Avoid DPE “Hard Stops” on Check-Rides!

The SAFE App was created to facilitate CFI/DPE collaboration and ensure a smoother, less stressful check ride experience (and ultimately smarter, safer pilots). Better communication among all parties involved prevents unfortunate surprises on check-ride day where an applicant encounters a "hard stop"  due to errors or misunderstanding - missing endorsements, insufficient experience, or inadequate skill/knowlege). Here are a couple common problem areas (some recently clarified by the FAA).

The “long” student cross country can be confusing due to the incomplete description  in 61.109. This regulation does not “stand-alone” but depends upon 61.1 (definitions) which requires a “landing at a distance greater than 50nm” to count as cross-country when training. The “push toward minimums” encouraged by many schools, can leave pilot applicants unqualified for their certificate on test day (a bad surprise)! Another subtlety in 61.109 is the requirement for “full-stop landings” in the regulation which also creates problems for unhappy applicants. Repeating expensive training due to a technical error is  frustrating. CFIs and flight schools need to know these regulations and their subtlties.

It is not just students and CFIs who are confused by this regulation, there are DPEs who have been accepting the stand-alone description in the reg (with an insufficient cross country) as legal. That is why this subject is covered in the national DPE training for 2021.

Another recent check-ride “hard stop” involves confusion over logging the required instrument time for the commercial pilot certificate. DPEs have been advised to not simply accept an instrument rating as evidence of accomplishing the instrument training required in 61.129. Careful reading reveals unique flight elements and a different emphasis for commercial aircraft control vs original instrument flight training. CFIs should make sure the more comprehensive commercial training is correctly completed. Another legal problem is the CFI conducting the required instrument training in 61.129 (commercial) must possess a CFII. If completed by an airplane instructor it is invalic. At the end of this process, add the 61.129 endorsement to the original instrument training endorsement or add the additionally logged hours to satisfy the tegulation. The original guidance in the Hartzell Letter of Interpretation has been clarified in a more recent 2018 Letter of Interpretation to the AOPA.

The lack of a 61.39 “meta-endorsement” is another problem that will stop a flight test before it gets started. This required endorsement verifies that that the recommending flight instructor has flown the required time in preparation for the checkride (usually 3 hours in the last 2 calendar months). Also in 61.39 is the (required) assurance that the CFI corrected the items found to be deficient on the knowledge test.

§ 61.125 Aeronautical knowledge.

(a) General. A person who applies for a commercial pilot certificate must receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor, or complete a home-study course, on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought.

Failure to log required ground training is often a “hard stop” that will prevent a checkride from proceeding. All ratings and certificates specify some ground and flight training. This should logged and available for the examiner on test day. There is no specified number of hours in part 61 training, but the areas to be covered are listed and some recorded ground instruction (varies with the DPE) needs to be part of the application package. A ground school graduation is a perfect example, but part 61 training is often conducted one-on one. PDF formatted tables for logging ground time are available on the SAFE Toolkit App.

All these “gotchas” are also essentials for every CFI preparing for their initial check-ride. Aviation educators are supposed to know all these nuances (and much more) so they correctly prepare their applicants for flight tests.

In addition to the above cautions, SAFE has created a stand-alone (more comprehensive) product to clear up check-ride confusion called “Checkride Ready!™”available on the SAFE App. This material was also published in the blog for VFR and IFR (more on the way!) Fly safely out there (and often)!

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Teaching Maneuvering – The Hardest Job in Aviation!

Why are newest, inexperienced CFIs usually tasked with teaching the most vital lessons on basic aircraft control? Loss of Control is the leading fatal accident causal factor - maybe we should rethink this? The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable!

Tradition seems to dictate that the first couple of flight lessons are relegated to the newest, least experienced flight instructors. This mistake probably comes from the theory that these are the “safest lessons” (?) where nothing can go too far wrong. In reality, this first exposure to flight is the most difficult and complex educational experience to manage properly. Early lessons require endless patience and an astute ability to read and react to different problems and personalities. Most CFIs with more than 500 hours have become too frustrated and have lost their ability to cope with the glacial pace of initial learning. Ironically, this original exposure to flight control is the most vital learning experience. These lessons require the most experienced and careful educator to succeed. Older CFIs who are parents are often the best people for these first lessons (emotional intelligence). The missing elements they supply are patience and empathy. The “type A” go-go pilot personality is actually poison to successful pilot education.

If this initial instruction goes wrong, your new flight student will either quit (common) or they will learn incorrectly and forever be uncoordinated and unsafe. As a result, many pilots fly with incomplete understanding and control, sometimes contributing to our LOC-I statistics. These early flight lessons are where an educator has the greatest opportunity to make a difference and move the needle on safety, but it is also the hardest job in aviation.

A brand-new person learning to fly is in a completely alien and frightening environment. As adult learners, they are competent in other pursuits but are suddenly an awkward beginner in a potentially dangerous new world; exciting and scary all at once. The educator must understand this and commiserate with this new pilot-in-training to create a bond of trust. This process needs to go slowly; exploring and adjusting expectations to this new (and potentially frightening) world of flight. Adult students will seldom admit to their fear, but instead carefully mask their emotions. Every person taking flight training has some expectations of what this experience will be like, but just about every person also needs to recalibrate, and psychologically adjust as they assume control of the airplane and assimilate these new experiences. Every new student also has the burden of negative transfer from driving and “naive rendition” (established false beliefs) to unlearn and overcome.

There is nothing intuitive about aircraft control. The only paradigm most pilots-in-training have from life is their driving experience and this is a totally negative transfer. Not only do we not control or “point” the airplane with the “steering wheel” but a driver is numb to the force of yaw from sliding in a car seat for years. A pilot has to learn to sense and cancel yaw from lesson one. It is vital for any careful and caring flight educator to explain and eliminate any similarity with driving, right from the beginning.

The first required task in flying, a straight-ahead climb away from the runway, is like starting a course in mathematics at calculus – one of the most difficult maneuvers to understand and master is first. A straight climb requires a lot of explanation to understand the required canceling of yaw and maintaining wings level.  Though most educators do a passable job of explaining the “why” of the left-turning tendencies, very few explain that rudder application also creates roll just as aileron application creates yaw. Pilots need to understand this interrelationship right from the start. Most pilots with incomplete understanding and training, climb out (occasionally) coordinated but seldom with wings level. It takes aileron against the rudder (cross-coordinated) to climb level. This effect is largely masked in low-wing trainers, especially the “marshmallow” PA-28 series. For this reason, the ideal platform for teaching pilots coordination is a high wing or tailwheel aircraft. If you have ever taught power transition to a  glider pilot who has mastered cross-coordination spiraling in thermals, you will understand how valuable this skill is to a new pilot-in-training.

When level at altitude, the first essential lesson is stability and trim. Nervous new pilots strangle the yoke (or stick) in their nervousness and need to learn to relax and learn to trust the airplane. Demonstrate straight and level, all trimmed up and then also a 30 degree banked turn all trimmed hands-off (arms folded). A good trainer will happily maintain a constant bank, hands off, until the plane runs out of fuel. This demonstration is a real relief for most new pilots.

Next up is the “ugly turn.” Demonstrating a turn with no rudders (driving) results in the nauseous swinging of the nose opposite from the intended direction due to adverse yaw (eyes outside directly over the nose). We all see this mistake even in rated pilots flying high-performance planes – they never learned coordination! Most pilots bring the driving habit with them and are at first looking in the direction of the turn and never see (or feel) the adverse yaw caused by aileron. Make sure your pilot is looking straight ahead when initiating any turn. Rolling back and forth on a point with eyes straight ahead, outside, is a great practice to develop a sense of rudder and aileron harmony.

Also essential in these early demonstrations is ensuring your pilot-in-training has their back against the seat and is sitting straight up, not leaning to compensate for yaw. A critical takeaway from these early lessons is “sensing yaw.” It is amazing how accepting we can be of yaw from driving and sliding sideways in the car seat.  We cannot “accept yaw” in controlled flight – we need to cancel it for efficiency and safety.

Next, demonstrate how sudden power application or firm pitch up both cause a force to the left. Your new pilot will now begin to understand the challenge of the initial climb off the runway. You should combine these in a straight climb with enough rudder to cancel the yaw force and also some opposite aileron to fly wings level (cross-coordinated). “Patterns at altitude” are essential to master all the basics of control away from stress of a busy runway pattern. This drill and repetition will take several hours to achieve a reliable imprint. Usually, for the first lesson, straight, coordinated climbs and descents is enough. The turning climb would usually be added and refined in the second lesson.

It is an unfortunate fact that just about every pilot skids around the left-hand traffic pattern. Few pilots understand that right rudder is essential to achieve a stabilized left climbing turn – many pilots never realize this until they attempt the more aggressive chandelles. In your second lesson, you need to fly lots of climbing turns emphasizing this counter-intuitive requirement for right rudder. It is perfectly OK to just keep turning in a spiral to give your pilot-in-training time to achieve and feel the benefit of coordination (evident in performance as well).

It is also surprising to new pilots that a stabilized climbing turn to the right (with right rudder) will overbank and require aileron to the left (again the integrated effect of the ailerons and rudders). Pilots will naturally assume that the same control pressures that work turning left can be applied to the right – NOT! At the heart of all the confusion is the inter-related control effects, the fact that the P-factor and spiraling slipstream always pull left. In a stabilized turn in either direction, lift is equal on the wings and the left pulling force is at work creating yaw. A non-symmetrical pilot action is required and “cross-coordinated” is seldom explained fully.

To a flight instructor, all this early control practice can seem tedious and boring, but it is absolutely essential that pilots achieve full understanding and coordination or they will forever be a dangerous pilot. Actively empathizing with the challenge helps keep these early lessons exciting. Celebrate each step toward mastery and true control, but do not accept incorrect procedures or a rushed syllabus. If you proceed to quickly into stalls – before coordination is natural – the result will be some ugly and scary experiences for your pilot-in-training (where most people quit!). Get enough sleep and breathe slowly; early lessons are absolutely the hardest – for both CFI andpilot-in-training. Good “parental patience” – with a dose of compassion – makes this work. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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).


Pilot/CFI/DPEs Replaced By Technology?

Tech tools in all forms have transformed our lives – but especially for pilots! Well-written applications, appropriately applied, save hours of drudge work sourcing and integrating data. They also add a level of safety by freeing up brain cycles en route – allowing intelligent oversight of the larger picture.  Dependable technological assistants are undistractable and vigilant when monitoring and maintaining precise control.

But technology is a two-edged sword. Safety requires a vital level of suspicious mistrust to maintain command. The burden of all technology is knowing when to step down a level or disengage if the system becomes too complicated or untrustworthy – red button! And it is always difficult to maintain proficiency in the original manual skills since technology can be so effortless and dependable. Have you panicked after forgetting or dropping your phone? You have experienced an advanced form of “automation dependency.”

Humorous accounts of people following their phone mappers into the ocean while looking for a bar have a more serious side when lives are lost through blind dependency; we have all read those accident reports! Rule one with all tech is staying proficient in the basics and then understanding and managing the complicated systems we use.  It is essential to always maintain PIC awareness and never be driven by the technology.

Achieving that proper balance and defining and maintaining limits for technology is a difficult, contextual, and somewhat personalized problem. The most ardent cave-dweller must confess the utility, convenience and potential safety benefit of a modern mobile phone. But even the most eager tech adopters might hesitate to upload a flight plan into a fully autonomous airplane to send their family for a X-C trip?

The realization of the necessity and value of human monitoring and intervention resulted in the the “Safety 2 Paradigm” in aviation- human oversight is often essential to the safety with complicated technological systems. This has been widely under-appreciated.

So how far do we trust and enable these “intelligent assistants?” This applies both to pilots flying and also to CFIs and DPEs in training. US Airlines require a minimum crew of two. Most 121/135 flights cannot be dispatched without a fully functioning autopilot. It is very plausible that in 5 years commercial flight will be prohibited without a similarly functioning autoland system. Pilots might soon be bragging about logging a few “manual landings.” Autoland might soon become a “required tool” with a few lives saved and industry acceptance. Insurance companies (and your significant other) might demand this greater level of technological redundancy.

On the CFI side, Cloud Ahoy “flight instructor assistant” (widely used by the USAF) records and grades every flight with amazing detail and flags problem areas. Redbird GIFT provides mentored maneuvers for students with access to a Redbird simulator; “instructor in a box?” Properly applied, these programs do not replace the CFI, but save money and time and are available when a CFI might not be. Ultimately these tools force CFIs to be better versions of themselves; “compassionate coaches” rather than grumpy irascible “pattern-matchers.” The technology is always available, cost-effective, and emotionally neutral. CFIs must increasingly step up their game and provide the added value of human connection and coaching. Understanding and properly deploying these tech tools can create greater efficiency – not a”replacement pressure.”

And what about DPEs? Would a CloudAhoy data file be adequate to fully evaluate a flight test candidate for a pilot certificate – a “DPE replacement?” Already,  Starr Insurance accepts a CloudAhoy graded flight (on their integrated App) for insurance discounts. This almost seems like the “instant replay review” used by umpires and referees on the field. Hard to catch everything in the heat of battle? Will the FAA soon require a digital file for verification?

 Community Aviation is cleverly leveraging remote technology to connect  Master CFIs with clients all over the world. SAFE Master Instructors Doug Stewart and Rich Stowell are now available to pilots all over the world for IFR and VFR instruction. This robust service also powers the EAA Pilot Proficiency Program (now EAA Proficiency 365).

Lastly, the FAA seems to have tacitly approved the use of video monitoring as a legal substitute for an FAA inspector on board. Both DPE “required annual review” and required 135 check rides are now are being flown with GoPros on board instead of an FAA inspector (driven largely by the COVID necessity). Suddenly I feel the need to go fly my 7AC Champ; life was simpler in 1946. But technology is not going away; find your balance. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and support our advocacy for CFI-PROfessionalism, DPE reform, and fixing the FAA medical mess. You also get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and new CFI-Flipbooks for primary training. 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).

The FAA Medical Mess

We have all seen pilot friends suffer through denials and endless expensive testing to retain or regain their flying privileges. Others have avoided doctors at their personal peril to maintain their flying status. On the other hand, some have just "passed" their FAA medical only to die suddenly from a heart attack.
Many pilots avoid medical procedures, therapy or necessary counseling just to maintain a "clean medical history" and suffer daily. Our FAA medical system needs a full re-examination and overhaul. This article was written by a long-time FAA insider who has personally suffered through these issues and wishes to remain annonymous.

The stated goal of the FAA’s medical certification system is to support safety by ensuring that those operating in the NAS are physically and mentally capable of performing their duties as pilots or controllers. However, the aeromedical system presently operates in a way that does not support this goal. On the contrary, it undermines safety because it strongly incentivizes “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior among airmen.

In the words of one long-time aviator, pilots quickly learn never to conflate managing their FAA medical certificate with managing their actual health. The FAA medical system is widely perceived as capricious and punitive. Suggesting the existence of a medical condition to an AME or, worse, revealing anything requiring referral to Oklahoma City practically guarantees a deferral of unknown duration. Engagement with the FAA medical bureaucracy generally leads to a series of “because-we-said-so” demands for tests and procedures that are often expensive and almost never covered by insurance. In some cases, these tests are deemed irrelevant, unnecessary, or even harmful by the physician or specialist who knows most about both the condition and the airman.

The FAA justifies these demands in terms of “aerospace medicine.” These assertions are the subject of eye-rolling ridicule in the aviation community. Pilots at every level (private to ATP) and in every city can easily name at least one “go-to” AME for the expeditious handling of FAA medical certification paperwork. The flying public would be shocked to learn that five-minute FAA medical “exams” are the norm, whether for private pilots, active air carrier pilots with first-class medical certificates, and even special issuance.

As the safety record demonstrates, though, cases of pilot incapacitation at the controls are exceedingly rare. Those unfamiliar with the reality described above might attribute this result to the “effectiveness” of the FAA’s medical certification system. The truth is that those who cannot use BasicMed – an alternative Congress mandated because of the known vagaries in the FAA system – engage in some form of “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior. In the best cases, pilots work with a trusted personal physician to treat conditions they dare not reveal to the FAA. In the worst cases, pilots fearful of entangling with the agency’s medical bureaucracy simply avoid treating health conditions that could indeed lead to an accident or incident.

In terms of both process and the outcome, the FAA’s traditional medical certification system is clearly inconsistent with the agency’s Compliance Program, its focus on the use of Safety Management Systems (SMS), and its initiative for risk-based decision making (RBDM).

The Compliance Program seeks to find problems and use the most effective means to fix them before they cause an accident or incident. It recognizes that in order to find and fix safety problems, there has to be an open and transparent exchange of information and data between the FAA and those who operate in the system. It recognizes that safety is not served by a system that incentivizes hiding problems to avoid punishment. In the case of medical certification, pilots currently have no incentive to do otherwise because they fear the punishment of costly and seemingly endless entanglement with a broken bureaucracy.

Open and transparent exchange of information, which is essential to achieving real safety, requires mutual cooperation and trust and “just culture” – a system in which self-disclosure is not punished.

Such trust is notably absent in the case of FAA medical certification, which is viewed as a punitive “gotcha” culture. The FAA medical staff, along with designated Aviation Medical Examiners who stand to lose substantial income, despise and openly disparage the BasicMed option as “unsafe.” In fact, however, the non-jeopardy nature of the BasicMed certification process is consistent with both the Compliance Program’s “find and fix” approach as well as with the concept of a just culture. As one BasicMed pilot puts it, “Now I can have an honest conversation with my doctor without worrying how the FAA will punish me.”

The operation of the FAA’s medical certification system is also inconsistent with the agency’s much-touted “risk-based decision making” strategic initiative (RBDM). RBDM holds that in order to truly improve safety, the agency needs to make smarter, system-level decisions that are based on data and risk analysis. The FAA medical certification system, by contrast, uses a one-size-fits-all approach. It seems to regard virtually any medical condition at any certificate level as a risk that requires significant time, energy, and resources by both the agency and the airman who has been foolish enough to report it. Meanwhile, actual risk increases because airmen whose work requires something beyond BasicMed patronize the five-minute “go-to” AMEs and/or practice some form of the “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior described above.

As it currently operates, the FAA’s medical certification system also creates a substantial barrier to entry into the aviation workforce. For those considering an aviation career, a substantial investment of time and money is required to accumulate the 1,500 hours of flight time and the ATP certification level needed for employment in the industry. Those pondering whether to make such investments quickly become aware that even if they can qualify for issuance of an initial first- or second-class FAA medical certificate, they risk losing that certificate – along with the time and money already invested in training and logging flight time – every six months.

Medicine as a whole is currently "under the microscope" for it's pervasive profit motive. New procedures are marketed directly to consumers: "Ask your doctor..." Critics advocate for Gentle Medicine

"spurious disease categories are being invented, and existing disease categories expanded, for the aim of profit...the benefits of most new drugs are minimal and typically exaggerated by clinical research, and the harms of these drugs are extensive and typically underestimated by clinical research."

Join SAFE and support our advocacy for CFI-PROfessionalism, DPE reform, and fixing the FAA medical mess. You also get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and new CFI-Flipbooks for primary training. 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).