New Proficiency365 Scenarios from SAFE

Redbird Simulator wizards Stasi Poulos and Billy Winburn of Mindstar Aviation collaborated with SAFE at our CFI-PRO™ at Fredrick in October. This involved “tuning up” the AOPA Redbird FMX for accurate VFR maneuvering and developing a LOC-I specific scenario designed to build pilot maneuvering skills.  We demonstrated this to CFIs in the audience through a livestream presentation. This is part a continuing SAFE emphasis on building pilot maneuvering skills and part of SAFE’s Extended Envelope Training. This new scenario is now part of EAA Proficiency365 and called the “Low Country Approach.

This new scenario will be available for your preview at our SAFE Meet-Up Monday, Jan 13th at Pilot Proficiency International on the KFRG airport. SWA Captain Dan Weiss will be on hand to demonstrate the Redbird and various scenarios. EAA Proficiency365 is an initiative to make these scenarios available at your local airport for pilot proficiency all year long on a Redbird simulator.

When SAFE originally developed the Pilot Proficiency Project in 2011, the focus was primarily on risk management and decision-making scenarios. SAFE leadership through the GA Pilot Training Reform Symposium led to the addition of scenarios and pilot judgment as central in the FAA ACS. The continuing focus at SAFE is building fundamental piloting skills and preventing Loss of Control Inflight. Our new series of scenarios take the innovative Redbird GIFT (private pilot level training) a step further and challenge pilots to increase their maneuvering proficiency to the edges of their flight envelope.

The new VFR scenarios are designed to build actual pilot handling skills and help pilots become comfortable and competent at the edges of the VFR flight envelope. This training builds confidence to lessen the startle response in emergency situations. These maneuvers are first presented in a simulator as scenarios, then practiced in flight with a SAFE CFI-PRO™ instructor. Our next SAFE CFI-PRO™ is at Sporty’s Pilot Shops in Ohio on June 10/11th.


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

Managing the “Known Icing” Boogeyman

Most of what the average pilot thinks they understand about “known icing” is probably mistaken. And many misconceptions are implanted by well-meaning educators who may also be mistaken or confused – sorry (we can fix this). I know this is true from giving many flight tests – where applicants are required to understand this information. I also witness confusion when discussing winter flights in the clouds with other pilots. It is not uncommon to see fear, misunderstanding and endure incriminating accusations of unsafe actions any time I mention flying in a “cold cloud” between September and June.

Certainly, one sure way to create safety in aviation is to stay on the ground.  But unfortunately, we have created a “boogeyman” that protects the innocents but also might keep every other pilot without a FIKI airplane from flying IFR (or even VFR) all winter long. This “cold cloud avoidance club” also points an accusing finger at any pilot who goes flying in the winter weather implying they are crazy and unsafe. This is an unfortunate situation that creates more heat than light so let’s dig in and find some middle ground.

WeatherAccidentCausalFactorsObviously, caution is a good thing, and I would be the first to admit there are definite, definable risks in winter IFR (as there are everywhere). But ignorance, denial, fear, and finger-pointing are not good strategies for successful aviation. As in any risk-management situation, we need to acquire definite skills, knowledge and training to fly safely in the winter weather. There are clouds that are safe and strategies to mitigate the icing risk. Please stay with me here and let’s poke the bear a little.

There is no regulation prohibiting flight into “known icing” for part 91 operations in little GA planes. (Throw that into a hangar flying session as a good “fire starter”) The legal prohibition is actually in the “operating limitations”  of your POH or AFM – and you might have to do a little digging to find it. In addition to “approved” and “prohibited” operations for Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI), there are several levels of “semi-FIKI” aircraft, so the plot thickens. (Read your data carefully, you are legally bound to the restrictions). The FAA’s legal “gotcha” is actually CFR 91.13 prohibiting “careless and reckless operation”  – which is included in every pilot violation or sanction. As always, you are PIC and you choose your conditions and tools to conduct aviation as you see fit; just do it legally and safely.

The definition of “known icing” is also notoriously slippery, having changed numerous times over the years. To find a solid legal definition you need to consult several good sources:  Chief Counsel Letter of Interpretation,  the Federal Register,  the Advisory Circular and the AIM. Reading and understanding all of these in detail is the first step in flying safely in potentially icing weather; know the rules and cautions. (Also a good idea for flight tests)

“If the composite information indicates to a reasonable and prudent pilot that he or she will encounter visible moisture at freezing or near-freezing temperatures and that ice will adhere to the aircraft along the proposed route and altitude of flight, then known icing conditions likely exist.

Most recently – and what I hear often on most flight tests is – “known icing” is indicated (and flight prohibited) by “a current PIREP reporting icing.” For years this was regarded as the sure arbiter of “known icing,” and it certainly might be a time not to fly. Recently, the FAA, in the AIM, seems to even be backing off from this criterion as a definition or legal justification for pilot violation:

“Because of the variability in space and time of atmospheric conditions, the existence of a report of observed icing does not assure the presence or intensity of icing conditions at a later time, nor can a report of no icing assure the absence of icing conditions at a later time.”

The definition of “known icing” migrated from overly permissive to excessively restrictive in the late 1990s, limiting flight in any visible moisture below freezing. This draconian interpretation got the “cold cloud avoidance” started. As such, “known icing” became the boogeyman everywhere and always in winter clouds and the only legal IFR solution for non-FIKI pilots was “park it till June.” (Sorry for friends south of the equator). BTW, the ancient history of the “known icing” legal debate can be found here in AvWeb.

The current interpretation, issued in 2009, allows for pilot discretion in evaluating and choosing a “reasonable and prudent” course of action in most conditions: CFR 91.3 rules: (PIC). And if you examine most “textbook” icing accidents, you will see some really terrible conditions pilots failed to avoid and usually bad decisions made with partial information or “emotional planning tools.” In giving pilots discretion, the FAA is also providing enough rope to hang themselves. But “legal” does NOT mean “safe” and as in all aviation decisions, be comprehensive in your planning and cautious in your decisions.

So how does a safe pilot mitigate risk and fly IFR safely in the winter? Parking the plane until June in the North is super safe, but totally ruins any utility and efficiency in aviation (cold cloud club). Launching without care or preparation to “get ‘r done” is a really bad expedient. Between these two polar forces of excessive caution vs. efficiency is where we negotiate safety in aviation. Flying on the east side of the Great Lakes for 40 years, I have seen pilots on both sides of this caution equation. I think the best answer is to prepare more carefully, fly with more caution (acknowledging the known hazards) and allow a greater margin of safety for escape in the event of surprises.

So first, safety in potentially icing conditions requires a more comprehensive and careful preflight analysis, and there are amazing new tools especially from the NWS Forecast Icing Potential,FIP and Current Icing PotentialCIP CFR 91.103 (all available information). Knowing weather theory is also essential since this process is in motion. (Scott Dennsteadt’s excellent weather book is a great start for pilot education)

Second, obtain (and issue) PIREPS for any and all changes (especially for tops and temps.)  PIREPS are the best real-time peer-to-peer information sharing system we currently have. During dynamic winter conditions where a few degrees of temperature make all the difference, information sharing is essential.

Lastly, always assure a safe escape route if you suddenly encounter icing, since it is impossible to forecast ice precisely and the consequences of unforecast icing are both terrifying and dangerous. Clear air below (but above the MEA) is best, but lateral diversions and big picture awareness are essential for safety.

The FAA’s newest icing AC 91-74B is well written with lots of good information. And the NASA Glenn Research Website has a very good online training for pilots I highly recommend – knowledge, information and caution. Finding a savvy CFI with lots of experience in winter weather is your best educational resource (as always) since you need a mentor to explore any potentially-hazardous phenomenon safely. Stay warm and fly often!


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

CFI Simulator Scenarios Build Safety!

The ADS-B requirement for flight in certain busy areas is now official FAA regulation. If you are flying a non-equipped aircraft, the old “Mode-C transponder restrictions ” pretty much apply (see details here). That same ADS-B channel provides continuous updating of weather and airspace information while airborne via data-link. What an amazing safety tool! Our once stale data we departed with can now be updated continuously keeping us up to date in the air.

Despite these amazing enroute-planning tools, accident statistics clearly point to a lack of fundamental skills and mental preparedness as the #1 risk factor for aviators. Loss of control inflight (LOC-I), losing control of a perfectly good aircraft (most cases), is the threat we must deal with directly to be safer in the New Year. SAFE has been focusing on and providing resources to extend the aviator flight envelope with maneuvers and scenarios in flight. But technology provides some solutions for pilot skill acquisition on the ground also with simulators.

Crawl into a tuned up, full-motion simulator and prepare for a surprise. Full motion aviation simulators are great tools to provide aviation challenges. Both hands and minds need to be prepared for surprise events in aviation. For safety, we need to approach every flight with “eyes wide open;” psychologically ready to deal with challenges beyond the ordinary. The well-documented “startle response” often leads to the LOC-I. Savvy instructors in simulators can provide great training for this with a level of safety unavailable in flight. SAFE started the Pilot Proficiency Project™ back in 2011 with a Redbird and a series of pre-written scenarios that surprise and challenge pilots building new skills and psychological preparedness. This program evolved into the EAA  Proficiency365™

The scenarios you may have experienced at the EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at Oshkosh are now available all around the country on properly equipped full-motion simulators. The critical take-away for all this training to be effective is it requires properly trained aviation educators and suitably equipped simulators. Fidelity and realism are essential for these training sessions to be effective.

As an educator,  you can experience this CFI training and toolkit – see the process in action –  by joining SAFE at a regional meet-up Jan 13th in NYC that will demonstrate these scenarios in action. We will be meeting at “Pilot Proficiency International” on the Farmingdale Airport (KFRG). Owner (and SWA check airman) Danny Weiss (22K hours) will be showing off his Redbird and the tools available for CFIs to expand the pilot envelope and prepare pilots for surprises (this sim can be rented by CFIs in NYC area). We are collaborating with the NYC MCFI club to offer this event (RSVP David Dempsey). Food and video feed from the sim. will be available. You can also find a qualified simulator near you on Community Aviation. Watch for future SAFE Meet-Ups near you. Fly safely (and often) Happy (SAFE) New Year!


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

Teaching Dynamic Risk Management

Managing risk in a changing environment is a critical skill to teach all pilots-in-training. Read our SAFEblog for techniques.

The risk equation of for a flight is not fixed before departure with a single analysis. It is continuously changing due to the duration and dynamics of each unique mission. Every flight seems to have a few “surprises” that are not part of the original plan even on the best days. This uncertainty keeps flying exciting and requires flexibility and resilience on the part of the pilot to successfully manage the changing risk profiles. It is essential we build these skills into our pilots-in-training for future safety.

An initial risk analysis like P-A-V-E should be an integral part of every flight – it is required in the current FAA ACS – but it’s often neglected on an average  GA flight. As educators, we know our students will model our behavior, so it’s incumbent upon us to embrace a higher level of professionalism and make this a prominent part of every training flight. These cognitive risk management skills have historically been under-emphasized and show up often as weak areas on flight tests. In addition to the preflight analysis, every pilot-in-training should work through a real “risk management model” in a dynamic flight environment (created by the CFI). This is not only for their flight test but as a working tool for their future safety.

Due to short lessons, limited geography, and a focus on “efficiency” ($$) “real” experience in flight training is obviously rare. We just can’t go enough places and build enough time to realistically “gain unique experiences.”. So CFIs must use their “creative license” and generate scenarios to present these challenges. Here are some  CFI-PRO™ techniques to improve your effectiveness (and your client’s future safety). Scenarios add variety and challenge (without cost) if used appropriately. (Your comments and additions are encouraged below!)

Visualize the P-A-V-E elements and specific common challenges like sliders on a mixing board. Each variable is constantly in motion anyway, but a creative CFI can intervene and change the balance at will. Be subtle and creative, using realistic experiences from your personal experience to challenge your students. As a CFI you can dial up the challenge by suddenly creating too low fuel (the cap must have been off) or a pop-up TSM along the route. Try taking away the NAV source and see how their pilotage is working. The secret to success as an educator here is creating realistic challenges appropriate to the level of your pilot. Scenarios need to be manageable to create teachable challenges. Your end result should be some struggle but ultimate success leading to learning, mastery and a boost to confidence.

Have your pilot-in-training share their “mental model” as they work through their challenges and solutions to each problem your present. In debrief point out the various mental models available to maintain situational awareness while applying and testing a solution to the current problem. Make sure you clients understand that ADM involves achieving the best solution given the hand we are dealt; “satisficing.” A “perfect outcome” is often not possible, this is an optimizing game. Decision-making under pressure is the heart of aviation safety, and certainly something they will see on their flight test from a competent DPE. Scenarios and ADM are the heart of the current ACS.

Every professional aviation educator should be working to create fully-qualified, capable aviators that exceed the FAA minimum standards.  Too often DPEs see questionable “test takers” some CFI sent just hoping they will successfully scape by. A “70% pass” might be an “outcome” but should never be a “goal” in flight training. When the FAA issues a new pilot certificate, it is not limited to the small geographical area your pilot trained in or just good flight days you previously specified. Your new pilot can fly the whole USA for the rest of their lives on any day they like. I did have one (airplane owner) pilot take off the day after his test and circumnavigate the USA!

Next week we will discuss using simulator scenarios for this same purpose of building skills and flexibility. What a tool to create some struggle! Fly safely (and often), have a great New Year.


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).

 

Best Holiday Wishes!

From all of us at SAFE, our heartfelt wishes for a very warm and blessed holiday season for our readers, members, and supporters. Hopefully, you find yourself among family and friends, enjoying some time away from the usual demands of life. And every year’s end is also a time to reflect and reformulate our plans for life and activities. Please plan and pursue a safe year in your flying. Reflect after every flight on what went right and wrong (and what might have been “lucky”). Resolve to achieve greater skill and knowledge and avoid those edgy situations; that is what we are here for.  We all want to fly safer and be around for many more holidays!

SAFE has had several amazing years of growth for which we are very grateful. This has allowed the creation and expansion of our SAFE CFI-PRO™ program which had its highly successful roll out in October with 40 attendees taught by five FAA National Award Winners. Our next workshop is at Sporty’s Pilot Shop June 10/11th. SAFE will be at all the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins and I hope to meet you all there (please get in touch to join the team and volunteer?).

We have a New York City Meet-Up on January 13th at Pilot Proficiency International with Dan Weiss (a SWA check airman). I just visited Danny at his facility and it is beautiful. We will be sharing dinner and trying out the Redbird with some new SAFE Envelope Extension Scenarios. This is in collaboration with the NYC Master Instructor group and everyone is invited (RSVP David Dempsey). We will again be sponsoring the Syracuse Safety Stand Down on Feb. 29th (KSYR), a day-long series of safety seminars.

SAFE will also be at Sun ‘N Fun broadcasting live on FaceBook and YouTube with a variety of guests (sponsored by Gold Seal  Ground School)  We also will be hosting a “CFI-PRO Breakfast Roundtable” every morning from 8-9. Join us and be part of the SAFE team. Bring your ideas and grow our safety initiative. Fly often (and safely) Have a great holiday!


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).

Beyond “Never Do This” In Safety!

Aviation safety as we currently practice it involves examining accidents for causal factors, “errors and omissions,” then deriving theories about what the pilots are doing wrong to improve our future flying. The primary method of generating safety is by identifying threats and trapping errors.

While there is value in this historic approach, learning “what not to do” is only one side of the safety coin. And playing “whack a mole” with errors might never exhaust the list of creative screw-ups. The statistics compiled in this fashion are depressing since, by definition, the pilot is the root cause of every accident that is not mechanical whack-a-mole-cartoon(roughly 80% of all wrecks). Engineers increasingly work to design planes without pilots since we are statistically the “weak link” in aviation safety. Meanwhile, important lessons on what “quietly goes right” are usually missed with this solely negative focus.  In some respects, this methodology is “like trying to learn about marriage by only studying divorce.”

A new approach to aviation safety is being pioneered at the NASA Engineering and Safety Center involving a more comprehensive examination of all aviation operations, not just the accidents. Led by Dr. Jon Holbrook, and termed “productive safety,” he examines all the ways pilots actively contribute to safety during complex and challenging operations. “For every well-scrutinized accident, there are literally millions of flights in which things go right, and those flights receive very little attention,” said Holbrook. The statistics look a lot better with this wider analysis since positive contributions of successful flights are added into the mix.

In Focusing [Just] On What Pilots Do Wrong, We May Be Missing Valuable Lessons From What They Quietly Do Right -FORBES

This “productive safety”  orientation toward “what we are doing right” has become a trend in industrial safety also. It is philosophically more consistent with the recent FAA switch to a collaborative compliance philosophy (and away from just strict enforcement). Even the last century’s “Six Sigma” obsession with eliminating error ( Six Sigma is 99.99966% error-free) has fallen from favor in modern industry. A more balanced approach to safety provides a bigger toolbox to assure safe operations in all human endeavors (and in industry spawns more innovation).

Veteran human factors psychologist Dr. Gary Klein has a performance paradigm he calls the “macro cognitive perspective” that nicely blends these two focuses of protective and productive safety when studying complex systems. Certainly in safety work, we have to study accidents carefully to identify and avoid errors and manage risks. But there is also an “up arrow” in high-stakes human performance that helps us optimize and improve pilot performance (glass half full viewpoint). This is often missed in organizations due to an overfocus on just errors, perfection, and predictability. An overriding caution from Dr. Holbrook’s work is the continuing evolution of safety in complex operations, “Many paths take you away from what you want to avoid, but not every path away from danger is a path toward safety.”

Here are some slides from this study and more information in an article in Forbes.  Fly safely out there…and often!


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

Control Your “Startle Response” (The DIY Lobotomy)

We humans become totally stupid – inducing a “do it yourself lobotomy”-  when we experience threat or panic.  We all have “choked” during a test or performance and perhaps even experienced “startle” in an airplane. We suddenly become a passenger and not a pilot-in-command. Here are some proven techniques to control this natural phenomenon and increase your safety in flight. You’ll do better on your flight test and be ready if you encounter stress in flight (that never happens!)

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This physiological response to threat is a 200,000-year-old evolved reaction that puts our body in a streamlined binary mode to survive a terrestrial emergency; run! When a saber tooth tiger attacks there is no need for a nuanced analysis of the color of their spots. To survive we need to trim down superfluous brain functions and flee. That ancient software runs in our brains when we experience panic in a plane; we get stupid. We “choke” and lose all useful brainpower.  For pilots, this inappropriate adaptation causes “startle” and often precedes the serious, and often fatal, loss of control accidents. The important point is that this natural response to startle or panic is controllable and to some degree reversible, with training.

And though panic in its extreme form of “startle” can cause Loss of Control, there are many lesser levels of anxiety and partial incapacitation that are disabling and hinder performance. At this lesser intensity, pilots experience diminished cognitive capability and make bad decisions. I see a nascent form of this panic as a flight instructor – or especially as a DPE. The joke is that every applicant is *already* experiencing an emergency when they come for a flight test.  Extreme nervousness causes confusion and physical symptoms like rapid breathing and loss of color. These pilots have reached the edge of their capabilities and need a coping strategy. Nervousness and panic in a plane will cause immediate performance deterioration and often pilots defer control to the CFI or DPE (if there is one). Fortunately, there are proven methods to neutralize nervousness; skill-building and “self-calming” are two useful strategies available to all pilots.

Skill-building is a way to “move the goalposts” by providing ever-increasing ability through training. This method tries to ensure that the demands of a task will never exceed the capability of the pilot. Deeper (and current) training in exotic flight configurations is an attempt to inoculate the pilot from LOC-I. This is represented by the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training courses. They take a pilot into the dark corners of the flight envelope and train appropriate responses and develop some level of familiarity. Unfortunately, there is always a limit to this solution in extreme circumstances.

Another solution is mastering physiological control methods (self-calming) to control the panic response. Have you ever noticed Olympic athletes breathing and focusing before their performances? Because our capabilities diminish rapidly with panic and nervousness, optimal performance requires overcoming the ancient physiological responses in the body to stress. I personally teach any pilot who expresses an interest some simple and effective “self-calming.” This involves controlled rhythmic breathing (“relaxation response“) and a bit of cognitive-behavioral therapy (positive self-talk). These techniques increase a pilot’s tolerance by teaching recognition and control of the stress and impending panic. Within limits this allows a pilot to maintain or re-establish control of themselves and the plane in a high-stress situation or startle occurrence.

Once a pilot is (literally) breathing again, they potentially can start “thinking through” the disabling challenges they face and resolve the threat (within reasonable limits). One thing is for sure, every pilot *will* at some point “get nervous” and approach panic in their flying career; self-calming is an important tool. At the deepest level, our physiology drives these emotional reactions. Either “choking” during an evaluation or performance or “startle” in flying can create real problems; we are not functioning optinally. “Self-calming” techniques are highly useful in public life too. Here is an interesting video to get you started on emotional control. All these strategies hinge on the “relaxation response” and are based on the polyvagal theory. (Deeper analysis here)

Employing skill-building and calming together has the synergistic effect of improving pilot confidence and capability while simultaneously reducing stress and anxiety. This is an inoculation for every pilot from LOC-I. Frequent and challenging training (SAFE Extended Envelope Training) builds more confident pilots with a greater margin from startle and panic. Fly safely (and often).


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

Ace Your Oral (for Student and CFI)

The easiest pathway to success on the oral portion of any check ride is to first thoroughly read and understand the FAA standard for certification. These are FREE online and fairly succinct. These standards represent the FAA required “rules of engagement” that your DPE must follow by regulation (check out this FAA guidance intended for DPEs for a peek behind the curtain). CFI and student should both know this document before even starting training but it becomes essential to understand in detail approaching the test. Unfortunately, this document is often missed and many applicants come totally unprepared; “that’s on the test?”

Many test applicants believe that FAA examiners can make up their own subjects/questions or use some commercially prepared test guide. (I recently had one applicant who was righteously wounded because I did not use the oral prep book for the test) Step one in preparation is thoroughly studying the correct book – the FAA ACS – and use this standard to decode and prepare for every area of operation and element. Carefully reading this and outlining the basic regs and requirements that create these standards will make your oral easy.

Step two requires a solid basis of knowledge to work from. A good ground school is necessary to become a solid, safe pilot and pass any flight test. A few “How to YouTubes” are not going to save you on an FAA oral. If you missed the ground school or only did a knowledge test prep, the Gleim Practical Test study guide provides a thorough outline format for preparation with knowledge components for each A/O and element. Either way, take the information from your studies (hopefully the PHAK and AFM)  and apply these to each A/O and element in the ACS. The FAA books are the listed references in the ACS (Gleim and others curriculums get their information from these primary sources) Familiarity with this core information will make your evaluation an easy discussion rather than a suffering slog. I know this sounds intensive but this thorough preparation is an investment for the rest of your piloting career. All future flying depends on the private level preparation and every A/O and element mastered here will merely be elaborated more deeply during your advanced training.

Step three requires actually discussing and verbalizing all this material with someone; hopefully your CFI but potentially even a pilot friend. Just quietly studying “in your head” is not enough. It is vital to actually talk through the subject matter and hear yourself say all the answers. I have seen absolutely brilliant people thoroughly self-study and “know it all” internally, but choke on test day. Something about the stress and also the unique verbal experience will cause them to lock up and lose focus. As soon as they experience a few variations and surprises from scenarios and context it destroys their confidence. To build this confidence, it is essential to discuss and probe the subjects verbally with someone else. Also, you cannot really surprise yourself while studying, and you can’t always know what you don’t know.

Step four is to discover and improve your weak areas especially those on the knowledge test. It is required that the DPE review the missed knowledge test questions). Work harder on these to attain proficiency and outline them in extra depth. Though no oral evaluation is “failed” for one misstep or bobbled answer, a pattern of ignorance or many weak areas leads to a “pink slip.” For initial CFIs, this list from the ORL FSDO has some popular “common weak errors” on the oral.

Step five is almost the opposite of steps three and four. Instead of a hot focus on the specific problem areas, step five requires a wider focusing on the whole planned trip assigned by the examiner. Assemble all the pieces together into the bigger picture. Comprehensively “chair fly” the whole assigned cross-country and analyze your risks and mitigation strategies according to the P-A-V-E checklist. Per the ACS, judgment and risk management are critical pilot skills. A risk mitigation plan is required by the ACS. One good technique that adds your study items into the bigger picture, is to compare your own personal minimums against the FAA regulatory minimums (as in scary low 1 sm clear of clouds) and explain your margin of safety.P-A-V-E All FAA testing is at the level of application and correlation (describe and explain). You need to demonstrate a comfortable command of the information and rote recitation is not sufficient.

Step six requires allowing enough time to take a day off before the scheduled evaluation and just organize all your documents and endorsements for the evaluation so your initial part meeting and “qualification” goes smoothly. First impressions count and you need to be organized and well-rested with a fully-functioning brain to do well. Use the list in the ACS and check each item (asking your CFI if you have any doubts). Double-check your endorsements (AC 61.65H) and remember every initial test needs a 61.39 signoff and all retests need a 61.49 version. Every CFI should have the SAFE CFI Toolkit App to make this easy and efficient.

These strategies are not just for test-taking are also valuable for analyzing any future flight operation: know the big picture, gather data and study/analyze the background; examine the components, rehearse and elaborate, then allow time to practice employing a changing focus from micro to macro. Finally, find and mitigate the risks and develop alternate plans. Fly safely out there (and often).


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

“Overlearning” Defeats the Startle Effect!

Intuitively, savvy educators know any skill achievement or learning progress, though gratifying, is very perishable. Especially in a high-stakes environment like aviation, deep learning, with consistency and reinforcement is essential. The impatient “got it and move on” attitude does not serve us well for enduring success and safety. We know from recent neurological research that “over-learning” more deeply embeds skills into our preconscious so these skills are available in times of stress and cognitive unavailability (panic). The implications for all learning are many, but for LOC-I deep practice prevents the “startle response” often central in these tragic accidents.  Recent deep practice at the edges of the flight envelope is essential to stay safe as aviators.

Neuroscience is just starting to understand the details of this learning process. You may have read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. We humans utilize largely parallel processors for understanding and controlling our world; one thoughtful and slow and one rapid and reactive (built on habits, previous experience, and heuristics).  The majority of our daily activities are handled automatically according to stereotyped reliable frames-of-reference. The usual example – driving home and passing the convenience store (I meant to stop at) is a phenomenon we are all familiar with. Typing fluidly on a keyboard, but unable to list the keys from left to right, is another. Pushing deeper, in times of severe stress (as in an aviation upset occurrence) our brain reaches down to the level of our last recent training to react correctly (or not). Sudden upset is not a time to “pause and ponder” but requires an immediate and correct response. This is where “over-learning” is essential.  We must practice often to have a proven technique available “on automatic” to avoid a startle and panic response.

The first system can be considered fast thinking. It is thinking done almost automatically or instinctively.- The second system is slow thinking.It involves thinking that is more complex and more mentally draining. It takes concentration and agency of the person to process the thoughts

Once we have successfully accomplished any new behavioral repertoire, it is neurologically essential to “stabilize” it by continued training well past the point of simple proficiency; “got it and onward” is not enough. Scientists call this technique “overlearning” and have observed it in every field where human skill mastery is critical; from first violin to martial arts. A recent study reveals that “overlearning” reinforces a skill and embeds it in a different part of the brain, installing it chemically in an entirely different way so it will not be overwritten by new learning. Critical piloting skills must be impervious to forgetting (and this is also why the initial imprint must be accurate) and fluidly available. This new study shows that if you stop training a skill as soon as it is first successful, the brain stays in its “ready-to-learn state” and the new skill is highly perishable. Reinforcement changes your actual brain state and chemistry. The study shows that repetitive training beyond the point of proficiency will “hyperstabilize” the skill and prevents”retrograde interference” from newer inputs. Fly safely (and practice often).


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).

 

Learning Tools for the Educator!

The best student you ever had as an instructor probably was the one who was “on fire” to learn.  That totally motivated learner is mostly effortless for an educator, like feeding a hungry child or watching a vigorous plant grow. You just provide the content and direction-some guidance and feedback-then stand back and watch in astonishment. I can think of five students I worked with to get a private in only 35 hours (part 141) and all turned into better pilots than students plodding along with 100 or more hours.

And similarly, our best personal learning experiences are when there is the correct combination of challenge, excitement, opportunity, and accomplishment. This magic zone of optimal challenge and experience in education creates an experience that is efficient and rewarding for both the educator and the learner. But unfortunately, this is not the usual experience in aviation; both educators and pilots-in-training comment and complain about friction and motivation problems. Every lesson seems like a struggle rather than a breeze. How can we create and retain this learning magic in every lesson?

The secret to motivation and achieving that “zone of proximal development” is the dynamic educator and learner relationship.  If either side is not alert, energized and motivated, the fire is quickly extinguished and the learning process becomes a chore. Most typically, too much control and micro-managing on the part of the educator is the problem. The CFI is most often guilty of excessive caution or lack of caring and involvement.

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.

Sometimes the reasons are valid since we have to ultimately create a safe environment for learning and instill an attitude of responsibility in the future pilot. But we usually overdo this end of the equation (especially initially) and put out that initial fire of motivation. The usual combination I see is a jazzed up, excited learner and a jaded, “not so fast sonny” educator with the brakes on. As soon as that first exciting “sell them” discovery flight is over, we educators clamp down with the “burden of responsibility” and excessive caution and correction.

So lately, I have been trying to very carefully retain and build that initial fire of excitement and discovery into every lesson, providing the fun and benefits to the greatest extent possible. That initial spark of excitement is too precious to waste. Flying can be intrinsically motivating through continuous accomplishment and mastery. I personally think we can instill caution and care as we proceed without diminishing the motivation (if we are careful).

As an educator, I work hard on my personal attitude and approach to avoid burn-out. Reading and podcasts- focusing on the craft of teaching- are very helpful (Try the cult of pedagogy?) We not only have to grow as pilots but also as educational professionals. SAFE has an extensive library of resources for educators. And consider our next SAFE CFI-PRO™ coming in June at Sporty’s for some collaborative fun and learning. Fly safe out there (and often).


SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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).