Overcoming Flight Test Anxiety!

Everyone facing a flight evaluation has some nervousness and anxiety; no one likes to be “under the microscope.” But for some people, this experience rises to the level of disabling panic. As a DPE, I have seen people who literally could not breathe and were having a full-on panic attack when walking in for an evaluation. This is unnecessary and avoidable with knowledge and preparation. As your panic level rises, your chances of success definitely diminish. Here are some comforting facts that should help reduce the panic.

1) You start with 100%!

First, remember you start with 100% on every FAA flight test. Once your CFI approves, signs and submits your application into IACRA, you are essentially a fully qualified PIC at the level of your application; you just need to prove that to your DPE. You actually fly your flight test as a PIC. Your certificate is already prepared in the IACRA system (and viewable) *before* you fly your flight test – just go earn it! All you have to do is fly all the maneuvers that you already practiced and prove to the examiner you meet the minimum FAA standards (more on this in a moment). So you do not have to “climb the ladder” in a flight test situation, you start at the top. All errors (and there will be things that don’t go as you wanted or imagined) are just a markdown.

2) You already did all this (many times)!

You already successfully performed all the maneuvers to the FAA standards, there are no surprises! This flight is called a “check ride” because the Designated Pilot Examiner is checking the training and approval already conducted by your flight instructor. DPEs are selected because they have many more years and hours than the ordinary CFI. But instructors are the people that create the pilot; DPEs just “check.” Your instructor probably spent 40-50 hours educating and preparing you to be a pilot. A flight test will probably take less than two hours in the plane. DPEs are the “gatekeepers,” they check and approve the “final product.” Instructing by a DPE is strictly prohibited on a flight test by the FAA. Your DPE should never be taking the controls and saying “watch this.” And they cannot legally add personal items or apply a personal standard to the testing requirements.

3) 70% is a passing grade (not perfection)!

You only need to achieve a 70% on any maneuver to pass. All FAA evaluations are pass/fail! And though 70% is undesirable, this fact may provide comfort to an unnecessarily nervous applicant; you do not have to be perfect!  Perfectionism and the associated hypervigilance (and choking) are common applicant obstacles- most applicants are their own worst critics. Be thorough and confident with your preparation, then just do the best you can (and accept that little errors are just going to happen).

Many pilots walking into a test want 100% and are expecting perfection in their performance. This is a great goal but it is essential to overcome this idea to have a productive experience. Otherwise, every slip-up will destroy confidence and erode performance. Pilots as a group tend toward perfectionism and every error can appear fatal in their imagination; don’t go there! An examiner is required to inform you immediately if a maneuver does not meet the FAA standards. If something did not go as you would have liked but the examiner says nothing, you are still in the game. Put mistakes behind you and “throttle on.”

4) Use your checklist, take your time, and breathe!

Think of the test and the standards like driving down a highway you know well with the white lines on either side – comfortably wider than your vehicle. It is OK to occasionally hit a white line (a limitation in the standards) or even cross over a line briefly. Just “promptly correct” back to the center (smoothly).  Steady and smooth is the best performance, and that is what nervousness and perfectionism can quickly ruin.Consistent checklist usage is required on all evaluations and will curb a tendency to rush; Stay calm and organized.

If you exceed a standard get back on heading, speed or altitude promptly so your evaluator knows you are aware of a slip-up and also capable of fixing that excursion. Remember, every flight is a series of small corrections back to a desired (or required) standard. Better pilots are just correcting more frequently and more smoothly; no one is perfect! And remember, every good DPE really wants you to pass also.

5) You got this, (dig deep with your preparation)!

Take comfort in the fact that you have already consistently accomplished all the maneuvers required in the test many times with your instructor or you would not be recommended.  And your DPE is required to adhere to these FAA testing standards there should be no “personal tests!” If you hear a DPE talk about “their test” avoid this person (or discontinue the test). There is only the “FAA test” that every DPE is empowered to administer. DPEs are required, however, to cleverly disguise some requirements in scenarios that you should have experienced in training with your CFI. See “Checkride Ready!™” You are dependent upon your CFI to supply you with creative challenges (you can’t always “surprise” yourself). This is necessary to prepare you for the scenario format of testing specified in the ACS.

6) Practice scenarios; the “what if?” habit!

Scenarios are a requirement in flight training because your experience as a student pilot is necessarily limited to a small quadrangle of geography under very carefully controlled conditions. Your certificate, however, is valid for the whole USA (and more) for the rest of your life, day and night (with appropriate review). Every DPE is required to assure your ability to handle all of these future challenges with the application of good judgment.

Every applicant can see hypothetical scenarios on the FAA test site:  FAA scenario guide for examiners.  DPEs (and your CFI) are required to formulate situations like these that require a pilot to apply their skill and judgment at the correlation level. So instead of just saying “go-around,” your CFI is hopefully are saying, “a truck just pulled onto the runway ahead, what are you going to do?” This develops the pilot habit of continuously “testing themselves” with the “what if” technique. Every safe pilot is maintaining vigilance and “expecting” surprises (like a good stoic).  Best of luck – fly SAFE (and often)!

  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).

Sun ‘N Fun TakeAway; Great Members!

It is 10 years since the tornado hit Sun ‘N Fun and took Alan Davis airborne with the SAFE Tent. A few years later a windstorm at OSH collapsed the SAFE Tent in College Park display area. John Dorcey created our beautiful show display (with Chris Palmer) and we have been displaying more safely inside metal hangars at shows, meeting our members and joining up new people. This year we are just pulling out or the COVID pandemic. Life goes on and pilots are very resilient. We had an amazing show – thanks to our great members! The spring sweepstakes continues through May 15th with prizes still being added.

The SAFE show booth was set up by Dr. Donna Wilt and her husband Dennis. Both teach aviation at the Florida Institue of Technology and they store our SAFE exhibit in their hangar at Sebastion every year. Cres Wise and his wife as well as Mike Garrison stopped by each day to help at the SAFE booth. This gave me time to see the show a little and eat some lunch. Cres serves as our SAFE board secretary and also served in the U.S. Air Force for 20+ years. He is an Assistant Professor of Aviation and check pilot at Middle Georgia State University and flies his own Cessna 337. Mike is a DPE in Port St. Lucie, FL.

SAFE member Rob Dumavic helped create a FaceBook Live with Dr. Scott Dennsteadt to help publicize his new weather interface EZWXBrief.com Both Scott and Rob are long-time members. When the background noise was interfering with the audio, Andy Chan and Rob Lindstrom and a bunch of other members moved tables and chairs seamlessly to get us to a quieter location.

What I am trying to say with all this is SAFE is a member organization. Any success we have had is thanks to our amazing members. As I am writing this Lee Lauderback stopped by the booth. He runs Stallion 51 and just passed 10K hours safe flying the Mustang. He was a charter member and did an early sweepstakes to raise money for us. You can still join/renew or donate and get a shot at the Lightspeed Zulu Headsets or the Sporty’s Handheld radio. (We just added a 1/2 hour gyroplane intro flight as a prize) Expect great things from SAFE in the next year!

Thanks for all you do, fly SAFE out there (and often)!

Visit us at Sun’N Fun booth B22. If you join SAFE (even from home) you get a shot at a new Lightspeed Zulu headset or a Sporty’s handheld! ASA is offering a free FAR/AIM app to the first 25 new CFIs signing up at the show (and all the other show benefits apply). We have “Ninja CFI” T-shirts and hats for volunteers: register here on Doodle!

There is unique Sun’N Fun show content on the SAFE Toolkit App and if you “enable notifications,” we will be posting exciting events and specials during the show.

Some Things Some Pilots Don’t Know (But Should)!

Despite what 91.103 requires, no pilot has “all available information.” But the nature of our changing equipment and environment requires continual learning from every pilot in both knowledge and skill. Growth and improvement are part of the challenge we accept when we sign that first temporary and assume PIC control. But despite this, every pilot has “black holes” in their knowledge; missed or just misunderstood.  For CFIs, one critical job is to discover and correct these voids – the killers -before they hurt someone. Only when they are fully grasped, can seemingly dry concepts assemble into useful tools and make safer pilots. Even rated pilots with many hours seem to have missed some of these basics. Never be embarrassed, dig deeper!

The tail “lifts down!” Despite being able to carefully calculate the weight and balance of a plane (and pass all the FAA questions and several practicals), many pilots never fully understood this concept (or the ramifications). I have discovered commercial pilots who don’t know this, or if they know it by rote, they don’t grasp the full implications this has on stability, control and limitations. (See planes don’t stall, pilots do).

Lift is equal on the wings in a stabilized turn. This statement can lead to many puzzled looks or start some red-faced arguments (with Greek letters). But most simply solved, if the lift were  *NOT* equal on the wings, your plane would still be rolling! Failure to fully comprehend this basic aerodynamic fact has huge safety implications. Pilots often turn with the rudder or hold adverse aileron as they bank. Both aileron and rudder should be neutral in a stabilized turn, the elevator does all the work (again lift is equal on the wings). Once this is understood, a turning stall is easy. This is the heart of Rich Stowell’s “Learn to Turn” initiative (see Community Aviation Courses).

Indicated and true airspeed diverge as the air gets thinner (non-standard). Most pilots can state this fact (and pass an FAA knowledge or even practical evaluation) but still not comprehend the full significance of this physical principle. On a commercial evaluation, an examiner might ask selecting the most efficient altitude for cruise. (Power decreases at 3% per thousand feet but TAS increases at 2% per thousand feet, what is the optimal altitude?) More important to safety is unpacking a scenario involving a take off at Leadville on a hot day. Though your eyes (and hours of experience) say “it looks about right to rotate,” the airspeed indicator is still only showing 40 IAS. Here is where the divergence between IAS/TAS can hurt an unprepared pilot (and another one bites the dust…). This is also where a dry aerodynamic concept really requires more study and understanding. (Surprisingly many mountain courses do not emphasize this gotcha!)

And this circles back around to 91.103 (required preflight action) which is a critical mandate for every flight (once you get beyond “all available information”). It is amazing how many pilot applicants have flown 50-60 hours at their home field and still cannot state with any accuracy the actual length of their runway (the commitment to continual learning starts here). Some cannot list the items every pilot must know before flight on a VFR day. These items are simple but also the major causal factors of accidents; the proven killers!  More amazingly, commercial pilots in expensive jets still make these basic mistakes. We all need to keep learning…

More soon (preparing the Commercial “Checkride Ready!™” too) packing for the show! Fly SAFE (and often)! See you at Sun’N Fun.

Visit us at Sun’N Fun booth B22. If you join SAFE (even from home) you get a shot at a new Lightspeed Zulu headset or a Sporty’s handheld! ASA is offering a free FAR/AIM app to the first 25 new CFIs signing up at the show (and all the other show benefits apply). We have “Ninja CFI” T-shirts and hats for volunteers: register here on Doodle!

There is unique Sun’N Fun show content on the SAFE Toolkit App and if you “enable notifications,” we will be posting exciting events and specials during the show.



Win a Headset! SAFE @Sun’N Fun 2021

After a year of enforced social distancing – and airshow famine, it is exciting to again meet in public at Sun’N Fun 2021. This will not be the triple booth extravaganza we have put up in years past, but we have some exciting surprises for the show. Please be vaccinated or wear a mask at the SAFE booth for everyone’s safety. See you at Hangar “B” Booth #22 (just as you enter from food area on the left!

For pilots/CFIs/DPEs interested in joining, every new membership, renewal or Step-Up starting April 12th, will enter you into the sweepstakes drawing for a brand new Lightspeed Zulu Headset.

If you are a Lifetime Member, a contribution to SAFE of $50 will also count as an entry into these sweepstakes (Give2SAFE after April 12th). We are limiting this opportunity to the first 300 entries. The first 25 new CFIs joining will also receive a free ASA FAR/AIM App (one of the best tools for the professional aviation educator) and a package of other industry incentives.

Ideas to “Cure Stupid!?”

It may be politically incorrect to state this so publically, but we all know that in our daily aviation world there are some people that endanger all of our lives with their unwise actions. Sometimes “stupid” is a one-off move (guilty as charged) that can be fixed. In other cases, “stupid” seems to be an enduring personality trait – and it does not necessarily imply a lack of intelligence.  Perhaps we should add an “S” to the O-C-E-A-N personality paradigm?

“Stupid” should not be confused with “dumb,” it is not a lack of intelligence that gets us into trouble; the smartest people often make the biggest mistakes.

Stupidity is a very specific cognitive failing…[it] is perfectly compatible with intelligence…Crudely put, it occurs when you don’t have the right conceptual tools for the job. The result is an inability to make sense of what is happening and a resulting tendency to force phenomena into crude, distorting pigeonholes. –Sacha Golob

Surprisingly, you would think that climbing the aviation ladder into the flight levels would distance a pilot from errors of this kind, but unfortunately, stupid is everywhere there are humans. Digging into this there is a researcher, Carlo M. Cipolla, who has cataloged the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Since time immemorial, a powerful dark force has hindered the growth of human welfare and happiness. It is more powerful than the Mafia or the military. It has global catastrophic effects and can be found anywhere from the world’s most powerful boardrooms to your local pub. This is the immensely powerful force of human stupidity.

At the heart of “stupidity” is overconfidence combined with an unwillingness to admit error (or accept change). A component of this problem is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This well-documented psychological phenomenon demonstrates that the least skilled people are also the most over-confident (a sad combination). And though confidence keeps humans forging ahead and accomplishing amazing things, it also sure leads to a lot of fatal accidents in mechanized devices. The CFI’s Little Shop of Horrors is clearly illustrated in Dr. Bill Rhodes’s SlideShare “Warning Signs in Pilots (what scares the experts)”  Watch out for these people! and AVOID  these “committed stupid” activities for your safety.

Overconfidence is dangerous because it leads to illusions in the perceptual process commonly called “magical thinking.” We humans, are all emotional decision-makers and “predictably irrational” when we desire a specific outcome – the “mission mentality.” Add some overconfidence, and no amount of fancy technology screaming warnings will fix a pilot that believes they can “stretch fuel” or “cheat weather.” This is why SOPs and the curated counsel of friends are such powerful safety tools (“save me from myself!”). The “second opinion” of a crew flying along makes flying statistically so much safer. A little doubt and self-questioning can often break the accident chain. If a pilot is personally convinced something is true, they will inevitably fool themselves despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. Our 20/20 hindsight in accident analysis continually demonstrates the flawed human decision process.

With a little therapy of honesty and humble reflection, our occasional “personal stupidity” (provided we survive) can be leveraged to create learning and improvement. Educators call this process  “productive failure.” This is the same process master educators use when allowing a learner to experiment (within limits) and self-correct their performance.  The essential (and difficult) ingredient here is “personal honesty;” the ability to accept responsibility rather than providing excuses. Ego-driven overconfidence and “bulldozing” of others’ opinions are common pilot traits but not productive for growth.

Another benefit of accepting failure as a possibility – and considering the cause might be personal – is a more vigilant posture and greater situational awareness. Better observation and after-action review promote continuous improvement. This procedure is documented as Kaizen Culture in Japanese manufacturing (think Toyota). This is a repeating cycle of reflection, self-criticism/critique, and improvement. Accountability and objectivity can also be helped by adding with the counsel of trusted friends (“hey dude, what are you thinking?”) – it keeps you vigilant and humble!

Every [person] needs people in [their] life who are willing to give it to [them] straight, who are willing to call [them] out when [they’ve] messed up, and who do it out of love. It’s tempting to avoid these people and retreat into your echo chamber of excuses, but they’re the kind of people who will truly help you thrive.

Part of what inspired this blog is our new SAFE initiative with GA News to review the accidents they publish. These occasionally read like the Darwin Awards. Watch for SAFE in the GA News accident section (and add your comments!)

We all love to go out and have fun in airplanes, but safety requires being honest, staying within sensible guidelines, and listening to trusted friends to calibrate your enthusiasm. “Friends don’t let friends fly stupid!”

Every new membership, renewal or Step-Up starting April 12th, will enter you into the sweepstakes drawing for a brand new Lightspeed Zulu Headset. Visit SAFE at Booth B22 and grab a chance for a new ANR headset. The first 25 CFIs to join will also get the ASA FAR/AIM App for free!


%d bloggers like this: