VFR “Pink Slip” Problems!

Many critical pilot deficiencies uncovered during FAA “oral evaluations” are also weak knowledge areas for ALL pilots.  Every pilot needs to thoroughly understand these problem areas for greater safety. So here is a radical idea; the FAA ACS can be a wonderful tool for improvement even for certificated pilots. Maybe you “passed” your pilot test years ago (and missed some sections- or used the older PTS)? Here is a crib sheet for pilot improvement based on the Airman Certification Standard (ACS). It is also perfect for CFIs conducting flight reviews or preparing candidates for a test!

The items below are “pink slip items” – critical knowledge – from DPE evaluations of VFR candidates.  Dig into these areas and test your own understanding for future flight safety. And please add your own personal “aviation pain points” below in the comments.

Risk management is a central structural component of the ACS (and aviation safety). Evaluating pilot judgment was the major change transitioning from the PTS to ACS. The core understanding here is that FAA minimums in every area are *not* “flight recommendations” but regulatory boundaries. The classic bare-bones “one statute mile visibility and clear of clouds” in Class G airspace is a perfect example. This minimum condition might be utilized safely in rare cases by a very experienced pilot but it is certainly inappropriate for a newly certificated pilot. Proper risk management requires “personal minimums” at a much higher (safer) level – creating a “margin of safety!” Risk management is also systematic, objectively separating what might be barely “legal” from a “safe and smart” operation! This same logic carries all through the FAA regulations and operations: e.g. night flight requires only control guidance from a compass, airspeed and altimeter (no AI required). As another example, a pilot can *legally* fly solo day/night for 23 months and 29 days after a flight test or flight review with no subsequent training or experience; just don’t take innocent passengers – get three TO/L first. This is technically “legal” but we can all agree it sucks for safety!

Pilot Qualifications; This is the first Area of Operation and often where your flight test will start; be sharp here for good first impressions! You need to know pilot privileges and limitations – what can you legally fly (or not)? The permissiveness of the FAA here frames the rest of the oral discussion. You did all your training in a C-152, can you (legally) walk out after the flight test, start up a Cherokee 180 and go flying? Is this a good idea? Does risk management come into play with determining reasonable pilot actions?

Know all the limitations in 61.31 (high performance, complex, tailwheel, high altitude) and how you acquire those privileges. Do you add a seaplane privilege the same way? Also remember the 90 day requirement for passengers (and can they pay you?) as well as the flight review (61.56) requirement.

Airspace limitations – required equipment and pilot actions: All pilots seem to be weak on airspace – and this even includes proficient IFR fliers for whom most airspace disappears! The confusion is especially obvious decoding Class E and G airspace boundaries and limitations.  Just yesterday, I had a PPL applicant claim a magenta airport with a dotted magenta dashed line around it was a “Class Delta (towered?)” airport – nope! The magenta dashed line is where controlled (Echo) airspace extends down to the surface, and the higher viz of 3 sm is required with additional separation from clouds. Most pilots do not understand this provides a safety margin for IFR inbound traffic. A “surface Echo” is often an indication that the non-towered field has lots of IFR flights or an ILS approach. (Interestingly, the FAA has not kept up with LPV approaches to the surface by protecting the airspace in a similar fashion). If a Delta airport goes IFR, can we fly VFR in the surrounding Class E surface area (much larger than the Delta)? It is not uncommon for pilot applicants with over 100 hours at their home field to not even know what airspace they are flying in during all their flight training.

System knowledge and required instruments: What instruments are required to be installed and work for legal VFR flight? Many applicants happily quote the “A TOMATO FLAMES” acronym but then cannot remember or apply this rote formula to  real conditions! When asked what the three required flight instruments for VFR flight are (91.205) very few applicants can come up with the altimeter, airspeed and compass. Many will insist an attitude indicator is required for day (or night) VFR or that a leaking and inoperative compass is not a problem for their flight. My advice to my students to build a lasting and useful mental model is to “visualize the most simple plane like a J-3 or Champ” and think of what is in this plane. I call those very few required instruments the “sacred seven.” Just add required instruments and indicators as the plane becomes more complex.

Inoperative equipment: If something is broken in the plane, can we legally fly (91.213)? IF it is legal is it “safe” and does it meet the requirements of a specific “kind of operation.” What actions are necessary to make this plane legal to fly? The FAA guidance is that every airworthy plane has to meet the requirements of the original type certificate data sheet (TCDS) – as new. If *anything* is inoperative, the plane is immediately unairworthy until a pilot analysis is made to determine if the inop. equip. is legally necessary and/or essential for safety.  Can a pilot “properly alter” the plane so it is legal for flight (91.213)? Is a mechanic required? Is a maintenance sign-off necessary? e.g. every pilot (and most CFIs) will tell you if your ELT is inoperative (scenario: the ELT antenna has snapped off) the plane has to be grounded (check 91.207 carefully…)

Failure to calculate the required data: Despite pre-test discussion and recommendations, few pilots effectively analyze the weather or calculate their performance (W&B, take-off landing distances). It is not uncommon for a pilot to not have a taxi diagram or even know the length of their home field runway where they have done hundreds of take-offs and landings.  91.103  – “all available information” is often criticized as too broad, but also names specific calculated data on the five primary causal factors of fatal accidents: “the killers.” How long is the runway and what is the aircraft performance today? Do I have enough fuel and is the weather checked and satisfactory (see personal minimums above)? Have I investigated and planned alternates and looked at delays (NOTAMS)?

Human Factors: I am feeling headachy and nauseous in flight, what is the probable cause and pilot action? WIll O2 provide immediate improvement?  When does a pilot need o2? Does everyone get hypoxic at 12,500 after 30 minutes? A growing number of pilots involved in fatal accidents have illegal drugs in their bloodstream (28%) My passenger is suddenly looking excessively nervous – pasty white and incoherent. What might they be suffering from?

Preventative Maintenance: There is a common joke that one of the most dangerous hazards in aviation is an airplane owner with a toolbox. What can a pilot legally accomplish as “preventative maintenance” and how do we do this? Can a pilot replace a wing nav bulb? Are logbook entries required? Is a maintenance manual (or previous training) required?

Privileges and limitations: Can a newly certificated pilot who has only flown a Cessna 150 legally rent and fly a Grumman Tiger? Again the FAA is pretty permissive, but personal cautions should be in place to keep a pilot safe. In all aviation operations, what is legal and what is safe or smart are often quite different and distinct standards. What logbook inspections must a pilot know and verify to assure an airplane is “airworthy?”

Risk mitigation plan: While planning a cross-country flight, what are the major risk factor areas the FAA recommends a pilot investigate and mitigate (P-A V-E) The ACS requires a risk management plan that specifically addresses these items. “Being cautions” is always good but having an actual defined plan with objective standards is essential. All the other scenario questions from maintenance to equipment and airspace hinge on risk management. How can a private pilot applicant show up at a test and have not heard about P-A-V-E? Some flight instructor badly failed this person.

Systems knowledge is a weak area for most pilots at all levels. Almost any question about “pieces and parts” or technical information seems to often be deadly on check rides. Scenario: “I am flying along on that assigned cross-country and the red ‘low voltage’ light comes on (or other ‘non-charge’ indication). What are the pilot’s immediate actions? How long do I have and what will fail? How will a pilot bring this flight to a safe conclusion?” Answers to questions like these often reveal limited knowledge and a lack of both command authority and the use of resources. If it wasn’t so sad, some of the explanations on how planes work would be very funny. My personal favorite is how the fan belt drives the propeller for thrust.

Preparation for safe piloting requires a lot of imaginative “what if” thinking (and then research of questions discovered). Applying knowledge and creating a plan is essential for safe execution. The ACS-focused knowledge areas where pilots often struggle during flight tests are great review topics for every pilot. Be creative in your imaginative “problem creation” because mother nature sure can be. Make sure you go into the test with all the required documents and endorsements (on the Toolkit App) Fly safe out there (and often)!


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)

Effective Educator = Learning/Growing!

Student progress and learning are primarily determined by the quality of the educator. Though 50% of the variance in educational effectiveness is the “raw material” that students bring to the table, fully 30% of variance is determined by the skills and attitude of the educator. Environment and equipment figure in at less than 10%

But unfortunately, lack of student progress is often dismissed with all kinds of incriminating accusations pointed at the learner when too often the real cause is the skill and motivation of the teacher. As my mentor would say “if the student has not learned, the CFI has not taught.”  And the best way to improve and keep the motivation going for an educator is to continue to grow and learn; experiencing humility in the face of a new challenge. Most CFIs embrace the role of “expert” readily but this can unfortunately easily segue into the pompous and annoying “know-it-all.”

The critical difference is that an expert retains a “growth mindset.” This worldview leaves open the door to continue growing and learning. Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella transformed their viciously competitive workplace into a collaborative team dramatically increasing their effectiveness and profitability – he calls in a “learn-it-all.” The change is all about “Growth Mindset” (Carol Dweck). Remaining an eager learner with open possibilities requires a degree of curiosity and humility that fosters a better relationship with the student; “partners on the road to greater excellence.”

Humility seems especially rare in aviation. If the standard 70% of drivers claim to be “above average,” (Lake Wobegon effect) probably 95% of pilots think they are “better than average” (and in charge). Though it takes a lot of confidence and strong personal belief to pilot successfully, it is essential to dial this back to be effective as an educator (two very different roles in aviation). We close the door on learning when we are so self-sure! Arrogance and impatience are toxic to a learning relationship. Educators need to willingly accept student experimentation, fumbling, and self-correction by staying in touch with their own personal learning adventures. Fly safe out there (and often).

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).



Human Factors: Maintaining Control!

This week’s blog is by Hobie Tomlinson (see bio below). With 40K hours and 9 type ratings, Hobie developed much of what we now call CRM when he was a 747 captain at TWA. Here is an excerpt from our SAFE resource library (free to members )…enjoy!

Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) are the abilitis of the crew (or pilot) to manage all available resources effectively in order to ensure that the outcome of the flight is successful.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) is most often used in general aviation and it is focused on single-pilot operation. SRM recognizes the need for pilots to seek adequate information from many available sources in order to make valid choices. Pilots must continue seeking this knowledge until they have obtained the proper information to make the best possible decisions under the existing circumstances.  Once a pilot has gathered all pertinent information and made the required decisions, the pilot must then continually assess the actions taken in order to ensure that they continually yield the desired outcomes.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) integrates the following disciplines:

Situational Awareness (SA) is the accurate perception of operational and environmental factors that affect the flight. It is a logical analysis based upon the aircraft, available external support, the operational environment, and the pilot. In plain language, it simply means ~ “knowing what is going on.”

Proper Situational Awareness is not simply just having a mental picture of the aircraft’s location; but rather, it is the continual mental maintenance of an overall assessment of all the elements which comprise the current flight environment and how each affects the flight. A pilot who maintains good situational awareness is knowledgeable of all aspects of the flight and consequently is able to be proactive in his decision-making process.

Conversely, a pilot who has poor situational awareness is typically missing several important pieces of information and is thus forced to regress into a reactive style of decision-making. A pilot with poor situational awareness lacks a vision of potential future events and is thus forced into making decisions quickly when unexpected events occur, often with very limited options. An example of poor situational awareness and reactive decision-making would be a pilot who does not adequately keep track of his flight’s progress (or the destination weather) and suddenly finds himself faced with destination weather which is below landing weather minimums and inadequate fuel to reach his filed destination alternate! (This accident actually happened to a Cessna Citation crew in Wilmington, NC.)

During a Typical IFR Flight, a pilot usually operates at several levels of situational awareness. For example, a pilot may be in cruise toward his destination with a high level of situational awareness when air traffic control (ATC) issues a revised routing consisting of an unexpected Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR) due to traffic volume. Because the pilot was not expecting that particular STAR and is not familiar with it, situational awareness is temporarily reduced. However, after becoming familiar with the STAR and resuming normal navigation on the new routing, the pilot again returns to a high level of situational awareness.

Factors which Reduce SA include the following:

        • Distractions
        • Unusual or Unexpected events
        • Complacency
        • High Workload
        • Unfamiliar Situations
        • Inoperative Equipment
        • Fatigue

Lack of Situational Awareness (SA) is almost always a precursor to an aircraft accident. The lack of situational awareness can be identified by the occurrence of one or more of the following events:

        • Failure to Stay Ahead of the operation by anticipating upcoming events.
        • Ambiguity ~ when two or more independent sources of information do not agree.
        • Fixation or Preoccupation ~ when the focus of attention is only one item at the exclusion of all others.
        • Confusion ~ the feeling of uncertainly, anxiety, or puzzlement about
        • No One Overseeing the task
        • Uncertainty about the current state of the task
        • Use of Undocumented Procedures (i.e. Shortcuts)
        • Departure from Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) ~ either intentional or unintentional.
        • Violating Task Limitations (or Standards)
        • Failure to Meet Task Targets (or Goals)
        • Unresolved Discrepancy
        • Incomplete Communication

In some situations, loss of situational awareness may be beyond the pilot’s control. As an example, a vacuum pump failure (or Primary Flight Display – PFD- screen failure for you technically advanced aircraft – TAA – types out there) and the associated initial loss of the heading and attitude indicators could cause a pilot to suddenly find his aircraft in an unusual attitude. If this situation occurs, established and trained procedures must be immediately used to reestablish aircraft control and restore situational awareness.

Pilots should be aware of the loss (or reduction) in situational awareness anytime they find themselves in a reactive mindset. To regain situational awareness, immediately reassess your flight situation by seeking additional information from other sources such as your flight and navigation instruments, air traffic control, uplinked weather data or flight service.

Flight Deck Resource Management (CRM or SRM) is the effective use of all available resources which include the following:

        • Human
        • Equipment
        • Information

Flight Deck Resource Management focuses on communication skills, teamwork, task allocation, and decision-making. While Crew Resource Management (CRM) usually concentrates on pilots who operate in crew environments, the elements and concepts also apply to pilots who operate in single-pilot environments (Single-Pilot Resource Management ~ SRM).

Human Resources include all personnel routinely working with the pilot(s) to ensure the safety of the flight. These people include, but are not limited to, the following: dispatchers, schedulers, weather briefers, flight line personnel, fuelers, maintenance and/or avionics technicians, pilots and other crew members, and air traffic control personnel. Pilots need to effectively communicate with all of these people. This communication is best accomplished by using the three key components of the communication process. These three key components are as follows:

        • Inquiry
        • Advocacy
        • Assertion

Pilots must recognize the need to seek enough information from the above resources to make valid decisions. Once the necessary information has been acquired, the resultant decisions of the pilot must be passed on to the individuals who are affected by those decisions. These individuals may include air traffic controllers, passengers, other crew members, fixed base operators and/or people awaiting the arrival of the flight. The pilot may need to request assistance from others in implementing these decisions and in some situations, this may even require assertiveness for all issues to be safely resolved.

Equipment Resources in many of today’s Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) include automated flight and navigations systems. While these automated systems provide relief from many of the routine flight deck tasks, they present another set of problems for pilots. The extensive programming required by automated systems tends to increase pilot workload during the least “structured” (and often rushed) preflight phase of the flight operation. It is imperative that pilots allow adequate time to correctly program their autoflight systems before beginning to taxi the aircraft and avoid any “heads down” time while taxiing. This is one of the most important steps for preventing runway incursions and/or other taxi deviations.

While Flying Enroute the automation, which is intended to reduce pilot workload, essentially removes the pilot from the task of managing the aircraft, thereby reducing the pilot’s situational awareness and promoting complacency. It is important for pilots to continually monitor the information provided by the flight, navigation and weather displays of Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) in order to assure that they maintain proper situational awareness. Pilots must be thoroughly familiar with the operation of; information presented by, and correct management of, all systems used (automated or otherwise). It is essential that pilots remain fully aware of both their equipment’s full capabilities and all its limitations in order to manage these systems effectively and safely.

Information Workload and automated systems (such as autopilots) need proper management to ensure the safety of the flight. A pilot flying in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) is often faced with multiple, simultaneous tasks, each with a different level of importance in ensuring a safe outcome to the flight operation. A high workload example of this occurs during the initial stages of an instrument approach to an airport. The pilot must be able to obtain the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) or Automatic Weather Observing System (AWOS) weather, review the applicable approach plate, properly plan his descent in order to be able to slow and reconfigure the aircraft by the Final Approach Fix, correctly program the communication and navigation radios – including all required automation systems – communicate with Air Traffic Control and complete all the required checklists.

The Pilot who is able to effectively manage his workload will be able to complete as many of these tasks as early as feasible in order to eliminate the possibility of task saturation (becoming overloaded) caused by last-minute ATC changes and communication priorities during a later and more critical stage of the approach.

Figure 1-11 (above) shows that the margins of safety are at their lowest point during this stage of the flight operation. This is where the majority of accidents occur. A large part of the reason for the high accident rate during this portion of the flight is that when a pilot delays (or forgets) routine tasks until the last minute, there is a large possibility of the pilot becoming task saturated and stressed. This task saturated condition will result in a large erosion of the pilot’s performance capabilities and probably even produce a negative safety margin!

Proper Task Management is a requirement for performing safe flight operations. Because humans have a finite (i.e. limited) capacity to absorb information, once the data stream exceeds the pilot’s ability to mentally absorb and process all the required information, task saturation results. When this data stream (information flow) exceeds a pilot’s ability to mentally process the information, any additional information will become unattended and/or displace other tasks and information already being processed. Once a pilot’s task saturation (officially called “channel capacity”) level is reached only the following two alternatives exist:

        • Shed the unimportant tasks
        • Perform all tasks at a less than optimal level

Automatic Task Shedding is a natural event during which the brain rejects incoming data in order to reduce its processing load. This prevents the brain from “locking up” as a computer will do when its processing capacity is exceeded. Because the brain is trying to reduce incoming data during “automatic task shedding,” it will always reject (dump) the most complex task first. The problem with allowing automatic task shedding to occur is that the most complex task which the brain automatically deletes will also be the most important task! This is why a pilot experiencing automatic task shedding will start “majoring in minors.” This is evidenced by the pilot performing some totally irrelevant minor task while a critically important, major task is being completely ignored.

New Flight Instructors are taught to identify task saturation in situations such as when observing a task saturated student concentrating on a minor task (such as resorting their approach plates) while a major event (such as the aircraft rapidly departing controlled flight and entering the very unusual attitude phase) goes completely unnoticed. (Another sure sign is the “glazed over” eyes.) A task-saturated pilot will also be relatively unresponsive to instructional input until his task load is significantly reduced. Just as in an overloaded electrical circuit, either the (information) consumption must be reduced or a circuit failure (automatic task shedding) will be experienced. During flight instructor training, they are taught to remember that a student-in-training is like a violin string ~ “They can only produce good music when they are kept under the proper tension!”

Circuit Failure (Automatic Task Shedding) is prevented by learning to always prioritize tasks (from most important to least important) and to recognize the signs of impending task saturation (an apparent sense of “time compression” accompanied by elevated stress levels). When these signs of impending “task saturation” appear, the pilot needs to implement “manual task shedding” to prevent automatic task shedding from occurring.

This is done by working the prioritized task list from the top down (most important to least important) while simultaneously discarding tasks from the bottom up (least important to most important). This process is continued until the task list is completed or the available time expires. Sometimes it is possible to increase the available time (i.e. requesting a delaying vector from ATC) when vital tasks (such as abnormal or emergency checklists) require additional time to complete before attempting a landing.

The pilot who is able to effectively manage his tasks and properly prioritize them will have a successful flight. (For example, do not become distracted and fixate on some minor problem – such as an irrelevant system malfunction.) This unnecessary focus is a sign of impending task saturation and any irrelevant focus further displaces a pilot’s capability, thus preventing his ability to undertake tasks of greater importance. By planning ahead and properly managing cockpit workload, pilots can effectively reduce their workload during the critical phases of flight.

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).

Misinformation is Human! (in Flying Too!)

Among all the great lessons of the last few weeks, one should be abundantly clear; we humans eagerly embrace and hold passionately to half-truths and misinformation, and we love to be “right.” And as a species, we tend toward self-surety and obstinate, over-confidence – the dreaded “know it all!” This is a genetic, evolutionary adaptation that makes us fast to react and adapt – but humans are consequently weak on self-doubt, nuance, and verification. This tendency to act assertively on partial information and heuristics has allowed us as a species to conquer the globe, adapting and living from the arctic to the equator. But we have seen this tendency in politics, fueled by social media, can also make us all passionate enemies and cause great harm.

Unfortunately, in flying if we do not curb half-truths and haste and carefully verify our information, it can make us dead (Darwin award?) Hope and intuition do not work well with the aerodynamic of control, this game requires science. Gravity works all day, all night, all year long.

Misinformation (and associated mishandling of the controls) is a leading cause of Loss of Control-Inflight. It is essential for pilots and educators to foster and retain a flexible, self-questioning attitude. We must always be ready to check and refine our closely held theories and techniques, continually improving and learning. Misinformation can come from the “internet buffet of YouTube misinformation” but many errors and misconceptions are even deeper than that – built into our human operating system – 200K years of walking not flying.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

As educators, it is our critical professional responsibility to study, verify and transmit only true facts regarding aerodynamics and control. We must dig deep into our learner’s understanding (questions/discussion/performance) and root out deeply embedded misinformation; we all drive cars and have embedded two-dimensional habits.  Our human “naive rendition” of what makes planes fly and turn IS WRONG! Daily driving habits need to be identified and isolated from our flying skills. Safe flying requires different skills and continuous educationnot intuition.

Many SAFE presenters have repeatedly reported from public presentations seeing the pervasive misunderstanding of turning flight among pilots and even CFIs. Usually, of attendees polled, >70% believe the rudder or ailerons create and sustain a turn. And like all humans, they are passionately committed to their misinformation. I was tracking a FaceBook post on this subject, where the poster was very gently trying to convince misguided pilots and CFIs that the elevator really controls the turn. Many pilots have never transitioned fully from the 2-dimensional world of driving and misunderstand the basic turn; the aileron application supplies the desired bank angle and rudder cancels the yaw the elevator is supplying the force that creates the turn.

A great tool to illustrate the forces in a turn is the Bold Method CFI java tool you can load and run on your tablet. This simple demonstration should precede the first introduction to turning flight (or we are reinforcing an error!) Rich Stowell’s excellent presentation on “Learn To Turn” is FREE in the SAFE public resource center and covers this topic thoroughly.

Educators have to irradicate misinformation and help a new learner grasp the true forces at work in flight if we are to make safer pilots. Regarding long-time pilots laboring under misconceptions, good luck with changing those entrenched minds, we all know that is harder than building skyscrapers in our current climate of  “I’m right/your wrong (and stupid)” Fly safe out there (and I recommend some self-doubt and humility in everything!) Have fun.

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).