To Err is Essential (For Learning)!

The art of the “teachable moment” requires opportunities for self-correction and growth.

There is a critical balance of control and freedom in teaching (or learning) flying. Obviously we do not want to proceed entirely by trial and error. But on the other extreme, too structured an environment, with no breathing room for error (entirely modeling perfection), does not create efficient learning either. To achieve optimal progress, a careful balance of structure and freedom is essential. Room for errors but with protected boundaries is the goal. The art of providing this optimal environment for experimentation while maintaining safety is the critical job of the professional CFI. It requires both the confidence and skill to provide a “loose but safe” learning environment for your student. “Why did that happen, and what can we do to fix this unhappy situation” is the hallmark of an experienced educator rather than taking the controls away and lecturing.

The strongest learning situation is created when small goofs happen that result in self-correction with guided feedback from the educator. Often called “teachable moments” these experiences have been shown to be the strongest learning tool. Mistakes should be viewed as “opportunities to learn” not shameful missteps. Controlling an instructional period so tightly that nothing can drift is most often an error of the newest, way-too-nervous CFI. The looser, scenario and correction method leads to faster, more durable (and higher level) learning. I love the Jeppesen Curriculum title of “Guided Discovery” for this reason. Obviously, in critical areas of flight, or with a inexperienced or unpredictable student, to much freedom would be unwise. Discretion and educator skill/comfort in each flight regime are essential for safety.

Some other advantages of self-analysis and correction are building a more resilient pilot, capable of pushing through problems and persevering when difficulties occur (and we know they will!) Perfectionists unfortunately tend to crumble when their plans turn to mush and unanticipated circumstances wreak havoc with a flight. We need fully-functioning error-correcting pilots for safety when the fertilizer hits the fan. Also, the courageous spirit of error correction fosters a “growth mindset” of a lifetime learner, so essential in our continually evolving aviation world.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Free Tech Tools for CFIs (and Students)!

Turbocharge your teaching (or learning) with these free online demonstrations.

Perhaps the greatest source of humor around our flight school is watching CFIs attempt to convey aeronautical concepts on the white board. “This is a plane” is usually where the laughing begins. We aren’t paid (or trained) to be artists. And though your acquiescent student usually plays along, they often derive nothing from these time consuming efforts. Great news though: Bold Method has some wonderful animated CFI tools that work for either the student or for the CFI (and they are FREE online). Access these tools and turbocharge your teaching (or learning)!

These play nicely on your phone or your tablet device and immediately provide usable, transferable learning to your student. No time is wasted explaining “what you meant” with your white board artistry, and the concept can be put to work in the plane and debriefed again later. For students, these tools can be replayed for complete comprehension.

Thank-you Bold Method. The whole collection with links is posted on the SAFE homepage and free for everyone to use; let’s all work together to build better, safer pilots!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

The Dangers of Aviation Automation: Rust!

Why “fat, dumb and happy” is a bad formula for safe flying; turn off “the magic” occasionally!

We all enjoy the benefits of technological tools while flying. This can be a full up autopilot coupled to a navigation system, or just the wonder of a fully loaded iPad providing nav, weather and traffic over the ADS-B network. The paradox of automation is that as these wonderful systems do all the work, our piloting abilities inevitably erode. My weekly personal wake-up call is getting out of the Pilatus PC-12NG I fly daily and into my 1947 Champ (nothing automatic there!) 

Our charter company policy in the Pilatus is to allow the automatic system to do almost all of the flying; pilots inevitably get rustier! The complexity and reliability of modern aircraft automation has made these systems opaque to the pilot, and taken pilots completely out of the operational loop (pilots are seen as a “source of error”). But automation also inevitably fails and throws control back into the hands of the pilot(s). The poster child for the perils of automation dependence is the Air France 447 accident where three tired and rusty pilots flew a perfectly good Airbus 330 into a full stall and into the ocean.

There are three basic interrelated problems with automation operating a machine in the place of humans (and this pertains also to nuclear reactors and self-driving cars). First, automated system mask incompetence in the operator; they make operations easy and fool the pilot into a false sense of capability and induce complacency. Second, as mentioned, automation continually makes us less skillful by removing the need and opportunity for practice. Third, automation “tunes out” minor irregularities in the operating machine, masking these anomalies until the point of failure (or disconnect) when the problem is larger and the challenge greater (as in airframe/prop ice accumulating). These are all nicely cataloged in “Crash” a longer article by Tim Harford. The antidote is obviously more hand flying and a humble attitude toward personal piloting skills. I prefer to fly the plane and use the automated system as the back-up or “relief pilot”.

There is another more subtle implication of automation identified by the decision researcher Gary Klein. Not only is manual skill and control being erased by automation, our cognitive decision-making abilities are increasingly replaced by computer algorithms. In the face of automation we stop analyzing, working the brain and trying to get better! This is a problem with all forms of diagnosis and decision. A savvy technician will very adamantly avoid any suggestion of what a solution might be to avoid tainting their diagnostic skills. These experts only want to hear the symptoms; “please don’t tell me what you *think* it is!” Veteran meteorologists are the same way. They sometimes can generate a much more accurate forecast *without* the automated assistance (but this requires a highly-skilled thinker). The automated system performs better than the beginners every time. But you never get good if you don’t do the work; another harmful paradox.

So how do we gain and retain human excellence in operational and cognitive challenges? The answer is simple: practice more hand flying, calculating and just plain thinking. We all can be lazy, but it is essential to get out there and do the real work, make some mistakes and fix them. Practice is the only answer to keeping your edge; grab that yoke, make the decision, work the calculation or operation and use the automation as a back-up. Once you have the manual skills back, work the interface with your automation so that is also smooth and familiar. You will stay sharper and be ready when the “magic” inevitably fails!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

“Unlearning” is Essential for Pilot Education!

As educators, we often stumble right out of the starting gate if we begin with “this is how it works…” By doing this we fail to address (and help unlearn) preconceived notions already present; how it does *not* work! It might be better to first ask your student how they *think* a complex process (like a climb) works and once this is exposed, carefully modify and correct any errors and build from there. As Mark Twain said;

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

As educators we have to dig deep to discover these misconceptions and aggressively correct them. This fascinating field of “unlearning” is finally being popularized and elaborated at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Dr. Chris Dede.

As an example, I am sure you have been “entertained” at social events by friends and associates trying to explain aerodynamics in untrained, and usually totally inaccurate, terms. Since we evolved walking the earth, this long history has deeply embedded an intuitive operating theory that is badly flawed (and dangerous) in flight. What could be more natural (and wrong) than just pulling harder to get away from the ground rushing up to meet us? Or that automobile habit of cranking the “steering wheel” left and right to make a turn? Obviously, a little more nuanced understanding is essential for safety. It is illuminating to finally understand that every new pilot you attempt to teach already has this bad code rattling around somewhere in their head and hands. BTW; I find that many pilots approaching certification on flight tests still retain badly flawed versions of aerodynamic reality.

I am also convinced this is one of the root causes for many loss of control accidents that plague aviation. Everything is working fine until a pilot is forced out of their “comfort zone” of normal and thoughtful flight and into an area where immediate, accurate response is necessary. In their startled reaction they often revert to their more primitive (and flawed) subconscious reactions and lose control of their plane. We absolutely must rewrite this deeply embedded code with correct habits and reactions.

As you delve deeper into adult learning, you will find that at every level there are ideas and habits that need to be “unlearned” to import new knowledge. Every experienced educator knows the horror of “fixing” a person with flawed instruction or habits (if it can really be done at all?). It is often painful to even establish the need for this correction (“buy in” is only step one in this twelve step program). The purging of entrenched knowledge and habits seems to take forever. Try to discover misconceptions before you “build” and let me know how that works? Thanks for reading and fly safely.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!