FAA has “Minimums”-We Need More!

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!

 

CFIs Become “Aviation Educators”!

To me, the FAA term “instructor” always seemed too narrowly focused -and limiting- given the depth of the responsibilities we have in transforming people’s lives. “Instructor” sounds more suitable to the steps of a recipe used to bake a cake; do this, this and this and presto-it’s finished! In aviation we are engaging creative and motivated humans at a very high level and transforming lives. Especially now, with the ACS adding the “soft skills” of risk management and judgment into the previously limited PTS “wiggle the stick,” the term “educator” seems much more appropriate for what we do. (and is it any wonder that a “flight instructor” would miss the proven benefits of simulation, briefings and ground instruction?) Hopefully, this more comprehensive title will be chosen for the new FAA ACS for aviation educators due out in June 2019.

The term “instructor” was more harmonious with the ancient FAA book I learned from in the 1980s. We humorously referred to this guidance as “good dog, bad dog” because of it’s narrow vision to “behavioral change” in student pilots. The new FAA manuals are refreshingly modern and comprehensively address the whole human spectrum of learning styles and needs. Thanks in large part to the Pilot Training Reform Symposium and the hard work of many dedicated people, we have evolved and outgrown the limited term “instructor” and become “aviation educators”.

“Education” is a more collaborative process and larger vision, involving the whole human experience where we work together and change entire lives. “Instruction” implies a one-way channel of imparting knowledge in rote steps with an authoritarian structure. As “educators” we embrace as our guidance a much deeper body of professional wisdom involving empathy and compassion. A favorite book of mine that captures this process and inspires excellence in educators is “How People Learn” from the National Academies Press. This book is available FREE as a pdf download or free to read online.  It is so much richer and more comprehensive than our outdated FOI with it’s 100 year old “Laws of Learning.” An additional solid resource is the Harvard Classic “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” By Chris Argyris. We encounter this enigma of highly intelligent, yet difficult learners all the time; crack the code with this book!

As “aviation educators” we are part of a larger and inspiring consortium of professionals. I see too many CFIs limit their professional vision to instructing AOA and a dance card of rote procedures to be copied and mastered. Our ultimate challenge is really connecting with and motivating some endlessly unique learners. We have the difficult mission of inspiring both excellence and lifetime learning in our future pilots. Embrace this challenge and grow from good to great. Fly safe out there (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!

Great Time @ AOPA Santa Fe!

The AOPA regional fly-ins continue to grow in popularity and quality. The recent show in Santa Fe was exceptional for attendance and also the extensive educational opportuities. The Rusty Pilot Program (now available online) has now returned over 5,000 pilots to the air.

The owner-maintenance shows included Mike Busch, SAFE’s Adrian Eichhorn and Paul New presenting a full morning of great information.  SAFE Board Member Mike Vivion presented a wonderful show on VFR Back-Country Flying. (This will also be available at Carbondale and Gulf Shores).

We added a lot of new members to our organization at the Santa Fe show and met with many of our sponsors. Sporty’s offered a free FIRC to all CFIs joining and the popular 1/3 off ForeFlight discount was attractive to everyone.

We are happy to see SAFE member Stephen Fiegel won the EAA J-3 Cub! Stephen has taught aerobatics and upset training for many years and is a strong advocate of serious stick and rudder proficiency. He is currently working with National Aerobatic Champion Rob Holland in New Hampshire. Find Stephen here: http://www.keystoneaerosports.com

Please make sure you update your endorsements with the new AC 61.65H that was just published. A summary of changes is here (mostly editorial improvements). Changes have already been incorporated into our (FREE) SAFE Toolkit App.

DPE and MCFI Ken Wittekiend is busy revitalizing our CFI mentoring program. Instructors at all levels of expertise are welcome to sign up for a mentor if they are expanding their skills into a new area and would like some helpful advice. The program is accessible to members here.

A new “Educator Excellence” area has just been added to the  app featuring a very usable podcast summary of Daniel Coyle’s excellent book “The Talent Code” (recommended reading for educators in every field). Fly SAFE (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!

VFR into IMC – – Execute Your “Parachute Option”!

Thunderstorms and icing get a lot of attention from aviation writers. But surprisingly, simple VFR into IMC is the biggest killer. And of these fatalities, half of the pilots are instrument rated!

Flying into lowering visibiity and ceilings while VFR is obviously a “slow motion accident” and usually avoidable by better pre-briefing. But unfortunately, pilots often both launch-and continue- into worsening weather. For mostly psychological reasons; “mission mentality”, the completion bias, and Newton’s fourth law: “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion,” we end up in the soup getting lower and scarier. So when you finally realize how trapped you are (and a 180 degree turn is no better) how do you save your life?

The “parachute option”is available for all planes (even if you don’t own a Cirrus). What I am recommending here is merely the precautionary landing while power and marginal visibility is still available. This amazing life-saving option is seldom mentioned or and almost never taught (its not on the pilot test). But executed decisively, it is a demonstration of savvy ADM; the best option given the existing curcumstances.

Consider the benefits for your survival. Continuing into worsening weather is proven to be 90% fatal whereas a precautionary landing has a 96% likelihood of you walking away. Yes, the plane may be damaged (as it also would be with a BRS deployment) but the important part is you and your passengers live. The difficult obstacle to overcome is entirely psychological; accpting the potential sacrifice of an airframe and the stigma of making an error in judgment; get-over-it and live. As when an engine failure occurs, your insurance company owns the plane if you are flying at treetop level. It’s time to act wisely and decisively to save your life, execute your “parachute option”.

The Courage To Stop

When it comes down to the real thing, the pilot has to have the courage to make the decision that continued flight involves too much risk given the fact that there are decent places to land safely. Once we’ve gotten low, in bad visibility, we are down where there are a heck of a lot of towers. We know that scud-running has become so dangerous as to be a last-ditch ploy a pilot tries when out of options, often just before dying. So, we get smart. We spot a field that may be acceptable…

Cirrus initially had tremendous resistance from owners to using their ballistic chute. To succeed in making their chute a viable option Cirrus had to be integrate the BRS into all their flight training operations. Frequent reminders and practice in a simulator overcame the stigma of percived pilot failure “ruining the plane”. Saving lives is always a win! LMK what you think…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!

Weather Wisdom Thursday!

Imagine my surprise on a  recent private pilot flight test when the applicant’s version of “use of available aviation weather resources” was calling a series of AWOS robots along his flight route on his cell phone. (This is wrong on so many levels but my real “surprise” was later  talking with his instructor). We have so many amazing aviation weather tools available to us that the usual problem is selecting a reliable personal system; this poor student was never taught anything; never shown 1800wxBrief or visited the associated website. SAFE clearly has more work to do with FAA certificated educators (the CFI and I also spent time exploring “what a scenario is” and how to use them in aviation training…)

SAFE ran a whole series of on-line webinars with Gold Seal Ground School on maneuvering and loss of control last fall and winter and now we are focusing in on obtaining weather and developing a dynamic weather picture (and teaching these methods). Join us this Thursday, Sept 6th at 8 PM EDT for an FAA WINGS program online.  (This is the FAA registration, the portal show day is HERE)

Who better than Scott Dennstaedt, the amazing CFII and meteorologist (who helped construct the ForeFlight weather brief section), to help us develop and understand this topic? Scott has run national weather seminars for pilots for years and recently launched the WeatherSport App to help pilots obtain better weather information. Scott will be our subject matter expert for Thursday’s show. SAFE members will be very happy to know there is a sizable discount for joining Scott’s system now available on the member savings page!


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!

 

 

 

Providing Productive Challenges in Flight

 

Scenario-based training (like FITS before it) has acquired a stigma in the aviation training world though overuse– but please stay with me here 🙂 Because done properly, scenarios are the most important tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And they are now the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS evaluations. But unfortunately, scenarios have been overused (and abused) until many educators practically gag at the mention of the word. But please remember, the  mind-numbing “practice area experience” is equally misused and probably responsible for more student drop-outs than scenarios. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenges to training that more accurately resemble the real flight experience. They expand a small geographic area to the whole country (with no added cost!)

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes from inappropriately imposing the same generic scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges.  Given the unique needs of each student this process is doomed to failure by definition (Not unlike those stock “CFI lesson plans”). Anticipated “learning opportunities” often instead become “play time” for instructors logging hours and an expensive burden for the training pilot. They turn flight training into Disney with no added educational value. The heart of a successful scenarios is a motivated and imaginative aviation educator customizing and curating the learning experience. Creative scenario generation and applicatiion creates motivating experiences proven to rapidly build skills, knowledge and judgement and result in a versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency).

The Necessity…

The proven necessity of scenarios is simple. Your new pilot, or “rusty recurrent pilot”,  has the FAA privilege to fly day or night, anywhere in the country, for the rest of their life.  And this is despite being only trained in a small geographic area on good weather days, in daylight.  To safely meet the challenge of real life flying, a student and educator must engage together in some “active imagining.” If done correctly, scenarios transport your pilot to all the places and challenges they may encounter as a pilot.  Working together, you must mentally extrapolate from the local area to the challenges of the whole country, in different terrain and weather, over the span of a lifetime.

Scenarios Done Properly…

If properly constructed and executed, a scenario puts your student into the “struggle zone” or what educational psychologists call the “zone of proximal development”.  An effective scenario presents the optimal level of personal challenge for an individual learner and enables an educator to both teach and evaluate at the highest correlation level of learning.  Done poorly, scenarios merely run up the flight training bill and become an excuse for extraneous trips to exciting lunch destinations on the client’s dime. Buying specialized scenario books or apps to deploy cumbersome generic scenarios usually fail; to be successful, each scenario must be personal and challenge each unique leaner. To present an effective scenario, it is essential to your student well so you can craft realistic challenges appropriate to their level of skill and realm of experience. Remember, a solid relationship of trust is the #1 ingredient to success in any learning situation.  Let’s unpack the “why” and “how to” of SBT  and also provide a sales pitch for this creative way to turbo-charge your teaching.

How to…Let’s get started!

Scenario training can be as simple as scrolling on Skyvector ( or ForeFlight) to a far off state and “mentally relocating” your student to a certain altitude with a mission and set of weather conditions. Active engagement and “buy in” is essential from the learner also so adding a personal mission or application is essential; make it personal! “You’re transporting your sick dog to the clinic and need to know what airspace we are in? And what viz and cloud clearance (radio/nav equipment) are required? Who do I talk to here and how will the plane perform at this altitude?” The more personally relevant and realistic each scenario is, the more actively your student will engage and the more effective their learning. (A previous blog revealed the learning benefits of practicing in the “struggle zone”) And all this can also happen effectively (and economically) on a bad weather day when flying might not be productive at your student’s level. If you have a simulator you obviously have an even better tool and the scenarios created for the EAA-PPC are available now on-line (more on this in a future article)

So  if I am dealing with a Cornell aerospace student, a plausible scenario might start with “You are back at the Mohave Spaceport for Cornell and suddenly have an opportunity to do some personal flying in Mohave…how would you unpack the challenges of mountains and high density altitudes, unique “traffic”?” Or present the “Oshkosh Fly-In Challenge” with the Fisk arrival (this and others are in the EAA-PPC list) And remember these are also exactly the kind of challenges a good DPE is going to present during a practical test. Scenarios build a flexible, thoughful pilot that can unpack challenges and manage risks with skill, knowledge and imagination.

Creating mountains…

And how do you create those mountains? Perhaps after some low level ground reference maneuvering, impose a hypothetical “service ceiling” on your plane in MSL (2000 over the terrain but below the hilltops) Then limit the airplane power to 2100rpm (density altitude) and now transit the “mountains”. “Can we safely transition through the hills to our home airport?  Should we divert instead>”  Similarly you can impose a solid cloud ceiling and  leave the weather decision to the student. Then accept the client’s decision -good or bad- if conditions are within your minimums and you can keep the flight safe and legal. Once  you are flying with too much wind or too low clouds, the client experiences the consequences of their folly (and perhaps log some actual or get some good crosswinds) within a safe environment (watchful eye of the educator). Share your favorite scnarios in the comments below.

The essential element in all scenarios is allowing your client to make mistakes (while carefully maintaining a margin for safety) and supplying only minimal guidance.  Allowing this famous “learning opportunity” to unfold is critical and easily ruined by too much “helping” from the CFI. As errors add up, their struggle will clearly demonstrate the consequences of bad decisions and the “accident chain”  without the safety risk.

Motivating for students and educators!

Scenarios are exciting for both the pilot and the educator adding fun and variety to the training experience; this is how Master Instructors are built. Good scenarios beat “going to the practice area for some steep turns” hands down for learning efficiency and motivation. And there is a real difference between “one hour 2000 times” and “2000 unique hours of real teaching experience”. A future blog will deal more with acquiring expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). 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!

Command Your Technology For Safety!

Our amazing modern technology provides all kinds of enigmatic choices and challenges for directing our lives. “Smartphones” and “digital assistants” increasingly suggest or determine our every action unless we consciously intervene and take charge. Especially for pilots, taking charge and commanding our relationship with technology is essential if we want to fly safety. A little history here provides some important lessons.

Click for detailed FAA Report on TAA Safety

Do you remember all the promises that “technically advanced airplanes”  would dramatically reduce our GA accident rate? This was like a “magic bullet” in the 1990s when the first “glass panel” aircraft were coming onto the market. The promise everywhere in the news was that we would be “saved by technology.” This seemed logical given the incredible precision and quantity of information suddenly available to pilots previously depending on some pretty sketchy analog devices. With digital accuracy and data, we would be able to better see and avoid weather and supposedly never run out of fuel. But our tricky human interface largely defeated many of the benefits provided by the new technology and the same accidents are still occuring with depressing regularly.

The paradox of technology is that precisely because we have more accurate data,  pilots can reduce their planning margins and cut it even closer to the edge. In the case of fuel, we can plan tighter on time and with live weather depiction in the panel,  we often navigate even closer between storm cells. The root problem is a lack of pilot judgment. By training or by nature, pilots are mission driven and often aggressively “optimize” and thereby decrease their safety. Give us humans a sharper tool and they will shave the safety margin ever closer. The difference between what we are able to do and what we should do for safety still escapes many pilots. Clearly the challenge for aviation educators is teaching wisdom, not wi-fi.

The ACS focus on judgment and robust risk management has made a huge and important difference in the flight training and testing world. I see this as a CFI and DPE and hope we see an impact soon in the safety statistics. But because this initiative is still so new to general aviation, the benefits are still only slowly making their impact upward into the aviation charter world. I actually clearly remember the very first time I had a young co-pilot initiate his own risk management plan before a challenging flight. I thought I would fall over in gratitude. He had clearly laid out the challenges and his risk mitigation planning just like a student on a flight test- – funny how that initial training works. Modern technology in the panel provides amazing tools; perfect location mapping, real-time weather, fuel status down to the last drop. But all this will only yield increased safety if we have a “thinking monkey” operating it with a clear vision of the larger safety concerns.

A student logbook from a flight test; so good to see “personal minimums” recorded.

Another challenge provided by our amazing new technology pertains to legacy operators; pilots with years in the air, importing this technology into their flying. There is far too much reliance on autopilots and GPS with operator skills deteriorating rapidly and dramatically. Many formerly wonderful old-time pilots have become unapologetic “technology managers” driving planes in a mindless fashion. As we become “programmers”, the hand flying skills we once all depended on to be safe are no longer available as a back-up.

In the 135 charter world proficiency is enforced every 6 months in FAA-required training. In the GA world the proficiency mandate falls to the aviation educator. I highly recommend the new AOPA “Focused Flight Review” as a tool for educators. The dedicated team at AOPA, in collaboration with SAFE and other incustry players, has assembled a wonderful resource library for inspiring pilot proficiency. And this is useful for training at any level, not just the flight review. Teaching this syllabus injects risk management and judgment into the world of legacy operators who often never encountered risk management in their initital training. Too much technology magic can defeat a once proficient pilot quite rapidly. Expand your flight envelope with hands on flight training, fly safe (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!

Reflect and Redirect; “Double Loop” Learning!

Pilots are a “different breed of cat” as you well know. As a personality type we are confident, higher than average in intelligence, tend toward dominance and are almost never wrong about anything! (ask my wife…) “Never wrong” is “sort of” a joke but you know our tribe; pretty self-assured and assertive, with perfectionist tendencies. And though it takes confidence to pilot effectively, pilots also hate to admit to errors (as do most professionals in all fields). This very feature makes pilots and other high-performance professionals remarkably bad at learning. And as experience and hours pile up this problem gets worse not better; success becomes an impediment to further learning. This is a well-known problem in the “C-suite” of business too. Read Teaching Smart People How to Learn by Chris Argyris (a Harvard Business Review Classic) for a great analysis of this problem. Experts and professionals are remarkably good at problem solving but amazingly bad at learning.

Double loop learning is part of action science — the study of how we act in difficult situations. Individuals and organizations need to learn if they want to succeed (or even survive). But few of us pay much attention to exactly how we learn and how we can optimize the process.

Even smart, well-educated people can struggle to learn from experience. We all know someone who’s been at the office for 20 years and claims to have 20 years of experience, but they really have one year repeated 20 times.

Finding and trapping errors is only the first basic feedback loop where we analyze, correct and revise our plans or techniques. This “problem-solving” level is characteristically directed outward, largely analytical, and psychologically painless. Creating and following SOPs or regulations is part of this process. Compensating for changing conditions and  “re-trimming” our activies back to the desired flow is all part of a normal day.

Real progress and improvement (learning and not just problem-solving) occurs at a higher level and involves tweaking the mental models and preventing the error in the first place. This requires time to reflect critically on our own behavior and failings, solving deeper thinking/scripting problems. Level two or “double loop” learning freely admits to errors and fixes our inner OS that is usually the root cause. Every error should be viewed as a “double loop opportunity” to dig deeper and reflect on our assumptions and test the validity of our hypotheses. Only though “reflective learning” can we access and correct our normally invisible implicit level of learning.

For professionals, inward directed reflection can be initially psychologically painful. Professionals and expert performers are used to being “competent and correct” but “double loop learning” requires we admit, accept and correct personal failings. In addition, this is often only the first step. Accepting instruction, taking wise counsel humbly (and happily) is the key to real and rapid improvement. So we need to soften that pilot wall of confidence a bit and admit to personal failure to achieve growth. Learning happens at the “double loop” reflective level. A sure sign of this is when a good pilot say “thank-you” when an error is pointed out, and in the debrief not only makes a “note to self” to correct the obvious goof going forward but also resolves the deeper assumption/hypothesis that was the root cause.

     Highly skilled professionals are frequently very good at single loop learning. After all, they have spent much of their lives acquiring academic credentials, mastering one or a number of intellectual disciplines, and applying those disciplines to solve real-world problems. But ironically, this very fact helps explain why professionals are often so bad at double-loop learning.
     Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.

As humans, evolving over millions of years, we are internally hardwired with all kinds of implicit reactions and biases that serve us amazingly well in survival against primordial threats and historical environmental challenges. Unfortunately, this deep imprinted learning is subconscious and only becomes visible in action. We need to reflect, accept, adapt and rewire these internal systems with double loop learning if we want to function accurately under pressure in each specific aviation environment.

As aviation educators, it is also essential to develop these”double loop” corrective abilities in our clients. Once they are competent and approaching independent flight, it’s necessary (and initially excrutiating) to allow our these pilots the time and opportunity to discover (struggle) and correct their own errors! The #1 beginner CFI mistake is to immediately intervene and correct every mistake and not allow a “learning opportunity” (genius in the right seat). Your pilot will never develp the metacognitive capacity to self-correct and improve ; they will need a CFI forever. Our educational goal should be to create confident, independent, lifetime learners in every pilot.

And as educational professionals, we all need to continually learn and improve. Challenge yourself and add a Master Instructor Certification to your “do list” this year. Pursue personal improvement and excellence in your flying (and teaching), we have your back! See you at AOPA-Santa Fe (get a free Sporty’s FIRC with sign-up) and enjoy 1/3 off Foreflight (member benefit) which more than pays your annual dues.


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!

Honoring the “Head Masters”

Please join us in honoring JoAnn and Sandy Hill, the “Head Masters” and creators of the Master Instructor Program at AirVenture (Oshkosh) this year. This amazing husband and wife team has done more to enhance aviation professionalism than any two people, from the development of the Master Instructor program in 1995 to the revitalization of the GA Awards Program and development of SAFE. You are welcome to participate in this reunion and share your stories and memories (RSVP). The event starts at 4PM in the Oshkosh Terminal Building on Thursday, July 26th. If you cannot attend, please log into this form and share your thoughts here for a memory book for the Hills.

The Master Instructor Program was built on the widely accepted educational axiom “a good pilot is always learning”. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Built on other professional models of accumulating “Continuing Educational Units” the Hills realized unless we are actively and eagerly pursuing excellence on every flight we usually are developing “right seat rust” and complacency. As pilots, we are only as good as our last landing; there is no “safety inoculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)! The Master CFI program

Though as CFIs  we preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! And there is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay every other pilot and professional experiences. Continually embracing the “challenge of excellence” is the necessary antidote to maintain a sharp edge and continue to grow as a pilot and educator. “Right seat rust” is a sad reality in flying and it is occurs both in flying skills *and* educational methods.

After developing the Master Instructor Program, it was a natural step for the Hills to revitalize and improve the FAA’s National GA Awards. This program recognizes the best flight instructor, maintenance technician, and FAA Safety Team Representative in the country at Oshkosh.  Under the guidance of Sandy and JoAnn this program got a new level of organization, respect and recognition nationally. Not surprisingly, many of the award recipients are previously recognized Masters.

Please join us at the Oshkosh Terminal Building 4PM on Thursday the 26th of July and honor Sandy and JoAnn Hill for all they have done in aviation. Log into this Google Form to RSVP or leave your memories for them.


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!