Situational Awareness: 3 Keys to Safety!

Knowing exactly where you are (physically and mentally), precisely what you are trying to accomplish (mental model) and the “next thing”(expected/intended outcome) is called “situational awareness” (SA). Understanding and operating this critical mental process is the heart of aviation safety. In every area of aviation our mental content will vary be it VFR mountain flying or busy IFR in the Bravo.  But the mental process and tool kit are the same.

Level One SA is data input, and being present entirely in the moment.

Given perfect situational awareness (SA) a pilot will perceive an environment completely free of physical or physiological hindrances. But human factors problems complicate this objective; is it too dark, or blinded by the sun, forgot your readers? And psychological problems also provide challenges; fatigue, stress or complacency limit our attention/perception. Distraction and “multi-tasking” – ATC calling, pax or pilot interaction – are a fact of life in aviation and they limit our ability to focus and filter signal from noise. And with every distraction to attention “situational awareness recovery” time is required to regain our focus.

According to researchers most errors (76.3%) occur at the Level 1 (perceptual) area – we simply miss the cues, don’t see the signs or we are naturally distracted, bored or blinded in some manner. This is the reason for “sterile cockpit” SOPs in busy environments. A defective mental model also interferes “top down” with perceptual clarity because what we see/hear is driven by what we think is important – we essentially create our own reality. Psychologists call this “attentional blindness” and “perceptual tunneling”  – we miss data that might be critical to safety.

Level two SA is developing a “mental model” and understanding/interpreting the current situation.

What does all this gathered information mean in reference to the current, evolving flight profile? At level two our brain assembles the filtered input data (<10%) and assigns probable meanings; “sensemaking.” This process functions continuously and interactively and is often entirely at the subconscious level. We operate largely “on autopilot” when we interpret our world, especially in a time-critical, high-stakes environment.

Level 2 is where “hours and experience” help a pilot assemble an accurate mental model. “I’ve seen this story before” is often how we comprehend an evolving situation. The human mind is really a “prediction processing machine” that filters and fits data into an existing mental model. “Cleared for the ILS” engenders a whole spectrum of related and relevant skills, experience and expected patterns. Without this largely subconscious “scripting” we could not function efficiently in our busy buzzing world.

But “hours and experience” is also a problem when we stereotype and  “overfit” a  model or assume everything is as it was before; complacency. Every mental model blinds us to unique occurrences in the perceptual field (attentional blindness – we see what we “expect”). These missed data may be critical to safety (NASA’s leaking “O rings”?) In studies of accidents 20.3% were Level 2 errors; comprehending the data and assembling the mental model to assign meanings.

Level 3 SA is projecting the currently evolving situation into the desired future outcome.

You would think imagination would play no role in aviation, but level three is entirely the creative extrapolation of our current situation into a desired or intended outcome; “I will intercept the LOC, couple to the glideslope, break out at 400′ etc.” As with other levels, fatigue, distraction  and lack of time can damage SA, but Level 3 SA is especially the vulnerable to these demons. Briefing expected actions and mentally testing expected outcomes is a critical safety tool that often gets skipped or overlooked when time is short. Level 3 SA is our primary method to “get ahead of the airplane” and direct a flight rather than just reacting. Level 3 SA is also where we need to step up to a higher order thinking “conscious oversight” level and test our mental model with Daniel Kahneman’s” System 2″ critical analysis. We cannot operate totally on “decision autopilot” if we want to be safe.

So how can we improve our situational awareness?

Constant, active vigilance of the level we are operating in (and where we should be) is one important method to increase SA. As much as possible, I recommend constantly shifting the levels of SA (like a telephoto lens) dynamically changing from big picture to detail view (micro/macro) in a conscious scanning manner. This is what psychologists call “metacognition” and requires both time and practice. We often get fixated at level one (fiddling with a frequency or some frustrating detail) when we should be engaging the bigger picture. “SA scanning” like an instrument scan improves with practice. We respond physiologically to shiny bright buzzers of screens and often miss subtle cues unless we consciously push our mental focus.

Another important method to improve SA is by constantly testing our assumptions (mental models) both internally and with others. We all have human limitations and need to accept the fact that our personal perceptions and mental models may be flawed. Whether we are single pilot or have a partner or co-pilot, it’s critical to solicit input and stay curious and humble. No harm in pinging ATC with a verification or talking through the next leg with your co-pilot. A rigid mindset in a dynamic and evolving environment can be dangerous. We must enforce flexibility and constantly test and  adjust as necessary. Committing to  vigilance and continuous data gathering (rather than numb butt) has saved many flights from disaster.

Most “I was there and survived” stories (I love Ernest Gann) involve an “angel on my shoulder” tha reveals a sudden awareness of the bigger picture or just a subtle clue (level 3 SA). Building more time into your flight profile if possible permits this metacognitive magic or conscious oversight to function. Many accidents are precipitated by time pressure – the airplane was way ahead of the pilot’s mental models. Let me know if any of that helps? Fly safely (and often!)


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Flight Simulation; Turbo-Learning!

The first effective flight simulator was developed by Edwin Link in Upstate NY in 1927. Prior to this creative device, it was also thought that piloting required inborn skills that training could not supply. In the view of the Wright Brothers, a pilot had to possess superior balance and other physical attributes to ever consider becoming a pilot. The Link Trainer demonstrated that necessary pilot skills could be trained with careful repetition and study to any reasonable adept client. Thousands of pilots were trained for the airmail service and later WWII saving the world from fascist domination. Here is an excerpt from The Talent Code illustrating the imense impact of the original Link Trainer:

“Early pilot training was built on the bedrock belief that good pilots are born, not made….The U.S. Patent Office declared Link’s trainer a “novel profitable amusement device.” [and the world ignored this innovation]

In the winter of 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt had a problem. Pilots in the US Army Air Corps–by all accounts the military’s most skilled, combat-ready airmen–were dying in crashes…The carnage was not caused by a war. The pilots were simply trying to fly through winter storms, delivering the U.S. mail… a group of Army Corp brass grew desperate…[and] in one of the first recorded instances of nerd power trumping military tradition, the officers understood its potential [and] the generals ordered the first shipment of Link trainers.

Seven years later. WWII began, and with it the need to transform thousands of unskilled youth into pilots as quickly and safely as possible. That need was answered by ten thousand Link trainers; by the end of the war, a half-million airmen had logged millions of hours in what they fondly called “The Blue Box.”

In 1947 the Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, and Link went on to build simulators for jets, bombers, and the lunar module for the Apollo mission. Link’s trainer permitted pilots to practice more deeply, to stop, struggle, make errors, and learn from them. During a few hours in a Link trainer, a pilot could ‘take-off’ and ‘land’ a dozen times…He could dive, stall and recover, spending hours inhabiting the sweet spot on the edge of his capabilities in ways he could never risk in an actual plane. The Air Corps pilots who trained in Links were no braver or smarter that the ones who crashed. they simply had the opportunity to practice more deeply.”

Modern day pilots in 121 or 135 operations are intimately familiar with flight simulation as the defacto method for effective learning. Due to the cost of operation and the hazard of real emergency operations, all initial jet training and the “type rating” are taught in a full-motion simulator. Pilots usually never see the actual aircraft until after certification during “Initial Operating Experience” (the familiarization and standardization in the real flight world). Simulators are the most efficient tool we have for efficiently building procedure skills and muscle memory (the neurobiological basis for this is fascinating).

In the last 10 years with lower-cost computer systems, affordable full-motion simulation  have returned to the GA world of small planes. SAFE was an early adopter developing scenario-based training and the Pilot Proficiency Project in the very first Redbird Simulators. One of the most imaginative and encouraging new uses for low cost flight simulators is introducing young people to aviation in venues far from an airport. Many STEM curriculums utilize desktop sims and courseware to allow experimentation and skill-building in a classroom setting. For the motivated and inspired individual a Young Eagle flight and then guided discovery in the real flight environment brings another person into the amazing world of flight. If you do not know where a local simulator might be located, try AvMkt.com one of our members who organizes shared usage of simlator time all over the world.


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CFI Cover Your Ass(ets)!

Consider the facts: in aviation we teach in a high-risk environment (compared to golf?) and as educators, we often guide high-value clients. When you add the two of these together the result is an incredible amount of, what insurance guys call- “exposure!” Every CFI needs good insurance designed specifically  for the flight training environment.

Just log onto Kathryn’s Report…

If you teach aviation, you are an obvious target for a lawsuit in the event of a tragedy (whether it is your fault or not). In our last article we discussed how to legally set up your “business” – because you are in business“as a CFI selling services. One critical first step is acquiring good insurance to protect your assets. When we started SAFE 10 years ago, the #1 request from members was a “comprehensive, affordable policy specifically specifically designed for CFIs” No one in the industry (except SAFE) provides this. It actually took almost three years to get this program fully developed and accepted in all states (and SAFE gets no $$ from this- – it’s a service to our membership.)

It is almost impossible to read, understand and buy a good insurance policy unless your agent is a knowledgeable, willing partner in the process. “Blanket policies” can have huge loopholes for CFIs you may never be aware of unless you have an agent on your side. When an accident occurs, all you want to hear as a CFI is “you’re fully covered.” DPEs especially can pay huge premiums unless they embrace this program (one DPE had a policy over $6K a year…with lower coverage limits)

When we developed the program at SAFE we insisted the CFI be covered in every category and class for which they are rated with an incentive for pursuing excellence and professional standards. If you are a new seaplane or multi-engine pilot, you are covered. You can even add UAS Instruction (try finding that elsewhere…) If you are a Master Instructor or FAA WINGS participant, you get a discount (we incentivize safety!) To me, one of the best  features of this program is that the agents who manage this program are active pilots in every category and class, they know your problems and can customize your coverage. You can buy and bind your coverage on line or pick up the phone and call Aviation Insurance Resources today…I guarantee you will sleep better at night. Fly safely (and often)!


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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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Freelance CFI – You’re a “Business!”

Thanks to Dave Wheeler for this article (expanded from a Facebook post) He is an ATP pilot with ASEL, AMEL, and SES. He holds all of the CFI certificates and ratings for airplane, and instrument. He also has the gold seal attached to the CFI certificate and is a four-time Master CFI. Total time is just a bit north of 14,000 hours with just short of 12,000 as CFI. Dave has owned three different flight schools throughout the years, buying the first one in 1978, a Grumman Pilot Center.  As aside, Dave got his ATP just to go through the process, as he never wanted to fly for the airlines.    

When you acquire that precious initial CFI certificate you are not only approved to teach flying, you have become a “business” (allowed to legally collect money for your services) and there are new “privileges and responsibilities” far beyond just flying. Here are a few pointers for the new CFI who is putting out their shingle to offer flight lessons to the public for the first time (as opposed to teaching for an established flight school). This is a new adventure that requires some training and information to succeed (and avoid economic peril)  “Going into business” is a great adventure and a learning experience that demands new skills and responsibilities and involves much more than just being a great CFI.

Among the many surprises and “learning opportunities” is business licensing. Where I teach, you will need a state business license, as the state collects sales tax. To collect the tax, the tracking vehicle is the business license number. So, we must collect the tax from the customer and pass it through to the state. Here it is call Business and Occupation tax, or B&O.   Depending on your business it may be collected monthly or quarterly. The state decides that for you based upon your application, and the dollar amount you specified as anticipated income. Then, depending on where you live there may be county and/or city taxes too. Here (by the way, “here” in my case is Washington State) the state collects both city and county tax and forwards it to the respective agency. Then there are other taxes that you pay to the state for whatever reason.

Once you are licensed, be sure to check with the airport upon which you desire to teach. More and more airports are adopting a Minimum Standards Document that spells out what you need to do to conduct business on their soil. In my case, I started out with one airplane and just me. I was listed as a freelance CFI (and it applies to A&Ps too) and needed to prove airworthiness of the Cherokee 140 I was going to use, and prove that it met their insurance requirements. I was going to be a “Through the fence” operator, so I convinced them that my office would be my motorhome that I would park outside next to my tie-down spot.

As a funny example of what you can learn, I got one of those big green signs from Sporty’s that says “Learn to Fly Here” and hung it out to attract business. Little did I know that there was a separate “Sign Requirements” document with which needed to comply. Sign came down. Once the state and airport are happy, you need to think about a business plan. How are you going to run your business?

Since you are now competing for customers with any inside the fence FBOs (and they are not going to be happy with since you are “poaching” their customers) and other businesses that are going after the customer’s hard earned dollars. If you think about it, you are in competition for recreational dollars with the local golf course, dive shop, and bowling alley, the movie theater, etc. The product you are selling is not so much flying but also “challenge and adventure”. So this is where you may want to look to hire some professionals to assist in your marketing and business plan. Like many unfortunate others, I did not take this route, but learned the hard way through the school of hard knocks. Though a professional, aviation-savvy CPA and attorney may cost some money, you save from the pain and heartache that every misstep costs. Their professional fees (like yours) are worth every penny.  In my case, I was going along fat dumb and happy, selling flight instruction, building my business, paying my taxes, and several years into the business I got a nice letter from the state department of revenue saying they wanted to do a B&O tax audit. I called one of my customers, a CPA and asked his advice and his first sentence was “Do NOT let anyone from that office onto your property!” Wow, OK. Why? He explained that they will not only audit your books, but your premises as well. He said that if they see a magazine lying on your table they will want to see where you paid the tax on the magazine. If you buy something for “resale” meaning you will pay the tax when you sell it, not when you buy it, they will want to see that paper trail.

Just like every other emergency in aviation, where the test comes first and the lesson and learning follow, I got smart quick. I put the CPA on retainer, and took my records to the CPA’s office and they did the audit there. They actually found that I had paid too much sales tax on a computer that I purchased out of state and I ultimately got a refund. Not enough to pay the CPA, but still…worth it and “lesson learned” (hire a professional!) Getting really comprehensive and “CFI specific” insurance from a professional (like SAFE offers) is another essential first step in business. Though you may not have assets to worry about starting out, all your future earnings are also be legally attached so professional CFI insurance is money well spent!

That is enough for today, but in a future issue, I’ll talk about some of the other things you will face as a freelance CFI.


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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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Gov. Shutdown Effects on Aviation

This political showdown has given both “sides” a megaphone to voice political viewpoints. Avoiding all this hostility (please?), the effect on aviation – and especially flight training – is increasingly damaging as this shutdown continues to deepen. The unified controller and pilot unions have cautioned that safety is and major airports are experiencing slowdowns. My company had two charter jets grounded waiting for RVSM approval – not coming since FSDOs closed – but fortunately the reg. now has changed allowing ADS-B to serve for separation.

As far as FAA testing goes, PCI (CATS/LaserGrade) is advising everyone that you can take a FAA knowledge test but the results will not be recorded by the FAA (so no good until the guvm’nt gets rolling again).

“Valued PSI Customer, we have been authorized to resume FAA Airman Knowledge Testing. However, please be advised that processing of results will be delayed until the FAA resumes normal operations.
Thank you for your understanding.”

It is theoretically possible take that newly printed paper test result to a DPE and manage your practical test entirely with a FAA paper 8710-1, sending it directly to the FAA in Oklahoma City. That should work if you have a DPE willing to work the paper. But unfortunately, your actual plastic certificate will not be issued until the shutdown is over though and you are on a 120 day temporary that will expire.

An FAA 8o6o-4 temporary certificate  is only good for 120 days so your privileges expire after that day- no plastic will be coming from FAA Registry. FSDOs are closed so no extensions after the 120 day duration will be available. If your IACRA submission was entered *before* the Dec 22nd shutdown and approved you can log-in and extend your privileges by logging into the FAA website here. But with the loss of FSDO services, if your temporary never got into the queue in Oklahoma City, your privileges will expire when the 120 day temporary expires!

The FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where controllers go for training, is closed which is unfortunate at a time of critical controller shortages. The FAA Aeronautical Central Counsel office is closed and unable to issue opinions, delaying aircraft registration for certain types of trusts and businesses until the shutdown ends. And the FAA’s medical certification branch is closed, meaning pilots will have to wait until the shutdown is over to receive their medical certificates from the FAA if they have a special issuance.

The Airline Pilots Association has written to President Trump asking him to end the shutdown in the interest of aviation safety:

and a more recent letter is now available cautioning the impending safety and slow-down concerns:

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is holding a rally in Washington today to ask government to end the shutdown and work on a separate political solution that does not jeopardize aviation safety:

StopShutDown

That is the story as far as we know now, let us know *YOUR experiences* and thereby help others through this difficult time?  Feel free to share your (aviation) stories and concerns here. Please do not vent about your political viewpoints here (social media works for that!)


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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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Wright Brothers Character Lessons

You may think it strange that I would talk about the Wright Brothers in a column that is meant to provide safety and training tips to our SAFE members, but I believe we can all learn a lot from examining their lives and personal work ethic. The Wright Brothers did not let lack of education or lack of financial resources stop them from pursuing their dreams of flight.

The Wright Brothers did not graduate from high school (which was not uncommon in that era), but in spite of this, they were willing to do whatever it took to gain the knowledge and skills they needed to create first a glider and then a motorized flying machine. Not only did the brothers spend time reading about previous attempts at flight by other inventors, but they also experimented with kites and small gliders to better understand the principles of flight.

In spite of many setbacks, including several flying accidents and lack of money, the Wright Brothers never gave up on their goal to develop an airplane. This singlemindedness (i.e., total dedication to purpose) is likely why the Wright Brothers succeeded while Samuel P. Langley, their contemporary, failed. Langley was focused exclusively on becoming rich and famous with his invention while the Wright Brothers were focused on building “a flying machine” that would have practical application for the world. In fact, Orville and Wilbur were so dedicated to their goals that neither brother ever married.

Finally, the Wright Brothers learned from their mistakes. The fact that they had been bicycle mechanics and “tinkers” all their lives taught them how to study a mechanical problem and design a part or appropriate “fix” to solve the problem. While designing an airplane wing was certainly more challenging that repairing a bicycle, the process was the same: (1) study the problem; (2) come up with potential solutions to solve the problem; (3) apply one of the solutions; (4) evaluate the outcome. If the solution applied didn’t solve the problem, try another solution, but don’t give up. Doing these four steps over and over again to first develop their glider and then the 1903 Wright Flyer took infinite patience as well as dedication of purpose.

In the book The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age (2003), authors Dr. Tom D. Crouch and Dr. Peter L.Jakab concluded that the reason the Wright Brothers were successful and so many other inventors were not was because of the Wright Brothers “inventive methodology.”  Essentially, this same methodology is still the basis for aeronautical research today.

In summary, we as SAFE members (aviation educators, flight examiners, and pilots) should take the life lessons to be learned from the Wright Brothers to heart: learn what you need to know in order to succeed in whatever endeavor you set your mind to; be patient with yourself and with the process (whatever it may be); never give up on yourself or on your dreams. If you have a dream to become the best flight instructor you can be, or to fly your airplane to Alaska, or to get a seaplane rating, do at least one thing this week to bring you closer to your dream. To quote another famous aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Wishes and dreams do not come true without action and determination, so it’s time to take that first step in turning your dream(s) into personal goals in the New Year.

Note: This article was previously published in the December 2018 issue of PROPWASH, the official newsletter of EAA Chapter 517, Inc., in Missoula, MT. The article is reprinted with permission of the author.


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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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

CFIs Are Not All Equal: CFI-PRO®!

Previously published in the FAA Pilot Examiner Quarterly (shared by permission) Here is a unfortunate story of a “Rusty CFI” (not current teaching though probably very current in his biz jet). DPEs see cases like this too often- where the well-meaning CFI was not up to speed. New CFIs need mentoring, non-current CFIs need refreshing (a FIRC every two years is not enough).

Here is a scenario that happens much more often than you would think…  A commercial pilot is blessed with a great paying flying job with a lot of down time.  (Well maybe not that part) Anyway, the lucky one…we will call him “Stan” has not been an active flight instructor for more than ten years. Nevertheless, he dutifully renews his flight instructor certificate by completing an online Flight Instructor Re-fresher Course (FIRC) every 24 months. He then goes to Sheryl his local DPE and pays her an administrative fee to review his application and FIRC graduation certificate and renew his certificate.

One day our hero Stan is polishing up his Beech Debonair. He is approached by one of his hangar neighbors at the airport who asks if he can train his 16 year old son for his “pilot’s license” in their family Cessna 120.  Stan decides “well… I haven’t used the certificate and some time, maybe I should give back to the aviation community”. He reluctantly takes on the eager new student and agrees to train him free of charge.  Having not been active for a while, Stan is not aware that there have been significant changes since he was a young instructor building time to move to the airlines. Not only that, he has never instructed outside of the confines of a 141 flight school. When he was teaching with the school he had a syllabus and other more senior instructors to check his paperwork; bounce questions off of; and help keep him out of trouble.  Our student…“Junior” reports for his first flying lesson the following morning and Stan sits down with him to chat and make sure that he is ready to begin flight training. Junior is ahead of the game and went to an AME and got a second class medical. Stan looks at the medical and notices that it is on a white piece of paper but it doesn’t say “Student Pilot Certificate”. He remembers from his FIRC that there was a change in the regulation….”Uh… let’s see…. yeah that’s right, the AME no longer issues student pilot certificates and I just have to put the endorsements in his logbook instead of on back of the certificate.” They discuss the first lesson, do a preflight inspection and go out in fly.

Junior is a quick study and Stan decides to solo him after only about 8 hours of dual flight instruction. He makes an endorsement in the “boiler plate” section in the back of Junior’s logbook and sends him on his way around the pattern. After three perfect “three pointers” he congratulates Junior with a ceremonial douse with a bucket of water and cuts his shirt tail for this momentous occasion. –

Soon they are working on the cross-country and night portion of training and Junior’s subsequent solo flights go well. Stan always looks in the back of the logbook and signs the boilerplate endorsement that most applies to the flight that Junior is doing. Soon he has flown off all the solo and dual time required and has completed his Private Pilot Knowledge test and Stan deems him ready for the practical test.

Junior goes into IACRA and registers for an account and begins to fill out an application for a Private Pilot Certificate Single Engine Land. He has no problem with it until he reaches the section “Have you ever held an FAA pilot certificate?” He thinks “Well yes… I have a second-class medical; but where is that certificate number? He asks his instructor. Stan scratches his head, picks up the phone, and calls one of his co-workers who flight instructs regularly. Through the conversation, he finds out that the paper student pilot certificates he once knew are now a plastic card. Stan’s heart leaps into his throat realizing his mistake. He tells Junior to log back into IACRA and start and new application for Student pilot and Stan approves it.  Two weeks later, Junior receives a notice that his temporary student pilot certificate is ready in IACRA. Stan, then has junior finish his application for private pilot and calls Sheryl, the DPE to make an appointment for Junior’s practical test.

Stan prepares Junior for his test and wants to be a good instructor so goes to the appointment with him to make sure that Sheryl has everything she needs to start the exam. They meet at Sheryl’s office early in the morning. She first reviews the aircraft log-books and all appear to be in order. She then looks at Junior’s application and begins to look at his pilot logbooks. She checks his student pilot certificate, which has an issuance date of just a little over two weeks ago.  She also notices that there is not a tailwheel endorsement.

“Stanley, I’m sorry but I cannot accept this application.” Sheryl Says…

“Why not?” Asks Stan.

“This temporary student pilot certificate was issued a 2 weeks ago…and on top of that, Junior doesn’t have a tailwheel endorsement.” Says Sheryl.

“Well, I did all the training. I can put the tailwheel endorsement in there now.” Says Stan.

Sheryl explains. “Stan, that still wouldn’t make the flight time valid. He didn’t have the tailwheel endorsement required to act as pilot in command and he didn’t possess a valid student pilot certificate when he conducted these solo flights. I’m afraid all of his solo time just doesn’t count.” Unfortunately, for Stan and Junior, Sheryl is right. She confirms this when she calls her POI to see if there is any way they can move forward. So…What happens at this point?  Who is responsible? What are the repercussions?

It was an honest mistake but legally, there could be enforcement action against both!

Stan and Junior and probably at least a re-examination ride for Stan. The FAA would also require Junior to re-fly all of his solo flights that were made without a valid student pilot certificate before he would be eligible for a private pilot certificate. Junior also would have to bear the expense.  A student pilot hires a qualified instructor to provide a safe environment for them to learn. Above all, the instructor must be a professional. They must have an understanding of the learning process, a knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching and an ability to communicate effectively with the student pilot. They must also have a thorough knowledge of aeronautics, regulations, and possess a keen attention to detail.

Before soloing a student 61.3 states that “No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person has in their physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate.”

In this case it would be a temporary student pilot certificate issued under §61.17 Most prospective students essentially know little if any about regulation. It is the duty of the flight instructor to educate students about the certificates and documents required when they begin their flight training.

The responsibility falls upon the instructor to make sure that they meet all the regulatory requirements when they are going to operate an aircraft solo. The flight instructor must also administer a pre-solo knowledge exam that includes applicable sections of parts 61 and 91. One of those questions should be… “What documents are required to be in your possession when acting as PIC on a solo flight?”

DPEs see mistakes like this all too frequently. It is SAFE’s mission to elevate the professionalism of aviation educators. We do this through resources, training, and mentoring; Join SAFE and pursue excellence in aviation. If you are in training and have a bad CFI do not hesitate to “Ditch the Duds” or “Fire Your CFI.” Get a CFI-PRO®


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App gives every CFIs the necessary guidance for pilot endorsements and pilot experience requirements right on your smartphone. This app facilitates smooth CFI+DPE teamwork.

Join SAFE for more tools and to resources for greater educational professionalism. Your membership supports 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)!

Stan should have taken the initiative to re-search the regulations a little closer. When he looked at Junior’s Medical certificate, he was unsure but assumed that he knew the answer was that he did not need a student pilot certificate based on a vague recollection of his FIRC training. When you assume anything, you can assume trouble. A review of the regulations or a call to his local DPE or FSDO Aviation Safety Inspector would have cleared this issue up before it became a serious problem.

Seasonal Safety: SANTA!

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I thought I’d use this specially created instrument approach procedure (IAP) chart that Jeppesen put out a couple years ago for the North Pole for this blog article. Although the chart is clearly a figment of someone’s imagination, it still can be used as a teaching aid in explaining the six basic parts of an instrument approach chart.

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            All IAP charts have the same basic layout.  This means that certain information always appears in the same location on the chart with a few exceptions. 

The information at the very top and at the very bottom of the chart is referred to as “marginal data.” This would include the name of the approach, the airport name, and latitude and longitude of the airport.  In the case of this fictitious approach chart, the name of the airport is Santa’s Workshop International.  The name of the approach is North Pole Village RNAV (GPS) Rwy 18.

The second section is called the Pilot Briefing Section.  It is imperative that the pilot review this section of the approach chart prior to flying the approach.  It is especially important that the pilot review and understand the prescribed missed approach procedure.  This section also can contain notes to pilots such as “Reindeer and Elves in vicinity of the runway.”  This section also contains the frequencies the pilot will be using in the order of use.  For example, on the North Pole Village approach chart, Center frequency is shown as 122.8.

The third section on an instrument approach chart is called the Plan View.  This section contains a diagram of the entire approach procedure as viewed from overhead (i.e., top down).  The Plan View can also contain special information such as “Temporary Procedure.”

The fourth section is the Profile View.  This section contains important information about altitude and distance.  For example, on this approach chart, the distance from the outer maker to the missed approach point is 5.0 statute miles and the glide path angle is 7%.

The fifth section is called the Minimums Section.  This section looks like a table with the information broken down by aircraft category and type of approach to be flown.  On the North Pole Village approach, if two or more reindeer are out of service, the pilot can only fly a straight in localizer (LOC) approach down to a minimum decision height (MDA) of 500 feet MSL.  Also, if Rudolph and radar are available, the pilot could make a circle-to-land approach with four different minimums shown.

The last section on most instrument approach procedure charts is an airport diagram that normally appears adjacent to the Minimums Section.  However, since nobody actually knows the real location of Santa’s Workshop International, no airport diagram is shown on this chart, which was created by Jeppesen in 2013.

When I was working on my own instrument rating 40+ years ago, I can remember being very intimidated by the approach charts because they contained so much information.  However, once I became an instrument instructor and had to teach my students how to use these charts, it became much easier to understand and properly use the information provided. 

My best advice to any instrument-rated pilot is to spend as much time on the ground as possible going over your IAP charts because trying to figure out something you don’t understand in the air could become problematic.  Also, there is actual value in sitting in an armchair with your approach chart in front of you and simply imagining yourself flying the approach.  Our mind does not discriminate between things we actually do and things we “simulate” or rehearse.  I used this technique when I was in Army flight school working on my helicopter instrument rating and it really paid off for me. When the flight examiner took me to two airports the day of my check ride that I had never flown instrument approaches to except in my mind, I totally nailed the approach.   From that day forward, I’ve used “armchair simulation” with all of my instrument students to help them learn to accurately read charts and cement the procedures in their mind.  Please give this learning technique a try!

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Safety=Caution Vs Courage!

Confidence is a necessary but slippery pilot attribute. If we did not dream big and try hard we would never succeed in aviation. But carrying this too far is often the root cause of accidents “over-reaching” our skills. Please listen to this brief YouTube audio and tell me honestly if you have never “bit off more than you can chew?” in terms of your perceived vs actual abilities? And though experience is often defined as “learning that occurs when the test comes before the training,” luck is often our only savior in these cases.

Nicely on the center line! This kind of accident is not even necessarily reported…

So how can we more reliably achieve the correct balance of confidence and caution? Can we even accurately assess our own skills without others? The first necessary step in all situations is the calming ability to say “no” to impulsivity and create a pause between action and reaction. Once we have stopped the inner child, we must appraise and reflect on options and consequences, weighing the risks. Merely visualizing the worst outcomes sometimes is all that is needed to move more slowly and cautiously in a better direction. Two huge forces in aviation that actively collide with fight safety are perceived time savings (efficiency)  and pilot ego; “how will I be perceived by others.”  Getting over these makes you immediately safer.

The reasonable “sounding board” of a trusted advisor is a sure way to add safety to any decision; one reason Part 135 and 121 usually require two pilots. So if it’s a tight decision, expand your resources and solicit some advice. A worthy motto, borrowed from MADD, is”friends don’t let friends fly stupid.” This means both seeking and listening to the opinion of others but also speaking up to prevent “an accident waiting to happen.” As pilots we are often so reticent to intervene we allow others to unnecessarily come to peril.

Let’s agree to work together cooperatively and prevent accidents. The pilot above ignored the wise counsel of ATC; “how about a different field with less wind and a more favorable alignment?”  It takes more humility and less “courage” to fly safely but that way we will be around to enjoy more flights!

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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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Congratulations New CFI!

Congratulations and welcome to this new world! I hope you enjoy your profession as an aviation educator. Here is what I can tell you that you may want to ‘file away.’  I started out as you did: an “Independent CFI” in a state clear across the country from where I had done all my training and with absolutely no friends, contacts, ‘network,’ or anything like that to give me a ‘leg up’ in my new ‘Home State.’ Ready for take-off?

1) Don’t Fly Junk! By this I mean that if you find that the Owner/Operator of said aircraft seems to have either a cavalier attitude about maintenance or is reluctant to take your ‘squawks’ on necessary repairs/fixes/equipment troubles/etc. seriously and address them pronto or tends to do maintenance ‘on the cheap’ or appears to be skirting or flouting the regs…walk away. There are other good, honest, flight operations out there.

2) Your time is valuable. Don’t ‘give it away.’ Flight Instruction is worth whatever you charge & ground Instruction is too. Establish that early on. Ergo, if you charge $50/Hr & have a typical 2 Hr block booked & WX precludes you getting ‘air time’ with your Student, have a 2 Hr Ground Session instead & it is not a ‘Loss’ for either of you.

3) Don’t be timid about establishing your PIC authority;  when you say, “I have the Controls!” or “My Aircraft!” your Student’s feet & hands must IMMEDIATELY come off the controls. This needs to be established before you ever set foot in the plane. Accept No ARGUMENTS here‼️ A lot of these students today are well-heeled execs, Business Owners, Doctors, Lawyers, etc. and some have a tendency to regard you as their “inferior” as if you are merely a Doorman, Barista, or Valet. Squelch that Attitude politely but firmly very early on, or it can become a Nightmare for you. Any trouble with a prospect who prefers to take his/her Grandiose Delusions into the air with you…’cut them loose’ to go find someone else to fly with & ‘Don’t let the door hit ‘em’ in the ass on the way out.

4) Always show up early & fully prepared for each lesson. Dress, speak and conduct yourself as a professional. Respect yourself, & treat others with respect. Observe the Golden Rule.

5) DO NOT discuss Politics. Half your Students will be ‘on the other side’ – in some places that will be more like 80 or 90%. Too bad. Not your problem. Just be yourself & don’t get drawn into the ‘Vortex’ where there are No Winners.

6) Your first Student to ‘Solo’ will be ready before you are‼️😅 No problem. It’s pretty much true with all of us… that ‘second-guessing’ & thinking 🤔 💭 ‘Did I cover EVERYTHING?!’ Don’t worry about it. In time & with greater Experience you will know when the Student finally ‘clicks’ & clearly is ready for ‘three times around the patch!’ Just be aware that in the beginning, you will feel pretty anguished standing there on the sidelines watching your fledgling out there on his/her own for the first time. Make sure to ‘Celebrate’ afterward! This is a ‘Big Deal!’ for all concerned‼️

7) Try to have the Student feel good about SOMETHING after the completion of each flight. What do I mean? Example: the student is having trouble with Steep Turns. Okay…break it off and do ‘Turns Around a Point’ or practice ‘Slips!’ Give your student an opportunity to feel ‘Wow! I DID IT‼️’ instead of returning to the field dejected because they ‘failed’ at one particular task.

8) Don’t be too eager to ‘jump on the controls’ with every deviation from ‘perfection.’ You weren’t perfect either when you were starting out. Try to just get them to be aware of things they can do to help themselves, instead, like say releasing that ‘Death Grip’ on the yoke & holding it instead like a Stradivarius violin 🎻 or a beautiful romantic partner. Use some gentle humor in the cockpit to de-stress the Situation.

9) Beware ‘Experienced Pilots’ who need a Flight Review or who are ‘Rusty’ They May surprise you with Totally Mondo Bizarro behaviors that defy any expectation!

10) NEVER become Complacent in the Cockpit! It can kill you.

I saw this very helpful post on Facebook and contacted Paul to reprint it here. Paul is originally from Taumarunui, New Zealand and has had many jobs from his time in the Air Force and Viet Nam….to NY cabbie,  professional actor… stand-up comic…(playing ‘Spider-Man’ for Marvel Comics for three years)….driving trains and buses for twelve years….motorcyclist…sky diver…pilot….CFI….and Chief Pilot at Fairmont State U. In West Virginia (retired from that position in 2017.)

–I love aviation; we have such varied, colorful (and helpful) people- enjoy his advice to a new CFI (and add your comments!)

DStG.

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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements

right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!