge and skill than you possessed at similar points in your flying career.
• Encourage Peak Performance. Give your students the tools they need for peak performance. Teach them how to critique their performance. Challenge them to strive for peak performance on every flight.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun!