Better Teaching/Learning: “Make It Stick!”

As aviation educators we tend to put a lot of emphasis on technical content but we often miss the superior learning techniques that make this information stick. Recent educational research reveals that the most effective learning strategies are not intuitive at all, and much of what we have been taught – or picked up from osmosis over years of experience – about how to learn is wrong.

Make it Stick; The Science of Successful Learning” is a very enjoyable and readable book. It was the collaborative process of many writers over years of development. And what’s not to love about a learning text that starts out with an aviation example:

This book debunks some of the common learning strategies that are “time-proven” and “feel good” to the learner. Instead it suggests some more effective techniques to advance your learning – for both you and your students. For instance, instead of highlighting and re-reading material, the authors recommend summarizing material in your own words and testing yourself over a period of time (pop quizzes!). This more effortful  “reflective learning” has proven to be much more effective for retention and future application. And instead of the intensive cram session, break your studying down into “distributed learning sessions” over a longer periods of time mixing several areas together; called “interleaving.” By injecting personal meaning and creatively reformatting material, we help ensure that difficult information will be available when you need it – on that dark and stormy night when the engine is running rough!

Anytime a learning session is more interactive and creatively involves the learner it is going to stick better. Challenging your learner, rather than spoon feeding – even adding “desirable difficulties” – to improve retention. And that is not intuitive at all; weren’t we all taught to make subjects as easy and simple as possible? A summary of this text is here for those pressed for time. A very good (and FREE) Coursera on “Learning How to Learn” is available for the exceptionally motivated. Enjoy and let me know what you think? Fly safely (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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Fly SAFE; More Fun!

Wishing you a warm and happy Thanksgiving! Here are some (not often consulted) words from the new FAA Advisory Circular 61-98D on flight reviews – excellent reading! The FAA specifies regulatory minimums for certificates; we all need to do better to be safe – and CFIs need to lead this initiative by modeling and inspiring aviation excellence.

Pilot Proficiency: Studies have shown that LOC usually occurs when pilots lack proficiency. Conditions exceeding personal skill limitations can present themselves at any time and can occur unexpectedly. In this event, the pilot should be able to avoid being startled, make appropriate decisions in a timely manner, and be able to exercise skills at a proficiency level he or she may not have maintained or attained since acquired during initial training. This makes personal currency programs and proficiency training essential.

Personal currency programs serve to develop and maintain pilot proficiency by promoting attributes such as aeronautical knowledge, aeronautical skill, and ADM. These attributes collectively determine the degree of aeronautical ability a pilot possesses. Highly proficient pilots are better able to avoid or manage an in-flight emergency in a safe and efficient manner. Consequently, the GAJSC recommends that pilots place emphasis on their specific proficiency needs by including training that may exceed regulatory minimum currency requirements.

Traffic Pattern Operations

LOC accidents often occur while pilots are maneuvering at low altitude and airspeed, such as in an airport traffic pattern. Pilots should adopt, and flight instructors should promote, training programs designed to reduce the risk of  GA accidents in traffic pattern operations. Flight instructors should provide training to mitigate the three areas of highest risk involving maneuvering an airplane in an airport traffic pattern. The first area is the risk of a departure stall; the second area is the risk of LOC if attempting to return to the field after an engine failure on takeoff, and the third area is the risk of LOC on the base to final turn.  

Flight instructors should emphasize training that ensures that pilots of small single-engine airplanes depart in coordinated flight at the best-rate-of-climb speed (VY ) for normal takeoffs, and maintain this speed to the altitude necessary for a safe return to the airport in the event of an emergency.  Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit.  Accordingly, flight instructors should provide training that emphasizes the correct speeds at which light twin -piston aircraft depart the runway.  Flight instructors should emphasize that a departure at the best-angle-of-climb speed  (VX ) is used for obstacle clearance and short -field takeoff procedures.

Flight instructors should also emphasize the risks and potential consequences of climbing out at speeds less or greater than what is required for a particular type of takeoff. Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit a safe return. Therefore, flight instructors should not routinely train pilots to make a 180- degree turn from a simulated engine failure while climbing. However, this training should occur at a safe altitude.  A critical part of conducting this training is for the flight instructor to be fully aware of the need for diligence, the need to perform this maneuver properly,  and to avoid any potential for an accelerated stall in the turn. It is essential for a pilot to know the altitude that will be lost in a 180 -degree turn, in the specific make and model  (M/M) flown, if and when a pilot considers turning back to the departure airport at best glide. During the before-takeoff check, the expected loss of altitude in the turn, plus a sufficient safety factor, should be related to the absolute altitude at which a turn back may be attempted.  In addition, the effect of existing winds on the preferred direction of a turn back should be briefed.

Flight instructors should also teach pilots to reject an approach and initiate a go-around when the pilot cannot maintain a stabilized approach. The GAJSC  recommends that pilots and flight instructor s emphasize stabilized approach and landing proficiency and conduct stabilized approaches as a standard practice. Flight reviews and IPCs should emphasize evaluating a pilot’s ADM,  departure skills, and ability to establish and maintain a stabilized approach and landing, while applying effective crosswind techniques to avoid the risk of  LOC when maneuvering in an airport traffic pattern. Effective scenario-based training, emphasizing ADM, departures, and establishing and maintaining a stabilized approach to a landing, reduces the risk of LOC in an airport traffic pattern. Many of the principles discussed in this paragraph apply to multiengine aircraft, but do not apply to single-engine operations in the multiengine airplane. Flight instructors should emphasize the correct speeds at which light twin -piston aircraft are operated in the traffic pattern and provide training in response to an engine failure in a variety of situations.  

Excellent guidance! 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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

“Know-Do-Consider” to Build Savvy Pilots!

The heart of the new Airman Certification Standards is risk management. This essential wisdom was added to the limited PTS focus of skill and knowledge in 2016 to form the complete pilot experience of “know, do and consider” – knowledge, skill, judgment. These factors dynamically determine the safety of every flight. This new flight training initiative was driven directly from the aviation accident data. These numbers reveal over 80% of accidents result from human failings – usually bad judgment and flawed decision-making. Refining and improving judgment is a difficult, ongoing and never-ending challenge. It involves the internal battle within every pilot each time we fly; balancing utility with safety – often what we want against what is possible and sensible.

The primary methodology for training and testing risk management is the creative use of scenarios. Since flight training is necessarily conducted in a very limited environment of geography, weather, and equipment, the instructor (and later DPE) must mentally transport their learner into new and challenging imaginary situations to build and improve the decision-making skills that result in safer outcomes. Thought we train in one small area and  climate, we should theoretically experience a broad range of challenges. One additional advantage of this method is the safety benefit of failing in the mental arena rather than a real airplane; no one dies in a table top scenario! The best aviation educators are masters of creative questions and scenarios.

Simulators provide a deeper and more realistic version of scenario training (as well as enabling specific skill/drill procedure training), allowing an imaginative educator to more realistically transport their learner into all kinds of challenging environments. Each new scenario requires a different toolkit of skills, knowledge and judgment to prevail. The additional advantage to simulators is creating these “learning opportunities” without adding the expense and inconvenience inherent in a gas-powered, gravity-challenged devices. When learning occurs in this manner we are all safer!

The use of scenario-based training in general aviation became accepted and popularized though the availability of realistic full-motion simulators for the GA market – largely Redbird. SAFE’s original Executive Director, Doug Stewart, developed the Pilot Proficiency Project with Rich Stowell and created an ingenious catalog of masterfully crafted scenarios deployed on the Redbird Simulator. These original scenarios now number over 30 and are featured every year at Oshkosh in the Pilot Proficiency Center. This SAFE

project was the first nationally recognized use of scenario-based training in aviation, focusing largely on decision-making and risk management. Expanding this further, the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led directly to the  FAA/industry partnership that resulted in the ACS.

We are lucky there are so many wonderful tools now available to foster personal improvement in risk management. This has become the accepted industry standard of aviation safety training. These are also valuable for aviation educators to employ as resources in flight training. The FAA Risk Management Handbook is the official source document from which many other documents flow. This is cited frequently in the ACS. The Aeronautical Decision Making chapter in the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge is also a solid resource for pilots seeking excellence or educators working with learners. The FAA has a dedicated page of CFI scenarios to help jump start your imagination and help you create your own. The EAA Pilot Proficiency website has a comprehensive catalog of scenarios for the Redbird [here]

Thanks for reading and please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment and continue the dialogue. If you feel inspired, please contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there!

And 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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Airline Professionals VS Worker Bee CFIs

After my blog yesterday on regional airline hiring I heard directly and on FB from 8 of my former employee/CFIs (some even started with me as students) who corrected the record for me. Thank-you guys, I am humbled and honored to have been any small part of all your lives, you are all amazing professionals and leaders in the safest aviation system in the world. I certainly did not intend to diminish that accomplishment (and in no way support the YouTube position).

One airline captain wrote this short article below to explain and clarify the current airline opportunities. Adam’s FB post was especially revealing with 19-20 days off a month, the hard-working professional CFI is certainly more accurately the “worker bee!”

The Benefits of Airline Flying

The Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI article makes some very good points (airline flying is certainly not for everyone!), but the YouTube video cited seems to miss the mark. The individual on the video, dressed in his former employer’s uniform, tells a tale of low pay and low job satisfaction. Throughout his narrative, he gives several examples that I feel are in need of additional perspective.

Commuting

The YouTube creator includes commuting to and from his base as part of his job. It’s not, it’s a choice. Most young adults move to their place of work and aren’t afforded the ability to fly for free to their office. Virtually every regional airline is hiring right now, offering nationwide basing options. A decade ago I may have empathized, as only high cost of living bases were available to up-and-comers (e.g., JFK/LGA).

Operational Tempo

Yes, time pressure does exist at the airlines. After a year in this environment, programming the FMS and completing the prerequisite preflight checks are second nature. It’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed during the first year. In addition, most regionals allow meal breaks and most crews can successfully divide up the required tasks so no one goes hungry.

Compensation / Career Trajectory

In today’s environment, the road to a major airline is the quickest it has been in decades. Upgrade to a six-figure regional captain seat is currently attainable within 2-3 years, quickly followed by the ability to get hired by a major. Based on NBAA salary surveys, a young person will likely make $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 more at a major airline than a large cabin business jet captain position (over a 20-30 year career span). Loss of license and long term disability are generally included in a major airline pilot’s benefits package, in addition to a 16% 401k contribution (no match required). Robust health insurance options are also available.

Although not mentioned, I will contend that there is no better place to quickly accumulate thousands of hours of flight time in a standardized environment with hundreds of other pilots (immense exposure). Regardless of where you want to end up (corporate, instructing, etc.), the foundation that a 121 operation offers will satisfy both auditors (e.g., Wyvern, Argus) and those on the hiring board that you’ve seen quite a bit. This isn’t to say that you can’t get the same exposure in other ways (charter!), but it’s certainly a well-vetted pathway.

Quality of Life

Totally subjective. Personally, I’d rather have a fixed schedule a month in advance than be on call. Some folks like the “dynamic” nature of non-flying jobs (I did at one point), but it’s hard to justify with little ones at home. Being “just a number” pays off in dividends when trying to manipulate one’s schedule to make a recital or tend to a sick loved one.

Job Satisfaction

Had the author stayed a bit longer, he may have been able to enter into the training department, joined the safety team, or engaged in management duties. There are incredibly satisfying roles within the airlines, from designing approach procedures to on-boarding a new type of aircraft into the fleet. Alternatively, he could’ve gotten senior enough to establish a light schedule where he could “teach GA” on his own time, even opening up his own 141 school (as many have done before him).

Bottom Line

David makes some great arguments in the blog post itself. There is truly a dire need for professional CFIs. There are many other roads in aviation. Airline flying isn’t for everyone. Mid-life career-changers may not benefit from the 121 life as much as a twenty-something. The video, however, is reminiscent of a medical student complaining about residency: “paying dues”, whether right or wrong, is a part of the airline career and pays off dividends in much less time than that of a medical doctor or aspiring professional athlete.

– JM is currently a pilot with experience in the 61, 121, 135, 141, 142, and OEM sectors. The views expressed above are his own and not representative of his employer. His views expressed are personal and he makes no claim of being an “aviation expert!”


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment and continue the dialogue. If you feel inspired, please contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there!

And please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. ourr amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI!

What a wonderful time to be entering the aviation profession! There are amazing opportunities around every corner – either as a young person seeking a first job or as a mid-life lateral transfer into this exciting field. But with the din of aggressive airline recruiting, many people are entirely missing the advantages of becoming a professional aviation educator. All the focus is geared toward becoming a worker bee for the airlines. It is a serious mistake for young, motivated pilots to just march mindlessly forward with only an eye toward the airlines, there are other viable options.

If you would believe the media and marketing blitz, every regional airline is just waving cash and guaranteeing happiness and a bright future of freedom and fun. But don’t fool yourself; not only must every pilot personally earn that precious right seat slot in the airline machine (tough work!), this part of aviation is certainly not the right fit for everyone. The airlines provides a very structured version of the “flying dream” with limited flexibility and freedom; its not for everyone. Your flying is very structured and it takes years of commitment to climb the ladder to qualify for the “dream job” everyone imagines is around the corner (great when you get there). If you are just new to the working world or pusuing a mid-life lateral transition into aviation, consider also a future as an aviation educator as a viable choice.

The CFI certificate used to be a mandatory step for everyone entering any aviation career. But in this hot pilot-hiring market, many young people are increasingly skipping this step, and this is a huge mistake. This person will miss a vital learning opportunity that CFI time provides – and this could be a great fall back position when the next airline downturn strikes. CFI experience will also provide a window into a different aviation career with more flexibility and freedom (different strokes for different folks). And amazingly, this version of aviation professionalism is currently providing equal financial opportunities to the airlines.  Glass Door is currently advertising CFI salaries at $79K.   As a professional CFI you largely define your own personal future, building your credentials in the areas that interest you (and there is more variety than you could ever imagine). But make no mistake, this path certainly requires more personal imagination and commitment. Amazingly, from the moment you are FAA certificated as a CFI, you are potentially your own own professional business person – not that I would advise this step without some seasoning and mentoring. This is a very different version of the aviation dream from the structured airline life where you are a cog in a bigger machine. There have been some pretty high-profile airline defections and career blow-back. And all I am advocating is exploring all the possibilities.

I went to UND, commercial aviation degree. Worked for UND for 3 years in a couple different roles, instructor, stage pilot, management. Accepted a job at a regional airline flying a CRJ-200.

I realized fairly quick that working at an airline wasn’t for me. I wanted to be home for my family, want to progress my career based on ability not seniority, didn’t enjoy flying(why i got into this career), fed up with management vs pilots

So please check this out or spread the word if you are mentoring someone entering aviation. People need to discover the benefits and remarkable flexibility of the recently more lucrative aviation education profession. The attraction of a “personal business” as an aviation educator can be more compatible with the needs and demands of a real life. Instead of using your CFI time as a ladder make it your home. Our profession is seriously in need of really good professional educators and the only limits to income, flexibility and advancement are your own imagination. Flight Safety in Florida will pay for all your CFI certificates and a type rating if you have a commercial and are qualified. Explore the amazing possibilities of being a professional CFI, the shiny jets will always be available as a future possibility. Fly safely (and often!)


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

FAA “License to Learn!”

There are some critical misunderstandings – and lots of unfounded “tribal knowledge” –  regarding the pilot examination system. CFIs and flight school owners sometimes approach a DPE after a checkride with surprise and ask “you tested [this person], and they passed, so why can’t they land in a crosswind?” Well clearly because this is not on the test!  (Does anyone read this book?) If  the FAA wanted to assure crosswind capability in the ACS, this maneuver would be required to be demonstrated. Instead it says: “If a crosswind condition does not exist, the applicant’s knowledge of crosswind elements must be evaluated through oral testing“.  And just about every applicant finds a nice blue-sky, calm-wind day for their evaluation (didn’t you?)   But I totally agree with the flight school – based on accident data and experience – crosswind capability *should* be part of every pilot’s mandatory tool kit. But clearly, the responsibility to create the total, capable, safe pilot rests with the aviation educator not the DPE

In many other areas also, the FAA’s DPE testing system represents only the “minimum viable product” of pilot performance and competency. The FAA has left the creation of a safe pilot to the CFI, with the DPE only testing the very basic “required elements.” DPEs are strongly counseled not to deploy “a higher personal standard” or an attitude about “what a pilot should really look like” on their evaluations!  These “creative” FAA evaluators are (rightfully) removed from the DPE pool. But I can assure you, every pilot examiner is elated when an applicant exceeds the standards and demonstrates superb skill, knowledge and judgment. The superior pilot applicant is what all of us >should< be trying to create in flight training (this goes beyond the ACS). As far as I can tell, the official FAA evaluation or “check ride” was designed to be a perfunctory and redundant “check”  of the CFIs training of an applicant. The checkride should only be an operational filter, or a second opinion to intercept a potential safety problem.

Understanding the FAA testing process in this manner also clearly argues against the practice of sending a problematic and unqualified pilot applicant to a DPE to “see how it goes.”

Imagine if this poorly prepared applicant happens to pass the FAA checkride; they definitely will not be safe or truly competent.  In such a case, both the CFI and the DPE have failed to assure the ACS standards (and the future safety of this person and their passengers). CFIs and DPEs have to understand this process better and work as a team to create safer pilots. And even for a successful new pilot, we have to honestly embrace the time-honored advice every new certificate or rating is “a license to learn“.

One last point to remember is the DPE usually has less than two total hours in the plane to run through a rigorous  set of maneuvers and evaluate a whole catalog of knowledge and judgment elements. The recommending CFI, by contrast, has 40-50 hours of time with this person and must be the true arbiter of excellence. DPEs are also strictly forbidden from handling the controls to demonstrate or teach from the right seat during an evaluation. The current FAA guidance on this point is very clear and has led to the removal of many DPEs. You will not find any “added value” imparted during a flight test from the senior aviator in the right seat; that is FAA policy!

Your input on this issue is certainly welcomed here in the comments (and by the FAA at this e-mail). I know there are professional aviation educators who think the ACS and some of its requirements are too stringent and restrictive; “we are making aviation too expensive and difficult.” This could be an indicator that we are at a good point of compromise (and everyone is equally unhappy)? The real news here is ultimately, the professional aviation educator is at the heart of aviation safety and assures that every pilot is thoroughly trained and safe. Fly safely (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

Stoicism Defeats “Magical Thinking”!

During the recent AOPA national weather tour, we reviewed four fatal weather accidents. These pilots launched – and continued – into totally crappy weather  which they knew about before flight. They ignored any mitigating strategies or sensible alternates and predictably killed themselves (we pilots *do* suffer from “mission mentality”). Viewing this with a group of happy pilots – eating our usual Oreo cookies and swapping lies – was a totally depressing experience. We could find no technological or skill causal factor, just a sad failure of decision-making; “stop the stupidity.” It reminded me of those scary Signal 30 Films they showed in High School driver’s education. Our human defense to these exposures –  so we can fly another day –  is to convince ourselves that this must be “the other guy” not me! But truly it is all of us, and unless we make it personal, these cautions will not succeed. We need to understand the internal failure process that causes these failures and how we can be guilty.

The optimism bias is built into all humans. We think we will be luckier than our peers or there would be no state lotteries, no start up businesses (85% fail) and we all would be saving for retirement (instead of buying planes). Tali Sharot wrote a great book – The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain – examining every side of this interesting phenomenon. It got us out of the trees millions of years ago and still propels human effort and achievement. (And pilots seem to have a bigger dose of this tonic)

We humans also commonly exhibit a sense of superiority – not necessarily arrogance -but 90% of drivers say they are “above average” and the superiority bias has been replicated in every human endeavor. And pilots are not the steely-eyed rational thinkers we seem, but driven (like everyone else) by emotional motivations- that “mission mentality”? – and we often fall prey to “magical thinking.” How else would someone believe they could “stretch fuel” or fly through severe icing in a piston plane? We are dreamers who buy more plane than we can afford (or fly) and then occassionally try too hard to succeed. When you combine our built in optimism with over-confidence and confirmation bias, you have a toxic built-in mindset we need to monitor carefully and work to control (the most comples airspace is between our ears?)

The best antidote for this misplaced optimism might be the ancient Greek Stoic Philosophy and the process of  negative visualization – they call it the “premeditation of evils”. Used by warriors marching into battle, this approach is modeled nicely in a good pre-takeoff briefing. The idea is to realistically visualize and prepare for all the possible terrible outcomes before we go flying (instead of wearing the rose-colored glasses); “On the take-off before rotation, if I have any problem – fire, loss of control, or any suprising noise or malfunction – I will reduce the power, maintain the centerline and stop” Adding more detail and realism is even better; “if an engine fails before rotation, I will reduce power and stay on the runway…” and creates caution and readiness for action. This process requires us to be totally present, fully aware – what shooters call “condition yellow“. Surely this is not a rosy, happy picture, but it is not intended to be. A stoic is realistically placing all the risks on the table for an honest evaluation. Too much optimism is can easily harm us.

“Personal minimums” applied to every area of flight are also the same “premeditation of evils” when evaluating enroute weather and changing circumstances. “If the ceiling is below 3,000 agl and I am VFR only, I will turn around and land…” But the essential commitment that makes this process work is honesty, discipline and clearly imagining how terrible the outcome would be in a very personal setting. It would really suck to be in the hospital for three months and then walk with a limp for the rest of my life…or not come home at all.

I certainly don’t want to diminish anyone’s joy of flying with these recommendations, but we have to be honest about our job as pilots since the very real price is our life and those of our friends and family. And especially when teaching, honesty and careful modeling of risk management are essential. Clearly bad stuff happens too often in aviation and we have to pay attention.

The same human adaptation which normalizes risk can also diminish our healthy respect (and occasional fear) for the dangers of flight. Did you ever have a moment of clarity at altitude flying cross-country in the middle of the night and realize how bold some of this flying really is? With no appreciation for risk we can quickly become complacent and thus vulnerable. Fly as if your life depends on your success and both your skills and presence of mind will improve. It is essential to stay situationally aware of and protect yourself from importing too much optimism into our flight decisions. Fly safely (and often) out there!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Our Subtle Safety Enemy: “Drift”

Serious pilots all embrace a commitment to the concept of safety and I hope no one –except perhaps our recent Seattle Q400 thief– wants to end up in a “smoking hole”. But despite this commitment and embracing best practices, we are constantly challenged by the subtle “drift” of normalizing.  “Procedural drift” is the result of our built-in human process of adaptation, driven by our urge to achieve greater efficiency and utility. Adaptation has made us the most successful species on earth, happily inhabiting every corner of the globe from the arctic to the slums of Mumbai. But it does not serve us well in maintaining safety in aviation.

The forces and adjustments that lead to “drift” are incremental, subtle and subconscious. As pilots, we are all self-selected, aggressive optimizers and we value the efficiency and utility of getting the job done (mission mentality). But in almost every case, this natural drive is opposed to our better angels of managing the risks and assuring safety. This dynamic process of “drift” starts with any non-standard procedure or short cut often very small. Let’s say that by “pushing the edge” a little, we are blessed with success. This may be a result of skill or entirely due to luck, but either way, with each “success” becomes a neurological and social “win” in our brain. Each success makes us feel good and reinforces the new behavior (see: brain chemical dopamine). With this change we start to “drift”and never assess “luck or skill.” Each success subtly transforms our personal standards and we subconsciously accept a new procedure that may add a risk. The GIV disaster at Bedford a few years ago was a perfect example of professionals who had drifted over years into a very unsafe operation. This crew was literally an “accident waiting to happen” and never through a conscious decision. This very same process fooled a very smart bunch of engineers and managers at NASA and brought down two US space shuttles! This process is built into our human software.

The normalization of deviance is defined as: “The gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the [person or] organization.” Seven years after Dr. Vaughan’s book was published, it struck again. The shuttle Columbia came apart due to damage in its heat shield as it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and seven more astronauts died. NASA had fallen prey to the normalization of deviance for a second time. Shuttles returning with damaged heat shields had become the norm.

Especially in the vacuum of personal flying, with no additional training or any outside objective comparisons, a “personal standard” can develop into some very unique procedures quite contrary to safety. This is why the simple addition of hours does not create safer pilots; it may instead create a very weird and dangerous pilot. (And this is one reason professional pilots revisit the mother ship every six months) Without a supporting professional organization and regular critique, drift and normalizing are almost inevitable in piloting. That is why frequent training and an affiliation to a professional organization (yes- SAFE) with a strong Code of Ethics are essential.

Dr. Bill Rhodes, an Air Force Academy Instructor, has studied pilot personalities extensively and points out lots of warning signs. Almost every time the biggest talker in the room with the “fifty mission jacket” is exactly the person to avoid and ignore. Their personal belief in their own abilities and skills, with no objective standard or verification, has led them to become a dangerous and “creative” aviator (often with the biggest ego).

Especially if you are a new pilot or instructor and value professionalism and excellence in aviation, seek out a proven, professional mentor to guide your growth as you explore and develop your new skills. This is especially important if you are a new aviation educator, in the business of teaching even more pilots (see last week’s blog). We can only sustain a professional standard as a group if we are professionals bonded together; its the human condition. For more on this fascinating process of normalization and drift, see Sidney Dekker’s book “Drift Into Failure” (As a professor he even became a professional pilot to study this process in at work in aviation) It turns out the more errors we expose and talk about the safer we are — not by ignoring the problem. Join SAFE, we are here for you-fly safely (and often).


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

FAA has “Minimums”-We Need Better!

It was an honor to present during the Redbird Migration this week at AOPA. The message is critical to growing aviation and keeping us all safe: A newly certificated CFI (and all FAA certificates) only demonstrated the “minimum viable product” to earn this rating and needs more growth and seasoning to be truly functional. This is why Canada’s Class Four (new) CFI cannot legally teach without direct supervision and it takes a Class One to teach another CFI. The US is much more permissive.

All certificates granted by the FAA work this way- you now have only the bare minimums; just like “one mile, clear of clouds” or the “91.205 -required flight instruments.” If you just earned that CFI please remember, you have only an airspeed, altimeter and compass, so don’t charge into heavy weather.

Bridging the experience gap is the mission of SAFE, helping a new CFI “grow from good to great”and  building educational excellence. Please  join us, use our resources freely and get a mentor to build your skills. If you are an employer or flight school, use our resources and people. The critical piece is the awareness and agreement to embrace wise limits and stay humble; you start as an apprentice. With a new certificate at any level, embracing humility helps us learn daily in so many ways. And we have amazing resources at SAFE to help you. One of our board members has been a DPE for 41 years -more hours and years than most of us have even flown airplanes!

Wayman and Zoan at Redbird Migration

In a perfect world each new CFI goes to work for an experienced and watchful Chief CFI to bridge this gap and become  a truly effective educator. But we know this does not always happen. Mentoring, either locally or through SAFE, is the only other solution to improving and growing. We heard this same message again and again during Migration but one school owner (who manages 35 CFI-employees) boils this advice down to some simple guidance: “initially, CFIs can be pretty weak, but with a good ‘learning attitude’ and careful mentorship, they improve faster than you can believe.” And that is exactly what SAFE is here for; we help CFIs bridge the gap to become excellent educators. We need to cooperate on this to fix the 80% drop out rate and make stronger, safer pilots.

An important first step is to go beyond the inaccurate name “flight instructor” and embrace “aviation educator.” I know I beat this up in a previous blog, but in truth, we primarily educate people on the ground in a calm environment before and after each flight. (And we also teach in Redbirds or in front of a class of students) In the aircraft, we should be primarily reinforcing what we already presented on the ground where a brain can focus and learn effectively. In flight we allow our pilot in training to try out the new learning, make some mistakes and self-correct. In flight we provide a safe environment and gentle guidance. A good CFI is coaching very carefully not controlling.

I was fortunate to meet an expert in this technique this week at Redbird Migration. Mike McCurdy runs the celebrated IFR6 and Charleston Flight School. At his school, all initial exposures to every maneuver- from taxiing to landing – is introduced in his Redbird. Just as revealed in The Talent Code, guided repetition in the “struggle zone” builds proficiency, precision and good habits before subsequent reinforcement in the aircraft. Only after there is some demonstrated control and mastery does the pilot in training calibrate each maneuver in a real aircraft.

If you aren’t blessed with a Redbird, this same technique works in a plane but requires restraint and very careful pacing. Most CFIs attempt to cover too much too quickly in a misguided effort to be “efficient” and “progress rapidly” (I did this too originally). The result is a mess of half-learned maneuvers and lots of confusion (and ultimately slower progress). It is essential to patiently assure mastery at every basic level before moving on to more complicated maneuvers (oh yeah, wasn’t that somewhere in the FOI?)

And pace is surely very personal. I have completed several private pilots in 35 hours (Part 141) but they were especially gifted (also amazingly dedicated and lucky on weather). I call these clients the “magic bean” (from Jack and the Beanstalk) Plant them in fertile soil of good ground instruction then stand back and watch them grow. These blessed learners only require a little nudge here and there–Just show them once and they have it!

Then there are those that struggle continually and plateau, run out of money, then return after a while and slog onward. These are the ones who really teach you how to be an educator; patient, creative and caring. This is the (more typical) long game, but the rewards of success are greater for both student and educator.

If all this makes sense to you, you probably have already run this race, earned this T-shirt and might even be a Master CFI, DPE or veteran CFI. We need you at SAFE to help mentor (we have a very active program guiding new CFIs) If you think I am totally full of $h#t here (there is always a chance you might be right) *or* you might be in need of some mentoring yourself. My original chief instructor frustrated me to death reminding me “if the student has not learned, the instructor has failed to teach effectively.” Our “Good 2 Great™” program is open to all our members and we have specialists in every area of aviation. We all have worked hard and learned a lot, but aviation is a complicated and endlessly challenging occupation. Join us and help, there is always a new area to learn. Fly safely (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

“Chunking” for Effective Learning

Facebook has many fans and detractors but it sure provides a view into a world I never knew existed (Walmart videos anyone?) Some aviation education posts are similarly horrifying in this regard.

In a recent post on an aviation forum, one CFI described a new student he picked up with only two lessons in his logbook: His first flight ever [!] was 3.5 hours with 42 landings (all touch and go’s). His second flight was 4.2 hours which was a cross-country >50nm with 1.5 hours of hood time. There are so many things wrong here I don’t know where to begin. But it certainly highlights the basic necessity in all education (and obviously lacking here) of presenting the right experiences in the correct order with the appropriate level of challenge. Deconstructing large, complex skills or ideas and assembling them into a meaningful, usable form (making sense of it in your personal way) is called “chunking!” This reduces “cognitive load” and allows for faster learning and operation and is one of many tools an instructor may use to facilitate learning.

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All complex learning projects require a reasonable outline or syllabus, mutually agreed upon, for a sensible order of presentation from basic to more complex.  This ensures both progress and incremental mastery while sustaining motivation. Learning to land on lesson #1, with no background skills or preparation, is like bloodying your face by continually running at a high wall and trying to get over it; painful and demoralizing. It is no wonder we have an 80% drop out rate in aviation!

So if “successful flight” is a high wall that new applicants encounter, “chunking” is providing a manageable staircase of appropriate steps to incrementally surmount that challenge.  Each step at the right time with the correct degree of challenge builds skills while maintaining motivation. “Everything-all-at-once” is always wrong–confusing, demoralizing and expensive! Continual progress requires a savvy aviation educator presenting learning challenges for each unique individual at a manageable rate (but also the encouragement and scaffolding to assure success). The correct steps will be different for everyone –and certainly also not by rote from a standard syllabus! Please shred those generic “CFI lesson plans” and embrace each lesson as a personal creative challenge for *you* as an educator.

Those pre/post briefings on every flight add the necessary meaning to the flight experience. This collaboration shares the larger mental model and calibrates performance achieved for anticipation of the next step forward. To this end it is not enough to be only a “flight instructor”. To achieve efficiency and success we must also be an astute, and compassionate fully-fleged “aviation educator” using a variety of tools and resources to assure educational success. (see last week’s rant: CFI vs AE) Ground time and simulators are a critical part of your toolkit as an educator.

Chunking correctly manages “cognitive load” mentioned in previous blogs, and places your learner at the appropriate level of challenge. This is the most effective way to build solid sustainable skills in any learning situation; it generates “broadband for the brain”.  Just flying in your “comfort zone”  does not build new skills and this can be the problem with “scenario training” too early in flight training. This often occurs because of an admirable attempt to “keep it all fun.” Unfortunately, “education by osmosis” fails to adequately engage the learner and build essential skills. Early flight lessons require some hard work at the correct level of challenge- -remember those necessary scales on the piano preceding your amazing Chopin recital? “Fantasy flight training” can’t efficiently build “aviation muscle memory” that precedes higher learning (though it certainly builds CFI hours).  As aerobatic competitors are fond of saying; “to get good, ya gotta go pull some Gs and burn avgas.” A good aviation educator has to achieve an effective balance of the skill building in the “struggle zone” but also integrate scenario/judgment opportunities at the appropriate time (no wonder we are so highly paid!)

In every activity “proper practice makes perfect” and this is also true for aviation educators.  There is a real difference between “one hour 2000 times” and “2000 unique hours of real teaching experience”. Please sign up to follow this blog (and offer your suggestions and comments!) A future blog will deal more with acquiring expert educator skills more rapidly (are we still learning?). Fly safely (and often!)


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!