Wright Brothers Character Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

CFIs Are Not All Equal: CFI-PRO®!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?” Asks Stan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Join SAFE for more tools and to resources for greater educational professionalism. Your membership supports our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)!

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

Seasonal Safety: SANTA!

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

Click this image to open a full pdf version in a new tab!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Safety=Caution Vs Courage!

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

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

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

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

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

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Congratulations New CFI!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, remember you are just starting…there is a LOT to learn. Join our professional organization (Join SAFE); we provide resources, camaraderie and mentoring.

Your membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!