Building a “Mindset of Professionalism”

It is difficult to define “professionalism” simply and comprehensively. This essential pilot attribute certainly requires personal integrity and commitment; to doing your best job, in the best way, every time (and even when no one is watching). But it’s not limited to a complex airframe or environment as is commonly asserted. You can be a super professional in your J-3 on a grass field or an embarrassing clown in an Airbus. Professionalism mostly resides in our attitude, discipline and mindset. Unfortunately, professionalism most often becomes obvious to us in its absence; when we suffer from bad service or observe inferior, disappointing performance. In daily operations, true professionalism often goes unappreciated until an emergency suddenly yanks us out of “the ordinary” and puts us too the test.

The recent Southwest engine explosion with Tammie Jo Shults at the controls or the historic Sullenberger and Skiles piloting of US Air 1549 are wonderful examples of professional performance in action. Unfortunately, in the media these exemplars most often get described as “miraculous.” Our non-flying friends have no idea how frequently professional pilots practice and prepare for unlikely incidents like these to make this magic happen. Training for and expecting emergencies is a large part of our jobs as pilots. These calm and professional performances are neither unique, easy, nor miraculous. They require constant training, hard work and commitment to excellence. And afterwards, each of these pilots commented honestly: “we all feel we were simply doing our jobs.” Professionalism is not optional, it is a required part of our job. Their calm professionalism exercised daily paid them back when the crisis struck. This something every pilot should aspire to emulate (and pass on). Safety in aviation requires that discipline to do everything to the best of our ability, on every single day. How can we better embrace this “mindset of professionalism”? And for educators, how can we build this essential capability in our students and clients?

“Mindset” is an increasingly common term in psychology, popularized inCarol Dweck’s book by the same name. According to Dweck, our pervasive mindset largely determines our success or failure in everything we do– much more than our IQ, innate abilities, or socio-economic status. Whether we continuously embrace a fatalistic, depressive approach to life: as a “victim”, or adopt a resilient, optimistic view of life, as an “agent,” determines our  success and happiness all through life. People with two unique mindsets encountering the same life challenges see them entirely different. A closed-minded fatalist will say “impossible” while the person with a “growth mindset” will say “game on!” and embrace the challenge.  In aviation the mindset we adopt is similarly critical to our future success and safety.

This “professionalism mindset” requires not only a “can do” attitude of agency and constant vigilance, it also needs integrity, curiosity and discipline to stay focused and sharp. As pilots, we must also have a ready toolkit of technical knowledge and flight proficiency. All pilots must be continuously ready and able to maintain aircraft control in both normal and emergency situations. The “startle response” is the classic fail preceding  loss of control; our most fatal causal factor in accidents. The reserve capacity to handle emergencies requires dual instruction  on a regular basis (its hard to surprise yourself!) Professionalism requires continuously learning and growing in skill and knowledge.

As educators, its essential first build, then model professionalism for our students. Committing to a positive example of continual learning and growth, such as new ratings or a Master CFI Accreditation, is a great way to stay excited and sharp in your daily job. It’s so very easy to get dull, bored and cynical as a CFI with frequent similar lessons around the pattern. Pretty soon we become egotistical and toxic. Reference to an established Code of Ethics like the SAFE Standard or the excellent Model Code of Conduct is a good tonic for both guidance and inspiration (and they are available at every level of certification). And training in something new and challenging always keeps a pilot humble.

For this reason also, many newer definitions of professionalism include references to  emotional intelligence and “relational skills” like humility, honesty, selflessness, and trustworthiness. These skills are certainly essential for a successful teaching environment but also valuable in a future crew environment. Most pilots first develop professionalism and good communication skills during their time as a CFI. (If you haven’t tested your patience, try teaching flying for a few thousand hours…) These instructional hours  are an essential crucible where interpersonal skills and good CRM are built. Other essential abilities are also developed here like maintaining calm during crisis, working cooperatively, and accepting errors graciously. These are all essential if/when you graduate to bigger/faster crewed aircraft.

A recent review of the NTSB report of the May 2017 Lear 35 accident circling at KTEB precipitated this blog article. At the time of this accident I was flying in and out of KTEB almost daily. Reading about the depressing level of training and lack of professionalism in this crew was demoralizing. This was a very preventable accident and a fear with the diminishing hiring standards we may be in for more. The Beach Aviation example currently in the news demonstrates how flagrantly some pilots ignore any attempt at integrity and professionalism.

 

In summary, though there are currently unprecedented opportunities for new pilots in our industry, my personal opinion is that every aspiring professional pilot should first become a CFI. Teaching for a while and doing the best job possible is an opportunity to develop professionalism and gain critical interpersonal skills. This growth is essential to future success in any flying career. And of course, join SAFE and support our mission. (You will save lots of $$ on the aviation products you already buy 🙂


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! 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!

Easier is NOT Necessarily Better, BUT…

The FAA has made a bold move and dropped the requirement for a complex aircraft for the single-engine commercial and CFI tests. Dr. Donna Wilt, a professor at FIT in aviation and our SAFE representative on the ACS working group, alerted me to this change as it was being written earlier this week. We had heard hints of this when we met Brad Palmer at Sun ‘N Fun a few weeks ago. His team at AFS 800 was very concerned about the safety of our aging fleet of complex planes. To be clear the requirement in 61.129(3)ii for 10 hours of experience still is in place (only an NPRM process can change a regulation, and this has been pending for over a year). With a stroke of the pen however, the complex requirement in testing is gone.

So what does this mean for flight training and safety? For flight students there was a collective sigh of relief for reduced requirements and cheaper acquisition of their certificates. For older pilots there was a lot of justifiable grumbling about “lowering standards” and future safety implications. Obviously there is always a compromise between safety and proficiency in all our training standards but I think the recent Piper Arrow accident in Florida tipped the scales on this decision.

SAFE clearly stated our position on the proposed NPRM  changing comples standards in August 2016; lowering the training requirements is not commensurate with greater safety. But given grave concerns about the Piper Arrow wing spar issues, many flight schools are already operating under an FAA Waiver that eliminates the complex requirement. Why should Part 61 candidates not have this same relief from this regulation for a complex A/C on tests?

Pilots in training will inevitably seek the easiest and cheapest pathway to their certification. But those pilots who truly value safety and proficiency will go  further and seek out tail wheel, glider and other categories to build additional skills and proficiency. (Witness the recommendations from senior aviators at the NTSB LOC Roundtable yesterday.) Our job at SAFE is to inspire, encourage and enable the latter pathway; toward the voluntary pursuit greater proficiency and aviation excellence. We continuously work with the FAA to achieve reasonable solutions. We have all seen pilots that despite regulations, cut every corner and take the “low road” satisfying every requirement. Join and support SAFE to inspire and enable aviation excellence and professionalism. Your thoughts?


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!

NTSB Loss of Control; April 24th

Loss of control in-flight is the #1 causal factor of general aviation fatalities. Though largely a catch-all grouping encompassing many diverse sources, the majority of these accidents implicate insufficient pilot situational awareness and maneuvering skills during critical phases of flight. For this reason, deeper analysis of this phenomenon is of particular interest to flight educators. Should pilot training and testing standards be higher or skill levels more stringent? Our SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led to embedding judgment and risk management into flight training with the new FAA ACS standards. Did this initiative go far enough? What can we do as educators to reduce these all-to-common fatal accidents?

Doug Stewart; Community Aviation (.com)

This Tuesday, April 24th, the NTSB is assembling a roundtable meeting of subject matter experts in the field of flight training. Veteran pilot and master educator Doug Stewart, one of the founding members of SAFE and former Executive Director, will represent the flight training community in this important gathering. Doug has over 12K hours dual given, is a FAA DPE, 10 time Master CFI, and also FAA CFI of The Year in 2004. This gathering will be covered live on the NTSB channel. (You can earn FAA Wings for watching)

Loss of control inflight has been on the NTSB “Most Wanted List” for many years. We believe that a deeper investigation of these accidents and greater understanding of root causes can help prevent these occurances. But the key lies in more vigilant and aware pilots with increased skills in maneuvering and upset recovery. As educators, we must sharpen our educational focus and build these pilot skills. SAFE has been integrally involved in these discussions with both educational articles and national seminars to inspire and motivate pilots to improve skills.  But the solution also requires every educator to commit to increased abilities both in initial certification and in recurrent training; especially in areas of basic control and maneuvering flight. Focusing on greater professionalsim and excellence to create safer pilots is a key SAFE mission mandate.

As a long-time flight instructor, I also encourage every pilot to access the excellent training materials from the Air Safety Institute. Their Essential Aerodynamics course is an comprehensive (and fun) tutorial that will benefit every pilot, both student and veteran (no Greek letters). Every pilot absolutely must understand the fundamental forces for our flying to be safe in the air.

Our many hours of straight and level cruising simply do not prepare us adequately for the surprise emergency events that cause accidents. We all must commit to study and train more often at the edges of the flight envelope to stay safe in aviation. The EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at Airventure is free and open to all, presenting surpises that test and train your skills and thought processes. (and we need proficient CFIs at all levels to staff this initiative) Please follow this blog for future updates and commentary.


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!

 

 

Sun ‘N Fun Challenge: Grow, Learn, Share!

For many pilots all over the country, Sun ‘N Fun is the welcome launch of warmer weather and the “fun flying season.” It has been an endless winter for those of us in the north.  Sure, you can shovel your plane out of a snowbank  all bundled up–or even fly on skis–but this April show in Florida is the historic delineation for pilots to end “winter fun.” Sun ‘N Fun is also a great opportunity to grow, learn and share.

S.A.F.E. will be there for you, with a double booth and a complete live studio to present celebrities and record a promotional video for your school or business. We welcome everyone to visit and participate! Just fill out this form to get on the schedule and walk away with a professional video of your business on a flash drive!

Sun ‘N Fun is a great opportunity to join together as a community, network and build your business and partners. The team at Gold Seal Ground Schools (who brought their amazing DC3 to Oshkosh) is providing the technical wizardry to make this opportunity happen at Sun N’ Fun. Success in aviation can be a tough road and promotion and affiliation are necessary to succeed. Come join S.A.F.E. at Hangar C, booths 54 & 55 and watch for updates on our Facebook if you cannot attend.

In addition to our aggressive show presence (and affiliation with Gold Seal Ground Schools), S.A.F.E. is finally launching our new website. Thanks to Eric Hake at The Modern Pilot, we now have a beautiful new user-friendly appearance. This is still in Beta (notice the ww2 adress) needing a few minor changes, but we will be developing this portal for all educators and members to share and learn aviation excellence. This site will also accelerate our growth into live shows and training tools for members  to build their aviation skills and professionalism. Watch for new courses available on the site and regular video segments. Members joining or renewing at the show get a FREE FIRC!

The S.A.F.E. toolkit app has also been updated for the Sun ‘N Fun show and we will post and push messages about exciting events and opportunities throughout the festivities. We are building out the interview calendar here. Aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff will grace our booth for an interview April 12th at 10am. Update on your your toolkit app by simply closing and reopening it on your mobile (if you don’t the toolkit yet, download it here; all the tools for the CFI!)

For those at the show, please join me and other S.A.F.E. members every morning 8-9AM at the Sunset Grill for breafast under the S.A.F.E. banner. Lots of “pilot talk,” some airshow camaraderie and share your airshow and piloting experiences.


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!

 

“Always Learning”: Master Instructor!

The widely accepted mission statement “a good pilot is always learning” is essential for continued safety in aviation. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Accident analysis clearly implicates this corrosive attitude (and others) are common causal factors in many preventable accidents.  Dr. Bill Rhodes, a former Air Force Academy Instructor  provides scientific research and statistics on the critical role of “pilot attitude” in safety. Once we stop pursuing excellence, we lose our edge and start to diminish. The accumulation of hours and experience is often regarded as the sole criterion of honor and excellence in aviation. But unfortunately, piling up hours can easily result in  increased complacency thus diminishing safety. Unless we are actively and eagerly pursuing excellence on every flight we usually are developing “right seat rust” and complacency. As pilots, we are only as good as our last landing; there is no “safety inocculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)!

But as much as we CFIs preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! There is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay. Entropy, the degeneration of complex systems into disorder, is the second law of thermodynamics in our universe and always at work. Continually embracing the “challenge of excellence” is the necessary antidote to maintain a sharp edge and continue to grow as a pilot and educator. “Right seat rust” is a sad reality in flying and it is occurs both in flying skills *and* educational methods. We must seek to continually improve and grow; it is too easy to stop pushing and accept the status quo once you have climbed the hill of aviation proficiency.

For me, the Master Instructor Program was essential to retaining motivatation and growth and also ultimately acquiring my Designated Pilot Examiner privilege.  The famous business coach Stephen R. Covey calls this “sharpening the saw.” After I had my original CFI, then “double I” and Gold Seal, I started with Joanne and Sandy Hill and became an early Master Instructor. Though I had no professional need (at the time), I acquired an MEI and also a multi-engine ATP. Over the years I have earned every fixed wing rating and CFI level. This not only keeps your flying sharp and builds new skills, it puts you in the student role again and helps prevent “right seat arrogance” so common in aviation. (my latest foray into 135 flying is a whole different story). We often hear from flight instructors in dialogue with students a version of “why can’t you get this?” It is way too easy to forget the anguish and struggle of learning. Compassion and empathy are essential tools for an effective instructor. It is way too easy to lose touch with the psychological anguish and struggle we all endured climbing the aviation ladder; get back to learning!

The Master Instructor Program is carefully constructed by professional educators to encourage growth. Though half of the required credits are an accounting of “what you have accomplished”, 1/4 of the required credits are “what I learned these last two years” and the last 1/4 is “aviation philanthropy” or giving back to aviation.  Amazingly of the estimated 106 thousand flight instructors, fewer than 800 aviation educators worldwide have achieved any level of master instructor accreditation. Maintaining and growing that “attitude of excellence” is essential to safety and Master Instructor accreditation will increase your earning and professional standing in the community. Pursue new learning and increased aviation excellence with a Master Instructor accreditation.


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!

The First Fifty Hours; Laying the Foundation

So, there you are, sitting in the FBO office. The flight examiner has just walked out the door and you feel just a little light headed: the still-drying examiner’s signature on the piece of paper in your hand makes it official: you are now a pilot. Zowie! Then a thought invades your reverie. “Okay, so I’m a pilot. Now what?”

It was probably your daydreams of being able to disappear from sight while headed in any direction that got you into flying in the first place, but with that piece of paper in your hand, your daydreams are now a reality. And to some, this can be just a little unsettling. You’re on your own. Every decision is yours and there’s no one to back you up if your decision is questionable. The world is literally your oyster, but it is a very, very big oyster and you’re a little intimidated. And this is as it should be.

As a newby, you intuitively know that in a fifty or a hundred hours you’ll know much more than you do now. So, it helps if you look at that first fifty hours as a settling-in period where you’re not only going to get comfortable in your role of nouveau aviator, but you’ll work at ensuring that what you were taught has actually become instinctive and not a shallow skill of which you barely have command. As you’re doing this, you’ll be gradually working up to that long trip you’ve always wanted to make.

The easiest way to both get comfortable and hone your skills is to put what you’ve learned into action by getting to know what the airports that are scattered around your local area have to offer. If you intentionally make each of your local forays educational, you’ll learn something that moves you closer to being ready for the “big trip” every time you leave the airport.

Before we do anything, however, we want to dedicate ten hours to a post graduate course in aviating: find your favorite, hard working CFI and you and he go out and find the nastiest crosswinds you can find. Then spend no less than four hours being deadly serious about overcoming aviation’s bogeyman, the crosswind. Then spend three or four hours doing nothing but landing on the shortest strip you can find. 2000 feet would be maximum. Shorter would be better. That eight or ten hours of graduate work will be the most important in your flying career. Then it’s time to start poking around outlying airports to see what we can see.

First of all, there’s something about flying into a never-before-visited airport that makes us all feel like explorers. It’s someplace we’ve never been before and, besides being a new runway in a new location, each airport, especially small ones, have a distinct personality all their own. None is like the other and it’s a little like a treasure hunt because we never know what we’ll find. Soon, even when on an airliner, you’ll look down and see airports you’ve never visited and wonder what there is to be found down there. There’s no more pleasant way to spend a leisurely afternoon than exploring new airports and there are few ways better suited to improving your flying skill.

Since we’re going to combine education with fun, we need to have specific goals we want to accomplish while we’re satisfying our urge to see what’s hiding in the next run-down hangar. The first of those goals is to become more comfortable landing on strange airports. Even though our PPL cross countries got us started on that goal, the more airports we land at, the better we’ll be at handling different approaches, wind patterns that are affected by unusual topography or buildings, and runways of different sizes and configurations. For instance, there’s something about turning final to a strange runway that has a severe drop-off at the approach end to make us apprehensive and tempts us to change our approach. The same thing holds for runways that aren’t level: uphill and downhill runways demand slightly different techniques, all of which we’ll learn by landing on them.

Another of our goals is to sharpen our cross-country skills by repeatedly leaving our home area (our comfort zone) and challenging ourselves to find the other airports. If, however, we have a lot of local airports to chose from, pick the closest ones for your first flights as a new PPL, simply because you’ll know where they are and can deal with the “strange runway” syndrome without having to deal with the cross country aspect of finding them at the same time.

A side benefit to this kind of airport hopping is that we’ll soon find airports that you like to visit simply because they have some sort of cool factor. Maybe it’s the smell of a runway that’s surrounded by pine forests, or a local pilot population that leans toward unusual airplanes, e.g. aerobatics, warbirds, antiques, etc. Maybe it has a great restaurant or you can walk to the beach from the ramp. All of the flights will be worthwhile, but some will terminate at someplace special.

Step One in getting your flights of discovery under way would be to identify and inventory the airports in the surrounding area. We could actually make a game out of this, if we wanted, by putting a sectional on a cork bulletin board. Then we draw concentric circles around our airport with 50, 100, and 150-mile radii. Yellow pushpins would be poked into each airport and, as we visit them, the yellow pin is replaced with a red one. There are bound to be some airports we can’t drop into, the private, “circle-R” fields, but we can get into all the others.

The second step would be to investigate those airports via an airport guide such as AOPA’s Airport Directory. The sectional will give us the basics: hard surface or grass/dirt, length and altitude, but the guide will let us know if it’s unusually narrow, or has obstacles or has any other characteristics that might make us want to avoid it until we’re a little more experienced. Those that appear to present too much of a challenge will be considered “B” airports and we’ll visit them later.

One of the most important factors to come out of the paper investigations of the airports would be whether they have restaurant/café or not. This information might be redundant, however, because all we have to do is ask any pilot on our airport for the best local airport restaurants and they’ll immediately give us book and verse on every hamburger joint within range.

Planning the flights may seem a little overkill for an airport that is nearly in sight from pattern altitude at our home airport. However, getting more proficient in both planning the flight and then flying the plan is one of the major goals of this endeavor. Ideally, we’ll want to pick airports in all directions from our home field so we learn more about our area. Then we have to decide whether we’re going to make round-robin flights involving two or more airports or whether we’re going to make them simple out-and-back jaunts. The round-robins will teach more, but to keep the planning and sweat factor to a minimum, let’s make the first few such flights out-and-back.

When planning the flights, we’ll draw lines on the sectional, pick check points, develop compass headings, make up trip cards and do everything we’d do on a major trip. That’s all part of the training. We won’t just fire up the GPS and go.

Also, in the interest of keeping thing simple, we’ll make the first few flights short enough that a single tank of gas gets us back home with at least a third of a tank left rather than fueling at the other end. We’ll leave that until we’re a further into this game.

When we finally do start flying the plan, we have to do it with the same mindset we’d have if we were flying to Aunt Edna’s house a thousand miles away: we want to take the short flights seriously. Even though we’re barely out of sight of home, we can get just as lost as we could a thousand miles away and lost is lost regardless of where we are at the time. Besides, we’re trying to sharpen our cross-country skills.

If our destination airport is close, we’ll know pretty much where it is, which is cheating, but we’ll ignore that and concentrate on holding headings and reading the sectional on the way making believe we’re on the first leg of a much longer flight. Learning to identify checkpoints is an important skill that experience helps develop and doing it on these short flights will go a long way toward keeping us from getting lost on the long ones. In truth, regardless of how long a cross country may be, it can be flown as a series of short ones that stretch only from check point to check point.

When we’ve found our airport, we have to figure out how to approach it. If it’s a towered field, they’ll obviously tell us what to do, but a small country field on the edges of the boondocks is a different matter. For one thing, in terms of traffic, the smaller fields can be more dangerous because they often don’t have Unicom and they sometimes have a “relaxed” attitude about what constitutes a traffic pattern. Plus, since they often have a small volume of traffic it’s easy for them, and us, to let our guard down.

If we can’t raise anyone on Unicom then it’s up to us to determine the wind direction and the active runway. So, we’ll cross over the airport at least 500 feet above pattern altitude so we can get a good look at the sock. This will also give us a better view to see who else is in the pattern. Then we go back out away from the field to come back in on a forty-five to the downwind. Since no one is talking at small fields, it’s a see and be seen situation and is really a good way to develop the awareness required for flying in general. If we used airplanes for nothing more than airport hopping, the effort would be with it.

The smaller airports in almost any part of the country are like thumb prints, with each one of them being highly individualized and a reflection of those who base there. It’s really fun to land on a rural grass runway and find ourselves parked between a couple of Cubs while watching a Champ or a sailplane land.

One of the universal characteristics of rural airports in all parts of the country is a more laid back attitude in which the new birdman can expect to be warmly welcomed. It’s not difficult to find yourself sitting in the sun in conversation with an aviation veteran where you pick up tidbits of information that you will use for the rest of your life.

Grassroots airports, which seem to circle every population center a respectful distance out, are also populated with a wider variety of airplanes than the bigger fields, so, while we’re becoming comfortable with the concept of flying and developing our skills, we’re also being exposed to a wider spectrum of aviation. It’s through airport hopping that we realize aviation is much wider and more diverse than we ever imagined. The sooner we learn that simple fact, the sooner we will realize that this new skill we are developing opens doors into so many different areas that the long distance flight that we had dreamed about from the beginning becomes just one of many dreams.

It’s during that first fifty hours after the check ride that we have the opportunity to stretch our legs, our interests and our skills and lay the foundation for the new life we are about to enter. It’s an important time in a new pilot’s life. Cherish it, as it only happens once.


Thanks to Budd Davisson for letting us republish this classic article. More great stories: http://www.airbum.com/

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!

How and Why We Fail (Understanding Dumb Mistakes)!

http://aviationweek.com/bca/lessons-bedford-gulfstream-accident-part-2
N121JM wreckage, aerial photograph, from NTSB Accident Docket ERA14MA271

How many times have you mentally kicked yourself for doing something incredibly stupid? And upon reflection, you can’t even figure out *why* you performed this way?  This “all too human” process is fascinating and built into our human operating system. Examining and understanding the little daily goofs and lapses can improve your life, but more importantly, improve your aviation safety so the big, bad stuff can (hopefully) be avoided.

To unpack the psychological process at play here, we first need to understand that most of our activities in life are only semi-consciously decided and most often automatically enabled. Our human operating system copes with the daily overload of sensory data, decisions and actions by utilizing a series of scripts or schema largely out of sight and called “implicit.” This is how we can famously drive to our destination in a car and not remember anything about the trip (or that we intended to stop at the store). We can also type 180 words per minute but are usually unable to label the qwerty keys without tapping them out on a table. This “implicit knowledge” and associated “scripts and schema” are internal and and invisible. They also are not even filtered or examined by conscious oversight; operating in the shadows. (This “dual-process” brain theory was popularized in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow“). We continuously process and act in an automatic mode unless we have time and motivation to engage in effortful reflection. This natural optimizing has great survival value from efficiency, but in complex activities it fails to manage risk and can occasionally wreck airplanes.

Let’s examine a typically bad decision to drive home, despite being pretty buzzed, after a party. Imagine we arrive home just fine despite our incapacitation. Achieving this “success”, we experience a feeling of relief and accomplishment. Now consider the opposite example of having a totally sober designated driver taking us home but getting T-boned and injured. We have in the first case a bad decision resulted in a good outcome, but in the second case a good decision resulted in a bad outcome. And though decisions and outcomes actually stand alone, that is not how our human brain interprets these situations. The first decision is reinforced due to “success” and the second one discounted as “bad luck”. Letting this “implicit learning” into our subconscious as a standard of operation can have serious consequences for our future safety. Let’s see how our brains subconsciously “code” these experiences.

In the case where our decision was bad but the outcome positive, our “success” psychologically reinforces our decision with relief and a feeling of accomplishment; e.g. “that turned out OK.” Though defective, this decision and validating success delivers a warm buzz of dopamine that neurologically encodes in our brains as “acceptable”. Unless we consciously reflect later on this action, to critique and correct this mental coding, a habit can easily develop and become an implicitly learned bad procedure. Clearly luck was the primary operative factor in both cases, not skill. As humans, however, our “fast processor” tends to evaluate all decisions solely on the basis of the outcome rather than applying an objective standard or evaluating the quality of the decision. And once imported, an implicitly accepted standard of “only one drink” can easily slide to “only two drinks” in the same manner; and you see where this is ends up going. A more thoughtful approach, guided by objective reflection, (carefully decided) is the antidote to this implicit learning and the basis for “Standard Operating Procedures” in charter and airline flying. Implicit procedures are self-optimizing and haphazard and slide to the lowest level of acceptability based on luck. And we all, unfortunately, know pilots that fly in this manner.

An aviation example of this process at work might start with a successful outcome despite marginal weather; perhaps arriving into a Delta airspace safely under a 1200 ft ceiling (even though our personal minimums were “1500 for VFR in Delta”).  Unless we later reflect and critique this dubious “success” we now have an implicitly accepted “new normal”. Our optimizing human brain codes “that worked out OK” and this new standard becomes part of our pilot operating system, out of sight and never adjudicated by our “better pilot self”. Pretty soon we find ourselves with new and sketchy standards and we might not even know why or how this standard was established. These implicitly learned, automatic schema are imported “under the radar” and are accepted as operational–just like bad code embedded in computer program. And similarly, they may operate fine for a while until they fail suddenly and surprisingly. This neurological process is responsible for “normalizing deviance” that led to NASA’s safety issues with the Space Shuttle. On a “group think” level these same implicit procedures were working so we “go with it” (the only standard was “success”). Many of these errors are not big and obvious, but insidiously erode standards on every flight. And this is also how thousands of hours and increased experience can work against us by building complacency rather than excellence.

To successfully combat the implicit learning of questionable procedures, an “after flight critique and reflection” is essential for safety. Otherwise, our optimizing human brain is always at work creating implicit shortcuts–efficiency over safety. It is vital for future safety to always schedule a sacred time for personal analysis after every flight ; do it when you log the flight? This reflection process is essential to analyze what went right and wrong–and most importantly “why?” This is also the reason why written personal minimums (or professional SOPs) are necessary to keep a pilot honest and safe. Sliding standards, often implicitly learned, seem to always precede the crunch of aluminum.


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!

Educator Professionalism Creates Excellence in Aviation

It takes a Pro to make a Pro…

The tenets of professionalism apply to flight instructors regardless of whom we teach or the aircraft type. Instructor professionalism is the foundation for excellence and success. We read about it, and we talk about it. But what exactly is it, and how do we embody that crucial characteristic?

Characteristics of Professionalism

A business definition of professionalism is “meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one’s dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above the commercial considerations and legal requirements” (www.businessdictionary.com).

Professionalism is typically achieved only after extended training and preparation. This training usually requires significant self-study and practice and is typically accomplished with formal education. It brings to mind the seemingly endless hours of education, training, and practice one undergoes on the path to becoming a doctor. The path to becoming a flight instructor has similar requirements – not just in terms of formal academic study and training, but also in terms of what we might call “the unwritten requirements”. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Skilled pilot

The aviation instructor must be an expert pilot, one who is knowledgeable, proficient, skillful, and safe. You should be very proficient on the equipment you use, especially avionics. Be alert for ways to improve your qualifications, your effectiveness, and the services you offer. Stay abreast of changes in regulations, practices, and procedures. Make a habit of referring to the current Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), Sectional Charts, Handbooks, Manuals, and Practical Test Standards (PTS). You should also read aviation periodicals, browse the Internet, and attend meetings and seminars. And, of course we recommend that you have (and use) an account on www.FAASafety.gov.

Strong teacher

A flight instructor must have strong skills and abilities in two major areas. First, he or she must be a competent and qualified teacher, with all of the “soft skills” we attribute to teachers. These include communication skills, people skills, and patience. In order to understand the progress your students are making, you must understand the four levels of learning – Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation. To simplify my own comprehension of these principles, I reduced the concepts to concise, understandable definitions.

Practical psychologist

You need to understand anxiety and how to address it with a student. You must know that reactions to stress can be normal or abnormal, and be ready to act appropriately. You soon learn that obstacles to learning can be different for each student. You learn how to address impatience, worry, lack of interest, apathy, anxiety, discomfort, illness, and fatigue. You must work within your student’s other interests or enthusiasms. You must discover how to help the student with a multitude of troubles; you may even have to show your student how to handle fear. Also important is your understanding of the laws of learning. Your student’s progress will be enhanced if you remember that a student learns because of Readiness and Effect, but remembers because of Primacy, Exercise, Intensity, and Recency.

Capable Coach

The best flight instructors use a syllabus, set achievable goals for their students, and use a well-designed lesson plan. You should personally prepare for each lesson, whether ground or flight, and personally prepare for each individual student. Not having an organized plan is, in fact, a plan…for failure. No two students are the same; they must be treated as individuals. You are the key to their success.

Positive role model

Consistently using a checklist is another mark of a professional. We all get excited or rushed at times and and the use of a checklist is the only way to ensure we don’t forget something. Students will follow the behavior you model, so do it right. A flight instructor must also have high standards of personal appearance, which means that you must be neat, clean, and dressed in a manner appropriate to the situation. Your personal habits must be acceptable. As a chief flight instructor, I once had a student request a different instructor because his instructor had an overwhelming body odor. I discovered that the instructor worked at a physically demanding job before reporting to the flight school. Moving his first lesson by an hour solved that problem. In addition to personal hygiene, you cannot be rude, thoughtless, or inattentive, and you cannot be profane or obscene.

Sincere

Professionals are true to themselves and to those they serve. Your sincerity of effort must be such that inadequacies are admitted, not hidden, and are corrected for the future. A Code of Ethics is a good reminder of the need for honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity.

Inquisitive

True performance as a professional is based on study and research, and professionals are always searching for the “why.” Perhaps you can imagine the hard work required to produce a doctoral thesis. Becoming a flight instructor requires that same dedication to learning. Let’s look at an example from a private pilot syllabus for flight training. Let’s assume you are going to teach a student to perform turns-around-a-point. We all know this lesson begins in the classroom. To test understanding, you ask your student to place an “X” at the point on the circle where the bank angle is the greatest during the maneuver and then tell you why he chose that point. Assume the wind as shown and left-hand turns. Before you read on, place the “X” on the circle yourself. Many instructors place an “X” at the bottom of the circle; some place it half-way between the bottom and the direct left side point. Why are these not the correct answer? Remember, we are searching for the “why.” The key is to understand that the aircraft’s ground speed is the greatest at only one point. It is at this point that the wind will be pushing the aircraft away from the desired track at the greatest velocity.

Creative

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to be a pilot or a flight instructor. While a flight test pilot and an aeronautical engineer may need higher math skills, the typical pilot, and flight instructor, gets by quite easily with the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills one learns in grade school. However, a professional flight instructor must have other qualities that could be defined as intellectual skills. These include the ability to reason logically and accurately, as well as the ability to make good decisions. Even though aviation has standard practices for normal and abnormal situations, we must also appreciate that some situations may require thinking outside the box.

You Touch the Future!

As Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe famously proclaimed, “I touch the future – I teach!” Whatever your eventual goals in aviation might be, never forget that being a flight instructor is a real job that has real – and lasting – impact. Make it count!

A wonderful article by Bryan Neville first published in FAA Safety Briefing. Click here for original pdf version.

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!

 

Giving Pilots “Sharp Tools”?

S.A.F.E. is presenting “The Improbable Turn” this Thursday at 8PM with Rod Machado and Russ Still. Please sign-up here; we even have a Lightspeed Zulu 3 headset to give away to FAA registered pilots (WINGS)! At the heart of the issue is the poor unfortunate pilot in a suddenly quiet plane in the air on takeoff (and his CFI responsible for providing guidance and solutions). So if this turns out to be you, what’s the “best” answer; and if you are a CFI, do we convey the simplest, safest advice or potentially risk more danger with the “sharper tool” of a turn back maneuver requiring greater judgement and skill?

This title comes from my childhood experience growing up in a family of feral brothers and friends always playing in the extensive woods around our home. My father was criticized by a neighborhood “helicopter mom” for letting his young son have a pocket knife (this was hunting and fishing, not “in the hood”). My mother’s defense was “if his father gave it to him, he also taught him how to use it safely” As CFIs, do we teach pilots the “least common denominator solution”? or can we risk “sharp tools” and teach judgment with the inevitable danger of misuse? I think every pilot (and CFI) has to decide this question for themselves, but we certainly want to carefully examine all available options.

So let’s freeze our airplane and pilot at that “point of decision” when our engine coughs and goes silent on takeoff; CRAP, THIS IS BAD! Imagine yourself in this situation. These failures are usually powerplant (89%) and statistically catastrophic, though often avoidable (fuel mismanagement 38.8%).  So step one is more careful preparation before advancing the throttle on takeoff to eliminate ever having to choose a solution in the air. Step two is being contantly vigilant on every takeoff so we are ready if we have to suddently “do that pilot stuff”.

Once in this “awkward agl,” power failure situation, only one thing is certain; we will be on the ground in about a minute-either as a falling object or in a successful outcome. Comparing straight ahead with turning back is statistically difficult since successful turn-backs are seldom recorded. What we *do* know is that only 4.8% of emergency off-field landings are fatal and in 83% there are “little or no injuries.” (from the excellent Rod Machado emergency programs). Straight ahead at best glide with slight turns is a remarkably good solution. It is also important to remember at this point of decision “the insurance company owns the plane” and your primary goal is to save yourself, your passengers and minimize any threat to people on the ground. Another solid fact is that if you attempt a turn-back and screw it up, this loss of control will almost certainly be a fatal stall/spin ending.

But pilots *do* regularly complete this tricky emergency maneuver and turn back successfully; that is what we will discuss this Thursday. Glider pilots are required to perform this maneuver on every checkride. My previous 135 training in the PC-12 required a turn around to be demonstrated ever 6 months our regular ATP checkride. What would I personally do at this “point of decision” and what should I teach this as a CFI? (my personal score is currently 2 and 2 in 48 years of flying) The successful execution entirely depends on altitude, preparation, proficiency and the context of wind and geometry for each unique runway situation. If you have *not* carefully evaluated and prebriefed this maneuver and also practiced it at altitude, absolutely land straight ahead with slight turns to a hopeful landing. In the 135 flying world, standard operating procedures requires that before every takeoff  we precisely brief all our options; straight ahead and turnback altitude. This includes who will fly, when and which way to turn back; also who works the radios and where to land. (At most urban airfields there are also few open areas.)

Join us Thursday, there is lots more to discuss, but on every takeoff please do your homework and make your decision *before* takeoff. Also always exercise extreme vigilance as you advance that throttle for takeoff. We know this is a statistically a very dangerous time (24% of fatal accidents). Though flying is fun we also have the huge responsibility of managing risks.


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!

 

Impossible or “Improbable” Turn?

How can something as simple as takeoff and climb-out be responsible for 24% of fatal GA aviation accidents? According to NTSB data, this is the most fatal phase of flight. Perhaps it’s the very non-threatening appearance of this maneuver (“hard to miss the sky…”) that causes pilots to under-appreciate the risks, and fail to prepare thoroughly? Some simple preparation and vigilance in this area of flight can yield a big payback in your safety.

Join us on February 8th for a livestream called “The Improbable Turn” with Rod Machado. We will examine the entire takeoff/climb-out process and talk about the sometimes controversial idea of turning back in the case of an engine failure. This show is interactive (thanks to our friends at Gold SealGround Schools). Your input is encouraged (as are comments below). If anyone can shed light (and avoid argument) on this issue it is Rod Machado with his vast experience and also nuanced understanding of pilot psychology. If you register with the FAA for Master Wings credit, you will also have a chance to win a Zulu 3 Headset generously donated by Lightspeed for this show!


FAA Glider Flying Handbook

My formal introduction to the “impossible turn” was during glider training. In the soaring world, on every takeoff, a pilot is required to call out “200 feet.” If a tow rope breaks above this magic altitude, a pilot executes a  turnback to land on the departing runway (conditions permitting). This turnback maneuver is required in all the training courses. During flight training, a glider student will absolutely expect their CFI to pull the tow release (same as loss of power) frequently. The procedure is 45 degrees of bank at approach speed-to lessen the radius of turn. This becomes a pretty “normal” maneuver for a current glider pilot.

For a power pilot that has not practiced (or even seen) this maneuver, turning back to the runway is a very bad idea. The risks are especially escalated if the pilot has not done a “pre-takeoff-brief of expected emergency actions” or the maneuver is precipitated by an unreasonable effort to “save the aircraft.” Remember, this is a pretty extreme maneuver very close to the ground. Airspeed, coordination and judgment of drift are all critical for success here with little room for error. Remember also, it requires more like 270 degrees of total turning to get back over the runway and lined up. Add to this a downwind landing (perhaps with less than full flaps) and you have a recipe for disaster.

This is why the common wisdom has defined this maneuver as “the impossible turn” and recommends landing straight ahead if your engine fails. Find a clearing and miss the big things, touching down as slowly as possible with the fuel, power and electrics off. The statistics on surviving this maneuver are very good if a pilot is mentally rehearsed in the procedure and you avoid hitting hard objects.

The real “lightning rod” question is “are there cases where a return to the airport is a reasonable choice?” One of my aviation heroes, Barry Schiff speculates a turn back can be a viable option as does Rod Machado-but only in certain well-defined cases.  The AOPA has a program dedicated to this question. It is certainly a question every pilot should answer for themselves in case they encounter this challenge. Please join us for that discussion.

The [critical] difference between success and failure is not only having sufficient altitude, but knowing how and when the turnaround maneuver can be performed with relative safety [and being pre-briefed-“locked and loaded”-for this eventuality].

Register with the FAA Safety website (for WIngs *and* you might win a headset) and join us at GoldSealFebruary 8th so we can all share our experiences and hopefully develop a personal plan that is comfortable and assures greater safety on takeoff and climb out. More next week!


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!