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Struggle for Control; CFI (Or YOU!)

Your mind on FEAR!

Most senior CFIs have at least one story of forcibly taking over control of an aircraft from a locked-up, panicked learner. A SAFE survey of CFIs revealed that 65% had at some point forcibly taken back aircraft control from an irrational student! One CFI/DPE revealed a crash where he struggled and lost this battle resulting in a dramatic crash. A person overcome by fear becomes a powerful and irrational animal in your cockpit. Step one is to avoid ever scaring your student. Step two is staying ever vigilant and be prepared in case this does happen.

The grieving father of a young female CFI who died in a dual accident shared his story and inspired several SAFEblogs on this topic. Unfortunately, new “millennial flight schools” tend to be all excitement and hope with the new growth in aviation. They never cover or train this dark side of the CFI profession. Please watch this recent Air Safety Institute”early analysis” dissecting a recent instructional accident and share it with other CFIs.The possibility of student lock-up is real, and probably more common than currently recognized. (Recent KSMO accident?)

If you are a senior CFI, please mentor your proteges on the possibility of student lock-up and discuss recovery techniques. This is not an excuse for micromanaging the controls but a reminder to never get complacent; the CFI job has many rewards but also provides some “exciting moments.”

If you are a solo pilot, the other side of this same fear equation is surviving startle. Panic is possible for anyone when exposed to a new and shocking flight experience outside their comfort zone. Self-calming is an important first step to regaining control. Every pilot should practice specific techniques like deep breathing and positive self talk to empower a systematic recovery in frightening situations. Even in a crash scenario, survival requires flying the plane all the way to a stop and never giving up. This is the burden of pilot in command during the “not fun” experiences that are always possible when we defy gravity.

Practicing flight out of the comport zone is one purpose of flight reviews and recurrent training. Extended Envelope Training allows a pilot to be comfortable and prepared when encountering these surprising flight attitudes (read “upsets”) Build your bravery; get a good CFI and practice. Fly SAFE 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).

Author: David St. George

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

3 thoughts on “Struggle for Control; CFI (Or YOU!)”

  1. Fear kills. As a CFI you teach students to not fear what is going on in an airplane. There should be nothing short of a wing falling off that scares a pilot… even then you still have a chance. Just ask the F15 pilot that landed with one wing. Never stop working the problem.

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