1/5 of FAA Checkride Applicants Are “Unqualified!”

When an applicant shows up for an FAA evaluation with a Desgnated Pilot Examiner (DPE), the first step is validating the applicant’s experience and endorsements; “qualification.” According to a gathering of 36 senior DPEs at Oshkosh, approximately 1/5th of scheduled flight tests never even start due to incorrect CFI preparation of the applicant.  A DPE cannot legally accept the IACRA 8710 and begin a certification activity, unless all the applicant’s experience and endorsements are correct and meet the regulatory standards. We are wasting 20% of checkride opportunities! We could boost availability dramatically by just getting the qualification part correct.

As a frustrated DPE, I wrote the SAFE Toolkit App 7 years ago, to address this exact problem. Continuously updated and expanded, the toolkit provides all the required pilot experience (landings/hours) necessary for all the FAA certificates and ratings. It also contains the FAA-approved 61.65 endorsements and  ACS and PTS test codes that need to be endorsed for every flight test (CFR 61.39 the “meta-endorsement”).

The real casualties of these errors are the scheduled test applicants preparing and suffering “test anxiety” but never getting an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. Most DPEs (legitimately) charge for traveling and showing up (and wasting their time) so there is a financial hit to the applicants as well. One way to fix this problem is to download and use the SAFE Toolkit App.

Since many CFIs do not assiduously adhere to the FAA guidance or use the SAFE App (surprise me…), I subsequently added “Checkride Ready!™” to the app directed at pilot applicants so they can directly access the “DPE gouge” and avoid the common checkride problems. “Overcoming Flight Test Anxiety” is also linked in the app. Every good DPE really wants every applicant to be successful; just show up prepared and earn your certificate. The app also has lots of free articles from IFR Magazine and Aviation Safety and the weekly SAFEblog articles are usually also featured there. Give it a try here. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Get the FREE SAFE Toolkit App  (FREE). This contains all the required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone or iPad. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy!) A discounted Flying Mag subscription which includes a free digital copy.

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM And get discounts by rating your flying with CloudAhoy on the Starrgate App.

Finally: EZ (FAA) WINGS!

Finally: EZ (FAA) WINGS interfaces with FAA Safety.gov and makes awarding WINGS credit a snap!

If you can’t move a bureaucratic mountain, sometimes you can instead create a bridge to it. That is what the new EZ WINGS App does. That creaky FAA Safety website is finally easily accessible with a clever progressive web app created by the Wings Industry Network. I just added this to the SAFE Toolkit App and it should be live by the time you read this today!

When a flight instructor or DPE wants to apply credit for a pilot accomplishment, the process is now super easy. Just use this new progressive application. Progressive apps are hosted on the web and when you go to the website with your phone, just press on the page and “save to home screen” and it will function on your device just like a native app.

Find EZ WINGS on the SAFE Toolkit App or shoot this QR with your phone to get started. Press and hold to install on your device and give it a try. Our “beta bunny” Doug Stewart, with no prior experience, (and a very negative attitude) was able to give five successful award  five candidates FAA WINGS credit in under 10 minutes! (For CFIs, this represents 1/3 of the requirements for 2 year CFI renewal). This application is a game changer. Please spread the word and build up activity in the FAA WINGS system. Lifetime learning and continual proficiency is the heart of aviation safety…fly SAFE out there (and often)!

Visit SAFE at #OSH22. Our booth is in the Bravo Hangar #2092/3. The SAFE dinner was a huge success. We filled the room and Richard McSpadden was a very inspirational speaker🙏.

All readers of this blog are also invited to enter the  SAFE sweepstakes! Prizes include a Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox O2 system), Sporty’s PJ2)

Educating Better Decisions; Pilot Proficiency!

Thanks to some very generous donors, the new Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA will be open during AirVenture this year. This facility has many potential applications, but the primary emphasis is on teaching better decision-making with pre-scripted scenarios flown on Redbird simulators. Pilots are guided through a series of “decision gates” that may lead to success or demonstrate the error chain that can lead to an accident. Over the past 10 years, thousands of pilots have benefitted from these scenarios (and the hard work of volunteer CFIs at Oshkosh).

This project started in 2010 – also at Oshkosh – when SAFE’s Doug Stewart and Rich Stowell decided to use the brand new Redbird simulator to train better decision-making using cleverly scripted scenarios. At the time, scenarios were not a commonly used tool in flight training,  and the SAFE Pilot Proficiency Project finally popularized this process. This scenario focus in flight training (with associated risk-management) and was embedded in FAA guidance with the new FAA ACS published in 2016 following the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011.

The Pilot Proficiency Center began in 2009 when SAFE incorporated a Redbird FMX AATD—the full-motion model—into its exhibit tent during AirVenture. The Redbird was configured as a Cessna 172. With the help of the CFI, visitors were offered a variety of scenarios ranging from backcountry flying to VFR laps in the virtual pattern at Oshkosh-Wittman Field (KOSH) to landing on the deck of a virtual aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego.

SAFE, with the assistance of Redbird and a handful of CFIs, continued to offer this drop-in training not only at AirVenture, but also at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Women in Aviation conventions. Flying Magazine 2022

The bigger Pilot Proficiency Project was envisioned as a regional show traveling to pilots and premiered in San Marcos Sept 11, 2013. Starr Insurance was an early supporter, granting insurance discounts for pilots completing the program. The program repeated in San Marcos in 2013 generating even more industry buzz and media attention. The documented benefits were clear but the program never gained sufficient industry funding to support the necessary expenses.

The EAA took over the Pilot Proficiency Program and ran it annually at Oshkosh for hundreds of grateful pilots at show center under the leadership of Radek Wyrzykowski but it took a robust aviation community to finally achieve the beautiful brick building recently added to the EAA Museum. Billy Winburn, of Community Aviation, has been a major force in organizing and leveraging the power of these Redbirds on the ground and online. Enjoy an open house at the facility if you are at Oshkosh, Wednesday from 5:30-7:30. Fly safe out there (and often)

SAFE is everywhere at #OSH22. Our booth is in the Bravo Hangar #2092/3 and the SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. All readers of this blog are invited to dinner; tickets here!

All readers of this blog are also invited to enter the  SAFE sweepstakes! Prizes include a Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox O2 system), Sporty’s PJ2)

Verbalizing for Better Pilot Orals (and CFI Presentations)!

Many very smart people show up poorly during oral evaluations – or presentations. They have lots of good knowlege and ideas, they just can’t organize and deliver them. Practicing verbalization overcomes nervousness and also reveals flaws in mental organization and understanding. Talking your ideas out loud is critical.

Ideas always seem to make sense “inside your head,” but translate poorly when verbalized. We have all had this experience. Consequently, actual oral presentation becomes an essential learning tool that must be practiced. Start in private, then practice with others. Ear buds have made talking to yourself socially acceptable  (no one will ever know :). Verbalization objectifies our internal sense-making and exposes your ideas to some “social sunlight.” And simultaneous with any verbalization, our inner critic hears, reforms and redirects these ideas even as they are issued. Every speaker has a pre-formed idea of how this painting should appear, but when you get out the actual coloring box, the results are very different; “that didn’t come out right…” Practice, practice.

Another  skill for success in a pilot oral (and in future safe flying) is successfully “chair-flying” every proposed/planned scenario. This requires “surprising yourself” with a lot of “what-ifs” that any good examiner will also present during an evaluation. “You are 4500ft over this highway and the visibility drops (or the alternator fails) what are immediate action items and follow-on plans to resolve this situation in the safest manner?” Your imaginative and diagnostic skills, developed for a flight test oral, are also critical pilot tools for future safe piloting. This again deploys the “stoic mindset” mentioned in other blogs. If we visualize  “rainbows and unicorns” for every flight, we are woefully unprepared for the actual world of flight where “stuff happens!” Any experienced pilot has to accurately run a “pre-mortem” on all the potential risks to be fully prepared for safe flight (or their pilot oral). Practice that, and have fun out there. See you at #OSH22!

SAFE is everywhere at #OSH22. Our booth is in the Bravo Hangar #2092/3 and the SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. All readers of this blog are invited to dinner; tickets here!

All readers of this blog are also invited to enter the  SAFE sweepstakes! Prizes include a Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox O2 system), Sporty’s PJ2)


SAFE at #OSH22!

Thank you for reading and supporting the SAFEblog. I would love to meet you at #OSH22. Please stop by Bravo Hangar, Booth 2092/3 (I am usually there!) We have embroidered patches for members, show discount coupons for sign-ups and everyone can enter our SAFE sweepstakes (Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox PrO2 system, Sporty’s PJ2) . Just  $15 donation gets you a chance to win great prizes (we are also a tax-deductible, educational not-for-profit org.)

I would also like to invite dedicated readers of this blog to attend our SAFE dinner at Oshkosh. We are finally on campus this year with lots of room! Richard McSpadden will be presenting the program and entrées are Seared Salmon and Pot Roast (dessert – NY cheesecake/carrot cake – included). Tickets are $38 for a full dinner (catered by the highly-rated Machine Shed). EAA gets $7K for the venue (before food/drinks) “on show convenience” has a price! Please join the fun (and thanks for supporting SAFE)!



SAFE is everywhere at #OSH22. Our booth is in the Bravo Hangar #2092/3 and the SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. All readers of this blog are invited to dinner; tickets here!

All readers of this blog are also invited to enter the  SAFE sweepstakes! Prizes include a Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox O2 system), Sporty’s PJ2)

Stoicism Defeats “Magical Thinking”!

We need to be mentally prepared when we go flying. Aviation is what industrial analysts call a “high consequence area.” The consequences of even a small slip-up can be huge! Our human defense to these exposures –  so we can fly another day –  is to convince ourselves that this must be “the other guy” not me! But truly this can happen to all of us. Unless we make it personal, these cautions will not succeed. We need to be vigilant and fully aware when we go flying (not “fat, dumb, and happy”) We need to understand the internal failure process that causes these failures and how we can occasionally be guilty of this erroneous thinking.

The optimism bias is built into all humans. We think we will be luckier than our peers or there would be no state lotteries, no start-up businesses (85% fail) and we all would be saving for retirement (instead of buying planes). Tali Sharot wrote a great book – The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain – examining every side of this interesting phenomenon. It got us out of the trees millions of years ago and still propels human effort and achievement. (And pilots seem to have a bigger dose of this tonic)

We humans also commonly exhibit a sense of superiority – not necessarily arrogance -but 90% of drivers say they are “above average” and the superiority bias has been replicated in every human endeavor. And pilots are not the steely-eyed rational thinkers we seem, but driven (like everyone else) by emotional motivations- that “mission mentality”? – and we often fall prey to “magical thinking.” How else would someone believe they could “stretch fuel” or fly through severe icing in a piston plane? We are dreamers who buy more planes than we can afford (or fly) and then occasionally try too hard to succeed. When you combine our built-in optimism with over-confidence and confirmation bias, you have a toxic built-in mindset we need to monitor carefully and work to control (the most complex airspace is between our ears?)

The best antidote for this misplaced optimism might be the ancient Greek Stoic Philosophy and the process of negative visualization – they call it the “premeditation of evils”. Used by warriors marching into battle, this approach is modeled nicely in a good pre-takeoff briefing. The idea is to realistically visualize and prepare for all the possible terrible outcomes before we go flying (instead of wearing the rose-colored glasses); “On the take-off before rotation, if I have any problem – fire, loss of control, or any surprising noise or malfunction – I will reduce the power, maintain the centerline and stop” Adding more detail and realism is even better; “if an engine fails before rotation, I will reduce power and stay on the runway…” and creates caution and readiness for action. This process requires us to be totally present, fully aware – what shooters call “condition yellow“. Surely this is not a rosy, happy picture, but it is not intended to be. A stoic is realistically placing all the risks on the table for an honest evaluation. Too much optimism is can easily harm us.

“Personal minimums” applied to every area of flight are also the same “premeditation of evils” when evaluating enroute weather and changing circumstances. “If the ceiling is below 3,000 agl and I am VFR only, I will turn around and land…” But the essential commitment that makes this process work is honesty, discipline and clearly imagining how terrible the outcome would be in a very personal setting. It would really suck to be in the hospital for three months and then walk with a limp for the rest of my life…or not come home at all.

I certainly don’t want to diminish anyone’s joy of flying with these recommendations, but we have to be honest about our job as pilots since the very real price is our life and those of our friends and family. And especially when teaching, honesty and careful modeling of risk management are essential. Clearly, bad stuff happens too often in aviation and we have to pay attention.

The same human adaptation which normalizes risk can also diminish our healthy respect (and occasional fear) for the dangers of flight. Did you ever have a moment of clarity at altitude flying cross-country in the middle of the night and realize how bold some of this flying really is? With no appreciation for risk we can quickly become complacent and thus vulnerable. Fly as if your life depends on your success and both your skills and presence of mind will improve. It is essential to stay situationally aware of and protect yourself from importing too much optimism into our flight decisions. Fly safely (and often) out there!

The “SAFE Strategies” was just published with SAFE Board Candidates (please vote) and details on #OSH22. Our SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center

Our show booth is  in Hangar B booth #2092 for renewal benefits and a chance to win sweepstakes prizes (Zulu 3 from Lightspeed, Aerox O2 system), SPorty’s

A Pilot’s View of Energy Management!

This blog was formatted from comments on last week's Energy Management blog (>35, pitch/power discussion). Rich Stowell checked in and his comments, reprinted here, are especially valuable for all pilots and educators. His FREE "Learn to Turn" course offers even more extensive guidance.

While a good start, the new “Energy Management” chapter in the 2021 FAA Airplane Flying Handbook devolves into the usual trap of a designer-oriented approach to training. As pointed out by Langewiesche in Stick and Rudder, “What is wrong with ‘Theory of Flight,’ from the pilot’s point of view, is not that it is theory. What’s wrong is that it is the theory of the wrong thing—it usually becomes a theory of building the airplane rather than of flying it.”

The first principle of flying light airplanes is “Pitch + Power = Performance.” This succinct statement points to energy management. But it is so much more than that. Substitute angle of attack (AOA) for Pitch; thus, “AOA + Power = Performance.” Airspeed (V) and G-load (G) are proxies for AOA. Hence, “V + G + P = Performance.”

This simple statement takes us to the two types of airplane performance we care about: Climb Performance and Maneuvering Performance. The V-P diagram illustrates climb performance. In this context, “climb” can be positive (climbing), zero (level), or negative (descending). We can talk about energy; which axis is controlled with throttle; which axis, with elevator; what happens on the back side, the front side, and way on the front side. We can include excess power (Pxs = Pav – Pre), which translates into rate of climb (ROC).

We can overlay and discuss critical V-speeds such as Vm, Vs, Vh, and Vne (vertical lines drawn on the diagram); Ve and Vy (horizontal lines); and Vx and Vbg/Vbr (tangent lines). We can discuss the effects on the performance of things such as airplane configuration, density altitude, and bank angle.

We can map out a go-around. Say, for example, we add go-around power while at 60 knots. Achieving max ROC is important in this example, which is a touch over 70 knots. Pushing the elevator control forward allows us to climb at a faster rate. This is counterintuitive (just like stall recovery) unless we understand the V-P relationship. Similarly, there are speeds on either side of Vy that, with go-around power applied, result in the same ROC albeit slower than max ROC. In one instance, we would have to push to speed up and thereby climb at a faster rate; in the other, pull to slow down and thereby also climb at a faster rate. Again counterintuitive, but normal in terms of the V-P relationship. We can correlate key speeds like Vy with their corresponding pitch attitudes, too, should we ever lose our airspeed indicator.

We can even map out and discuss a complete engine failure (P = 0), in which case the V-P diagram flips and becomes a Rate of Descent vs. Speed diagram (ROD-V). Correlate the glide attitude with your best glide speed here, too.

The V-G diagram, on the other hand, illustrates maneuvering performance within the confines of the airplane’s aerodynamic and structural limits. The same Vne line from V-P transfers to V-G. The same Vs line transfers as well, but the V-G diagram shows us all the stall speeds from zero G to the design limit G.

Whatever we say about the V-P diagram must be consistent with, and transferrable to, the V-G diagram and vice versa. Does anyone think we can substitute power settings along the V-axis on the V-G diagram, making it a P-G diagram?

When they happen to be discussed, V-P and V-G are presented as totally unrelated pictures. The reality is that three parameters tell us what the airplane is doing at any point in flight: V, G, & P.

Since V-P and V-G diagrams share the same speed axis, imagine connecting the two diagrams at right angles to each other along the V-axis. Imagine an airplane in flight in the space between the two diagrams. Projecting the airplane’s shadow onto the V-P diagram informs us about its climb performance at that moment. Likewise, projecting the airplane’s shadow onto the V-G diagram tells us how it is maneuvering at that moment. Alternatively, we might think of the V-G diagram as a toaster with an infinite number of thin slots to accept an infinite number of thin slices of V-P bread. The graphic shows this concept for level flight at 1G. This slice of the envelope is bounded by the 1G stall speed, Vne, and the available power.

The interplay between pitch and power on performance should be clear, as should the primary use of elevator and throttle controls. Also note that pitch is assigned as AOA/speed control and power as altitude control during the most critical of flight operations:

Likewise, airplane manufacturers assign pitch for AOA/speed control and power for altitude control during critical flight operations and emergencies in their airplanes. For example, see the amplified procedures in the Cessna 172P:

  • Short field landing
  • Landing without elevator control
  • Glassy water landing (floatplane version)
  • Engine failure
  • Emergency descent through clouds
  • Recovery from a spiral dive (in clouds)

Teaching Pitch and Power

Pitch. The elevator control moves fore and aft. The airplane’s response is seen as head-to-feet movement by the pilot. The primary effect is on angle of attack, which presents as changes in at least a couple of these: V, G, attitude, flight path. Possible secondary effects might include changes in rigging and engine effects, gyroscopic precession, angle of bank, and altitude.

Power. The throttle moves fore and aft. The primary effect is to move the airplane here-to-there (taxi from one location to another on the airport; fly from airport A to airport B; climb or descend from one altitude to another). Possible secondary effects might include changes in torque, p-factor, slipstream, and airspeed.

Do we inadvertently, negatively reinforce “use the secondary effect of pitch for altitude” as the norm, which by default makes all the above scenarios the exceptions? Or is “using the secondary effect of pitch for altitude” really the exception, especially since we must be in just the right slice of the envelope, close to the correct altitude profile already, and with speed that we either don’t need or don’t really care about to achieve the desired effect?

Does our approach to teaching the V-P relationship along with the trainee’s practical experience spent mostly in one part of the envelope contribute to the potentially dangerous pull response in other parts of the envelope? How do we push learning to the correlation level for the entire performance envelope?

Stripping away the apparent complexity in the FAA’s energy management chapter—especially with regard to the most critical energy state scenarios—returns us to the primary roles of pitch and power as illustrated on V-P and V-G diagrams. Hence my motto: “Pitch for the speed you need.”

The “SAFE Strategies” was just published with SAFE Board Candidates (please vote) and details on #OSH22. Our SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center

Our show booth is  in Hangar B booth #2092 for renewal benefits and a chance to win sweepstakes prizes (Zulu 3 from Lightspeed, Aerox O2 system), SPorty’s

Teach (and fly) “Energy Management!”

Like many GA pilots, I learned the “pitch for airspeed, power for altitude” (Navy) method of flying. Soloing in a Taylorcraft, owning a Champ and flying gliders (no extra power) initially enforces this paradigm. And the ancient FAA AC recommending this paradigm (61-50A) is actually still in effect promoting this control method.

The “big iron” (Air Force) answer to aircraft control is exactly the opposite (lots of power available) “pitch for altitude and control speed with power.”  Ironically, either paradigm will actually work “most of the time,” but both will also fail in various configurations (Stricklin crash at Mt. Home)

A much more effective – smoother and safer – method of aircraft control is “comprehensive energy management.” “Energy management” has appeared in the FAA testing standards for many years, but only recently, with the new Chapter Four in the Airplane Flying Handbook, do we have solid FAA guidance on how to apply (and teach) this method of control (see also the excellent AOPA article HERE and Ed Kolano).

Your student is low and fast on their final. You burned into their brain “pitch for airspeed” so the power comes in to correct (low) and the plane obediently regains the glide slope (and more). Since we are fast, (and now high too) the student pitches up to correct that; and an unstable dance of rote responses ensues.

Low and fast is a simple “energy management (EM)” issue fixed by a little back pressure (pitch); a comprehensive EM solution provides a smoother, faster and safer result. High and slow same, pitch to fix. Low and slow needs more total energy (power) as does fast and high. So the answer to the pitch/power debate is (in the center of the maneuvering envelope) is “it depends!)

Instead of providing (applying) dogmatic absolutes for glidepath or speed correction, the savvy educator starts with “your control usage depends on your energy status.” Refer to the clever four-part diagram below as an essential starting point for learning (or teaching) this method.  Hopefully, this diagram will start appearing in initial CFI lesson plans?

The first step in control is maintaining an awareness of the aircraft’s “total energy.” Excessively high and fast or low and slow requires power management (total energy adjustment). Excessively high and slow or low and fast requires pitch management (energy transfer). Most configurations in between require a pitch and power combination depending on the specific desired performance. This comprehensive (correlative) energy paradigm results in much smoother and safer flying. I have also found that teaching in this manner results in much faster and more accurate student progress (old dog learns new tricks).

A “power-off 180” is not what we want in an emergency – no “safety margin.”

Very often in training (and flight tests) what we see if we simulate an engine failure on the downwind is some version of the “commercial 180” accuracy landing aimed at the end of the runway. This is the wrong maneuver for a real emergency situation (common confusion though). What if we misjudge our energy and end up short of the emergency field? There is no safety margin here or recovery option; game over, no replay! The lack of any extra energy (altitude only please) also precludes any final optimization of the touch-down point on a short final.

In an emergency landing scenario, we absolutely must “make the field” and there are two very common errors in training and flight tests that assure failure. The first error is a huge non-standard pattern usually with a five-mile final. Instead, step one is “go directly to the field” then spiral down (over the field) to a normal downwind position (familiar picture, predictable results). Step two is to aim toward the middle of the field with normal approach speed.  You already “made the field” with the downwind key position, we now want to make this as “normal” as possible. The two differences are aim to the middle and reserve the last flaps (and the option of a slip) to “dump energy” (extra altitude not extra speed) at the last moment to optimize the precise touchdown point.

Only on a short final will you detect last-minute obstacles like ditches and wires. The extra altitude (energy) permits some optimization of your intended crash site. BTW: In these situations, most people visualize a “landing” but this will usually be rough – a “crash!” Your plane will probably not roll far at all in vegetation or rough terrain and flipping over is common in high-wings. Mentally visualizing a “survivable crash” will better focus your attention on tightening the belts, shutting down the plane, and assuring a safe exit. Fly safely out there (and often).

The follow-on SAFEblog was written by Rich Stowell applying "first principles" to this endless pitch/power debate (very helpful). In the final analysis (and when out of the center of the maneuver envelope), a different mental model is useful (how every aerobatic pilot flies...) See this blog.

SAFE is everywhere at #OSH22. Our booth is in the Bravo Hangar #2092/3 and the SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. All readers of this blog are invited to dinner; tickets here!

All readers of this blog are also invited to enter the  SAFE sweepstakes! Prizes include a Lightspeed Zulu 3, Aerox O2 system), SPorty’s PJ2)


Super-Learner: Head, Hands, and Heart

To be an effective educator, it is essential to honestly and accurately assess every learner in terms of capabilities and potentialities, starting with the very first meeting. Each new and unique learner is a potential project embodying the burning question: “are we, working in partnership, going to be able to successfully get this “pilot project” over the goal line of full and safe pilot certification in a reasonable amount of time?” Also, though they may achieve an FAA minimum passing grade, will they become a safe member of the pilot community? Remember, some CFI created every one of Dr. Bill Rhodes’ Scary Pilots. There is the two-edged problem of being both honest while also remaining open-minded; “surprise me!”It is our professional duty to be honest. We do not want to close the door of possibility too soon, but we also do not want a 200 hours solo. After years of facing this question, with numerous diverse learners, I realized I tend to break this question into the three categories of mental capacity, skill, and motivation; head, hands, and heart.

From the beginning, we have to accept the fact that a few people for reasons of physical skill or mental capacity, are not capable of becoming safe pilots. And others are not willing to honestly invest the required time and money and effort; the “immediate results” group. The sooner the educator (hopefully in consultation with other CFIs) determines these functional problems and honestly conveys this bad news to the potential learner, the less grief and anxiety you will experience attempting “mission impossible.” The good news is that this represents only a very few people. And it is almost impossible from even the first five hours to know this for certain; initial impressions are frequently wrong. People can endlessly surprise you and make up for very limited physical and mental capacity with great motivation and grit.

The erroneous initial assessment of pilot capability – “I can tell if someone is pilot material in the first hour” – is one of the classic “instructor fallacies.” Usually, this rapid determination is more a demonstration of a “self-fulfilling prophesy” than an honest assessment. Patience is everything in these early lessons. But being very honest is also essential; revealing to the learner that compared to averages, this person may not be gifted in coordination or rapid uptake…this is going to take “more time and money.” Honesty is essential.

My most gifted early learner never became a pilot. He had classic “golden hands” but was basically a “box of rocks” upstairs. This client was a heavy machinery operator and could easily have soloed (beautifully) after only five hours. “Bulldozer Bob” had spent his life jumping onto different machines and making them do exactly what he wanted; classic “golden hands.” As soon as I demonstrated what was needed, he could make it happen (apparently without fear too). The long-term prognosis was not good though because he really was not running a real fast processor and money was also limited.

Another learner possessed the most brilliant mind I have ever seen (Nobel prize level) but also was so painfully scripted and almost autistic that anything out of the ordinary pattern made him totally unhinged and confused. Visualizing this person alone facing a challenging and ever-changing environment aloft brought this project to a close. We had “the talk.”

Lastly, every educator’s enigma is the seemly unmotivated learner. Many times a pilot spouse or an over-eager parent desperately wants a candidate to be a pilot. But working this learner daily, it becomes painfully obvious that there is no personal motivation. Achieving success in aviation takes a little “fire in the belly.” Nothing is more frustrating as an educator than dragging an unmotivated person through the required maneuvers while continually attempting to light this fire.

Over the years, the most important qualities in learning well seem to be a passionate curiosity, easy humility, coupled with a personal honesty that easily admits to error. These qualities can make up for some pretty severe deficiencies in other areas. Add all these qualities combined with some confidence – hopefully some hand-to-eye coordination and mental capacity – yields the proper “head, hands, and heart.”

An eager learner who is not ego-driven but instead is ready to reassess and reformulate in the face of contrary evidence is a powerful learner. They are largely self-powered and as an educator it is like watching “Jack’s magic beanstalk” grow. These people progress the fastest and usually become the best eventual pilots. Unfortunately, the classic “pilot personality” trends the other way toward surety and overconfidence. Jamie Beckett had a great article on this in GA News available here. As both educators and pilots, we too often make a decision and stick with it dogmatically past a realistic point; “mission mentality.” As in most educational pursuits, a healthy dose of emotional intelligence again rules the day. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Please support our not-for-profit safety mission and join SAFE. The 1/3 off ForeFlight pays for your membership (and more) all by itself👍 Download our (free) SAFE Toolkt App and get safety content and amazing articles every day (“allow notifications” for fresh content.

See you at EAA Airventure (Oshkosh)  in Hangar B booth #2092 for renewal benefits and a chance to win sweepstakes prizes. Our dinner will be 6PM on Thursday (more info TBA soon).

13th Master CFI Renewal-David St.G

Thanks to MCFI for approving my 13th Master CFI renewal; a great honor.  MCFI is how I became a DPE 25 years ago (I never applied). After my Master certification, 3 FAA ASIs from the FSDO walked into my 141 flight school (that is usually not a good thing...) They smiled and announced "we want you to be a DPE." Pursue excellence, it pays you back!


Master Instructors is honored to announce that David St. George of Ithaca, New York has earned his 13th Master Flight Instructor accreditation from the original MCFI program (accrediting professional aviators for 25 years). David also serves the FAA as a Designated Pilot Examiner and is privileged to still fly as a jet charter captain. He is the current Executive Director of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and is the author of the popular “SAFE Toolkit” App.

David is only one of three active Master Instructors to achieve this extraordinary level of excellence. He has been recognized as a Master Instructor for twenty-six years of his career as an aviation educator.

Please support our not-for-profit safety mission and join SAFE. The 1/3 off ForeFlight pays for your membership (and more) all by itself👍 Download our (free) SAFE Toolkt App and get safety content and amazing articles every day (“allow notifications” for fresh content.

Visit SAFE at EAA Airventure (Oshkosh)  in Hangar B booth #2092 for renewal benefits and a chance to win sweepstakes prizes. Our dinner will be 6PM on Thursday (more info TBA soon).

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