Passionate Pilots; Become a CFI!

The flight training industry needs more professional instructors who stay and grow in the industry,teaching beyond the minimum standards. If you are already a CFI, access this link for motivating articles and growth opportunitites. If you know a long-time pilot who would be a great CFI, inspire and mentor them; forward this article. Let's build CFI professionals.

There is a lopsided and damaging demographic trend in “new CFI certificates.” Most newly-certificated CFIs are young people – brand new to aviation – and adult life. Statistics reveal that most new CFIs teach for less than a year, building hours and moving on. Though they become the backbone of the professional pilot cadre, this “hour building” does not help the flight training business much. In our aviation industry, there is a continuous cycle of “beginners teaching pilots.” This is a continuous cycle – 2/3rds of active flight instructors have taught for less than a yearI certainly do not mean to disparage young CFIs – my best CFIs were in this group –  but our industry desperately needs educators teaching/growing for more than a year.

Experienced aviators, with financial security and a passion for aviation, are the perfect candidates to step up and become CFIs. Largely driven by passion and not dollars, these people can offset their “flying habit” with some tax advantages while enjoying the satisfaction of building new, safer pilots – paying aviation back. “People skills” and commitment are the primary “secret sauce” to successful education and customer satisfaction. Some of the best educators in our industry are “accidental CFIs” who finally became aviation educators later in life after being long-time pilots. If you are worried about liability, SAFE developed the best CFI insurance in the business just for this reason; go get some – both Master CFI and FAA WINGS get you a discount!

I have personally only put 30 or so people through their initial CFI. But the “lifetime aviators” are usually easier to develop into CFIs than brand new pilots. This is largely because all the aviation knowledge and experience acquired in life – especially “people skills” – really pay you back here. Being successful as a CFI is really about teaching people aviation *NOT* advanced aerodynamics and molecules of air.  You do not have to be a super pilot, just a compassionate coach.


Have you heard scary stories about the terrible initial CFI pass rate? FAA statistics reveal initial CFI pass rate is statistically almost the same as private pilot; ~75%! And, pilots with experience in aviation start with a disproportionate advantage: all the skill and knowledge from years of flying. I have hired academy CFIs that have never fueled a plane, never flown in an actual cloud and do not know how to tie down a plane. Yet they have a fresh FAA CFI certificate (usually a “double I” too) and are certificated by the government to teach people to fly; you can do better! (BTW; none of these skills are required in the testing process)

The first step on this path is to take a simple knowledge test and acquire your ground instructor certificate (remarkably, you do not even need to be a pilot to become a ground instructor!) Then you can start officially helping at your local school or club and actively build your teaching chops while preparing for the flight portion. Years in aviation really count here. Work on the commercial if you do not yet have that and simultaneously practice your maneuvers from the right seat (double benefit). If you are a passionate aviator, you are flying anyway and you will find this exciting and motivating. As you proceed you will no doubt discover the secret motivation of teaching flying; you learn something every day. Great CFIs are lifetime pilots and “lifetime learners” – passionate pilots make the best CFIs. SAFE also has an affiliation with CFIbootcamp. Mike and his crew are passionate and professional at rapidly assembling the skill and knowledge to pass your initial CFI.

So if you are a passionate aviator, start working on your CFI today. Join this mailing list.  Motivating articles and educational assistance will help you on your journey. SAFE CFI-PRO™ is designed specifically for this process of building professional CFIs. A new course is finally in the works for this fall; we need more committed, passionate, lifetime CFIs. Fly safely out there (and often).

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

SAFE Dinner is ON; Celebrate Aviation’s Return!

Wonderful news; our SAFE dinner at Oshkosh (AirVenture) is a “GO!!” and we have a HUGE room (so let’s fill it up!) With a late start (and the COVID “who knows? factor” all organizations are struggling with) we were all ready to cancel. With 1500 more members than two years ago (a great “problem”) we needed more space in a hurry! Fortunately, “The Atrium” is available and the SAFE dinner is ON. Please join us for a fun dinner and share your “COVID Karoke” stories of surviving and thriving despite lock down. Also, share your plans for future growth- we encourage your business cards and your fliers (and will have tables for these). Let’s network! Tickets only $20 until July 4th (early bird) then $25.

This event is at the same address on 20th Ave but up front this year in “the Atrium.” Designed this year to “meet and mingle” with food and drinks to facilitate “strategic partnerships” (and fun!) We will have some flying excitement too (we could not resist with this large enclosed space). Ticketing is electronic and your $25 gets you sliced New York Sandwiches on assorted buns. Also; bacon-wrapped chestnuts, shrimp cocktail, chicken teriyaki kababs, crab-stuffed mushrooms, and fruit kabobs. Admission includes two (beer/wine) drinks. We will need proof of age.

Details will be updated continuously on the SAFE App and SAFE Website as we adjust and optimize this event (“enable notifications” on the App for important news). As always, thanks to our wonderful sponsors and  the aviation “movers and shakers” that always make this an amazing event not to be missed! If you are at AIrventure “selling” we will have tables for your brochures (and let us know if you are willing to sponsor for high visibility appreciation!) Fly SAFE out there (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). Download our (FREE) SAFE app for resources and news (OSH!!)

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of building aviation excellence through superior education. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile (the 1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

FAA Policy Reversal on CFI!

SAFE has historically worked closely with the FAA on promoting safety and improving flight training (e.g. developing the new ACS). With all this close collaboration as CFIs, DPEs and FAAST team Lead Reps you start to think you know what is going on, how the program runs. The historic FAA policy on flight instruction very clearly defines it as “educator” stated by David P Byrne (September 18, 1995), then Assistant Chief Counsel Regulations Division:

“The FAA has determined that the compensation a certificated flight instructor receives for flight instruction is not compensation for piloting the aircraft but is rather compensation for the instruction.”

Now without changing any regulations (which would require extensive public notification and public comment of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), the FAA has launched a whole new interpretation that defines flight instruction to include “carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.” This dramatically affects all CFIs (and is contrary to their current written policy). A June 4th letter from the FAA, signed by Ali Bahrami Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety says:

Although a person may hold the appropriate privileges “to act as a required crewmember” or “conduct flight training” under part 61, the regulations in part 91 may restrict the exercise of those privileges in a particular category of aircraft under certain conditions, such as operations conducted for compensation or hire.

The decisiveness of this FAA reversal is clear in the recent FAA Letter which also states the new policy is in conflict with their published 8900.1 – the FAA day-to-day guidance on how to conduct business in aviation:

The guidance for inspectors on flight training in an experimental aircraft in FAA Order 8900.1 is not consistent with the plain language of § 91.319. FAA Order 8900.1, Vol. 3, Chpt 11, sec. 1, para. 3-292. Where a regulation and guidance conflict, the regulation controls.

So even the 8900.1 will need to be rewritten to support this new interpretation. Don’t panic yet, and remember these are restrictions specifically target 61.315 and 61.319, and 61.325 (Limited, Experimental, and Primary).  The FAA bases its new interpretation on the Warbird Adventures Case and also the Gregory Morris Legal Interpretation from 2014.

These current changes mostly affect pilots of experimental aircraft (for now). Going forward (if this stands) pilots in experimental, limited and primary aircraft will need a Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA) if they want flight instruction in their plane (currently only required for a CFI teaching in their own experimental and not an easy process).

Unfortunately, this also starts the legal ball rolling for all kinds of negative downstream effects concerning liability and medical requirements for CFIs. SAFE joined a consortium of united aviation “alphabets” that objected strongly to this recent policy change in a recent letter to the FAA. This new FAA interpretation is contrary to safety and certainly not what we need to encourage senior CFIs to continue in the industry already starved for experienced CFIs. SAFE has written directly to the FAA in protest and we encourage every concerned aviation citizen to copy our letter and send it here immediately (quick cut and paste). Stand by for FAA official policy (and watch our new section on the webpage). Fly safely (and often)!

Please see last week’s blog if you missed it: CFIs as “Media Influencers!” It is vital to direct your student’s media intake toward positive online programs.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). Download our (FREE) SAFE app for resources and news (OSH!!)

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of building aviation excellence through superior education. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile (the 1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

YouTube Heroes? CFIs are “Influencers!”

We all have seen the amazing variety of “aviation exemplars” available on YouTube. This started for me before Google even owned YouTube when a student pilot asked me if he could “fly formation in the C-152” with other student pilots “for practice?” (I am grateful he at least asked first…) This was my first exposure to the compelling influence of online media – and this pilot is now a successful Hawker 800 captain.

Much like parenting, if we control and reinforce the proper environment and “YouTube Heroes,” to the extent we can, we determine (to a large degree) the final pilot outcome. As educators, this is increasingly our responsibility. CFIs are the primary “influencers” for student pilots. It is essential to take an active role in directing students and clients toward professional online examples. The “heroes” they follow will be the pilots they will become.

In other blogs I have pointed out the capricious nature of “online education.” There are many imaginary “super pilots” with all errors edited out. Never a mistake with YouTube “super pilots!” There are also hours of deadly dull webinars with no viewers and little value. It is essential that educators profile and recommend exciting and positive exemplars for students who wish to become professional pilots.

When we look to hire in my organization, almost more important than advanced skills are the attitude, demeanor and integrity of the pilot. If a new hire secretly hates rules and SOPs (a flying cowboy) we really have no use for them in professional aviation. We can improve skills, but attitude is amazingly difficult to mold once past a certain formative stage. Cowboys end up “getting famous” with some dramatic accident at some point in the future.

I would like to compliment our SAFE board member Wayman Alfredo on the positive role model he is presenting to the public in his new position at Daher flying the TBM 940. Presenting consistent checklist discipline and cockpit coordination as an integrated part of flying is essential to safety (and need I mention, passing your FAA evaluations). Good educators promote positive examples like this to all their students. Take a look and add a comment with your impressions; please promote safe aviation on YouTube! Here is a fun flight *AND* a more professional approach to conducting a flight in a high-performance plane. (This recent accident provides a clear example of the hazards of shortcuts.) Pilots modeling professional organization and discipline will become safe and successful pilots.

Another SAFE Board member, Andy Chan operates Right Rudder Aviation, a customer-oriented FBO in Inverness, FL. His team is responsible for bringing the Pipistrel Panthera to the USA. Pipistrel also makes the all-electric Alpha Trainer featured in this recent YouTube. Remember when electric cars were a novelty? Aviation is embracing this technology;

SAFE members, please remember to VOTE today. SAFE elects the Board of Directors from our membership! The election of the new board is open this morning and candidates are here. All full members received an e-mail this morning (logged in) and last year 26% of members voted. We have 1000 more supporters than we did last year! Let’s all fly SAFE out there (and often).

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). Download our (FREE) SAFE app for resources and news (OSH!!)

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of building aviation excellence through superior education. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile (the 1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

“Recent Experience” Rules Safety!

If you study any safety statistics, the one solid correlation in every data set determining safe outcomes is “recency of (correct) experience.” This relationship continues as you drill down to include make and model and builds with all relevant conditions -night/weather etc. (until you cross the line into complacency). After the recent pandemic, we are all less current than we should be (and consequently less safe) and there has been a lot of conjecture about the consequences of “rusty pilots!” Safety in the current environment requires adding wider margins to our operations and simultaneously perusing retraining as we regrow the industry and tune-up our skills; every pilot is somewhat “rusty.”

We now have actual data on “rusty pilots” from the recent 2021 Bombardier Safety Standdown . Manual handling incidents (the first skills to deteriorate with disuse) are up a shocking 1000% according to pilot reporting system data. This is a huge jump.  SAFE member Paul “BJ” Ransbury’s talk at the stand down, cites this data and offers solutions. Paul is CEO of Aviation Performance Solutions offering state-of-the-art upset training (free course here). Only savvy (appropriately cautious) operators with increased safety margins have prevented the same increase in accident statistics. Every pilot would be wise to similarly increase their personal minimums as we sharpen our skills. Every pilot needs to engage in some personal skill and knowledge building.

One of the known statistical accident buffers is represented in the “Heinrich pyramid.” This theory basically states that only a small percentage of “unsafe actions” results in “serious injury or substantial damage.” This is due largely to luck and circumstances – not a responsible barrier.  Basically, Heinrich’s Law turns “Murphy’s Law” on its head and says “most of the time we get away with unsafe actions.” The unfortunate result (re: Heinrich) is that “getting away with it” can reinforce unsafe behaviors and build BAD habits. In aviation, solid, relevant training is the only solid antidote to rust – not just “experimentation.”

in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.

As GA pilots the FAA SAFO 17007 cited by Paul in his talk is unfortunately of little help, since this document mostly deals with larger flight departments with safety managers with bigger programs. In GA we are responsible for our own “safety program.” Though every pilot should dig into the stand-down talks, a more relevant target is the FAA WINGS and AOPA Focused Flight Review syllabi. As you progress further try some SAFE Extended Envelope Training with your CFI. We *all* need a refresher and reboot of both normal and emergency procedures. For CFIs, take a look at the FREE Sporty’s FIRC This is a very generous gift from Sportys (and yes you can extend your CFI *before* it expires) Tune up your instructional knowledge along with your skills. A good pilot/CFI is always learning- fly safely out there (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or 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 (1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

Clarify FAA “Warbird Adventures” Ruling!

Very limited application of this ruling!

A recent court decision has upheld the FAA’s “cease and desist” order against “Warbird Adventures.”  This ruling lets stand an interpretation that threatens the historic role of CFIs as “educators” and will have a negative effect on all flight training (and aviation safety). This action has left CFIs confused and at risk from the greater future liability of “flying for hire,” along with potential regulatory and medical consequences.  Needless to say, this case has cause a firestorm in the aviation media.

Most importantly, initial legal analysis, provided by AOPA, indicates that CFI certificates (and flight instruction in general) are not directly or immediately at risk. But the recent Warbird Adventures ruling decision was overly broad.  Though targeting a specific case of flight instruction in a P-40, WWII military aircraft, this court case has damaging effects on every CFI.  In this particular case, this P-40 was operating in the “limited category” which prohibits flight for “compensation or hire” under CFR 91.315 without an exemption. The FAA ordered this to stop, but in our opinion, applied the wrong enforcement – reinterpreting flight instruction as “flight for hire.”. The FAA has a long legal precedent supporting CFIs as “educators” *NOT* flying for “compensation or hire.” This new ruling needs to be clarified immediately.

Click, copy and SEND this letter!!

The biggest concern is “downstream consequences” of what this action could imply in future interpretations about legal liability, charter regulations, and medical requirements. The ‘obiter dictum,’ a legal phrase for ‘remark made in passing,’ could upset the FAA’s long-standing policy that CFIs are paid for their instructional expertise, not for flying for hire. SAFE sent our objection to the FAA protesting this ruling and we encourage you to copy this, customize it as necessary and send it as well: E-mail to Mr Bahrami  here.

We at SAFE, representing over 3600 flight educators, urge the Agency to expedite a final ruling preserving the instructor’s historic role as “educator” and not “charter pilot.” Adopting the broader interpretation implied in this court’s recent decision would create irrevocable harm to our industry and diminish aviation safety.

The FAA’s historic legal position on CFI as “educator” not “compensation for transportation for hire” is very clear:
The FAA has determined that the compensation a certificated flight instructor receives for flight instruction is not compensation for piloting the aircraft but is rather compensation for the instruction. A certificated flight instructor who is acting as pilot in command or as a required flight crewmember and receiving compensation for his or her flight instruction is exercising only the privileges of a private pilot. A certificated flight instructor who is acting as pilot in command or as a required flight crewmember and receiving compensation for his or her flight instruction is not carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire, nor is he or she, for compensation or hire, acting as pilot in command of an aircraft.
This same “CFI loophole” came to mind recently when I was at Sun ‘N Fun observing CFIs flying their students from all over the country to Sun ‘N Fun “for training.” Was the purpose really “flight training” *or* “a trip to the show” in Florida for fun? Can any CFI fly any person anywhere (and charge for it) and designate it “flight instruction?” Can a pilot buy a jet and “give instruction” ferrying people to Florida in the winter? The FAA will probably be defining the limitations for what is legal instruction and charter. As CFIs we should not only protect our rights but also instruct responsibly, clearly following the rules. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or 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 (1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

The SAFE CFI’s “Most Wanted List”

There is a great frustration watching accidents repeating themselves for obvious preventable causes. Gene Benson is a passionate aviation safety educator. He analyzes every accident and recommends better practices to prevent these unhappy outcomes. In the absence of NTSB recommendations for General Aviation, Gene has creeated a list based on his extensive experience and study:

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List almost always includes some items related to small, GA airplanes operating under Part 91. The most recent MWL for 2021-2022 does not contain any items that relate to non-revenue flying. I do not believe that NTSB does not have any items for us. But perhaps they have seen little progress from the FAA on many of the recent GA items listed, so they are just giving the FAA time to catch up.

Not that I claim to have the knowledge, research assets, or foresight of the NTSB, but I decided to create my own Most Wanted List in the spirit of preventing accidents involving small, GA airplanes. My list is based on my study of NTSB accident reports. I read all the accident reports that involve a fatality or serious injury, as well as many of the reports from the accidents that resulted in minor or no injuries.

1) All pilots will understand and apply stabilized approach principles to each and every approach. Most landing accidents occur as a conclusion to an unstabilized approach. The NTSB Probable Cause may not state that the approach was unstabilized, but applying the listed conditions to stabilized approach criteria makes the case. The concept is rather simple, we memorize the criteria for a stabilized approach and decide on a stabilization altitude based primarily on the kind of airplane we are flying. If the airplane deviates from any of the criteria below the stabilization altitude we will go around or execute a missed approach. Of course, a Part B to this requires us to maintain proficiency in the go-around procedures for each airplane that we fly. Click here for more information on stabilized approaches.

2)  All pilots and (at least front-seat) passengers will be secured with shoulder restraints. All installed lap belts and shoulder restraints will be maintained in good condition. Shoulder restraints greatly improve the survivability of a crash, but also significantly reduce the chances of life-changing injuries. Relative to other costs involved in flying, the cost of adding shoulder restraints if the airplane is not already equipped is very reasonable. Additionally, all restraint systems, including belts, buckles, and attach points, must be regularly inspected and replaced if needed. Click here to view or download an FAA brochure on the subject.

3) All pilots will engage in a defined recurrent training program. Regardless of how much we fly, we still need to refresh and renew our knowledge and skills. Regulations regarding recurrent training for small GA airplanes operating under Part 91 are non-existent or at least sorely inadequate. On a scale of 0 to 10, with zero being completely unsafe and ten being as safe as practically possible, just meeting the legal requirements would put us at a score of about 1.5. And that is only if the pilot is flying the same kind of airplane as was used for the flight review. Ridiculously, regarding small GA airplanes, a pilot may complete a flight review in any aircraft for which the pilot is rated and it counts for all aircraft in which the pilot is rated. The pilot who owns and operates a Beech Baron can save some money by renting a Cessna 150 for a flight review and thereby meet regulatory requirements.

The FAA Wings program can establish a great framework for a recurrent training program provided the pilot creates a profile that accurately and honestly reflects the pilots flying. An unfortunate, but common practice is to list only airplane and single-engine land in the category and class section. Since only activities pertinent to the pilot’s profile will be generated, earning a phase of Wings may not have much meaning in the larger safety picture. Done properly, the Wings program can substantially move the needle on our safety scale up to at least 8.0.

4) All pilots will perform thorough preflight planning and engage in-flight monitoring. The airplane is not a car in which we can begin a trip with little regard to the weather and figure out our routing and fuel needs along the way. Aviation safety absolutely requires preflight planning and flight monitoring. Some of the most easily preventable crashes result from a lack of adequate planning and monitoring. Common causes of crashes in this category include VFR flight into IFR conditions, fuel exhaustion, lack of takeoff or other performance planning, and operation outside the weight and/or balance limits [The Killers]. These crashes cover the spectrum from the simplest to the most complex airplanes and from the newly certificated private pilot to the most seasoned pilot with the highest certificates and ratings.

Fly SAFE out there (and often)! 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.

“Ready For Anything?!”

During any emergency, luck certainly plays a role,  but positive pilot action is the essential ingredient for success. Being alert and vigilant – having prebriefed the possible failure modes – enables successful performance by preventing panic. Psychologists call this “priming,” a mental rehearsal of all possibilities and a state of readiness. This prevents “startle” from incapacitating the pilot.  Considering all the possible outcomes *before* beginning any flight helps ensure a correct and rapid response. And during a dual flight, the CFI carries a lot of this responsibility. They are both the educator, but also (to varying degrees) in charge of safety and survival. Every CFI needs to be ready to handle the surprises illustrated below.

Here are two very similar accidents that highlight how essential CFI vigilance and proper action can be when an emergency occurs. Some details are unknown and I am not judging here. Please take a look and click on each to dig into the NTSB details. When things go bad, we will be put to the test. Being ready – primed and vigilant – usually determines the critical difference in the outcome.

“Priming” is the reason we do pre-takeoff briefings, it is the stoic attitude that assumes “things *will* go wrong. A pre-planned, fluid response should be briefed and ready to go (Code Yellow). Surprise and panic will cause startle and inappropriate action since our genetically programmed response seems to be to “pull away from the ground.” When power fails we need to be spring-loaded to “unload” (the “big push”) and keep the wings flying. Whatever we have available to us after that is better than spinning in out of control.

The fatal accident here was dual and it is entirely possible that the fairly experienced female CFI was overpowered by a panicking client (the size disparity is not clear from the documentation). Briefing emergencies (and priming) with the learner helps prevent panic in an emergency (as does a trusting relationship). But if survival becomes a “fight on the controls,” in an emergency, the CFI has to do whatever is necessary to regain control. A trick available to CFIs in most trainers is to use your foot (and the greater power of your leg) on the crossbar under the panel to force the yoke forward and reduce the angle of attack. I have twice overpowered a panicking student over-rotating the pitch (in a Cessna) by easing down the nose forcibly with my foot. When “discussion” fails, positive action is required. It is wise to practice this “CFI trick” and be ready.

"On take-off in a C-152, a student on a 'Discovery Flight' with 'long ago experience' kept pulling and over-rotated the nose (going incoherent and babbling as he pulled). The plane was beginning to mush at a couple hundred feet with the stall horn activating. I thought to myself 'this is how we die.' 

After verbally commanding a release and attempting to force down the nose with both arms, I put my foot on the control bar below the panel and eased down the pitch attitude while talking calmly to him. Once the horizon came back into view he became more reasonable and we continued the flight (practicing the 'exchange of controls' a few times...)"

SAFE is reviewing all accidents presented in the General Aviation News and offering suggestions to enable safer flying. (Subscribe here). Wishing you all happier flying than this! Get out on these beautiful spring days and enjoy some relief from the pandemic and winter weather – before the heat hits down south! See you at AirVenture in July; fly safely (and often)!

Join SAFE now and win a new Lightspeed Zulu Headset, a Sporty’s handheld radio, an Aerox PrO2 oxygen system! Every new membership, renewal or Step-Up or donation (tax deductible) through May 15th, will enter you into the spring member sweepstakes for amazing prizes.

Educator’s “Curse of Expertise!”

Expertise is the amazing, fluid performance of a complex task. An expert makes even the most complicated task look simple – and this is super frustrating when you are a student! We all admire expertise in aviation and strive desperately to achieve that kind of performance when we are learning. Ironically, however, fluid expertise can be a huge impediment to effective teaching.

As a student in any field, you have probably encountered this phenomenon before and it points out the true art of the educational process. “What’s so hard about that, you just do x,y,z!” Someone who has mastered a complex task, but is not an experienced educator, will usually not realize the many methodical steps required to reconstruct (and teach) a complex task. There is an interesting brain trick you have to understand to become an effective educator. And it is also why an expert at something is usually a frustrating teacher; “the curse of expertise.”

When any expert achieves mastery in a complex task, such as landing, this set of nuanced cues, skills and reactions gets encoded in the brain out of sight from your conscious recall. This is called “procedural memory” or “crystallized intelligence” and it is stored in the subconscious areas of the brain; the parietal lobes and basal ganglia. The actions and the associated data in many complex tasks become so automatic after continuous rehearsal, that a master performer is not aware of the steps involved; it is essentially hidden from view. After mastering a complex task, we do not have to even think about it; performance is largely effortless! This is a gift for fluid performance but makes teaching a skill you know almost impossible without careful introspection and a whole different set of “educator skills.”

Procedural memory is a subset of implicit memory, sometimes referred to as unconscious memory or automatic memory. Implicit memory uses past experiences to remember things without thinking about them. It differs from declarative memory, or explicit memory, which consists of facts and events that can be explicitly stored and consciously recalled or “declared.”

This brain trick makes the educational process impossible for many experts. And this is also why the initial CFI can be so difficult to obtain. Teaching is a whole different process from performing. To be an effective aviation educator,  it is first necessary to achieve some level of expertise in a whole set of skills. But then you also have to methodically deconstruct all these maneuvers into parts and pieces and recode this complex activity into discrete and orderly “chunks” you can transfer to a learner. Only then can you be an effective educator. Learning is certainly not “monkey see, monkey do” at the level of expertise.

The amazing psychologist who refined this process in detail for aviation was Dr. Gary Klein and it is called Cognitive Task Analysis. As fuel costs climbed in the 1970s gas crisis, he analyzed all the discrete procedural activities of fighter jet pilots. They could no longer afford to spend countless hours flying jets to acquire nuanced skills. The Air Force needed a way to efficiently capture and transfer these essential flying skills. Flight simulation technology consequently became increasingly important and effective. And the Air Force now largely uses virtual reality simulation. Dr. Gary Klein’s current passion is “ShadowBox LLC” deconstructing subject matter experts and transferring knowlege in a wide range of different fields.

One last point in this interesting comparison of educators vs performers. It is not essential in learning to find the most expert performer to be your CFI. It is much better to seek out the best educator. These are often very different skill sets and people. In addition to good pedagogical skills, empathy and compassion are essential for a good match. Fly SAFE out there (and often!)

Overcoming Flight Test Anxiety!

Everyone facing a flight test has some nervousness and anxiety. But for some people, this rises to the level of disabling panic. I have seen people who literally could not breathe and were having a full-on panic attack when walking in for a test. This is unnecessary and avoidable with knowledge and preparation. As your panic level rises, your chances of success definitely diminish. Here are some comforting facts that might help take away some of that panic.

First, remember you start with 100% on every FAA flight test. Once your CFI approves, signs and submits your application into IACRA, you are essentially a fully qualified PIC; you just need to prove that to your DPE. You actually fly your flight test as a PIC. Your certificate is already prepared in the IACRA system (and viewable) *before* you fly your flight test (go earn it!) All you have to do is fly all the maneuvers that you already practiced and prove to the examiner you meet the minimum FAA standards (more on this in a moment). So you do not have to “climb the ladder” in a flight test situation, you start at the top. All errors (and there will be things that don’t go as you wanted or imagined) are just a markdown.

This flight is called a “check ride” because the Designated Pilot Examiner is checking the training and approval conducted by your flight instructor. DPEs are selected because they have many more years and hours than the ordinary CFI. But instructors are the people that create the pilot. Your instructor probably spent 40-50 hours educating and preparing you to be a pilot. A flight test will probably take less than two hours in the plane. DPEs are the “gatekeepers,” they just check and approve the “final product.” Instructing by a DPE is strictly prohibited on a flight test by the FAA. Your DPE should never be taking the controls and saying “watch this.”

The second important fact about flight tests is that you only need to achieve a 70% on every maneuver to pass. All FAA evaluations are pass/fail! A 70% is an undesirable and unlikely outcome. But this fact may provide comfort to an unnecessarily nervous applicant; you do not have to be perfect! The FAA repeatedly states “perfection is not the standard” on flight tests. Regard 70% like other FAA minimums – “one mile clear of clouds in Class Golf airspace,” – legal but not where you want to be. Unfortunately, there is nothing that restores or improves the missing 30% that went badly (there is no “corrected to 100%” for the flight portion of the evaluation). Every successful pilot should become part of the FAA WINGS program so they continuously improve and learn. If you pass you earned your first phase of WINGS!

Hopefully, no one is training with a 70% achievement as the goal in mind. The real problem is usually the opposite; perfectionism. Most pilots walking into a test want 100% and are expecting perfection in their performance. This is a great goal but it essential to overcome this idea to have a productive experience. Errors can and will happen. It is important to make peace with this fact or every slip-up will ruin your confidence and erode your performance. Pilots as a group tend toward perfectionism and every error can appear fatal in their imagination; don’t go there! Pilot applicants are usually their own worst enemies on a flight evaluation. Just remember, if something did not go as you would have liked and the examiner says nothing, you are still in the game; put it behind you and “throttle on.”

Think of the test and the standards like driving down a highway you know well with the white lines on either side – comfortably wider than your vehicle. It is OK to occasionally hit a white line (a limitation in the standards) or even cross over a line briefly. Just “promptly correct” back to the center (smoothly). Steady and smooth is the best performance, and that is what nervousness and perfectionism ruin. If you exceed a standard get back on speed or altitude so your evaluator knows you are aware of a slip-up and capable of fixing the excursion. Every flight, every time, is a series of small corrections back to a desired (or required) standard. The better pilots just correct more frequently and more smoothly; no one is perfect! And remember, every good DPE really wants you to pass also.

Lastly, take comfort in the fact that you have consistently accomplished all the maneuvers required in the test many times with your instructor already.  And your DPE is required to adhere to these FAA testing standards. There are no “personal tests!” If you hear a DPE talk about “their test” avoid this person. There is only the “FAA test” that every DPE is empowered to administer. They are required, however, to cleverly disguise some requirements in scenarios that you should have experienced in training with your CFI.

Scenarios are a requirement in flight training (and testing) because your experience as a student pilot is necessarily limited to a small quadrangle of geography under very carefully controlled conditions. Your certificate, however, is valid for the whole USA (and more) for the rest of your life, day and night (with appropriate review). A DPE is required to assure your ability to handle all of these future challenges and apply good judgment; we take you there with scenarios (FAA scenario guide for examiners). Every DPE is required to formulate situations that require you to apply your skills at a correlation level. A good CFI will have prepared you for this during training by using scenarios in the same manner. So instead of just saying “go-around,” they hopefully are saying, “a truck just pulled onto the runway ahead, what are you going to do?”  Best of luck – fly SAFE (and often)!

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