More like Bob Hoover!

“We lost the greatest friend and mentor a person could ever have. He lived 10 lifetimes in one. I honor him with how I live my life. Live with Passion, love with Passion and fly with Joy!” – Sean D. Tucker

As pilots and caring humans we should all aspire to be more like Bob Hoover. What an incredible person and pilot he was and what an example of a life well lived. (Safe journeys West Bob.) From the young WWII P-51 fighter ace/patriot to early jet test pilot and then amazing airshow genius, he did it all and in an elegant and gracious manner.

“Bob Hoover was so much more than a great pilot. He was a great man and a model for what our community can and should be.”  AOPA’s Mark Baker

To live constantly on the edge of disaster for so many years and die peacefully at 94 bears clear testimony to Bob’s piloting skills and also his risk management acumen. He performed every show with a joy, passion and precision that was unmatched in the industry. He was quoted as saying “Someday I might die in one of these shows. But you know what? It’ll take the mortician a week to get the smile off my face!” Because he pursued excellence in everything he did (but especially flying) Bob survived some incredibly challenging situations; his skill, courage and ingenuity brought him through every crisis.

seantuckerbobhoover

And though aviation can unfortunately be a business of big egos and “me first” personalities, Bob Hoover was always a gracious and sharing mentor throughout his career. His kindred spirit Sean D. Tucker clearly credits Bob Hoover with saving his life as a result of his early fatherly advice! As a younger air show pilot, aggressively pushing the edge, Sean relates how Bob Hoover approached him at an airshow and clearly explained how Sean’s days were limited if he did not build a little more margin into his flying routine. Though not apparent to us mere mortals, Tucker admits this sage (and initially unwelcome) advice saved his life more than once when mechanical issues cropped up unexpectedly. “I would not have made it without him.”

pattywagstaffbobhooverAerobatic performer Patty Wagstaff also cites Bob Hoover as an important mentor and coach throughout her career: “If I wasn’t sure how to handle a situation, I would always think, ‘How would Bob handle that?’ ” Fortunately, aviation at our level involves a lot less risk. But Bob’s example can work for everyone in our flying and our interaction with other pilots.

I would encourage all pilots to aspire to be “more like Bob” both in pursuing excellence and professionalism in every flight AND in promoting safety and keeping watch over our fellow aviators. Please take a page from Bob’s playbook and both build a safety margin into your flying (pursue excellence) and also put a friendly hand on the shoulder of any pilot you see on the road to disaster; “friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!” (How many times have we mumbled the words “accident waiting to happen” but done nothing?) Your better piloting self and mentorship will truly be the best tribute to our amazing friend Bob Hoover!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.

Rich Stowell Slow Flight Viewpoint!

MCFI (and SAFE Charter Member) Rich Stowell has 34,000 spins in 235 general aviation aircraft. His letter (among others) precipitated action toward modifying the current version of slow flight area of operation in the current ACS.

To: The Airman Certification Standards Working Group

 Introduction

The following remarks pertain to requirements in the Private Pilot-Airplane Airman Certification Standards (ACS) regarding maneuvering during slow flight, specifically: PA.VII.A.S2 and PA.VII.A.S3.(1)

rich-stowell-1024x681For some context, I have been a full time flight instructor since 1987. I am a nine-time Master Instructor, the 2014 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year, and the 2006 National Flight Instructor of the Year. I am a recognized subject matter expert on loss of control in general aviation with the following experience:

* 10,000 hours of total flight time

* 9,000 hours of flight instruction given

* 25,000 landings

* 34,000 spins in 235 general aviation aircraft

* 500 single-engine aircraft N-numbers in my logbook

* 380 aviation talks presented

* More than 75 aviation articles and three aviation textbooks published

At issue is wording in the ACS that requires applicants to demonstrate the following levels of skill while maneuvering during slow flight:

“Establish and maintain an airspeed, approximately 5-10 knots above the 1G stall speed, at which the airplane is capable of maintaining controlled flight without activating a stall warning.”

“Accomplish coordinated straight-and-level flight, turns, climbs, and descents with landing gear and flap configurations specified by the evaluator without activating a stall warning.”(2)

SherrySlowFlightACS Wording Versus Airworthiness Standards

Given FAA airworthiness standards concerning stall warning systems, the simultaneous requirements of “5–10 knots above the 1G stall speed” and “without activating a stall warning” are incompatible. Airworthiness standards in effect in 1993, for example, required the following:

“stall warning must begin at a speed exceeding the stalling speed by a margin of not less than 5 knots, but not more than the greater of 10 knots or 15 percent of the stalling speed…”(3)

Airworthiness standards since 1996, on the other hand, have required stall warning activation to begin “at a speed exceeding the stalling speed by a margin of not less than 5 knots…”(4) This standard does not specify an upper speed limit for activation of stall warning systems. As a result, while stall warning could be activated—indeed, should be activated per airworthiness standards—no less than 5 knots before the reference stall speed, it could activate with a significantly greater margin to the stall speed.

The ACS requirement to fly without activating stall warning clearly conflicts with the simultaneous requirement to establish and maintain an airspeed 5–10 knots above the reference stall speed. Moreover, design parameters that determine when artificial stall warning activates are beyond the control of the applicant—so much so that an applicant may be forced to transition out of slow flight to prevent stall warning from activating, defeating the purpose of this task altogether.

SherryAOAPicFAA Justification

The incompatibility between the ACS wording and airworthiness standards notwithstanding, the FAA has offered the following justifications:

“The guidance has always intended for there not [emphasis added] to be a stall warning—and that is consistent with slow flight guidance published in AC 120-111.”(5)

“Advocating maneuvering the airplane just below the critical angle of attack with the stall warning activated is neither desirable nor intended.”(6)

These assertions are demonstrably false. For at least several decades now, FAA guidance has been unambiguous about its intent to have stall warning activated while maneuvering during slow flight. For example, in the FAA’s General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study conducted in 1975–76 (the FAA Study):

“the student slowed the aircraft to the speed at which the visual or aural stall warning indicator was continually activated [emphasis added]…. Turns were also made at 30° angle of bank with the stall warning indicator continually activated [emphasis added].”(7)

The objective during the FAA Study was for student-participants “to maintain desired heading and altitude at an airspeed and angle of attack which activated the stall warning device [emphasis added], but which did not cause the aircraft to stall.”(8) Two noteworthy results from this study:

“The most effective additional training was slow flight with realistic distractions, which exposed the subjects to situations where they are likely to experience inadvertent stalls.”(9)

“The extra stall and slow flight training was effective in preventing unintentional spins [emphasis added]”(10)

Training in slow flight with stall warning activated coupled with realistic distractions was effective in preventing unintentional spins. Read that again: Slow flight with stall warning activated coupled with realistic distractions was effective in preventing unintentional spins.

The results of this landmark study have driven FAA stall/spin training policy ever since, starting with the introduction of realistic distractions in 1980, followed by the shift from “stall avoidance training” to “stall and spin awareness training” in 1991.(11,12)

Derived from the FAA study, the series of Advisory Circulars (ACs) entitled, Stall and Spin Awareness Training has offered “guidance to flight instructors who provide that training.”(13) The following wording appears in AC 61-67B published in May 1991 through AC 61-67C (Change 2) published in January 2016. All of these ACs recommend the following in Chapter 2, “Stall Avoidance Practice at Slow Airspeeds”:

“(1) Assign a heading and an altitude. Have the student reduce power and slow to an airspeed just above the stall speed…”

“(2) Have the student maintain heading and altitude with the stall warning device activated [emphasis added].”(14,15)

FAA guidance for at least a quarter century has been crystal clear, and for good reason: Training in slow flight with stall warning activated, coupled with realistic distractions, is effective in preventing unintentional spins. “Maneuvering an airplane just below the critical angle of attack with the stall warning activated” not only has been intended, but also is desirable if preventing unintentional spins remains a safety priority with FAA.

Regarding the reference to AC 120-111, slow flight is described therein as “flight just above the stall speed.”(16) This specialized flight training element is intended to expose pilots to “how to maneuver the airplane…without stalling.”(17) The status of the stall warning system during slow flight is not mentioned in this AC. However, the AC does list “manually controlled slow flight” under the heading “Extended Envelope Training.”(18) Revising the long-understood meaning of slow flight as a condition “with the stall warning system activated” now to one “without activation” is incongruous with, and a move away from, the whole concept of “Extended Envelope Training” mandated by CFR §121.423.

In reality, the treatment of slow flight in AC 120-111 is consistent with recommendations made by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO describes this specialized training element as follows:

“Slow flight exposes the trainee to flight right above the stall speed of the aeroplane and to manoeuvring [sic] the aeroplane at this speed without stalling. The purpose is to reinforce the basic stall characteristics learned in academics and allow the pilot to obtain handling experience and motion sensations when operating the aeroplane at slow speeds during the entire approach-to-stall regime in various aeroplane attitudes, configurations and bank angles.”(19)

The “approach-to-stall regime” referenced by ICAO is defined as “Flight conditions bordered by stall warning and aerodynamic stall.”(20) Activation of the stall warning system during slow flight is an obvious and integral part of ICAO’s Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) framework—the very same framework that informed AC 120-111.(21)

The assertion that no activation of stall warning is somehow “consistent with guidance on slow flight published in AC 120-111” is unsubstantiated at best, disingenuous at worst.

GAPioltStallAwarenes1976Further Rationalization

The August 2016 issue of DPE Tips offers further justification for the ACS wording: “The FAA does not advocate disregarding a stall warning while maneuvering an airplane.”(22)

It does not follow that having a student learn to maneuver in slow flight with stall warning activated advocates “intentional disregard” for stall warning. I am not aware of any studies that show a correlation between exposure to stall warning and increased inoculation to it. Recall the FAA Study found that training in slow flight with stall warning activated coupled with realistic distractions was effective in preventing unintentional spins.

Consistent with longstanding FAA guidance on stall and spin awareness training, pilots should be taught to integrate sight, sound, and feel while maneuvering in slow flight. They should also be taught to acknowledge stall warning and understand its ramifications. The ability to fly the airplane precisely while stall warning is activated can be a confidence building exercise as well as a way to incorporate angle of attack (AOA) and G-load awareness in real time. While many permutations are possible, following is an example of dialogue that might occur between an instructor (CFI) and student (STU) while practicing slow flight with stall warning activated:

CFI:      Do you hear the stall warning?

STU:      Yes.

CFI:      From now on, I want you at least to verbally acknowledge it every time you hear it.

CFI:      We are hearing stall warning in this particular configuration, but when else might we hear it?

STU:      At any speed, in any attitude, at any power setting.

CFI:      Is mechanical stall warning 100 percent reliable?

STU:      No.

CFI:      What other indications of reduced margin to the stall might we expect?

STU:      Reduced control effectiveness and more pronounced engine effects.

CFI:      What conditions could cause you to miss hearing the stall warning?

STU:      High workload in the traffic pattern, distractions, stress, lack of proficiency.

CFI:      I dropped my pencil, please pick it up for me.

STU:      Not now, I’m busy aviating!

CFI:      What does stall warning mean?

STU:      We are operating at high angle of attack, close to the critical angle.

CFI:      With regard to your control inputs, what else does stall warning mean?

STU:      Do not pull the elevator control any farther aft.

CFI:      Are we in a stall?

STU:      No, it’s just stall warning.

CFI:      What will happen if you apply additional back elevator pressure now?

STU:      We’ll stall the airplane.

CFI:      What could happen if we encountered a vertical gust right now?

STU:      We could stall the airplane.

CFI:      What will happen if we increase the G-load by trying to execute a steep turn now?

STU:      We’ll probably stall the airplane.

CFI:      What should you do if we encounter the stall?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      What should you do if the engine were to quit now?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      What should you do to increase our margin of safety to the stall?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      What should you do to silence stall warning?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      What should you do to lower the angle of attack?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      Outside of this training exercise, what will you do if you inadvertently trigger stall warning?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      If you’re not sure what to do when stall warning activates, what should you do?

STU:      Push the elevator forward.

CFI:      Do you see a trend in the answers to the above questions?

STU:       Yes, push on the elevator, don’t pull.

Despite the ACS wording and attempts to justify it, the FAA “still expects a pilot to know and understand the aerodynamics behind how the airplane performs from the time the stall warning is activated to reaching a full stall.”(23) Based on this, it seems not only logical to continue to train and test this critical task as it was done in the FAA Study and as recommended in FAA guidance on stall and spin awareness training. It is also imperative for safety since doing this has been shown to be effective in preventing unintentional spins.

Recommendations

As worded, ACS PA.VII.A.S2 and PA.VII.A.S3:

* Retreat from an established training paradigm shown to be “effective in preventing unintentional spins” and, in combination with realistic distractions, the “most effective” training for situations where pilots “are likely to experience inadvertent stalls.”(24,25)

* Diminish the importance of gaining valuable experience and confidence with degradation in flight control responsiveness and more pronounced engine effects, as well as the importance of proper coordination in slow flight near the critical angle of attack.

* Contradict longstanding FAA policy and guidance on stall and spin awareness training, as well as recent ICAO recommendations on upset prevention and recovery training.

* Will impede efforts to reduce fatal loss of control accidents in general aviation.

Rather than moving away from a training and testing strategy proven effective in preventing unintentional spins, as well as from the current trend toward incorporating UPRT into all levels of pilot training, I strongly urge FAA to:

  1. Realign wording in the ACS and Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3) with longstanding FAA guidance and more recent ICAO recommendations on training and testing within the approach-to-stall regime.
  2. Abandon plans to revise other FAA publications to reflect current ACS wording, and rescind Safety Alert for Operators 16010.
  3. Redouble its efforts to emphasize and encourage stall/spin awareness training according to longstanding guidance.
  4. Ensure that ground and flight instructors are indeed well-versed in stall/spin dynamics in theory and in practice, as well as in the available training guidance.
  5. Promote AOA and G-load awareness per recommendations from the SAFE Symposium Curricula Breakout Group.(26)

The current ACS wording on slow flight is a step backwards, discourages incorporation of UPRT concepts and extended envelope training, and has the potential to reduce safety.

Respectfully,

Rich Stowell, MCFI-A

Endnotes

(1) FAA, Private Pilot–Airplane, Airman Certification Standards (FAA-S-ACS-6, Change 1), June 2016, 54.

(2) FAA, Private Pilot–Airplane, Airman Certification Standards, 54.

(3) FAA, Part 23–Airworthiness Standards (specifically §23.207), January 1, 1993, 164.

(4) FAA, Part 23–Airworthiness Standards (specifically §23.207), accessed August 19, 2016, available http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/faa_regulations/

(5) Email from 9-AVS-ACS-Focus-Team@faa.gov to Howard Wolvington, 10 June 2016.

(6) FAA, Safety Alert for Pilots (SAFO 16010), August 30, 2016, 3.

(7) William C. Hoffman and Walter M. Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study (FAA-RD-77-26), September 1976, 24.

(8) Hoffman and Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study, 29.

(9) Hoffman and Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study, 57.

(10) Hoffman and Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study, 56.

(11) See Use of Distractions During Pilot Certification Flight Tests (AC 61-91), January 25, 1980.

(12) See Stall and Spin Awareness Training (AC 61-67B), May 17, 1991.

(13) FAA, Stall and Spin Awareness Training (AC 61-67B), May 17, 1991, 1.

(14) FAA, Stall and Spin Awareness Training, 10.

(15) FAA, Stall and Spin Awareness Training (AC 61-67C, Change 2), January 6, 2016, 9.

(16) FAA, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (AC 120-111), April 14, 2015, Appendix 1, 9.

(17) FAA, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, Appendix 1, 9.

(18) FAA, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, Appendix 1, 2.

(19) ICAO, Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, 2014, 3-9.

(20) ICAO, Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, x.

(21) FAA, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, 1.

(22) DPE Tips (Vol 1, Issue 3), August 2016, 1.

(23) DPE Tips, 2.

(24) Hoffman and Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study, 56.

(25) Hoffman and Hollister, General Aviation Pilot Stall Awareness Training Study, 57.

(26) Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, Pilot Training Reform Symposium: Preliminary Report (June 6, 2011), 29.

You can find the official SAFE position and recommendations here.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.

Flying Lesson: Scenario Training

Two scenarios from the airline world, and why they matter in single-pilot airplanes…

Scenario 1

The First Officer of a Regional Jet operating under a code-share agreement to a major airline, who is also a FLYING LESSONS reader, related a recent experience. About 10 minutes after departing from a major hub airport a flight attendant (FA) telephoned the cockpit informing the crew that a passenger was having a medical emergency. No one had responded to the FA’s query of the passengers to see if any had medical experience. The FA indeed had past medical experience and was caring for the passenger as much as conditions permitted. The FA recommended the crew land to deliver the passenger to skills medical assistance.

bigstock_Pilots_In_The_Cockpit_3489727The Captain agreed, and handed control of the aircraft to the First Officer (FO). The Captain (CA) then began coordinating with company dispatchers over the radio while maintaining contact with the FA to track the passenger’s condition. The FO assumed “single pilot” control of the jetliner, running checklists, setting up for a visual approach and “working the radios” with Air Traffic Control (ATC), and flying the airplane—alone—while the CA continued to monitor the medical emergency and relay information to company dispatchers.

With only about five months’ experience flying jet airplanes and with zero experience in single- pilot operations in a crew-required jet other than a couple of simulator “incapacitated captain” training drills during new-hire indoctrination, the FO programmed the avionics, configured the aircraft, prepped and briefed for the visual approach. Reported winds were almost directly across the runway, and while doing everything else alone the FO computed the wind to be “right at” the jet’s maximum crosswind component as limited by company procedures.

The FO flew the approach without monitoring or callouts from the CA, and made a “challenging” crosswind landing. By the CA’s own choice the CA was out of the loop until the airplane was on the ground and they were taxiing to a gate. An ambulance crew met the airplane at the gate and took charge of caring for and transporting the passenger.

According to the FO, the company’s manual calls for the CA to take charge of any inflight emergency. The CA apparently interpreted this to mean handing all flight responsibility to the FO and assuming personal control of company response communications while also remaining in contact with the FA who was caring for the passenger. The FO told me that this was indeed what is called for in the regional airline’s operating procedures.

Scenario 2

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-5-05-57-pmThis one I probably don’t have to explain. I’m talking about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” as described in the recent theatrical release Sully. I was able to see the film recently, and am working on the assumption it accurately portrays at least the inflight portion of the story it tells (I suspect some other aspects of the story were embellished to heighten tension, notably the conduct of the NTSB investigation and hearing, which likely was treated with some license—a movie needs an antagonist, and there’s no tension from blaming the birds).

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sully_(film)

Here’s a synopsis of the story, from the website linked above: On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilots Captain Chesley “Sully”

Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles board US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Barely three minutes into the flight, at an approximate altitude of 2,800 feet (approx. 850 m), the Airbus A320 hits a flock of Canada geese, disabling both engines. Without engine power or airports within a safe distance…Sully decides to ditch the aircraft on the Hudson River. Sully manages to land the aircraft in the Hudson without any casualties.

It’s a very good movie, and it also highlights an issue I mention frequently in FLYING LESSONS: the delay between the onset of an abnormal or emergency condition that causes even a highly proficient pilot (or crew) to delay actions necessary to get the aircraft safely on the ground (or water), because of the “startle factor” and denial of an unexpected event followed the typical pilot’s actions to attempt to remedy the situation before finally deciding decisive action is needed.

As part of that reaction the crew accomplished memory steps of the published emergency procedures, additionally taking an educated leap to accomplish some of the procedures out of order to improve the chances of success…the movie does not explain why, but Sullenberger turned on the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) sooner than the sequence of checklist steps called out, presumably to provide some additional thrust as well as assure continuation of electrical power (the APU is a fairly strong jet engine of its own, mounted in the tail, that would add some to the A320’s glide ratio).

Throughout the emergency the two acted as a crew. Sully took the flight controls (Skiles was Pilot Flying on that leg) and commanded his FO to run the Dual Engine Flameout checklist. After quickly determining that a “controlled water touchdown” on the river was their best option they probably referenced the Ditching checklist, but that was not portrayed in the movie. They advised the passengers and started the well-trained reaction of the cabin crew. A good leader, once all was done and they were committed to the water landing, Captain Sullenberger asked his First Officer if he had any ideas—knowing that no one pilot can always have all the ideas alone.

LESSSONS for the single-pilot

I emphasize that in both cases—the Regional Jet and US Airways 1549, the flight ended without fatalities. In both cases the crew appeared to do everything the “book” told them to do. In the case of the Regional Jet all but one passenger and crew were delayed, but were able to fly out on the same aircraft later the same day. In both cases what’s really important, leaving no one at the scene of a crash, was the result.

But what do you think is the big difference between the way these two events were handled by the flight crews?

Think about that for a moment……

I’ll wait.

OK, here’s my take: In the case of US Airway 1549, the cockpit crew worked as a team. Although the situation, as it turns out, was unprecedented, they processed checklists the way they had been trained just in case there was something that could have fixed the problem or at least improved their chances. In the heat of the moment it would have been easy to forget to do something that calmer minds had documented in the checklists years before, when the stress was not affecting their thinking and they had time and other resources to come up with the best possible procedure. Sully and Skiles did what they had been trained to do. Most importantly, in my view, they flew the airplane as close to normal as they could, removing as many variables as possible. When they had completed everything training and experience prepared them to do, they went beyond their training and did what they had to do for the passengers and crew to survive.

In the case of the Regional Jet, at the onset of a medical emergency the crew abandoned almost everything it had been trained to do. The FO was left to fly single-pilot in an airplane and using techniques he had never done before, flying a high-workload return to a busy hub airport to land at the edge of the airplane’s approved crosswind envelope without the help and quality control check of a second pilot. Frankly, other than assure an ambulance crew was waiting for the passenger when they arrived at the gate the CA added absolutely nothing to the passenger’s care or chances of surviving the medical condition—that was up to the flight attendant. However, the CA could have done a whole lot more to assure a safe and expeditious arrival at the gate for all the passengers, including the one needing attention, by remaining engaged as part of the cockpit crew and retaining command of the high-workload return and challenging crosswind landing.

Yes, the FO handled this all well. But if he had not, the NTSB investigators might have been as unforgiving of the captain and the crew as they were portrayed in the movie describing the other event.

Here’s the LESSON for the vast majority of FLYING LESSONS reader, who do not fly as part of a cockpit crew, or if they do, may at times fly single-pilot as well. In an abnormal or emergency situation, do everything you can to make the remainder of the flight as normal as possible.

Use your training. Follow your checklists. Don’t try to land faster than normal, or slower than normal, or on a shorter or busier runway than normal, unless you absolutely have no choice.

Fly like Sullenberger and Skiles, following procedures that just might work until you confirm they do not. Only then, use your experience to go beyond your training.

Don’t abandon everything you’ve practiced and try to make up new techniques and procedures, especially while you’re under extreme stress and don’t have time to detect all of the status that may affect the outcome of your flight. Practice your normal, abnormal and emergency procedures until you know them well, then review and practice them regularly. You can’t expect to be successful operating outside the normal envelope in an extreme situation if you aren’t very familiar with where the edges of that envelope lay.

You might try to abandon your training. It might turn out OK. But your actions will be hard to defend—and if anyone get hurt, your guilt hard to assuage—if something does go wrong.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.

Who is *Your* Gatekeeper?

Several years ago I was invited by the FAA to give a presentation at a required training event for designated pilot examiners (DPEs). My talk was titled, “Do No Harm!” That title was taken from the oath administered to new physicians in which they are admonished to always leave their patients in better condition after their treatment than before. My presentation featured several reconstructions of accidents where the actions of CFIs and DPEs had been a contributing cause. Yes, there have been accidents, even fatal ones, on checkrides.

My presentation was just a little more than one hour, a small part of an all day event. As the day unfolded, the term “gatekeeper” was used numerous times by the several presenters. The group was told that the CFI must be the “gatekeeper” to make sure that all pilots are competent in their skill, knowledge, and decision-making.

By mid afternoon, my stomach was getting an uneasy feeling. I reviewed what I had eaten for lunch and decided that since I had passed up the chilidog for the turkey sandwich on wheat bread, food wasn’t at fault. That gnawing in my gut must be from what I was hearing. If the CFI is the gatekeeper, why had my research found so many instructional accidents in the past five years? Who is keeping the gate on the gatekeepers? The FAA? Hardly. They don’t have the staff necessary to perform even the most basic level of oversight.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.35.39 PMThen I had my epiphany. Most accidents, whether or not involving instruction, are not caused by a lack of skill or knowledge. They are also not caused by a lack of decision-making skills. Pilots making poor decisions cause accidents. How’s that again? There is a difference between having the ability to make good decisions regarding any aspect of a flight and actually making a good decision. A flight instructor can test the ability of a student to make good decisions but cannot effectively determine whether the student will actually make good decisions once certified.

Here is an example. An instructor may begin a cross-country flight into an area of deteriorating weather to determine if the student can evaluate the weather and make an appropriate decision on whether to continue, divert to an alternate airport, or return to the departure airport. From my experience as a flight instructor I can state that 99% of the time the student will make an appropriate decision. But that is an artificial environment in which the student advances only by making the safest possible decision. The real environment encountered once the pilot is certified has many outside determiners. The pilot’s decision may be influenced by the need to get to the destination on time, the costs associated with diverting to an alternate location, ego, machismo, or others factors.

PrivateTestRobBgSo my point is simply this. Neither the flight instructor nor the designated examiner can really be the gatekeeper. We must all be our own gatekeepers. We have the tools to make the right decisions. We must make those appropriate decisions every time we fly.

I will relate a brief personal story. In the late 1970s I was a faculty member at an aviation college in Florida and I supplemented my income by flying part-time for a charter company. I was required to take a Part 135 checkride with an FAA inspector. As luck would have it, I drew the inspector with the hard-posterior reputation. I was nervous about the ride and I tried really hard to do everything by the book. The inspector really put me through the wringer and I was drenched when the ride was done, even though it was a cool day by Florida standards. During the debrief, the inspector not only told me that I had passed, but told me that it was one of the best rides he had given. Before my head could swell too much he said that he wanted to give me some advice. He told me that he was well aware of his reputation as being tough to please. He said that he was also aware that I probably wasn’t as diligent when not on a checkride. Then came the advice. He said, “If you want to have a successful career in aviation and live to get old, make believe that I am in your jumpseat on every flight and make all your decisions accordingly.” Those words stuck with me through more than 15,000 accident-free flight hours.

So in summary, I learned early in my career to be my own gatekeeper and I would encourage all pilots to do the same.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun.