“YouTube Roulette” – Verifying Your Information!

Red you win! Black = “Game Over!”

As a thought experiment, imagine you are at a food buffet with a wide variety of options freely available to you. The only problem is half are nourishing and good for you and the other half will make you sick and might even kill you. And the most attractive might be the most poisonous. Welcome to the world of YouTube (and the internet) as “aviation education!” The internet is a great tool to disseminate valuable information but we have to continuously remind ourselves it is also very good at propagating myths and fallacies. And as humans we are often too willing to believe and reinforce our own personal biases – just look at our current political climate?

On a check ride a while back, a CFI applicant terrified me with a monster skid turning base to final and described it as a “slip to landing” – Game over, no replay! (Can you imagine him spreading this error to 20 new people a month?) His source was a 30K airline pilot online who very clearly described this erroneous maneuver as “an easy way to slip to final” – “just add bottom rudder and hold aileron out of the turn.” (Please don’t try this!)  The source seemed valid with credentials and lots of other useful information. But this totally wrong and dangerous information was a “poison pill” mixed in with useful hints. The result was a very unhappy (and unsuccessful) applicant.

In another case, I recently watched a well-credentialed online CFI from a bigger school (with a pretty well-produced series of training videos) teach and simultaneously perform a chandelle (presumably to help commercial applicants). This maneuver was so far from correct it was embarrassing. It really could have been a perfect demonstration of “common student errors” instead. And guaranteed some unfortunate student is going to believe this video and show up for a flight test and fly this procedure as a model (it happens). Game over!

Your pilot knowledge and skills should be a protected vault of trusted learning and techniques that has to be verified and correct. It should never be a public thoroughfare of opinions, but firewalled from everyday casual inputs. It is essential to suspiciously examine and test every opinion or recommendation you take in against known valid sources before importing it into your operating system. Bad information is like malicious computer code in a system -it can fire off an inappropriate or dangerous action at the worst time. And once you acquire and reinforce a bad habit it is very difficult to eradicate.

As a CFI and examiner, I see bad techniques and erroneous ideas way too often – this is both online and elsewhere given as advice or “education.” Personal online sources are just the easiest “vector for the virus” – clicks are dollars and truth is rare! Everyone with a GoPro is an “expert.” Unfortunately, being able to tell good from bad in “aviation truth” almost presupposes a certain advanced level of skill and knowledge – coupled with a discerning bull$hit detector. So step one is carefully verifying every source and “fact.” Choose your reliable, trusted providers and verify the information against known industry “references.” For aviators, these are the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook or Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. All the FAA manuals and handbooks are available FREE and you can take that knowledge to the bank. Peer review and careful screening ensure good content.

In addition to the FAA source material, the quality of “trusted providers” in the industry for years are also solid and online learning here is wonderfully convenient and useful offering a variety of perspective.  Information from Sporty’s, King Schools, Bold Method, GoldSeal, Gleim, Pilot Workshops, etc is almost universally helpful. These large “trusted providers” all have extensive product development and review systems to filter out errors.

The danger of questionable safety culture and errors is largely found in the Vlog “home movie” crowd trying to be exceptional and stand out with some unique perspective or exciting angle. Remember, homebrew YouTubers create content to be sensational and attract attention solely for fame and profit; “pimp my channel.” They are not necessarily intended as good guides for safe procedures or standard acceptable practices. (Hold my beer and watch this…)

Similarly, finding a good CFI with trusted advice, effective techniques and a compatible demeanor can be challenging.  The first person a school “assigns” might be the wrong person for you. As the “consumer” (paying the bill?) you are entitled to select your own professional and to a certain degree decide your training. Especially in aviation, I would never say “the customer is always right,” but in matters of compatibility, you are the boss. Execute your due diligence and check their credentials. Remember, you will “become this person” in your future flying behavior.  The reason they call an FAA evaluation a “check-ride” is that the DPE is “checking” the work of a CFI that did the training (and of course the final demonstration of skill, knowledge, and judgment). The CFI creates the pilot over 40-50 hours together, molding techniques, knowledge and to a certain degree attitude. The DPE is very simply just the “gatekeeper” with an hour or two to decide “yes or no” based on an objective standard the FAA enforces. Many times on flight tests, it is abundantly clear that the reason for an applicant failing was (unfortunately) the “source”- their CFI’s errors and omissions. It is worth shopping carefully for the best CFI to do your aviation education. And as you persist beyond your initial training, YOU are now the arbiter of your “aviation truth” so shop wisely. Fly safely (and often!).


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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

17 thoughts on ““YouTube Roulette” – Verifying Your Information!”

  1. Nice article, but is your organization closed to women? Or is it just easier to have pictures of all men?

    1. Hi Barbara,
      As one of the original nominating committee members when SAFE was created, I can assure you that women are very much encouraged to become a very big part of SAFE. JoAnn Hill was another member of that original nominating committee and the last chair of SAFE was Donna Witt. I encourage you to assist us in getting all the girls and women who want to fly to actually get involved. That goes also for any other under-represented subgroup of people who want to fly. Flying and wanting to fly should have no sexual, racial, or political component or barrier.

      1. Yes, SAFE is certainly inclusive (if not actually female-centric). JoAnn Hill was the leading force in creating SAFE and Sherry Rossiter, ATP/CFI in both airplanes and rotor, is still a major force guiding the Board and our future growth. No offense intended by a picture grabbed from the internet…

    2. Seriously? Are you going to gripe because there isn’t a picture of a woman on this page? That is so childish! I wholeheartedly support women in aviation, but not feminists in aviation. Please refrain from ridiculous complaints that obviously aren’t true.Do you really think he is closed to aviation? NO.

  2. I agree, the article is interesting. Ditto for Barbara’s timely comment that I think addressed our norms and culture. Could she be pointing out an opportunity to discuss our norms, perceptions, biases, and communication styles?

  3. Bad information is not limited to YouTube. The concept of “teardrop” pattern entries has gone viral at our local airports. The terminology originated in a Plane and Pilot magazine article. I have talked to several flight instructors that claim this is standard, FAA-approved terminology. It is not, and the propagation of this terminology is a safety of flight issue.

    1. It’s true the FAA doesn’t use the term “teardrop,” but they did draw a picture of it, and it does look like a tear drop. So long as people actually follow the guidance in the Advisory Circular (90-66, which Plane and Pilot repeated), why would the mere “terminology” make it “a safety of flight issue”?

  4. You have to admit, there’s an irony in using the internet to give advice about being cautious about getting advice off the internet.

    It also opens you to the same critical examination. For example, you wrote about “why they call an FAA evaluation a check-ride.” I grant that you don’t say who “they” is, but according to the “reliable, trusted” sources you listed (the PHAK, as well as the ACs), the FAA refers to them as “practical tests,” not “check-rides.”

    That aside, your advice is correct: You can learn a lot of things by watching examples on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean what you’re learning is either correct or safe.

    I guess you need to tell the comic artist to draw women more “stereotypically” to avoid offending people who don’t recognize them as women — which will, of course, offend someone else. For my part, I try not to spend too much time assessing the physical characteristics of those I’m interacting with (or looking at drawings of), and instead try to engage the human being that they are.

  5. This filter you speak of needs to be up at ALL times, not just on the internet. My POH contains some less than desirable practices.

    “As soon as the airplane is airborne: retract the gear, reduce RPM’s to 2550, retract the flaps, establish a climb-out attitude” Do you really think it’s a good idea to retract the gear, reduce power, and retract flaps BEFORE establishing a climb-out attitude?

    Filter, filter, filter, don’t just blindly follow!

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