Start Honest; “Engagement Letter!”

An “engagement letter” is a simple statement of professional responsibilities, duties and expectations. Most often lawyers insist on these agreements as a first step before beginning any professional relationship. And that is because most lawyers have extensive experience with human suffering and “misunderstandings.” Start with the facts and expected outcome but also imagine what might go wrong.

The primary purpose of an engagement letter is to assure a clear understanding on both sides; standards and expectations. We know every person’s perspective is different several months into any relationship – but especially after lots of time, money and effort are invested. I think a document like this could go a long way toward curing the ridiculous 80% dropout rate in aviation training (it can provide protections on both sides if properly constructed). Better to start honest with defined terms and also a commitment toward a mutually agreeable outcome.

The flight training relationship is almost comically one-sided favoring the flight training provider. They have significant overhead and capital investment, bonded with a very thin margin in an unstable business environment. The over-eager flight student, usually ignorant of the true difficulties and hidden expenses can be an “easy mark.” Unfortunately, it is also easy to fool yourself (the provider), into believing you are helping an eager client by getting them flying immediately. But aviation is a long game, for everyone involved, and I recommend serious honest appraisal and planning at the start. Lay out the facts, but also sell the sizzle – we all became pilots and obviously still love it.

The whole aviation industry suffers when you promulgate the “big lie” of “faster/cheaper/easier.” People sold a bill of goods quit as quickly as they start and give our business a bad reputation. And sometimes blood gets shed when incomplete learning and lower standards lead to stupid accidents. Ultimately, educators do better with honesty – working with students who fully “buy in.” An honest relationship from the start builds clients who do their homework and ask for another hour to really master control. The good students accept responsibility and honestly want to be better (not just “get by”)! These are the people you actually like and want to fly with.

So “start honest” and reveal the wonderful opportunities; the challenge and adventure, the satisfaction of real achievement. Share the passion and some amazing experiences. But also reveal the facts; it costs a lot, takes real effort and the at times mother nature holds all the cards. Appeal to their sense of happy longevity and safety; it kinda sucks to suffer in a hospital bed.

In the final analysis, honesty is the essential ingredient for safe flying, for both yourself and others. Physics is not “bendable” or “forgiving.” Pilots who are sold a lie and succeed anyway often display “magical thinking” in their flying activities. These are the pilots who try to “stretch gas” and “cheat weather.” And we all know this only works for so long until the luck runs out -“what were they thinking?” They got sold a lie right from the beginning. Start honest with real numbers. It wasn’t easy, or cheap, but it was worth every penny. Fly safely out there (and often).

Get the FREE SAFE Toolkit App  (FREE). This contains all the new ACS knowledge test codes plus all the required pilot endorsements and experience – right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight is sweet!)

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business – honest!) Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM And get discounts by rating your flying with CloudAhoy on the Starrgate App.


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)!

Get the FREE SAFE Toolkit App  (FREE). This contains all the new ACS codes plus required pilot endorsements and experience right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM And get discounts by rating your flying with CloudAhoy on the Starrgate App.


Commercial Flight Maneuvers for Everyone!

Commercial-level pilot maneuvers provide a wonderful challenge and new skills for every pilot. These are not only fun but teach correct rudder usage when flown properly. Many pilots at the private level do not understand or apply correct rudder inputs. “Rudder deficit” is a primary reason for LOC-I. Search out a qualified instructor and take your flying to a higher level of proficiency with some commercial maneuvers. Learning new skills and extending your flight envelope creates greater flight safety and is also great fun! These maneuvers are a gateway to an upset recovery course and aerobatics – but these should be mastered first to get full value from this kind of advanced training.

Mastering commercial maneuvers requires an eyes-out aggressive flying style at the edge of the flight envelope. This begins with a thorough aerodynamic knowledge of the forces at work. The heart of all the commercial maneuvers is a concept called “cross-coordinated.” When you are climbing in a chandelle or navigating your way through a lazy eight you are often applying “crossed controls” to create coordinated flight. The control inputs and forces at work are not initially intuitive. Mastery requires study and practice to internalize a solid “feel” for the airplane during this more aggressive commercial-level maneuvering. And though all these maneuvers are “non-operational,” but you will be rewarded with much more precise (and safer) flying skills as well as a greater sense of confidence and control.

Step one in discovering commercial maneuvers is getting the eyes outside and rediscovering aggressive VFR flying; “yank and bank.” Most pilots in a normal flight training progression just completed an instrument rating (smooth standard rate turns with reference to their trusted instruments). Commercial training can come as a shock, requiring outside visual references and a “tuned up butt” to properly sense and correct yaw. Try some private pilot steep turns at 45 degrees and work up to 60 degrees. Then reverse at 180 degrees of turn and work up to “60/90s” (reversing a 60-degree banked steep turn after 90 degrees of turn). This is “old school” flying – find a good instructor to help you. This will get a little sweat going as well as demonstrate the need for an outside sight reference and positive control usage.

Step two is serpentine climbing 30 degree turns right and left with full power and a Vx attitude. This will quickly demonstrate the need for right rudder while climbing in a left turn and left aileron while climbing in a right turn. Initially, this feels “unnatural” for many private pilots, but this is the beginning of understanding “cross-coordination” and will progress into chandelles. Your pattern crosswind turns will be immediately safer with your newly-mastered “cross-coordination.”

A series of  climbing and descending (coordinated) wingovers – working toward a lazy eight – will demonstrate the need for quick and accurate rudder usage as the wing loads and unloads. Suddenly pilots are “flying again” after 40 hours of instrument standard rate turns (or years of rope-a-doping around the pattern); fun! These climbs and descents also illustrate the changing yoke forces necessary to maintain specific flight attitudes as the speed of the aircraft changes the effectiveness of the flight controls.

The last step in this introduction to commercial flight maneuvers is some slow flight and stalls first straight ahead, then turning. Flight training is an opportunity to fly at minimum control speed with the horn blaring (just don’t do it on a flight test – the FAA is sensitive about this). Bank 30 degrees right and left aggressively at the edge of a stall. Coordination is essential and LOTS of rudder is required to pivot left and right on the edge of a stall. Then demonstrate an old-style power off stall recovery letting the nose fall through the horizon with the yoke all the way back (stay stalled till the nose is down). As an instructor, when your pilot-in-training sees this dramatic nose-down attitude (while still feeling the stall) some understanding of angle of attack will be immediately built. (The angle of attack indicator in every plane is how much chrome is showing on the control yoke shaft).

Turning stalls recovered without power (just releasing AOA) are the last maneuver in this sortie as you descend turning right and left while stalling and recovering. This again shows the need for coordination and the power of AOA for recovery. Turning stalls are part of the Private Pilot ACS and often missed during initial training. Engage a qualified instructor and master some commercial maneuvers. Soon you will add finesse, safety (and FUN) to your regular flying. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all the 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”on the toolkit app prevents “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.


Opportunity Knocking – Learn Rudder!

In early childhood development, there are surprising “windows of opportunity” where languages can be learned rapidly and perfectly in a manner that is forever lost to adults. This “opportunity lost” is a result of sensory striatum deprivation. A cat will remain forever blind if kept in the dark during the first months of life even with perfectly functioning eyes –  use it or lose it! Rudder usage follows this same pattern in pilots. If it is not learned and mastered very early, it seems to be forever a mystery (see early maneuvering blog). This deficit creates a pilot that will always be struggling to achieve positive control in the aircraft.

Fortunately, there is an easy (and fun) solution to “rudder deficit” for pilots. The rudder can be mastered in a new environment if approached with an open attitude of exploration and excitement. Tailwheel flying is exactly this opportunity for pilots. This fun training corrects “rudder deficit” while putting a smile on your face. This “awakening” is as exciting as flying aerobatics for the first time – suddenly the world becomes fully three-dimensional. We are no longer in Kansas and the world immediately turns from black and white to color; worth it! Rudder aptitude is critical in all phases of flying, right up into professional multi-engine operations. (Watch new jet pilots struggle with V1 cuts in Level D simulators)

If you have not taken some dual in a tailwheel aircraft, you really have not experienced flying as it could be. This experience will truly open your eyes to full aircraft control in three dimensions. Many pilots are still regrettably two dimensional and are frankly missing a lot of fun (and “rudder deficit” is also “control deficit”).

If you haven’t flown tailwheel (yet) there is a whole world of exciting flying ahead of you – opportunity found. Most low-power tailwheel airplanes are very affordable on an hourly basis, the real difficulty is finding a good instructor. Check out the SAFE directory for a tailwheel specialist in your area. (and CFIs, make sure your data in this directory is current). After that, the next step is full 3-axis maneuvering. Fly safe out there (and often!)

Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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).

Twin Training Mysteries! LIVE at Noon…

Here is the briefing and the pdf slide deck (and for the committed: full audio!)

The multi-engine rating is the pathway to a professional piloting career. Unfortunately, by the time most pilots get to this point they are either broke or cynical about the whole aviation training business and opt for the “fastest/cheapest” training option they can find. The working theory seems to be “I will learn this all later” – but they usually never do!

I have seen this story from the testing side as a DPE with some truly scary applicants.  The DPE job is to get in a strange plane with a complete beginner and start failing engines – want a new job? I have also flown with light twin pilots who have flown their whole life with only that original 4-5 hour s of training. After 40 years they still don’t understand multi-engine aerodynamics or proper emergency procedures. It really pays to get this right, and there has been a rash of ugly accidents recently in multi-engine planes!

I would encourage all interested and rated pilots (and especially CFIs) to spend some time reviewing the basics of multi-engine aerodynamics with this WINGS Course pdf summary. Then review this “Power Hour” by Hobie Tomlinson. Hobie is a former TWA 747 captain with 40K hours flying and 15K teaching. The full briefing from this CFI Bootcamp show is here. In addition to Hobie’s presentation, I encourage every pilot to take the full course on FAA WINGS, the pilot briefing sheets and extra references are excellent study resources and future teaching tools.  Fly SAFE and watch for the SAFEblog tomorrow!

Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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).

How “Masterful” is Your CFI? (Do *You* Qualify?)

GA pilots tend to regard *all* CFIs with godlike respect – which is gratifying (as a CFI) but often undeserved – and sometimes can even be dangerous. When the Corey Lidel accident happened in the East River Corridor, many people were incredulous this accident was even possible “with a CFI on board” ( misplaced trust?) The FAA has no standard for CFI excellence, just minimum standards for initial certification and a 16-hour online course every two years!Gold Seal” is certainly busy, but no high bar. There has been some discussion of CFI standards and oversight by the NTSB after the recent horrific accident in Hawaii.

A brand new CFI may only have only 5 hours of total real solo time under their belt (not “ride-along”) and may never have even fueled an airplane (or been in a cloud or on a grass strip). Other blogs have enumerated the consequences of FAA minimum training. New CFIs (in the US) also have no required mentoring or supervision when they start teaching. They are essentially “student teaching” on the job (often with the newest students). Other flight instructors may have been teaching for years and unfortunately never improved past this entry-level of skill and knowledge (except getting grumpier?) A Gold Seal is a good one-time “busy CFI” honor (only specifying an 80% pass rate – the industry average) and is certainly a great sign for a student shopping for a pro. But it is also “one and done” renewing with your CFI forever. True professionalism in aviation is only achieved through continuous personal commitment and defined by voluntary industry accreditation standards;  Master Instructor Certification. Instructor professionalism was one of the critical necessary safety pillars emphasized for aviation improvement in the SAFE Pilot Reform report– professional CFIs “raise all boats” – planes!

It is not uncommon for new academy CFI graduates to lack even the most basic “real life” skills like aircraft fueling or tie-down knots – it is not in the “shake and bake” syllabus. Some new CFIs have been pilots for less than a year; no seasoning or cultural acquisition here. Think of what else they might not know. Current FAA statistics reveal that 2/3 of active FAA CFIs have taught less than a year. And this is a steady-state condition in our aviation industry as new CFIs continually build hours and move on to professional careers.

It is a bigger mistake to assume that some age or gray hair is an indicator of quality since many people now retire young and get all their ratings “while senior” (gray-haired and brand new!) Some of these senior retired CFIs are the scariest I have seen since they bring an “implied aviation gravitas” from their mastery in another profession. Surprisingly, there are only an estimated 2,500 professional, continuously full-time, CFIs in the US. How does a flight student or pilot seeking an excellent instructor determine the “masters” of flight education?

One way to find a veteran aviation educator and access that valuable wealth of experience is to select a “Master Instructor.”  The original Master Instructor Program was created by Sandy and JoAnn Hill of Colorado in 1997. Both lifelong professional educators and CFIs, they saw the need for a voluntary industry accreditation program to raise the professional standards for aviation educators. The flight instructor’s Model Code of Conduct lays out the aspirational goals for every flight instructor seeking to become better. This AeroNews podcast interviews the Hills in 2011 and explains in detail the CFI industry problems and solutions.

Now celebrating 24 years and thousands of designations, the Master Instructors accreditation program represents what former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey called “the best the right seat has to offer” in aviation. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt called the assembled Master Instructors at the GAS “the movers and shakers of the flight training community.” The Master Instructor Continuing Education ProgramTM (MICEP) is now part of SAFE with a new website and simpler online accreditation form created and maintained by Submittable (going live on Monday).

Most experienced instructors probably already qualify for a Master designation! The major challenge is organizing their vast experience into the five required categories and digging up documentation for volunteer reviewers (worksheet). Less than half of 1% of all educators earn this honor. But not surprisingly, this illustrious group is overrepresented in professional activities and in earning FAA honors – 43% of National GA Award Winners are Master Instructors. Though voluntary industry improvement is the heart of this program, the vast majority of Master educators acknowledge that the program not only improved them by challenging them to become better educators, it dramatically increased their earnings from surveyed 10-40%. Several reported more than a 100% hike in their sustainable hourly rates. Additionally, several flight schools provide incentive packages to their Masters worth more than $8,000 annually. Some premier training facilities like Aviation Performance Solutions, require all their instructors to earn Master qualifications.MasterInstructorLogo

We are very pleased to now have the original Master Instructor Program as part of SAFE. The core values are entirely consistent with our SAFE mission of professionalism. Fly SAFE out there (and often) and get started on that Master certification!

You Probably Qualify Already! - Get Started!

For those with many years of teaching experience, you are probably already qualified for Master certification! Your major challenge is finding and submitting documentation of all your experiences and activities. You build an application online (through our Submitable portal) which organizes the validating evidence for the volunteer reviewers. There are five categories of experience: Educator (applicant as teacher), Service (applicant helping others in aviation activities), Creator of Media, Continuing Education (applicant as learner), and Participant.(examples here)

Once you are through the process the first time, you learn to save all activity items and create a dedicated file (like taxes) that organize all the certificates and letters and makes the process much easier. 

For newer educators (flight, ground, helicopter, aerobatic) knowing the categories allows you to direct your efforts into these areas and work toward a worthy goal, saving the documentation for each activity. For the aviation industry, Master Certification sets a known high bar of solid professionalism which truly inspires and rewards your achievement. The increased income from this recognition as well as savings on insurance easily pay for the application fee.

Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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).