“Hope, Luck, Appearance” – Dangerous Delusions!

In aviation, we meet people every day that carry certificates and endorsements that should guarantee a certain level of knowledge and performance. Unfortunately, this is often not entirely true. In our modern society, hope, luck and trust in outward appearance are the norm. But beyond the surface facade, facts often reveal that people are really renting that fancy car (or girlfriend) and their amazing house is way behind on payments (or owned by dad). Most people in our modern society are not exactly what they pretend to be (or think they are). Dishonest presentation may be intentional but sometimes people are unaware of their deception and are fooling themselves as well.

Humans are excellent liars. We don’t like to think of ourselves as capable of lying; it hurts us too much to admit. So we lie to ourselves about that, too. …this type of dishonesty is far harder to detect and admit. It is the kind of lying that comes from not being psychologically strong enough to be honest with ourselves about who we are.

As pilots we cannot afford this deception or “magical thinking.” Our lives depend on honest skill and verification of factual data. The primary job of a DPE giving a checkride is verifying (checking) the endorsement by the recommending CFI that the pilot applicant meets the ACS standards. DPEs don’t teach, they just say “yes” or “no.” And this skill in one every CFI (and even pilot) needs to develop and exercise daily for safety.

To be effective as an aviation educator, step one is to interrogate and validate the certificates, experience and talent presented by your learner. This assures an honest baseline level of ability and makes the instructional process much safer and more effective. The “missing elements” are usually well hidden and need to be actively searched out in the first flight together. A worn 50 mission leather jacket does not assure any pilot competence (more likely the opposite). And teaching to an “assumed level” of skill is not only useless and frustrating, it can also become a dangerous experience. If a complex maneuver is not working in flight, deconstruct it and try a more basic version using the same skills. If the patternwork has a problem, deconstruct the elements and practice them individually away from the pattern pressure. Then reassemble the “pattern pieces” on return. It is amazing how effective simple slow flight (at altitude) can be to solve “flare and landing” problems.

I was hiring a new CFI from a large university aviation program who energetically demonstrated an aggressive “skid to landing” when he believed he was slipping. Another super-CFI landed everywhere on the runway (except the centerline) and thought my guidance to “hold the centerline” was the demented dream of a grumpy CFI. Flight tests provide similar surprises in a more calibrated environment. Every day in flight has its surprises. Again, the goal is to discover these oddities and missing elements before they become dangerous.

We are all familiar with the FAA lesson plan form in the FAA Instructor Handbook. I always advocated for an important addition to this boilerplate form. Adding “prerequisites” before the new lesson content assures that foundational requirements are present *before* we attempt new growth and progress. Whether we realize it or not, every flight lesson assumes a level of competence as the point of departure. If the pilot you intend to teach chandelles cannot coordinate a simple climbing left turn out of the traffic pattern, your lesson plan is doomed before you even begin. It is essential to determine and teach to the actual skill/knowledge level of the pilot, not just what their certificates tell you. Courage and self-confidence are necessary piloting traits to a degree, delusion and hubris are just scary. Fly safely out there (and often!)

“Checkride Ready!™” is on the (newly updated) SAFE App this week. (If you have it installed, just close and reopen for updated app.) This new section is directed toward pilot applicants and shares the common problems DPEs see repeatedly on check rides (pink slip). Download the (free) SAFE App. today!

Author: David St. George

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

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