The SAFE CFI’s “Most Wanted List”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Ready For Anything?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educator’s “Curse of Expertise!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Flight Test Anxiety!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every new membership, renewal or Step-Up or donation (tax deductible) through May 15th, will enter you into the sweepstakes drawing for a brand new Lightspeed Zulu Headset or a Sporty’s handheld radio.

Sun ‘N Fun TakeAway; Great Members!

It is 10 years since the tornado hit Sun ‘N Fun and took Alan Davis airborne with the SAFE Tent. A few years later a windstorm at OSH collapsed the SAFE Tent in College Park display area. John Dorcey created our beautiful show display (with Chris Palmer) and we have been displaying more safely inside metal hangars at shows, meeting our members and joining up new people. This year we are just pulling out or the COVID pandemic. Life goes on and pilots are very resilient. We had an amazing show – thanks to our great members! The spring sweepstakes continues through May 15th with prizes still being added.

The SAFE show booth was set up by Dr. Donna Wilt and her husband Dennis. Both teach aviation at the Florida Institue of Technology and they store our SAFE exhibit in their hangar at Sebastion every year. Cres Wise and his wife as well as Mike Garrison stopped by each day to help at the SAFE booth. This gave me time to see the show a little and eat some lunch. Cres serves as our SAFE board secretary and also served in the U.S. Air Force for 20+ years. He is an Assistant Professor of Aviation and check pilot at Middle Georgia State University and flies his own Cessna 337. Mike is a DPE in Port St. Lucie, FL.

SAFE member Rob Dumavic helped create a FaceBook Live with Dr. Scott Dennsteadt to help publicize his new weather interface Both Scott and Rob are long-time members. When the background noise was interfering with the audio, Andy Chan and Rob Lindstrom and a bunch of other members moved tables and chairs seamlessly to get us to a quieter location.

What I am trying to say with all this is SAFE is a member organization. Any success we have had is thanks to our amazing members. As I am writing this Lee Lauderback stopped by the booth. He runs Stallion 51 and just passed 10K hours safe flying the Mustang. He was a charter member and did an early sweepstakes to raise money for us. You can still join/renew or donate and get a shot at the Lightspeed Zulu Headsets or the Sporty’s Handheld radio. (We just added a 1/2 hour gyroplane intro flight as a prize) Expect great things from SAFE in the next year!

Thanks for all you do, fly SAFE out there (and often)!

Visit us at Sun’N Fun booth B22. If you join SAFE (even from home) you get a shot at a new Lightspeed Zulu headset or a Sporty’s handheld! ASA is offering a free FAR/AIM app to the first 25 new CFIs signing up at the show (and all the other show benefits apply). We have “Ninja CFI” T-shirts and hats for volunteers: register here on Doodle!

There is unique Sun’N Fun show content on the SAFE Toolkit App and if you “enable notifications,” we will be posting exciting events and specials during the show.

Some Things Some Pilots Don’t Know (But Should)!

Despite what 91.103 requires, no pilot has “all available information.” But the nature of our changing equipment and environment requires continual learning from every pilot in both knowledge and skill. Growth and improvement are part of the challenge we accept when we sign that first temporary and assume PIC control. But despite this, every pilot has “black holes” in their knowledge; missed or just misunderstood.  For CFIs, one critical job is to discover and correct these voids – the killers -before they hurt someone. Only when they are fully grasped, can seemingly dry concepts assemble into useful tools and make safer pilots. Even rated pilots with many hours seem to have missed some of these basics. Never be embarrassed, dig deeper!

The tail “lifts down!” Despite being able to carefully calculate the weight and balance of a plane (and pass all the FAA questions and several practicals), many pilots never fully understood this concept (or the ramifications). I have discovered commercial pilots who don’t know this, or if they know it by rote, they don’t grasp the full implications this has on stability, control and limitations. (See planes don’t stall, pilots do).

Lift is equal on the wings in a stabilized turn. This statement can lead to many puzzled looks or start some red-faced arguments (with Greek letters). But most simply solved, if the lift were  *NOT* equal on the wings, your plane would still be rolling! Failure to fully comprehend this basic aerodynamic fact has huge safety implications. Pilots often turn with the rudder or hold adverse aileron as they bank. Both aileron and rudder should be neutral in a stabilized turn, the elevator does all the work (again lift is equal on the wings). Once this is understood, a turning stall is easy. This is the heart of Rich Stowell’s “Learn to Turn” initiative (see Community Aviation Courses).

Indicated and true airspeed diverge as the air gets thinner (non-standard). Most pilots can state this fact (and pass an FAA knowledge or even practical evaluation) but still not comprehend the full significance of this physical principle. On a commercial evaluation, an examiner might ask selecting the most efficient altitude for cruise. (Power decreases at 3% per thousand feet but TAS increases at 2% per thousand feet, what is the optimal altitude?) More important to safety is unpacking a scenario involving a take off at Leadville on a hot day. Though your eyes (and hours of experience) say “it looks about right to rotate,” the airspeed indicator is still only showing 40 IAS. Here is where the divergence between IAS/TAS can hurt an unprepared pilot (and another one bites the dust…). This is also where a dry aerodynamic concept really requires more study and understanding. (Surprisingly many mountain courses do not emphasize this gotcha!)

And this circles back around to 91.103 (required preflight action) which is a critical mandate for every flight (once you get beyond “all available information”). It is amazing how many pilot applicants have flown 50-60 hours at their home field and still cannot state with any accuracy the actual length of their runway (the commitment to continual learning starts here). Some cannot list the items every pilot must know before flight on a VFR day. These items are simple but also the major causal factors of accidents; the proven killers!  More amazingly, commercial pilots in expensive jets still make these basic mistakes. We all need to keep learning…

More soon (preparing the Commercial “Checkride Ready!™” too) packing for the show! Fly SAFE (and often)! See you at Sun’N Fun.

Visit us at Sun’N Fun booth B22. If you join SAFE (even from home) you get a shot at a new Lightspeed Zulu headset or a Sporty’s handheld! ASA is offering a free FAR/AIM app to the first 25 new CFIs signing up at the show (and all the other show benefits apply). We have “Ninja CFI” T-shirts and hats for volunteers: register here on Doodle!

There is unique Sun’N Fun show content on the SAFE Toolkit App and if you “enable notifications,” we will be posting exciting events and specials during the show.



Ideas to “Cure Stupid!?”

It may be politically incorrect to state this so publically, but we all know that in our daily aviation world there are some people that endanger all of our lives with their unwise actions. Sometimes “stupid” is a one-off dumb move (guilty as charged) that can be fixed. In other cases, “stupid” seems to be an enduring personality trait – and it does not necessarily imply a lack of intelligence.  Perhaps we should add an “S” to the O-C-E-A-N personality paradigm?

Surprisingly, you would think that climbing the aviation ladder into the flight levels would distance a pilot from this phenomenon, but unfortunately, stupid is everywhere there are humans. Digging into this there is a researcher, Carlo M. Cipolla, who has cataloged the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Since time immemorial, a powerful dark force has hindered the growth of human welfare and happiness. It is more powerful than the Mafia or the military. It has global catastrophic effects and can be found anywhere from the world’s most powerful boardrooms to your local pub. This is the immensely powerful force of human stupidity.

At the heart of “stupidity” is overconfidence combined with an unwillingness to admit error (or accept change). A component of this problem is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This well-documented psychological phenomenon demonstrates that the least skilled people are also the most over-confident (a sad combination). And though confidence keeps humans forging ahead and accomplishing amazing things, it also sure leads to a lot of fatal accidents in mechanized devices. The CFI’s Little Shop of Horrors is clearly illustrated in Dr. Bill Rhodes’s SlideShare “Warning Signs in Pilots (what scares the experts)”  Watch out for these people! and AVOID  these “committed stupid” activities for your safety.

Overconfidence is dangerous because it leads to illusions in the perceptual process commonly called “magical thinking.” We humans, are all emotional decision-makers and “predictably irrational” when we desire a specific outcome – the “mission mentality.” Add some overconfidence, and no amount of fancy technology screaming warnings will fix a pilot that believes they can “stretch fuel” or “cheat weather.” This is why SOPs and the curated counsel of friends are such powerful safety tools (“save me from myself!”). The “second opinion” of a crew flying along makes flying statistically so much safer. A little doubt and self-questioning can often break the accident chain. If a pilot is personally convinced something is true, they will inevitably fool themselves despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. Our 20/20 hindsight in accident analysis continually demonstrates the flawed human decision process.

With a little therapy of honesty and humble reflection, our occasional “personal stupidity” (provided we survive) can be leveraged to create learning and improvement. Educators call this process  “productive failure.” This is the same process master educators use when allowing a learner to experiment (within limits) and self-correct their performance.  The essential (and difficult) ingredient here is “personal honesty;” the ability to accept responsibility rather than providing excuses. Ego-driven overconfidence and “bulldozing” of others’ opinions are common pilot traits but not productive for growth.

Another benefit of accepting failure as a possibility – and considering the cause might be personal – is a more vigilant posture and greater situational awareness. Better observation and after-action review promote continuous improvement. This procedure is documented as Kaizen Culture in Japanese manufacturing (think Toyota). This is a repeating cycle of reflection, self-criticism/critique, and improvement. Accountability and objectivity can also be helped by adding with the counsel of trusted friends (“hey dude, what are you thinking?”) – it keeps you vigilant and humble!

Every [person] needs people in [their] life who are willing to give it to [them] straight, who are willing to call [them] out when [they’ve] messed up, and who do it out of love. It’s tempting to avoid these people and retreat into your echo chamber of excuses, but they’re the kind of people who will truly help you thrive.

Part of what inspired this blog is our new SAFE initiative with GA News to review the accidents they publish. These occasionally read like the Darwin Awards. Watch for SAFE in the GA News accident section (and add your comments!)

We all love to go out and have fun in airplanes, but safety requires being honest, staying within sensible guidelines, and listening to trusted friends to calibrate your enthusiasm. “Friends don’t let friends fly stupid!”

Every new membership, renewal or Step-Up starting April 12th, will enter you into the sweepstakes drawing for a brand new Lightspeed Zulu Headset. Visit SAFE at Booth B22 and grab a chance for a new ANR headset. The first 25 CFIs to join will also get the ASA FAR/AIM App for free!


Start Honest; “Engagement Letter!”

An “engagement letter” is a simple statement of professional responsibilities, duties and expectations. Most often lawyers insist on these agreements as a first step before beginning any professional relationship. And that is because most lawyers have extensive experience with human suffering and “misunderstandings.” Start with the facts and expected outcome but also imagine what might go wrong.

The primary purpose of an engagement letter is to assure a clear understanding on both sides; standards and expectations. We know every person’s perspective is different several months into any relationship – but especially after lots of time, money and effort are invested. I think a document like this could go a long way toward curing the ridiculous 80% dropout rate in aviation training (it can provide protections on both sides if properly constructed). Better to start honest with defined terms and also a commitment toward a mutually agreeable outcome.

The flight training relationship is almost comically one-sided favoring the flight training provider. They have significant overhead and capital investment, bonded with a very thin margin in an unstable business environment. The over-eager flight student, usually ignorant of the true difficulties and hidden expenses can be an “easy mark.” Unfortunately, it is also easy to fool yourself (the provider), into believing you are helping an eager client by getting them flying immediately. But aviation is a long game, for everyone involved, and I recommend serious honest appraisal and planning at the start. Lay out the facts, but also sell the sizzle – we all became pilots and obviously still love it.

The whole aviation industry suffers when you promulgate the “big lie” of “faster/cheaper/easier.” People sold a bill of goods quit as quickly as they start and give our business a bad reputation. And sometimes blood gets shed when incomplete learning and lower standards lead to stupid accidents. Ultimately, educators do better with honesty – working with students who fully “buy in.” An honest relationship from the start builds clients who do their homework and ask for another hour to really master control. The good students accept responsibility and honestly want to be better (not just “get by”)! These are the people you actually like and want to fly with.

So “start honest” and reveal the wonderful opportunities; the challenge and adventure, the satisfaction of real achievement. Share the passion and some amazing experiences. But also reveal the facts; it costs a lot, takes real effort and the at times mother nature holds all the cards. Appeal to their sense of happy longevity and safety; it kinda sucks to suffer in a hospital bed.

In the final analysis, honesty is the essential ingredient for safe flying, for both yourself and others. Physics is not “bendable” or “forgiving.” Pilots who are sold a lie and succeed anyway often display “magical thinking” in their flying activities. These are the pilots who try to “stretch gas” and “cheat weather.” And we all know this only works for so long until the luck runs out -“what were they thinking?” They got sold a lie right from the beginning. Start honest with real numbers. It wasn’t easy, or cheap, but it was worth every penny. Fly safely out there (and often).

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Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business – honest!) Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM And get discounts by rating your flying with CloudAhoy on the Starrgate App.


Avoid DPE “Hard Stops” on Check-Rides!

The SAFE App was created to facilitate CFI/DPE collaboration and ensure a smoother, less stressful check ride experience (and ultimately smarter, safer pilots). Better communication among all parties involved prevents unfortunate surprises on check-ride day where an applicant encounters a "hard stop"  due to errors or misunderstanding - missing endorsements, insufficient experience, or inadequate skill/knowlege). Here are a couple common problem areas (some recently clarified by the FAA).

The “long” student cross country can be confusing due to the incomplete description  in 61.109. This regulation does not “stand-alone” but depends upon 61.1 (definitions) which requires a “landing at a distance greater than 50nm” to count as cross-country when training. The “push toward minimums” encouraged by many schools, can leave pilot applicants unqualified for their certificate on test day (a bad surprise)! Another subtlety in 61.109 is the requirement for “full-stop landings” in the regulation which also creates problems for unhappy applicants. Repeating expensive training due to a technical error is  frustrating. CFIs and flight schools need to know these regulations and their subtlties.

It is not just students and CFIs who are confused by this regulation, there are DPEs who have been accepting the stand-alone description in the reg (with an insufficient cross country) as legal. That is why this subject is covered in the national DPE training for 2021.

Another recent check-ride “hard stop” involves confusion over logging the required instrument time for the commercial pilot certificate. DPEs have been advised to not simply accept an instrument rating as evidence of accomplishing the instrument training required in 61.129. Careful reading reveals unique flight elements and a different emphasis for commercial aircraft control vs original instrument flight training. CFIs should make sure the more comprehensive commercial training is correctly completed. Another legal problem is the CFI conducting the required instrument training in 61.129 (commercial) must possess a CFII. If completed by an airplane instructor it is invalic. At the end of this process, add the 61.129 endorsement to the original instrument training endorsement or add the additionally logged hours to satisfy the tegulation. The original guidance in the Hartzell Letter of Interpretation has been clarified in a more recent 2018 Letter of Interpretation to the AOPA.

The lack of a 61.39 “meta-endorsement” is another problem that will stop a flight test before it gets started. This required endorsement verifies that that the recommending flight instructor has flown the required time in preparation for the checkride (usually 3 hours in the last 2 calendar months). Also in 61.39 is the (required) assurance that the CFI corrected the items found to be deficient on the knowledge test.

§ 61.125 Aeronautical knowledge.

(a) General. A person who applies for a commercial pilot certificate must receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor, or complete a home-study course, on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought.

Failure to log required ground training is often a “hard stop” that will prevent a checkride from proceeding. All ratings and certificates specify some ground and flight training. This should logged and available for the examiner on test day. There is no specified number of hours in part 61 training, but the areas to be covered are listed and some recorded ground instruction (varies with the DPE) needs to be part of the application package. A ground school graduation is a perfect example, but part 61 training is often conducted one-on one. PDF formatted tables for logging ground time are available on the SAFE Toolkit App.

All these “gotchas” are also essentials for every CFI preparing for their initial check-ride. Aviation educators are supposed to know all these nuances (and much more) so they correctly prepare their applicants for flight tests.

In addition to the above cautions, SAFE has created a stand-alone (more comprehensive) product to clear up check-ride confusion called “Checkride Ready!™”available on the SAFE App. This material was also published in the blog for VFR and IFR (more on the way!) Fly safely out there (and often)!

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Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM And get discounts by rating your flying with CloudAhoy on the Starrgate App.


Commercial Flight Maneuvers for Everyone!

Commercial-level pilot maneuvers provide a wonderful challenge and new skills for every pilot. These are not only fun but teach correct rudder usage when flown properly. Many pilots at the private level do not understand or apply correct rudder inputs. “Rudder deficit” is a primary reason for LOC-I. Search out a qualified instructor and take your flying to a higher level of proficiency with some commercial maneuvers. Learning new skills and extending your flight envelope creates greater flight safety and is also great fun! These maneuvers are a gateway to an upset recovery course and aerobatics – but these should be mastered first to get full value from this kind of advanced training.

Mastering commercial maneuvers requires an eyes-out aggressive flying style at the edge of the flight envelope. This begins with a thorough aerodynamic knowledge of the forces at work. The heart of all the commercial maneuvers is a concept called “cross-coordinated.” When you are climbing in a chandelle or navigating your way through a lazy eight you are often applying “crossed controls” to create coordinated flight. The control inputs and forces at work are not initially intuitive. Mastery requires study and practice to internalize a solid “feel” for the airplane during this more aggressive commercial-level maneuvering. And though all these maneuvers are “non-operational,” but you will be rewarded with much more precise (and safer) flying skills as well as a greater sense of confidence and control.

Step one in discovering commercial maneuvers is getting the eyes outside and rediscovering aggressive VFR flying; “yank and bank.” Most pilots in a normal flight training progression just completed an instrument rating (smooth standard rate turns with reference to their trusted instruments). Commercial training can come as a shock, requiring outside visual references and a “tuned up butt” to properly sense and correct yaw. Try some private pilot steep turns at 45 degrees and work up to 60 degrees. Then reverse at 180 degrees of turn and work up to “60/90s” (reversing a 60-degree banked steep turn after 90 degrees of turn). This is “old school” flying – find a good instructor to help you. This will get a little sweat going as well as demonstrate the need for an outside sight reference and positive control usage.

Step two is serpentine climbing 30 degree turns right and left with full power and a Vx attitude. This will quickly demonstrate the need for right rudder while climbing in a left turn and left aileron while climbing in a right turn. Initially, this feels “unnatural” for many private pilots, but this is the beginning of understanding “cross-coordination” and will progress into chandelles. Your pattern crosswind turns will be immediately safer with your newly-mastered “cross-coordination.”

A series of  climbing and descending (coordinated) wingovers – working toward a lazy eight – will demonstrate the need for quick and accurate rudder usage as the wing loads and unloads. Suddenly pilots are “flying again” after 40 hours of instrument standard rate turns (or years of rope-a-doping around the pattern); fun! These climbs and descents also illustrate the changing yoke forces necessary to maintain specific flight attitudes as the speed of the aircraft changes the effectiveness of the flight controls.

The last step in this introduction to commercial flight maneuvers is some slow flight and stalls first straight ahead, then turning. Flight training is an opportunity to fly at minimum control speed with the horn blaring (just don’t do it on a flight test – the FAA is sensitive about this). Bank 30 degrees right and left aggressively at the edge of a stall. Coordination is essential and LOTS of rudder is required to pivot left and right on the edge of a stall. Then demonstrate an old-style power off stall recovery letting the nose fall through the horizon with the yoke all the way back (stay stalled till the nose is down). As an instructor, when your pilot-in-training sees this dramatic nose-down attitude (while still feeling the stall) some understanding of angle of attack will be immediately built. (The angle of attack indicator in every plane is how much chrome is showing on the control yoke shaft).

Turning stalls recovered without power (just releasing AOA) are the last maneuver in this sortie as you descend turning right and left while stalling and recovering. This again shows the need for coordination and the power of AOA for recovery. Turning stalls are part of the Private Pilot ACS and often missed during initial training. Engage a qualified instructor and master some commercial maneuvers. Soon you will add finesse, safety (and FUN) to your regular flying. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all the 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”on the toolkit app prevents “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.