Sad Fact: We All Rust and Forget. FREE FIRC!

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know the secret to greater aviation safety: regular review and study, frequent training, and professionalism. Raising our level of currency and personal standards above the required “FAA minimums” in all areas would certainly lead to fewer accidents. Airplanes get an extensive annual every year with all deficiencies noted and corrected while their operators get a one-hour perfunctory review every two years!

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 1.08.43 PMAdmittedly there is no scientific proof of these assertions, just good correlational data and the airline model of discipline and safety. Professionalism and safety require time, effort,  money and discipline – all impediments that hold us back from pursuing this higher level. I also think there is an embedded “driving illusion” residing in many GA pilots: we learned this once and got it for life?! But 38,000 annual auto deaths argue otherwise (and no one is scared to drive to the funeral?!) Pilots operate in an even more challenging environment with greater consequences; continuous training required.

Pilots, as a group, tend to be pretty self-assured individuals (see pilot personality here). We all “think” we can analyze our own level of skill and personally assess our level of currency (my hand is up too). But honestly, humans are inclined toward optimism. Studies show 80% of drivers think they are “better than average” (and we know pilots are worse!). I also know personally from heading to Flight Safety every 6 months that rust and forgetfulness are a fact of life. We are only good at what we regularly do (center of the envelope). And none of us can really “surprise” ourselves with emergency procedures. When studying, we cannot “know what we do not know” either, we have blind spots. We need to work with a good instructor on a regular basis. FAA WINGS is a good format, knowledge source and reminder (and a new revamped version is on the way, take the survey here).For CFIs, the “every-two-year FIRC” (you bought the cheapest, good for the rest of your life model?) is a bit embarrassing and simple-minded. 141 chief instructors are required to renew every year. And the quality of these courses is amazingly variable. Let’s raise our level of proficiency and challenge ourselves a little here. We need to be especially sharp if we are going to be responsible for educating all future pilots. And bless the great guys at Sporty’s for providing a “no excuse price it’s now FREE, and this course is comprehensive and interesting; start your FIRC today…and stay safe out there!


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Building Awareness With the “Cooper Code”

Colonel “Jeff” Cooper, developed the “Color Code of Awareness” for the military to inspire self-assessment and vigilance. Warfighters know that situational awareness is just as important for success as physical skill or conditioning. A tuned-up awareness is critical for pilot safety too. “Fat, dumb and happy” is no way to fly safely. Unfortunately, we *do* see this attitude with lots of flying where the purpose is solely enjoyment when there is no obvious threat. It is only self-discipline that enforces a higher level of awareness and keeps us re-engaging our “what if” thinking for critical phases of flight. Awareness is something we can practice every day and in every situation- we don’t have to be flying.

Situational awareness is a mindset that you have to purposefully cultivate. You want to get to the point that it’s just something you do without having to think about it. To get to that point, you have to practice it regularly…Don’t be paranoid, just mindful.

IMG_2439Code White in this system represents total relaxation, the basic “fat, dumb and happy” where a person is not on guard or self-aware. This level is appropriate for viewing NFL with a beer, but a highly vulnerable awareness state inappropriate for any complex or demanding task. Code white is the most common human mental state;  “human screen-saver” mode. Psychologists call this the “default mode” as is most often internally focused and characterized by “mind wandering.” Psychologists estimate we spend 70% or more of our time on “autopilot.”

Code Yellow is “relaxed aware;” scanning and vigilant. Awareness in Code Yellow is wide-ranging but not specifically directed, kind of like ATC radar. Once we focus on a specific threat (“I smell smoke”) the mind moves to Code Orange – target acquisition. This state is “game on” with a higher attention level and a more narrow focus. This “specific alert” gathers more data but introduces some vulnerability because some global awareness is lost with focus. Code Red is characterized by intention – a plan is generated and action is taken. This is where the aviation paradigm “Perceive-Process-Perform” can be integrated. Aeronautical decision making is the best option within the constraints of time, equipment and processing power. Remember, “the perfect can be the enemy of the good.” Time to do that “pilot stuff.”

Code Black was added by the Marine Combat Warrior Program and is a state of too much stimulation or panic. This is a natural neurological state driven by instinct to assure the survival of the body when we are overwhelmed and panic. This state automatically prioritizes survival circuits like breathing and muscle activity (shutting down digestion, narrowing the focus etc). Unfortunately, here the brain is swamped with cortisol and adrenalin preventing consciously-directed action: “immobilized by panic” or “overwhelmed by fear.” We are consciously out of the game at this point.

As you can see, for a pilot engaged in flying, awareness at the Code White or Code Black level is inappropriate and harmful. Unfortunately, the fatigue of long hours or just boredom forces the mind down into the Code White level of awareness. The human neurological system needs novelty and surprise to remain alert; hours of “sameness” dulls the senses. Here is where self-discipline is critical to keep awareness in the yellow.

At the Code Black level, a pilot is overwhelmed by the “startle response.” Ideally, a perfect scan repeatedly switches from code yellow to orange “macro/micro scan” attending to details, tasks, and investigating hypothetical or potential problems (what if). It is essential to continuously shift back to “the big picture” about every two to three seconds. Remember “landmark accidents” like Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 where exclusive focus on a small problem led to loss of all situational awareness.

This is a good time to explain that the human mind really cannot “multi-task.” We only seems to do this by ‘task-switching.” It is a maddening fact of life that whenever we engage with fixing some detail, we get blind-sided by a surprise in the environment we missed due to our narrow focus on a problem (texting and driving). In flying, we best accomplish multiple tasks by switching “micro to macro,” in a very disciplined manner; tune a radio, then wide view for control, then back to the next specific task.

I personally add “meta” to my scan to add the time-line into the scanning process. “What’s next?” is always important since we are always moving and the most important thing after control is the next thing; “micro/macro/meta (timeline)”.

If all the ducks are mercifully walking in a row and I have a few extra neurons to spare I also personally add self-analyzing and looking for “blind-spots or counterfactuals” to my scan. This is actively challenging the plan in action to see if I missed something.  This is Don Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns.” This actively scans for “did I miss anything here?” and “am I thinking straight?” In a crewed environment, this might be an actual verbal question if it is a critical planning item. How many times do we fool ourselves by engaging in a plan and it either is on totally the wrong track or there was something important that was neglected that might change the whole situation (no fuel available at that destination I diverted to…) So “how can this go wrong” without being too paranoid is a good question to ponder occasionally. But conscious competence is a whole different blog. Practice your awareness and stay safe out there!


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

 

Active Learning; Rewire Your Brain!

What is the secret to getting really good at something? As in, how does one shabby Russian tennis club turn out more top 20 women tennis players in a year than the whole USA? What are the secrets of top performers (and their instructors)? Listen to this excerpt from the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. (Great performers are made not born) Rewire your brain with deep practice!

• Deep Practice–Everyone knows that practice is a key to success. What everyone doesn’t know is that specific kinds of practice can increase skill up to ten times faster than conventional practice.

• Ignition–We all need a little motivation to get started. But what separates truly high achievers from the rest of the pack? A higher level of commitment—call it passion—born out of our deepest unconscious desires and triggered by certain primal cues. Understanding how these signals work can help you ignite passion and catalyze skill development.

• Master Coaching–What are the secrets of the world’s most effective teachers, trainers, and coaches? Discover the four virtues that enable these “talent whisperers” to fuel passion, inspire deep practice, and bring out the best in their students.

Have you ever had a professional that excelled at everything in their life but was a painfully slow learner in the cockpit? Want a clue why this is a predictable (and solvable) problem? Read “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” by Chris Argyris. A shorter review is here. Spoiler alert;  these are people who never struggled with anything (everything they tried came easy) and they have never learned *how* to learn properly. And “double-loop learning” is valuable for accelerating everyone’s learning curve.

Double-loop learning is part of action science — the study of how we act in difficult situations. Individuals and organizations need to learn if they want to succeed (or even survive). But few of us pay much attention to exactly how we learn and how we can optimize the process.

If you have some free time (and who doesn’t) read How People Learn. This is an amazing book for educators and is  FREE  from the National Academy Press. You can download as a pdf or read online html (available chapter by chapter in either format) There are some amazing insights in this book for every educator! If you are like me you will realize the FAA preparation is a very perfunctory beginner course.

Have a great holiday weekend. More tools for educators from SAFE here  (and on our website). The single FAA  portal for the current COVID waivers, actions and news is HERE. Sorry, but there are still no extensions for flight training deadlines (despite promises of “soon”). Stay busy and keep learning!


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

 

Ready to React? “Reflexive Skills!”

Any fan of action sports, whether it’s football or air racing, knows that the greatest moves and memorable moments are not in the huddle (reflective) but during time-critical (reflexive *1) action. These “snapshot moments” are automatically deployed (but previously trained) skills that occur in a few microseconds. The reflective, thoughtful mind is not even in gear. We certainly should make plans (prebrief) on the sidelines or in the huddle, but the amazing moments come when the surprise blitz occurs and we must respond reflexively. This is true for pilots as well as in sports.

A fastball at 90mph takes only 4/10ths of a second (400 milliseconds) to reach the batter. It takes more than half that time, 250 milliseconds, just to make a decision whether to swing or not and execute that action perfectly. Psychologists still do not totally understand this subconscious process but some insights are available and important for pilots with time-critical challenges.

The neural circuit that makes this “snap judgment” to swing (or not) and tunes the response correctly, is not reflective and language-based. There is no time for this “slow thought.” Reflexive action is immediate and subconscious and comes only from hours of practice and rehearsal. These tuned-up brain circuits are developed through careful practice that is then myelinated for immediate, appropriate response. These memories are even stored in a different part of the brain (and this too requires a time investment). Though the practice and development occur as a methodical, conscious process, the resulting “immediate action capability” is then stored like books on a shelf ready to go with the correct triggers from the environment. Scenario flight training can develop judgment for the “when” but drill and repetition are essential to sharpen these reflexive pilot reactions.

Our action timeline for pilot decisions varies considerably depending on the challenge of the day.  In most operations, we have time to research, plan, and adapt a fairly predictable flight. And most challenges we face allow time to consider and decide a plan of action. But there are definitely moments in flying that require immediate, reflexive action that must be both appropriate and accurate to assure safety. These challenges require confidence and an appropriate “automatic” trained response.

In aviation the times that require “reflexive action” are usually during take-off and landing or when “surprises” like loss of control inflight occur. These are time-critical and the brain circuit at work here is not the reflective (language) part, but the embedded, trained reflexive part. Not surprisingly, this is also where most accidents happen. (We spend only 5% of our time in the pattern, but 60-70% of accidents occur here.) Similarly, startle and loss of control require immediate and appropriate reactions, but this is the primary cause of fatal accidents. In both areas, drill and repetition practice is required to build the necessary basic skills for “immediate action” responses and safety. Without this practice, we are stepping up to the plate for a fastball and complacently capable of only a slow pitch game.

Many researchers talk about “cognitive unavailability” when analyzing LOC-I or landing accidents. But cognitive (reflective) brain function is not involved here at all.  During time-critical reactions, especially with “startle incapacitation“, it is the “reflexive,” immediate action brain circuits that must respond appropriately to save us. These deeply-trained “reflexes” are either honed sharp from appropriate and recent practice, or we fail and crash (see “startle response“)

To be clear, cognitive “rehearsal” before every expected challenge is valuable to prepare for potential surprises (e.g. pre-take-off briefing) This highly effective technique improves pilot response by creating an alert state of mind (“code yellow“). But the kinetic skills in time-critical maneuvering must be automatic and appropriate, ready to deploy. Any “out-of-the-blue” surprise is going to require the subconscious implicit brain domain not “cognition.” There is a lot more to examine and explain in this area of operation – especially tips for the instructors who need to build these skills. We will examine those in future articles.

Please visit our “WIngs Up” YouTubes from Gold Seal this week and enjoy some aviation learning and FUN during the CV-19 lockdown. We’ll be flying more soon!*1) “reflexive” is used herein as “subconscious, habitual and unthinking behavior, not subject to conscious reflection or review”


SAFECFI-PRO™ workshop is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).