Too Much (Useless) Talking!

Most CFIs talk way too much (guilty). I was reminded of this listening to a very good Sporty’s “Fast Five” podcast with AOPA’s Dave Hirschman. His primary advice for improving flight instruction was “HUSH!”

Every CFI learning to teach spends a lot of time mastering the ability to fly and talk (cogently) simultaneously. This dual-channel processing takes practice to develop because it requires a lot of mental capacity. The British aviation system requires new instructors to memorize specific scripts called the “patter tape.” But step two in becoming an effective educator (after passing the FAA test) is to talk less. Savvy CFIs quickly learn that talking less allows an aviation learner time and mental bandwidth to process and internalize their flight experiences. Human communication, even in an undistracted environment is only 25% efficient!

Continuous “CFI chatter” is largely just “interference” during a flight lesson and can actually impede learning. A student who is appropriately challenged is mentally at full capacity just trying to manage their flight experience. The majority of our precious CFI “pearls of wisdom” are just flowing past unheard. Too much talk is just an unnecessary distraction. Important corrections should be recorded for the debrief at the end of the lesson. Any critical inflight corrections should be very carefully formulated and delivered only in brief “chunks” at an appropriate low-workload phase of flight. The majority of educator input should happen in the debrief – where 70-80% of all learning occurs.

Unfortunately, CFIs who talk too much usually also handle the controls too much; micromanaging the entire experience.  After some basics, and except for emergencies or a few demonstrations, the learner should be doing all the flying. We all have to remember that the real job of a CFI is to get off the controls (and the radio) and actually ultimately all the way out of the airplane – one step at a time. Our objective is to create capable, independent pilots as efficiently as possible.

Another consequence of CFI chatter is that the pilot can also become a talking machine. I have had applicants on flight tests nearly ruin their evaluation by attempting to continuously narrate their whole flight. This “technique” consumes mental bandwidth and often jeopardizes their ability to fly. And in addition to blocking out ATC, this continuous narration often reveals mistakes and mental errors that would not be otherwise obvious.  Fly safely out there (and often!)


Join SAFE and get great benefits like 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)

Murphy’s Real Law; Luck!

Murphy’s (real) law seems to be that we often succeed despite poor procedures and sloppy execution. A painful failure would result in learning; ouch! Instead, every “lucky success” actually reinforces and “normalizes” questionable procedures and activities. Online stupidity provides an additional catalog of “leveraged luck.” Just because some wild act worked once (for one person in a rehearsed environment) does not mean it is a good idea or solid procedure for us (please watch those “fail” videos too).

Humans are “learning machines” and we input everything despite our best intentions to “unsee” some content. Our continuous input requires analysis and filtering or bad habits can easily get embedded in our operating system – coded as “useful/acceptable.” These usually lie dormant, like viruses, to surprise us at the worst times e.g. “what was I thinking?” Reflective analysis is the proper antidote; a skill every pilot must learn and practice for safety. The military version of this same process is an after-action report.

Challenge and adventure are what makes flying so addictive. Pilots are very practical, straight ahead, hard chargers, and enjoy overcoming obstacles. Aviation requires positive, time-critical decisions in a real-world, high-stakes environment. However, learning and growing the pilot and educator toolkit of resources safely requires reflection. This process involves making a quiet, thoughtful time for a review and analysis. Reflection has to happen soon after every active flight and is the heart of improvement and positive change. Reflection requires asking questions of ourselves: “How and why did this action work?” “Was our success (or failings) a result of skill or luck?” “Am I normalizing some non-standard procedure that just happened to work (luck)? It is a huge (but very human) mistake to validate procedures based on results alone. Just because something worked (for us or for others) is not a reason to accept and use a procedure.

Because the flight environment is time-critical and always in motion, pilots often function on the level of embedded, automatic “scripts.” These stored routines come from prior hours of hard training and review. When facing unique and rapid challenges, a pilot often has to punt, choosing the “less bad,” reflexive actions guided by previous experience but with no clear script. (A previous blog covered “satisficing,” which is the heart of aeronautical decision-making) Careful after-action analysis of these actions that occurred “in the moment”  builds the master pilot and educator.

This contrast of “regular day, plain vanilla” missions vs “off the wall challenges” is profiled in Gary Kline’s excellent book “Streetlights and Shadows.” Dr. Klein argues for a precise script – think checklist/SOP –  when the situation is predictable (Streetlight) and inspired and flexibility when “all bets are off” and no rulebook applies (Shadows). The latter would be the Sioux City DC-10 or the Miracle on the Hudson response; they never wrote a checklist for these situations. The key to safety is defining these different worlds and applying the correct formula. “Going cowboy” is inappropriate to meet the demands of an ordinary day where checklists and procedures are the proper guidance.

Reflection is the antidote to “normalizing” or “regulatory drift.” Celebrating mere success might create permission to lower or reform performance standards or adopt new procedures. This process was the cause of both of NASA’s shuttle accidents where a deviation from protocol was accepted as “normal procedure” due to the lack of any immediate negative consequences (they got “lucky”). In these cases, when the luck ran out we experience the shock and surprise from of our inadvertent violation of proper safety standards (“what were we thinking?”)

After every flight spend a moment and review your actions. Did they meet standard SOPs and regulatory standards. Were the successes of tthe flight from skill – or from luck? The debrief every CFI does with pilots-in-training is this same reflective analysis. And this process should become a habit for every pilot when they achieve certification. To make master pilots, every CFI must encourage and embed this habit into every new pilot. After every flight ask yourself; “Was our success a result of skill and knowledge correctly applied or was I lucky?” and adjust accordingly. Fly safely out there (and often). Live longer and fly more.


Join SAFE and get great benefits like 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)

Flight Schools Lobbying DPEs

Collusion between flight schools and DPEs can easily create corruption in pilot certification; we have all seen this problem in action. There is a good reason to maintain a professional distance between flight schools and DPEs to uphold the high moral standard necessary for the honesty and safety of the pilot certification system. DPEs are the “gatekeepers” and there are always temptations and ethical questions. More than anything, the DPE function requires honesty and great integrity. Maintaining a professional distance between schools and DPEs removes temptation and protects the independence and integrity of this process. Geographical freedom, announced in October 2020, created chaos in the system nationally by suddenly shifting the balance of influence toward flight schools and creating a glut of DPEs in busy flight training markets.

Immediately following this change, solicitations went out nationally from larger training facilities seeking services from DPEs from across the country offering lots of tests, transportation and living accommodations. You can’t blame the schools, they need to get tests done in a timely fashion, but too close a relationship can create temptations (and bad public optics). WIth geographic freedom, DPEs from the frozen north aggressively invaded the southern states. Suddenly, long-time DPEs in states like Florida had no tests at all with DPEs from North Dakota and Minnesota testing in Miami and Orlando. In the private market, “DPE-hopping” became the new norm with applicants triple booking examiners then canceling at the last minute based on their changing schedules. The result of this change was all the leverage was in the hands of the flight schools with a glut of DPEs in the busy flight testing areas. Meanwhile, the northern states were languishing. The FAA’s attempt to create availability resulted in some surprising and unwanted consequences!

In an honest system, there will always be some distance (and occasional friction) between flight schools and DPEs, just by the nature of the relationship. Flight schools understandably want their students to pass and pilot examiners need to work. But integrity and independence are essential to assure an honest government standard (and protect aviation safety). Some applicants will always be unsatisfactory and need more training to be safe – no participation trophies in aviation! Good flight schools and CFIs understand this need for separation and work well with regular DPEs learning and improving their training. But this process requires mutual respect and professional distance; not cozy relationships.

The DPE system never envisioned professional full-time DPEs. The original system designated experienced, professional aviators offering part-time testing to assist the FAA in pilot certification. Full-time examining only became possible as the FAA got entirely out of the testing business. Some DPEs now conduct >300 evaluations a year. And most full-time examiner’s only income is conducting tests.

The FAA is working to create positive change right now, with listening post meetings at Oshkosh and lots of ideas in play. The free-market “money for ratings” system does not seem to be headed in a healthy direction Changes need to be well thought out and not improvised by industry. Success will ultimately depend on the hard-working, honest DPEs at the heart of the system. Fly safe out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and get great benefits like 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).

Clear Up Control Confusion; FREE Course!

It is embarrassing to realize that most pilots (and even a majority of CFIs) don’t know which flight control powers the basic turn. Through no fault of your own, you may be among this group. Spoiler alert; the ailerons and rudder are neutral in a stable, coordinated level turn.  We are all victims of the negative transfer from driving. As Rich Stowell testified to the NTSB, “The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable.”

The reality is surprisingly straightforward: airplanes are relegated to flight along straight lines and curves, and those paths are controlled primarily with the elevator. At the correlation level of learning, the myriad flight paths possible at a given angle of bank become readily apparent…

Even though pilots can cause rudimentary turns to happen under normal circumstances, it seems they have not been given the indepth education and experience to master turning flight.

Given the confusion of most pilots, it is no surprise that Loss of Control is the resulting causal factor for so many aviation fatalities. This “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge” demands the antidote of correct understanding, followed by diligent practice. Danger lurks not in what you don’t know, but in what we think you know that is mistaken.

Flying doesn’t happen to us; it happens because of us. We interact with the airplane via the flight controls, and the inputs we make have performance consequences. Absent a complete understanding of the consequences of our inputs, we will be unable to apply the controls correctly, or to see the connections between the myriad forms of turning flight.

SAFE founder, Rich Stowell’s (FREE) “Learn to Turn” course on is now on Community Aviation next week on Sept 10th (generously sponsored by Avemco and Hartzell Propellers). Please read the preview available  HERE and carefully proceed to the full course HERE. As Rich emphasizes in his course, reading is not enough. We need to apply and practice these suggestions in flight to be safer and defeat Loss of Control. Read it, practice it, and pursue excellence in your flying. 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).