To Err is Human! “NASA Form”

by Parvez Dara, ATP, MCFII, MEI (and our SAFE Treasurer)

Did you make a mistake today? If you said no. I would beg to differ. We make tiny errors in our daily lives that go unnoticed all the time because they are mostly isolated and of little consequence. The adage is “To err is human.” And to err is universal and seemingly inevitable also.  But here is the hard question, “Are mistakes always a bad thing?”

To answer that question, we may have to ride the train backwards in time. During WWII planes were falling from the sky. More lives were lost from mistakes than from enemy aircraft shoot-downs.

We obviously learned from those mistakes. The total fatal aircraft accident rate in the United States declined dramatically over time from 1959 when the fatal accident rate was 1 in 100,000. As 2016 became history the fatal commercial aircraft accident rate declined to an astonishingly low rate of 1 per 10 million flights. Imagine the log reduction in loss of life! A proof worth hanging your hat on. Education about Loss of Control, Fuel Management, Decision Making and Judgement were the important improvements to bring the number down. Yet if we were to look at airline safety data from 2009 (without jinxing anything) there has been a zero-accident rate in the seven-year period. That is incredible!

The General Aviation Accident Rate per year however is a different story. It is presented below and is based on the NTSB data available to date. The higher rate of fatal accidents in the general Aviation Community is partly because of lack of professionalism, single pilot operations and the “bold pilot” mode of thinking.

YEARS GA Accident Rate/100,000 GA Fatal Accidents GA Fatalities
FY10 1.1 272 471
FY11 1.12 278 469
FY12 1.09 267 442
FY13 1.11 259 449
FY14 1.09 252 435
FY15 0.99 238 384
FY16 0.91 219 413

So, let me get back to the issue of is “To Err” a bad thing?

The answer is a qualified NO. However, with a caveat, to repeat an error made by others, which has been used as a learning event, is definitely a bad thing. It is important to know that the NTSB data was created out of bent metal and loss of life. Errors made by expanding the envelope of flight teach us what not to do. Though it’s never easy to admit these mistakes, “fessing up” is a crucial step in learning, growing, and improving.  The FAA rules are created based on the NTSB information for pilot’s personal and his or her passenger’s safety and based mostly on the erroneous adventures of others.

The FAA has in place a NASA form just for this purpose. If you make a mistake or believe you might have, it is important to fill out the form and send it along for record keeping. The form is evaluated based on ATC tracking data and if no intentional errors were made, the pilot receives a response in kind. If however, there was an error committed, the pilot has protection by self-reporting of the error. This is the whole basis for a Safety Management System. A pilot is forgiven for any errors committed over a three-year period. A continuous flow of errors however point to the pilot’s competency and decision making that might require a rehabilitation and remediation strategy. Read the monthly intake here.

Electronic submission here, ASRS Form available below

https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/docs/general.pdf

Assuming you are in a hurry and wish to fly for a $100 hamburger with impatient passengers tapping their toes. Allowing them to influence your preflight decisions to not drain the fuel or check the oil content, hazards will loom in that flight. These risks may remain only as risks and not bite you or your passengers, but the “kick the tire and light the fire” does have adverse consequences if repeated. And one day, when all the gremlins go for their “Labor Day vacation” watchout! Latest “Callback” Newsletter

Based on the FAA Fact Sheet

The Top 10 Leading Causes of Fatal General Aviation Accidents 2001-2013: 

  1. Loss of Control Inflight (see recent SAFE Livestream!)
    2. Controlled Flight into Terrain
    3. System Component Failure – Powerplant
    4. Fuel Related – contamination, starvation or exhaustion
    5. Unknown or Undetermined
    6. System Component Failure – Non-Powerplant
    7. Unintended Flight in IMC
    8. Midair Collisions Low
    9. Altitude Operations
    10. Other

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

Aviation Safety; We Can Do Better!

My condolences to the family of Roy Halladay, by all accounts a talented and generous person with so much potential. Not only has the world lost this amazing person, but aviation has suffered another very public black eye with the repeating question “How can this happen?” From what has become available so far, there seems to be some avoidable risks in the recent Icon A5 crash that could have been mitigated.

Identifying and mitigating risks is the essence of aviation safety and this includes the psychological discipline of saying NO to “having too much fun”. Exercising “executive function” and knowing where and when *not* to fly is critical to safety. (See Dr. Bill Rhodes “Pilots Who Should Scare Us”) Maintaining adequate altitude in the cruise phase of flight is one of our critical margins of safety as pilots. Low level maneuvering flight (below 1000 feet) usually comprises only 15% of our exposure as pilots but is where over 70% of fatalities occur. Loss of control accidents are disproportionately represented in this phase of flight. If you add intentional radical maneuvers this only asks for trouble. This type of demonstration flying, though exciting, requires a highly trained professional pilot and a aerodynamically robust high-G machine. This precise and demanding flying should be left to airshow pros! There is no way a new pilot should be flying an LSA in this manner.

And as Steve Pope of Flying Magazine has pointed out, marketing this kind of low level “yank and bank” flying as an obtainable and safe activity is scary to many veteran pilots.

Pope said “the plane itself is great,” but he had concerns about Halladay, a new pilot with little flying time, taking the craft out over water at low altitude, though the plane was marketed as a craft that could do that.

“They still think that that’s the way the airplane should be flown, and there are people in aviation who completely disagree with that,” Pope said. “They think you should not have a low-time pilot flying low over water. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

This kind of behavior in the hands of new pilots will certainly lead to more accidents. We will be talking about the aerodynamics and psychology of loss of control (LOC-I) this Thursday the 16th at 8PM EST with aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff and upset training specialist Rich Stowell. This livestream is presented by the FAA and qualifies participants for FAA Master Wings. As an additional incentive, our generous sponsors at Lightspeed Aviation are providing a Zulu 3 headset to be offered to a random winner at the end of the show; please join us.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Channeling Patty Wagstaff; Focus and Discipline!

It is too easy to focus on the negative viewpoint when considering the overwhelming number of Loss of Control accidents.  The more positive flip side is just that every pilot should approach flying with a high degree of focus and discipline. Mastery of the airplane and environment should be a self-motivating goal for every good pilot. And hopefully, every pilot has in their heart the drive to continuously improve and be the top of their game.

Unfortunately, emphasis on only “fun and the easiest, cheapest pathway” can lead to a very dangerous aviation experience. Aviation requires we do our homework, practice and learn our skills, and only then engage in this amazing activity. This can be a wonderful motivation for improvement. Join us in our live Loss of Control discussion Nov 16th featuring Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell.

In this YouTube Patty very clearly explains her personal motivation for her obvious aviation mastery; she is charged up *because* what she does is difficult (and even more challenging for a female). She clearly emphasizes the need for complete focus on the mission at hand and a thorough knowledge of the airplane and its systems. Fortunately, we are not pursuing aeronautical control at the level of Patty Wagstaff, but channeling that same attitude of professionalism and mastery can make us all better pilots.

“I think that one of the major reasons I like to fly is the mastery of this machine in a three-dimensional airspace; when you’re really comfortable with an airplane and you’ve really mastered it, you really can control it. To be a good and safe [aerobatic] pilot you have to have 100% concentrated focus on the activity at hand. The reason that I love flying and love aviation is because it’s always a challenge, it could never be boring because it’s never the same.”


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

Addressing the “Loss of Control” Dilemma!

Loss of control in flight (LOC-I) is the “catch-all causal factor” for the NTSB, topping the list of fatal accident causes and the “Most Wanted List” for every year in recent memory. We are excited to have Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell for our live ScreenCast on November 16th unpacking this dilemma. NTSB Member Earl Weener has called LOC-I a “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge.” Please join us and you can even collect Master Wings Credit from the FAA!

Loss of Control Inflight is a many headed monster. People lose control after icing up in the clouds or after encountering turbulence from wake or weather. But they also inexplicably lose control and crash on sunny days turning base to final in their home traffic pattern. In almost all cases these encounters end up fatal; they mostly occur down low with no room for recovery. Spoiler alert but it seems all these accidents come back to the same cause of insufficient flying skill and knowledge in a challenging situation. We must also include judgment in the causal chain because pilots usually get into a desperate situation and lose aircraft command before they lose aircraft control. They wander into dangerous, often avoidable situations. The end result is pilots are put to an extreme test requiring our greatest piloting skills and unfortunately run out of talent. As a DPE, I always advise successful new pilots, “This flight test was not the *real* test; flying  in life is the ‘real test’; stay current and sharp out there!” Apparently, we are not doing too well passing the “real test” in aviation.

What I *do* know from examining pilots for over 20 years is that many have only the most basic grasp of the real aerodynamics of maneuvering flight. And unfortunately many do not continue to train and improve after passing their evaluation (FAA Wings is a good incentive program to keep pilots training regularly). Our FAA testing standards are specifically designed to require the basic minimums of skill, knowledge and judgment. Even so, many applicants cringe when I tell them we are going to perform our stalls in the test while turning (as the ACS allows) And I frequently hear “my instructor never trained that.” (But this is usually how LOC-I actually happens in real life.) During the oral, few applicants can unpack the real forces, risks and dangers of maneuvering flight without some prompting. And in every flight review I give, I assign AOPA’s “Essential Aerodynamics” course as part of the ground training. This wonderful ASI production has no Greek letters and nicely explains the “mysteries of flight” (which I guarantee are beyond most pilots’ understanding) Please dig in here if you honestly feel challenged (for your safety) and please get some dual if your skills are rusty.

We absolutely must acquire and retain critical, non-intuitive, “ready for action” flying skills and knowledge if we want to stay safe in the air. We have to understand aerodynamic stalls and also the effect of load on this poorly stated “stall speed”! As much as I love flying, it is certainly not all “fun and games!” (What you don’t know *will* hurt you in aviation.) But aviation *is* honestly rewards effort and what you invest in good training will be paid back in confidence and safety. This YouTube from Rich Stowell (who will be in the SAFE screencast) demonstrates amazing piloting control and situational awareness and Patty takes this even further with her amazing airshow performances. If we all could fly at this level of skill, LOC-I would disappear from the accident list and we all would be safer in the air.

Tune in on Thursday, November 16th and we will try to shed more light on why Loss of Control is so challenging. The free SAFE Resource Center has lots of good materials for pilots and CFIs. You can send your questions in the “comments” below and to #askgoldseal on Twitter or Facebook the night of the show.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Preventable Tragedies

by Parvez Dara, ATP, MCFII, MEI (and our SAFE Treasurer)

Pilot error is the single most important cause of fatalities in aviation. Especially when you allow the statisticians their free reign at numbers. The percentages that pile up suggest upwards of 80% of all fatal accidents are pilot related. One wonders then why these lamentable tragedies don’t ease up? If we as pilots know of all the various ways of crashing an airplane, why do we keep doing it? To get better at it? Hopefully not for that reason. There is something else here that escapes the eye. Let us dig deeper into this morass of prejudged eventualities.

Why does a VFR pilot fly into the clouds only to lose his way in the soft bitter blindness of gray? To be a little considerate of this poor bloke, let us look at how that is possible. Given the mind’s judicious use of fuzzy logic to plant an image where one does not exist, is one way. As the visibility lowers in haze, the mind continues to fool the decision maker into thinking that the buildings he was seeing are still there albeit a little hazy. He soldiers on, only to suddenly realize that the there is not there and panic sets in. I remember flying in a flight of two on a summers day with a VFR-only pilot and his companion. As the visibility lowered and my eyes diverted to the instruments, I realized that the other pilot did not have the same capability. I asked the Air Traffic Control to tell my “company aircraft” to reverse course back to our departure airfield. Upon landing, we checked the weather and further west of our 180-degree site had gone IFR.

Preflight is another big bugaboo. Multi-hundred-hour pilots will treat flight as if it is riding a bicycle. They will assuredly “kick the tires and light the fires” and off they go, as if they are exempt from the rigors of human fallacies. Most times it is okay, but then there is suddenly that one in thousand NTSB report that makes your heart sink. How could he? Why do we ignore a good and thorough preflight? Mostly because, a) we expect it to be okay, b) it is a time drain and delays our ultimate thrill to be up in the air, c) heuristics of laziness d) all others you can conjure up. But preflight is when you find all sorts of things that can go wrong: a) contaminated fuel, b) a broken spring on the landing gear, c) cowl plugs plugged in deep, d) a bird-nest e) open baggage compartment door, f) a fouled plug or a broken ceramic spark plug, g) low oil, h) a flat spot on the tire ready to go, i) a blocked pitot tube and myriad other potential maladies that can lead to those lamentable tragedies.

The pilot is the Commander of his aircraft. No one has the greater authority other than when he or she delegates to a flight instructor or another pilot in the right seat. One of the mainstays of safety is never ever to abrogate one’s authority to fly the aircraft. You are the boss. You make the decisions (you may elect to recognize another’s opinion especially if it is a contrary opinion for inclusion sake) but the ultimate responsibility still weighs heavily on the pilot. You decide if the rudder or your authority is breached in a crosswind landing. You decide on an alternate airport as the weather deteriorates. You decide on the weight and balance. You decide what is the safest and most favorable approach to a safe arrival at your destination. You are it. You are the Big Cheese! Take that responsibility seriously but with a dose of humility.

Above it all, as a pilot you must learn to respect two very important things: 1. The Aerodynamic limits of the airfoil and 2. Your own Experiential Limits. Never let the latter exceed the former and never let yourself be seduced into trying to find the edge of the aerodynamic envelope without first experiencing it with a more experienced and knowledgeable instructor. Loss of control take too many pilots.

In the end, then, all lamentable tragedies are a learning experience. They titillate the journalists into writing hyperboles but at the very core, these disasters are learning experiences. Unfortunately, others have shed blood and bent aluminum not to be rendered as a “stupid mistake” or an act of “incoherent idiocy” or be subject to the glowering mean judgmental eye, but they are to be used as a mechanism to learn from and avoid similar errors. Safety is like climbing on the shoulders of others and seeing what they have seen and learning to avoid where they might have erred.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

CFI Good to Great; Learn From Your Students!

“Good pilots are always learning” but this commitment is also vital for good flight instructors. To improve at anything, we must be continually curious, seeking new knowledge or inevitably cynicism and a glassy-eyed complacency set in. You know this look, 70% of  US workers on the job are “disengaged”. A commitment to growth as a flight instructor does not only mean pursuing new ratings (and hopefully a Master Instructor Certification), but also learning on a daily basis from our students. Like every other certificate, a new CFI is a “license to learn.” Look at the Canadian system (four levels) to see how perfunctory our FAA preparation can be! Maintaining a “beginners mind” makes the difference between “a thousand unique hours of experience and one hour a thousand times.”

 

 

 

 

According to psychologist Dr. Anders Ericsson in his fascinating book Peak, the secret to mastery in any field is “deliberate practice” and continually seeking excellence. For example, a physician with 20 years experience that is happy with “acceptable performance” and “performs on autopilot” is less effective (and less safe) than a doctor with only 5 years of deliberate practice. Quality over quantity is the rule for mastery. In education, one huge opportunity for educators to grow and make every hour count is learning from our students.

On the most basic level this means discovering how each unique individual learns efficiently and effectively. Our challenge is to creatively adapt our presentation to a variety of people and help them learn. Notice I did not say “teach them” -we are not pouring skill and knowledge into their heads! Our job is to present appropriately challenging experiences so they can assemble and code these experiences into increasing usable knowledge and skills. Careful observation and skillful questioning will reveal if we are succeeding; when to step in and when to back off and let learning occur. That blank stare, frustration or lack of progress area critical clues. Gaining emotional intelligence and compassion is not easy for technically minded people like pilots, but it will make your teaching much better and your whole life a richer experience.

Active listening, with a continuous feedback loop, is essential to calibrate and improve our performance. The art of providing an optimal challenge without being either boring or overly challenging is critical and only attainable with continuous feedback. Those deadly “one size fits all” lesson plans really work for no one; get creative. In the learning environment, less talking from the CFI and more listening and questioning are usually a sign of progress in education. Similarly, fewer CFI demonstrations and more student flying (with encouragement and coaching) creates an exciting and fun opportunity for real learning. Obviously we have to keep the learning environment safe, but allowing our students room to grow is critical. For learning to happen, we must allow mistakes to happen (hopefully increasingly self-corrected).

A savvy flight educator must know the boundaries of safety and always subtly guide the flight experience. This requires knowing and trusting your clients capabilities, but also maintaining an alert watch. Sometimes this is presenting a question about a forgotten critical item, or directing perception so your student acquires an insight they might otherwise miss. An expert is a person with a rich mental representation of their environment that easily recognizes patterns and meanings that would escape the naive viewer. We need to convey those meanings. A savvy flight educator knows about a developing difficulty miles before their student. Our awareness keeps this situation safe but we also must be careful not to spoil their learning opportunities. Letting a missed item persist until a student discovers it can be excruciating!

One of the most important understandings for an experienced flight educator is what the “FAA finished pilot” looks like at each level of certification. When is a person a suitably proficient to be a sport, recreational, private or commercial grade pilot? Though it is frustrating that we cannot make every person into an astronaut, we have to know when our applicant meets the FAA standards and is ready to test for their certificate or rating (and also be a safe future aviator). Just like personal minimums in piloting, in test preparation there should be a  “margin of safety” and extra capacity in every applicant to insure success (despite the inevitable stress).

Knowing the required skill, knowledge and judgment required for each test and the performance psychology of your applicant takes years to get right. This is one reason DPEs are required to have so much experience teaching to be designated as examiners. Getting feedback from your DPE is the most valuable (and under-appreciated) sources of learning for the flight educator. Search out a DPE that is willing to give you an honest, detailed debrief on every applicant and you will become a training team creating safer and more comprehensive pilots…more to come!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

What Makes a “Great” CFI (and Can We Teach It)?

First things first, what is a “great” flight instructor? Is it the instructor with the most ratings, the most dual given or is it the person with FAA National Accolades and many Master CFI Levels? Personally, I would argue it is a passionate, professional educator who consistently prepares safe, confident, skillful pilots at many levels from a diverse pool of clients. This person does not seek the limelight but clearly stands out because they consistently develop superior, safe pilots…it’s their attitude, demeanor, and the success they create daily that makes them “great”.

Professionalism in flight education obviously requires a mastery of the mechanical skills of flying and a huge reservoir of technical knowledge, but I would argue that the critical “secret sauce” that makes an instructor “great” are the abilities of communicating, compassion and successfully conveying  consistently high standards. Incidentally, the word “instructor” implies the transfer of mere technical skills, whereas a professional “educator” implies teaching the whole person at a higher level than rote. Even the most prodigious knowledge and the best hands on the controls are useless in a CFI unless you can share these effectively and consistently with a variety of people at the highest levels of understanding for durable retention.

The “greats” are also the ones who really enjoy working with a diverse group of people and eagerly undertake that daily creative challenge of educating them. There is an obvious joy here and true passion here. Another characteristic is an immense reservoir of patience to work through the many problems and plateaus that student pilots encounter.

A “great” flight educator also has a clear vision for what the finished aerodynamic product should look like at every certificate level and they have the ability to create that from the raw material of many varying personalities. They need to inspire, motivate, cajole and create every day and successfully coach each student over the goal line to certification. The last attribute of a “great” CFI is a commitment to always learning and pursuing excellence. (Spoiler alert for next blog; hours alone are useless *if* you accept “good enough”)

From what I have seen running a flight school, the “soft skills” are the most common missing ingredient in new CFIs. Because of the technical nature of our profession, pilots become CFIs usually due to their superior talent and a passion for aviation (the flying part). They often become confused and disappointed when, as new CFIs, they realize their major daily challenges are no longer landing in a vicious crosswind or shooting an approach to minimums in turbulence. Their new challenges are instead helping a scared housewife through power-on stalls or coaching a lazy college student through subjects they should have mastered at home on their own. Many CFIs also cannot even comprehend a lack of motivation or what is “wrong” with slow learners. This is where patience, compassion and emotional intelligence are the real important educational tools. Aviation is expensive, time consuming and initially scary for many people. Coaching people through these obstacles to a level of mastery, confidence and skill is what great educators do daily.

Dave McVInnie 10X MCFI and Lifetime SAFE Member

The next (very important) question is can we successfully educate beginning CFIs to be “great”, and accelerate their learning curve so they can be successful (and happier) with less struggle and fewer hours/years on the job? Does every CFI need K. Anders Ericsson’s famous 10,000 hours to reach a level of mastery? That would be unfortunate, because in our current aviation market a CFI is considered “ancient” if they accumulate even 1000 hours teaching. Your comments and suggestions are welcome (and needed).


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!