“Scary Pilots” Determine *Your* Insurance!

The burning question in aviation safety is why pilots who know the “right thing” choose to ignore conventional wisdom (SOPs) and operate recklessly.  Frequently, pilots involved in accidents are simply contrarians who think they know better than everyone else or can somehow defy the laws of physics. Adding overconfidence and a “hurry up” attitude to this personality creates a toxic cocktail leading directly to another (predictable) accident.

In an extensive study, funded by Avemco and other sponsors, Dr. Bill Rhodes carefully examined these “scary pilot” personality types.  As a result, “red flags” determine who gets aviation insurance and what they must pay. These “red flags”  should be known warning signs for all pilots, educators, and DPEs to correct and/or avoid in aviation. Some highly intelligent and seemingly sane people can accept instruction, performing to a standard during evaluation, but then operate completely contrary to training. Here are the warning signs:

1) Failing to calibrate risk and draw a reasonable line.

Scary pilots seem to embrace and increase risk for the sake of excitement and adventure; “how close can we get to the fire?” Instead, safe flying needs to define, control and calibrate risks (control the “inner child!”) Scary pilots seem to “push the edge” going well beyond accepted norms for adventure, utility, and perceived efficiency (and YouTube viewers). This behavior normalizes some crazy procedures contrary to common sense and even regulatory guidance.

2) Know it All

Scary pilots resist instruction, hurry through lessons, often refuse to study and listen, and blame their equipment or conditions for any failures. Refusing to admit errors and accept responsibility are clear “red flags” of scary pilots. These people often brag, exaggerating skills and experience – very status conscious. These pilots need the “last word” in every conversation and want to be the smartest person in the room.

3) Superman/woman

Over-rating personal skills or capabilities when facing challenges is a hallmark of scary pilots. An unrealistic assessment of their personal piloting abilities or of their airplane’s capability fuels the “accident chain.” (see “magical thinking.“)

4) Always in a hurry

Rushing to get through training and being excessively competitive are common traits of scary pilots. They value the superficial goals – certificates – rather than deeper knowledge and skill – “looking good” is essential. These people miss important threats and fail to accomplish critical details; rushing is a huge “red flag” in safety.

5) Overconfidence

Pilots need a proper balance of confidence to fly safely. Too little confidence can prevent any activity and compromise safety. But scary pilots are way overconfident, compromising their evaluation skills and decision-making abilities. Safety is the “science of limits!”

6) Advancing Too Quickly

This trait is often associated with “too much money,” the lack of which usually tempers progress and builds experience. Solid skills, comprehensive knowledge and caution, require hours and experience – often stated as “marinating” or “seasoning” by master instructors. Experience also provides the necessary personal caution. Understanding possible threats – visualizing all that might go wrong – increases safety. Insurance companies carefully monitor this “too much plane for the pilot” syndrome.

7) Show Off/ hotdogging

Scary pilots have a great need for attention. The “look at me” syndrome,  often leads to doing something edgy or outright scary. This personality trait includes “look at my fancy equipment” and stems from an ego-driven need for attention.

8) Ignoring mentors and knowledge

Scary pilots are anti-authoritarians spurning advice and industry “best practices.” This often includes an active dislike for the FAA and NTSB. These pilots lack humility and appreciation for others’ accomplishments and often do not socialize well.

Most of these documented weaknesses among scary pilots are driven by low self-image and a lack of emotional intelligence (argh, those “soft skills”). The root of many aviation accidents is personality disorders that need counseling more than flight training. This is why great CFIs often are “practical psychologists” emphasizing “head work” more than amazing skills. But changing attitudes is notoriously difficult and seems to require a good scare to straighten out.

Ironically, not being scared enough is what can make pilots scary. Caution and respect applied to the learning process seem to create the best pilots. Both Bob Hoover and Sean Tucker developed into amazing pilots to overcome initial paralyzing fear. Adequate self-knowledge, self-mastery, and humility are key ingredients in safety. Please intervene if you see some “crazy pilot stuff” (time to “take the keys?”) Intervention is painful (but necessary) to keep our aviation system safe and avoid negative public perception. Fly often (and safely)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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). Talk to Victoria (a CFI) about your insurance needs.

Trust Not Trauma: “Student Lockup!”

A recent poll in the SAFE eNews revealed that a shocking 65% of CFIs, at some point, had to physically take control from a student who “locked up” on the flight controls. That is an astonishing frequency of student “fear paralysis” during training. Obviously, we are doing something dramatically wrong in flight training if this number of incidents are occurring. Fear activates the “freeze/fight/flight” circuitry in the human brain and causes startle and lockup. The higher brain functions become unavailable to the pilot in this condition, preventing rational conversation and necessitating physical intervention to assure safety. We need to create trust not trauma in flight training.

The second question in this quick poll indicated that the majority of flight instructors also had never been advised or trained about the possibility of a student “locking up” or “freezing.” Most CFIs were never educated on how to deal with this kind of situation; sad and dangerous. A previous blog described the “CFI Ninja Move” to recover from a frozen student and reduce the angle of attack. Every CFI should have training here and a plan to keep every flight training adventure safe.

Another important contributing factor in student “fear paralysis” is that many recent CFIs were trained when stalls were recovered at “first indication” and are not fully trained in high AOA flight; they are scared too! Their fear is transmitted to new students so both are on edge practicing stalls. SAFE created the CFI-PRO™ program promoting Extended Envelope Training for CFIs (and their students). This program develops proficiency in the entire flight envelope (required for airline pilots). We need more comfort for all pilots in high AOA flight to inoculate them from startle incapacitation.

Never Scare Them!

The first order of business in preventing a dangerous situation is to simply work very hard to establish a trusting relationship with your learner and never scare them. The brain shuts down and  *no learning* occurs when there is fear. Build slowly into the areas known to alarm new pilots (nose high flight attitudes and stalls). Give every new learner enough time to get comfortable and achieve confident control before introducing stalls. “Let me know if you feel uncomfortable (queasy) or scared.” Create a trusting environment of sharing and communication. Rushing into stalls is just going to terrify your students; creating an unsafe situation and possibly causing them to drop out quietly over time (“I thought this was supposed to be fun?”)

A Diamond A/C doesn’t “bend” but interesting article…

Stalls should be much further back in the syllabus than the usual 141 dogma dictates; at least after ground reference maneuvers.  These added hours before radical maneuvers allow every new flight student more time in the cockpit to become comfortable and competent. It also provides more opportunities to build rapport and trust. Additional practice on the controls allows for independent student mastery of basic coordination, making for safer (and less exciting) stall practice too. Try to remember what your first exposure was like.

When introduced, stalls should be demonstrated and practiced very gently in a power-off descending (clean) configuration (every learner is different here). The nose only has to be raised a little to “normal level” to achieve an excessive AOA and trigger the stall (and the break is gentle). Recovery should be made without power, building the “unload” move as a reflexive action (and also emphasizing AOA). This keeps the first exposure simple and understandable and NOT scary. Build gently into the more extreme variations. I used to regularly see logbooks with spins demonstrated on lesson one or two from a local flying club (old school “weed them out” version of flight training). To repeat; creating predictable terror in flight training is potentially unsafe and causing student dropout  – are we having FUN yet?

But just in case, every CFI should have training to handle student lock-up. Successful techniques for regaining control need to be discussed and practiced with your senior instructors. Since lock-up most typically happens at the edge of the flight envelope, quick and decisive action is necessary to immediately regain control. A previous blog revealed how your foot on the yoke bar under the front panel (primarily in Cessnas) can easily overpower any student pulling inappropriate backpressure. Find this bar and practice so you are ready. Diamonds and most Piper products do not have access to this yoke connection. An easy way to overpower and break a student’s grip is an upward movement of your clasped hands between their arms. This will quickly remove their hands from the controls without harming them. Stating simultaneously in a loud voice “I have the flight controls” might help prevent and further dispute of control. Who said every day as a flight instructor would be fun? Fly safe out there and often (and stay vigilant)!

“But, My CFI Told Me…”

AOPA CFItoCFI Newsletter

CFI guidance can sometimes be wrong. Either you learned it wrong or your CFI taught it wrong – but either way, it’s a mistake. As a result, amazing errors and weird techniques often get demonstrated in flight tests or during flight reviews. The “probable cause” in NTSB accident reports often reveals ingrained bad habits that were personal SOPs. Pilots fly for years committing errors because their initial training was flawed. The supporting explanation or justification provided by the pilot flying often begins with “but my CFI told me…”

There are two obvious pathways to these errors. The first cause is benign, resulting from faulty communication/transmission. Your CFI never really did say this, you just misunderstood it. This happens; even in an undistracted environment, human communication is only 25% efficient!  The unfortunate result is that an erroneous or dangerous fact or technique was accepted as “true or usable.” The antidote for CFIs is making absolutely certain your instruction is properly heard and replicated. Insist on consistent feedback/readback of facts and repeated demonstration of skills conveyed during training.

The antidote for every pilot (at every level) needs to be an “on guard attitude” for spurious information coming from every source and channel. The aviation world is full of “instant experts” with dubious experience and credentials. Exciting, sexy websites promote all kinds of crap online. Once we accept something as “true” it is imported into our daily operating system like a virus. It is vital to check all your facts and verify every technique; your life depends on it.

Not all flight instruction is good. Not all flight instructors are sharing beneficial information. Not every flight school is acting in your best interest. Jamie Beckett

The second reason these non-standard techniques or weird “facts” get spread is from CFI with “personal techniques” they transmit as “valuable and true.” These CFIs obviously think they know better than the accepted FAA Handbooks and industry wisdom. They have developed (and are spreading) their own version of “safe and efficient flight” based on personal experiences (see the recent blog on luck reinforcing errors).  This happens more often than you would like to believe. In the absence of reflective analysis, this is how humans learn and adapt. And when any group of aviators adopts an unsafe behavior it can easily get “normalized” as “acceptable” and safe. New trends in aviation are not always positive developments.

What both of these pathways point out is the vital importance of assuring accurate learning when you are teaching or learning. For the learner, there is a responsibility to verify the data and techniques you are presented – even from your CFI. After years of flying, every pilot has discovered some facts or techniques that were improper or needed adjustment, even from the most conscientious CFIs.

Then there are just bad CFIs. Sometimes these are the people who took the “instant expert” course and did not learn thoroughly. In other cases, unchecked “adaptation” leads to a downward spiral of shortcuts and noncompliance. (See The Rogue Pilot by Tony Kern for some scary examples)

Canadian CFIs are required to go through mandatory mentoring before teaching on their own; but not in the US. Out the door with a new FAA CFI temporary and you are an “expert!” And at every level there are short-cuts available for pilots looking for “faster, cheaper, easier.” Only personal integrity will prevent a learner (at every level) from cutting corners in flight training. Do you value your life and the lives of your family and friends? Learn well and thoroughly and pursue excellence in aviation; it can be terribly unforgiving. Join a positive safety culture and test your knowledge with reliable mentors and a solid base of resources. With the right attitude, you will learn something new every day. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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)

Too Much (Useless) Talking!

Most CFIs talk way too much (guilty). I was reminded of this listening to a very good Sporty’s “Fast Five” podcast with AOPA’s Dave Hirschman. His primary advice for improving flight instruction was “HUSH!”

Every CFI learning to teach spends a lot of time mastering the ability to fly and talk (cogently) simultaneously. This dual-channel processing takes practice to develop because it requires a lot of mental capacity. The British aviation system requires new instructors to memorize specific scripts called the “patter tape.” But step two in becoming an effective educator (after passing the FAA test) is to talk less. Savvy CFIs quickly learn that talking less allows an aviation learner time and mental bandwidth to process and internalize their flight experiences. Human communication, even in an undistracted environment is only 25% efficient!

Continuous “CFI chatter” is largely just “interference” during a flight lesson and can actually impede learning. A student who is appropriately challenged is mentally at full capacity just trying to manage their flight experience. The majority of our precious CFI “pearls of wisdom” are just flowing past unheard. Too much talk is just an unnecessary distraction. Important corrections should be recorded for the debrief at the end of the lesson. Any critical inflight corrections should be very carefully formulated and delivered only in brief “chunks” at an appropriate low-workload phase of flight. The majority of educator input should happen in the debrief – where 70-80% of all learning occurs.

Unfortunately, CFIs who talk too much usually also handle the controls too much; micromanaging the entire experience.  After some basics, and except for emergencies or a few demonstrations, the learner should be doing all the flying. We all have to remember that the real job of a CFI is to get off the controls (and the radio) and actually ultimately all the way out of the airplane – one step at a time. Our objective is to create capable, independent pilots as efficiently as possible.

Another consequence of CFI chatter is that the pilot can also become a talking machine. I have had applicants on flight tests nearly ruin their evaluation by attempting to continuously narrate their whole flight. This “technique” consumes mental bandwidth and often jeopardizes their ability to fly. And in addition to blocking out ATC, this continuous narration often reveals mistakes and mental errors that would not be otherwise obvious.  Fly safely out there (and often!)

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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)

Murphy’s Real Law; Luck!

Murphy’s (real) law seems to be that we often succeed despite poor procedures and sloppy execution. A painful failure would result in learning; ouch! Instead, every “lucky success” actually reinforces and “normalizes” questionable procedures and activities. Online stupidity provides an additional catalog of “leveraged luck.” Just because some wild act worked once (for one person in a rehearsed environment) does not mean it is a good idea or solid procedure for us (please watch those “fail” videos too).

Humans are “learning machines” and we input everything despite our best intentions to “unsee” some content. Our continuous input requires analysis and filtering or bad habits can easily get embedded in our operating system – coded as “useful/acceptable.” These usually lie dormant, like viruses, to surprise us at the worst times e.g. “what was I thinking?” Reflective analysis is the proper antidote; a skill every pilot must learn and practice for safety. The military version of this same process is an after-action report.

Challenge and adventure are what makes flying so addictive. Pilots are very practical, straight ahead, hard chargers, and enjoy overcoming obstacles. Aviation requires positive, time-critical decisions in a real-world, high-stakes environment. However, learning and growing the pilot and educator toolkit of resources safely requires reflection. This process involves making a quiet, thoughtful time for a review and analysis. Reflection has to happen soon after every active flight and is the heart of improvement and positive change. Reflection requires asking questions of ourselves: “How and why did this action work?” “Was our success (or failings) a result of skill or luck?” “Am I normalizing some non-standard procedure that just happened to work (luck)? It is a huge (but very human) mistake to validate procedures based on results alone. Just because something worked (for us or for others) is not a reason to accept and use a procedure.

Because the flight environment is time-critical and always in motion, pilots often function on the level of embedded, automatic “scripts.” These stored routines come from prior hours of hard training and review. When facing unique and rapid challenges, a pilot often has to punt, choosing the “less bad,” reflexive actions guided by previous experience but with no clear script. (A previous blog covered “satisficing,” which is the heart of aeronautical decision-making) Careful after-action analysis of these actions that occurred “in the moment”  builds the master pilot and educator.

This contrast of “regular day, plain vanilla” missions vs “off the wall challenges” is profiled in Gary Kline’s excellent book “Streetlights and Shadows.” Dr. Klein argues for a precise script – think checklist/SOP –  when the situation is predictable (Streetlight) and inspired and flexibility when “all bets are off” and no rulebook applies (Shadows). The latter would be the Sioux City DC-10 or the Miracle on the Hudson response; they never wrote a checklist for these situations. The key to safety is defining these different worlds and applying the correct formula. “Going cowboy” is inappropriate to meet the demands of an ordinary day where checklists and procedures are the proper guidance.

Reflection is the antidote to “normalizing” or “regulatory drift.” Celebrating mere success might create permission to lower or reform performance standards or adopt new procedures. This process was the cause of both of NASA’s shuttle accidents where a deviation from protocol was accepted as “normal procedure” due to the lack of any immediate negative consequences (they got “lucky”). In these cases, when the luck ran out we experience the shock and surprise from of our inadvertent violation of proper safety standards (“what were we thinking?”)

After every flight spend a moment and review your actions. Did they meet standard SOPs and regulatory standards. Were the successes of tthe flight from skill – or from luck? The debrief every CFI does with pilots-in-training is this same reflective analysis. And this process should become a habit for every pilot when they achieve certification. To make master pilots, every CFI must encourage and embed this habit into every new pilot. After every flight ask yourself; “Was our success a result of skill and knowledge correctly applied or was I lucky?” and adjust accordingly. Fly safely out there (and often). Live longer and fly more.

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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)

Flight Schools Lobbying DPEs

Collusion between flight schools and DPEs can easily create corruption in pilot certification; we have all seen this problem in action. There is a good reason to maintain a professional distance between flight schools and DPEs to uphold the high moral standard necessary for the honesty and safety of the pilot certification system. DPEs are the “gatekeepers” and there are always temptations and ethical questions. More than anything, the DPE function requires honesty and great integrity. Maintaining a professional distance between schools and DPEs removes temptation and protects the independence and integrity of this process. Geographical freedom, announced in October 2020, created chaos in the system nationally by suddenly shifting the balance of influence toward flight schools and creating a glut of DPEs in busy flight training markets.

Immediately following this change, solicitations went out nationally from larger training facilities seeking services from DPEs from across the country offering lots of tests, transportation and living accommodations. You can’t blame the schools, they need to get tests done in a timely fashion, but too close a relationship can create temptations (and bad public optics). WIth geographic freedom, DPEs from the frozen north aggressively invaded the southern states. Suddenly, long-time DPEs in states like Florida had no tests at all with DPEs from North Dakota and Minnesota testing in Miami and Orlando. In the private market, “DPE-hopping” became the new norm with applicants triple booking examiners then canceling at the last minute based on their changing schedules. The result of this change was all the leverage was in the hands of the flight schools with a glut of DPEs in the busy flight testing areas. Meanwhile, the northern states were languishing. The FAA’s attempt to create availability resulted in some surprising and unwanted consequences!

In an honest system, there will always be some distance (and occasional friction) between flight schools and DPEs, just by the nature of the relationship. Flight schools understandably want their students to pass and pilot examiners need to work. But integrity and independence are essential to assure an honest government standard (and protect aviation safety). Some applicants will always be unsatisfactory and need more training to be safe – no participation trophies in aviation! Good flight schools and CFIs understand this need for separation and work well with regular DPEs learning and improving their training. But this process requires mutual respect and professional distance; not cozy relationships.

The DPE system never envisioned professional full-time DPEs. The original system designated experienced, professional aviators offering part-time testing to assist the FAA in pilot certification. Full-time examining only became possible as the FAA got entirely out of the testing business. Some DPEs now conduct >300 evaluations a year. And most full-time examiner’s only income is conducting tests.

The FAA is working to create positive change right now, with listening post meetings at Oshkosh and lots of ideas in play. The free-market “money for ratings” system does not seem to be headed in a healthy direction Changes need to be well thought out and not improvised by industry. Success will ultimately depend on the hard-working, honest DPEs at the heart of the system. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).

Clear Up Control Confusion; FREE Course!

It is embarrassing to realize that most pilots (and even a majority of CFIs) don’t know which flight control powers the basic turn. Through no fault of your own, you may be among this group. Spoiler alert; the ailerons and rudder are neutral in a stable, coordinated level turn.  We are all victims of the negative transfer from driving. As Rich Stowell testified to the NTSB, “The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable.”

The reality is surprisingly straightforward: airplanes are relegated to flight along straight lines and curves, and those paths are controlled primarily with the elevator. At the correlation level of learning, the myriad flight paths possible at a given angle of bank become readily apparent…

Even though pilots can cause rudimentary turns to happen under normal circumstances, it seems they have not been given the indepth education and experience to master turning flight.

Given the confusion of most pilots, it is no surprise that Loss of Control is the resulting causal factor for so many aviation fatalities. This “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge” demands the antidote of correct understanding, followed by diligent practice. Danger lurks not in what you don’t know, but in what we think you know that is mistaken.

Flying doesn’t happen to us; it happens because of us. We interact with the airplane via the flight controls, and the inputs we make have performance consequences. Absent a complete understanding of the consequences of our inputs, we will be unable to apply the controls correctly, or to see the connections between the myriad forms of turning flight.

SAFE founder, Rich Stowell’s (FREE) “Learn to Turn” course on is now on Community Aviation next week on Sept 10th (generously sponsored by Avemco and Hartzell Propellers). Please read the preview available  HERE and carefully proceed to the full course HERE. As Rich emphasizes in his course, reading is not enough. We need to apply and practice these suggestions in flight to be safer and defeat Loss of Control. Read it, practice it, and pursue excellence in your flying. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).

The Confidence Trap: Hubris!

We all need a full dose of confidence to fly sophisticated aircraft in challenging conditions. There is, however, a very fine, but critical line, between confidence and hubris. Risk management is all about saying “no” to a plan or situation where hope or overconfidence would keep us moving forward – caught in the “mission mentality.” These are accidents where the risks are clearly visible with 20/20 hindsight; “what were they thinking?”

Hubris… describes a personality quality of extreme or excessive pride or dangerous overconfidence often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities.

Hubris is clearly a primary causal factor in many aviation accidents where pilots part with reality and ignore all warning signs in pursuit of an unrealistic outcome. Achieving a balance of confidence, called the “Golden Mean” by ancient Greeks, is difficult but critical to safety. There are endless true stories from legends and fables of “heroes” stepping over the line from confidence into hubris and dying in stupid ways. It is essential to self-correct and embrace humility to avoid these tragic endings so common in ASRS and NTSB databases. Danny Miller coined the term Icarus Paradox to describe the ironic (and common) transition from confidence to hubris (and failure) in business. Ironically, the very trait that enables success can also kill you if you don’t know when to quit.

In mythology, Icarus flew toward the sun on wings his father Daedalus crafted of wax and feathers. So enchanted with his newfound freedom and the supernatural power of his wings, Icarus forgot both his father’s warnings and his greatest shortcoming: his own mortality.

On the one hand, we have all seen the overly timid pilot, fumbling and terrified of every operation; this is not successful, efficient, or safe. It takes skill and seasoning – experience and familiarity – to develop and deploy confidence wisely. As educators, 0ne of our primary jobs is fostering “incremental mastery” and building capacity and confidence so tasks can be accomplished efficiently and successfully in the face of challenges. Resilience and confidence are essential to successful piloting. We also need to carefully educate where this path can lead to (stupid) hubris.

It seems almost immediately after confidence, pilots (and some “learners”) can transgress almost naturally into the overconfident (YouTube?) “dude in charge.” Healthy egos can quickly become “self-made legends” in aviation – and digital media seems to fuel these self-anointed “heroes.” The hubris trait is harmful in aviation training and toxic for pilots. Unfortunately, over-confidence in aviation sometimes seems to be everywhere. “Professionals” in any field are very difficult to instruct. Overconfidence makes us blind to our frailties and our personal capacity for errors. Every pilot will stumble into hazardous conditions at some point in our flying. It is essential to know when to badk off and say “no.” Our teenage description of the overconfident mindset was “cruising for a bruising,” the Greek word is “hubris.”  Dr. Bill Rhodes defines this personality as a “Scary Pilot.

One success after another builds greater self-confidence. But in the same way, increased achievement can skew healthy self-confidence into hubris. Hubristic people can easily become hooked on their own egos, so confident in their own self-importance that they assume they can do no wrong. Naturally, the more wins an individual…accumulates, the less open they are to critical feedback: Why would a winner need feedback when they already have the code to success?

One antidote to hubris (before you scare or hurt yourself) is the social element of friends and family, as well as a compassionate pilot community, who buffer hubris with social pressure. Overconfident pilots do not socialize well. In the social context, warning signs are everywhere for the emotionally aware – if we are listening. One great advantage of the WINGS program is the social element where “friends don’t let friends fly stupid!” Unfortunately, this social self-correction does not get translated through the virtual world of Zoom and Facebook. In the virtual environment, every loud and overly confident participant becomes a cyber-bully or self-proclaimed expert. It is essential to remember that we all can be wrong, and we all need external, objective opinions for self-correction from time to time.  This is one reason why mentors (at every level) are so valuable; objective feedback. It is essential to socialize with pilots and listen. Objective outside advice is essential for learning and self-correction.

Another antidote to hubris is continually learning new skills. Being a beginner at anything important is always personally humbling. And embracing lifetime learning is one central element of the Master Instructor program. This program is not about celebrating personal achievement but about continually growing as a pilot and educator; challenging yourself. A participant in this program needs to demonstrate personal growth and continual service to the aviation community to recertify as a master; take a look here.

SAFE is exactly the kind of pilot community that encourages lifetime learning and self-correction because over-confidence is at the heart of many accidents. We are continually retooling our mentor program to provide encouragement, advice (and self-correction) for every pilot and educator. Good friends (and mentors) are courageous enough to step in and offer “helpful advice” when detecting a personality trend or piloting procedure that will lead to harm. Join SAFE and stay connected to a caring community; fly safely (and often)!

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


Fix the DPE Problem? Start Here!

Our aviation industry is once again trying to solve the persistent “DPE problem.” The highly-publicized FAA ARAC has considered this issue for over a year and generated a report with many good recommendations. There is even a “DPE Symposium” being marketed to potential DPEs to “fix the DPE problem,” like some airline hiring job fair. The central problem is, however, so obvious that everyone is missing it entirely. (And this is only my personal opinion and does not represent my designation as an FAA DPE – every designee represents the FAA administrator in public).

To become a DPE or renew your designation, every examiner is required to sign a remarkably one-sided agreement with the FAA. The DPE process, as well as the daily job, is completely colored by this legal contract. It basically states that every designee is potentially temporary and can be legally removed,  immediately and capriciously, for absolutely no stated reason or cause. This contract is obviously designed to protect the FAA from bad actors without excessive legal costs but offers no trust and security for the DPE.  Instead, it poisons the designation relationship and discourages many qualified individuals from applying. Every DPE serves entirely at the pleasure of their local FSDO and the ax can fall at any time for no reason at all: done – gone, thank you, and goodbye (this is clearly stated and agreed to by every DPE in the guidance)! To be designated or renewed as a DPE, this is (among other things) the required statement in the application:

It is hard to believe that good-hearted, committed professionals would sign onto a “job” where the terms of engagement are so capricious and one-sided (it is technically not “employment” but contract work that often becomes a DPE’s sole income – a problem in itself). What kind of people would be attracted to this kind of contract or career? The FAA obviously did not engage the HR department here; “if you want this ‘job,’ these are the terms.” Yes, it is an honor to serve the FAA as a DPE, but a contract like this is a huge disincentive to attracting committed, compassionate professionals.

There is a huge scarcity of qualified DPEs right now. But every qualified aviation professional I have approached about becoming a DPE cites the horror stories of DPE termination and the “political nature of the job” as primary reasons for not getting involved; there is no trust and security in the system for DPEs. How can a competent, lifetime aviation professional be serious about this occupation, if it literally can go away in a day with a notification from the local FSDO? And if DPEs, are basically treated as temp. workers, how can they be expected to conduct their business professionally and honorably while serving the FAA?  We need to attract committed, compassionate professionals who focus on putting the applicant in a positive testing environment if we are going to grow aviation.  To “fix the DPE problem,” this “employment agreement” should definitely be the primary and immediate focus for positive change. Fly safely out there (and often).

Thanks to everyone that was able to attend #OSH21 and visit our SAFE booth – or attend our amazing “SAFE Gathering!” What a wonderful experience after a year of quarantine. Tune-up your flying chops and join SAFE for more resources and savings (most members save MORE than they pay in dues). Our SAFE Toolkit app is free and brings ideas and tools to your daily flying: “Mastery not Minimums!”

Teaching Safety Margin (and Culture)!

Earlier this week I was conducting a CFI renewal with a very experienced charter pilot getting back into flight instruction. What came up in the discussion was a consensus opinion that 121/135 regs, though burdensome, can provide great cautionary ideas for Part 91 safety. This was seconded later i the week by an Aviation Safety Mag article.  Extra care, extra training, all provide a great buffer from “regulatory minimums.” Unfortunately, many pilots still seem to follow the shocking FAA minimums available in part 91 as “operational guidance.”  Who would do a zero-zero take-off or a “look-see” approach? Demonstrating a margin above minimums (and teaching the same) is critical for safe flying.

The ACS is carefully constructed so flight tests look for exactly this procedure in all pilot candidates. Every applicant must know the FAA minimums but also demonstrate their personal margin of safety above and beyond these minimums. If “one statute mile, clear of clouds” is your personal minimum, you better have some good justification to support your risky behavior.

The diagram below was developed by David Bowden when he was with US Air and was disseminated more widely later when he ran the Rochester FSDO, then FAA Eastern Region. This was 30 years ago and this paradigm (combined with extensive CRM and other operational changes) helped create the amazing safety record in the major airlines over the last 20 years. Demonstrating and teaching safety margins must be part of every flight lesson.

The second half of creating greater safety is bringing everyone into compliance with this viewpoint of “safety culture!” As pilots, we are very protective of personal freedoms. Piots almost religiously defend every other pilot’s right to their own personal methods and standards (and some wild flying is increasingly popular on YouTube). But we have an obligation, when it comes to people potentially hurting themselves and others, to help rehabilitate “rogue pilots,” and bring them around the campfire of “safe operations.” I again cite Dr. Bill Rhodes and his “Scary Pilots” pdf here. The two questions he highlights at seminars make this clear: “Who has lost a friend in a flying accident?” followed by “Who was really surprised this happened” makes clear our obligation. Please spread the safety message… fly safe out there (and often)!

Thanks to everyone that was able to attend #OSH21 and visit our SAFE booth – or attend our amazing “SAFE Gathering!” What a wonderful experience after a year of quarantine. Tune-up your flying chops and join SAFE for more resources and savings (most members save MORE than they pay in dues). Our SAFE Toolkit app is free and brings ideas and tools to your daily flying: “Mastery not Minimums!”