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!

Pilot “Flight Envelope Expansion”!

For most long-time CFIs and proficient pilots, “training stalls” often become fairly comfortable, even pedestrian. And for committed aviators, the addition of some upset and aerobatic training further expands understanding and comfort in unusual attitude recoveries. The reasoning behind this approach is to expand the “personal flight envelope” and build “all attitude” control in the aircraft. Rich Stowell’s “Train to Avoid Loss of Control” is a perfect sales pitch for this approach to aviation safety; train to create a surplus of skill in all areas. Embedding stalls in realistic scenarios is especially useful and effective. Please watch this short program:

Unfortunately, this safety formula is not at all common in the general pilot population. The average GA pilot only flies in 5% of the possible flight envelope. The unfortunate consequence of this “avoidance strategy”  is that if these pilots are displaced from their “comfort zone” by weather, mechanical or distraction, they are unprepared for the experience which might cause the familiar startle, panic, and freeze-up. Loss of control (usually leading to a stall/spin) is our #1 fatal accident causal factor.

The FAA  has recently moved to define anything slower that 1.3 as “abnormal” and stalls  are defined as an “emergency”. Though both FAA and ICAO have implemented “expanded envelope training” ( for the airlines) this training also avoids any edge of envelope maneuvering. As discussed recently in Flying Magazine, and also in Aviation Safety,  the new definition of stalls as “emergencies” seems to discourage practice in this area. The already truncated private pilot flight envelope is getting even smaller through avoidance. On flight tests DPEs no longer examine MCA (minimum controlable airspeed) and even the term MCA has entirely disappeared from the Flight Training Handbook. We only transit this (too scary?) flight regime briefly on the way to the full stall (emergency!) and immediate recovery.  I can personally attest that pilot skills in this area are already deteriorating as a result of these recent changes. Is the solution to LOC-I to run away from the edges of the flight envelope and perhaps equip every aircraft with a ballistic parachute recovery system?

The drving force behind this change seems to be be the The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Though advocating for “expanded envelope training”, the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) report, counsels against developing “negative transfer with comfort in the stall regime of flight” by practicing at the edge of the envelope. But many aviation experts disagree, and there seems to be a growing group of experts advocating for all attitude maneuvering and practice as an antidote to the LOC-I problem.

Dr. Ed Wischmeyer, an MIT PhD and ATP pilot (and also a long time CFI) has submitted just such a LOC-I solution for this year’s EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize. Ed has created and cataloged a series of maneuvers designed to expand the pilot’s flight envelope. These go beyond the usual MCA and stalls to include the spiral stalls and “Sixty Nineties” (60 degree banked turns with full aileron reversal every 90 degrees of turn). The beauty of these maneuvers is the ability to perform them in a normal part 23 aircraft (Cessna/Cherokee) without exceeding performance limitations (obviously dual with a competent CFI). I personally use these and other CFI favorites like the “falling leaf” stalls and “rudder boxing” maneuvers to prepare pilots for commercial pilot training. These pilots are often just out of  instrument training with 40 hours of “standard rate” gentle IFR control so their maneuver envelope has shunk even smaller.

The objective of these “envelope expansion” maneuvers is to build greater willingness to “yank and bank” which supplies personal confidence and control of the aircraft. A larger personal flight envelope (also with diverse A/C experience) is a stronger basis for safety than FAA ICAO avoidance– your thoughts?


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!

Your New Friends in the FAA!

There has been a watershed of helpful FAA regulatory changes supporting and improving General Aviation in the last year. This is part of a whole new attitude and relationship that every pilot should recognize and celebrate. We need to move beyond the traditional dark humor  regarding the FAA; “we’re not happy until you’re not happy” and embrace this new attitude of cooperation. If an old cynic like me can do this, you can too!

Where I first saw this change was the unique and shocking “compliance philosophy” (they trust us!) and this change has expanded to a series of very positive regulatory reforms. Essentially the overview of all these changes is an attitude of working together toward a common goal of aviation safety and growth.  And though we all know it takes a while to turn a huge bureaucratic agency the whole relationship is evolving (rapidly) for the better. There is trust and cooperation where once there was hostility. Let me  count the ways:

Compliance Philosophy:  This amazing cultural change at the FAA recognizes the occurrence of “honest mistakes” (what a concept?) and eliminates the previously punitive approach to correcting errors. Applying Sidney Dekkers idea of “just culture” it attempts to understand how errors happen with an honest and open attitude that leads to greater understanding and safer aviation operations. Resolution is attempted with education rather than enforcement. Think of it as a global “NASA form” This is building throughout the FAA system of rules.

Basic Med: Since this regulatory relief, over 25,000 pilots have utilized this streamlined medical approval. There is no telling how many qualified pilots (many with years of valuable experience) have returned to flying as a direct result of this rule change. I personally know five flight instructors who were able to medically certify with this new rule where they were previously found “medically unfit.” This is a huge boost for general aviation.

Part 23 rewrite for easier aircraft certification and modification: Who would have though that you could legally install a new (previously “experimental only”) glass panel avionic suite in your Skyhawk or Cherokee? Quite a savings in cost. Hopefully, reduced regulatory confusion and cost will result in new planes coming to market soon. (All 550 pages here)

“Complex Aircraft” Revisited: When we (SAFE) sat down with Brad Palmer (head of AFS800) at Sun ‘N Fun it was clear that something was imminent. Though it takes years to change a regulation legally, with a stroke of the pen, AFS 800 eliminated the need for a “complex aircraft” for the commercial and CFI tests. This was an  immediate benefit for GA and largely a reaction to an unsafe situation highlighted by the tragic death of a student and DPE in Florida.

Recent Rule Change 6-27-18: Now you can finally keep yourself current on an approved ATD without the necessity for a CFII (very similar to logging approaches in flight). This will expand the usage of these very helpful devices and finally leverage modern technology for safety. The “Technically Advanced Aircraft” is also now qualified as a “complex” for logging the required time for the commercial certificate. Logging of SIC hours for 135 pilots is streamlined to help pilots building hours toward their ATP and advanced ratings.

Again, it is too easy to be cynical and evil-minded when dealing with the FAA- and everyone has a few things they do not like about any change-  but these are all amazing and positive changes that can help General Aviation. Celebrate this new attitude and focus on the benefits here moving forward. And please go out and promote aviation to your friends and family, fly Young Eagles and build a local flying club. We need more pilots and soon; get busy and see you at AirVenture!


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!

Build Better Flight Educators; New CFI-ACS!

New CFIs are safe if they are aware of their limitations…But are they effective and efficient?

Please stand back and take a fresh  look at our flight training industry. Why do we have the least experienced aviators (brand new CFIs) in charge of creating our next generation of pilots? Does this enhance safety? Should those “one year olds” really be teaching our new aviators? There is even a push in our industry now to roll back the long-standing requirement for 200 /2  to sign off initial CFI applicants as the “puppy mills” crank out “educators” even faster. Have we gone totally mad?

Certainly, part of why we do this is cultural inertia; “that’s the way we’ve always done it” (and it “sort of” worked due to mentoring and slow hiring). But the primary motivator has always been economics; “they want/need essential hours and we can pay them less!” But now that the pilot crunch is on, no one is left to teach our new students, and there is no mentorship to assure continuity and “seasoning”.  With the aviation student drop out rate already at 80% our industry is at a tipping point. First, we need more senior CFIs back in the field (ideas on this in a future blog) but we also need a dedicated cadre of better new CFIs. SAFE’s primary mission is to raise the professionalism (and pay) of our educators and hence raise all aviation excellence. With the creation of a new ACS for CFI (now out in beta form), SAFE is taking a close look at this educational process. What an amazing opportunity to raise the level of CFI skill, knowledge and judgment and make a difference! We were all there as the “new CFI” what would you change?

Our industry has finally come to realize that basic aircraft control is at the root of our aviation safety issues; “Loss of Control” is the leading cause of aviation fatalities. There is a failure in the basic instructional understanding of aircraft control; this is transmitted down through our whole training system. We’ve become fascinated with technology and lost our focus on the basics of pitch and power. Our new CFIs must have a better understanding of aerodynamics and focus on primary attitude awareness for aircraft control. We need to get back to basics of attitude plus power to achieve control and performance rather than teaching whizz bang technology. CFIs have to know this to teach it or all is lost. We want your input and ideas (and energy) This letter was written by a former DPE and current G$$ driver and countersigned by many senior DPEs at SAFE. Let us know your ideas please:

“This letter is in response to the recent FAA webinar explaining ACS changes as well as offering a ‘sneak preview’ of the ATP and CFI ACS. It is crafted by a former DPE (15 years and 2400 tests, now a current G4 pilot) and then edited and counter-signed by several DPEs at SAFE. The opinions here also represent a widespread opinion among experienced CFIs and DPEs throughout our aviation industry.

We feel the new Flight Instructor Airplane ACS should have multiple task elements that require a deeper understanding of aerodynamics and a serious requirement to teach each maneuver using aircraft attitude as the primary control reference. We also need to develop more knowledgeable and professional instructors, dedicated to aviation education as a career rather than temporary “hour-builders.” These changes are essential to addressing the continuing GA accident rate and 80% new student dropout rate which are ruining our industry. With the aging pilot population and precipitous drop in student pilot starts, recreational flying is in danger of disappearing entirely in the US. The new CFI ACS is an excellent opportunity to finally move the needle on these vital issues.

Focusing on attitude control as primary control reference will revitalize the understanding of correct basic aircraft control among our students, our flight instructors, and dare we say, our evaluators. Here we have a chance to make a quantum difference in training efficacy, and ultimately, the safety of the flying public; pilot and passenger alike. 

Current and former pilot examiners have witnessed a marked and progressive decline in the understanding of correct aircraft control paradigms among both pilots and flight instructors. As the last of our “greatest generation” of senior aviators “goes west” we are in danger of losing the “true wisdom” of aircraft operation. Control of the aircraft is always achieved through attitude control combined with a proper power setting. This simple and effective concept is well documented in all versions of the airplane flying handbook, yet in interactions with the CFI population, we find it largely unknown, or unclear – what we might call fuzzy knowledge. This needs to be documented and tested in the new FAA CFI ACS.

The fact is that giving a new student a firm grasp of this basic concept, as well as effective instruction in its application from the first lesson, are the most important aspects of the entire training process. We all have witnessed pilots who did not receive good attitude based instruction from the first lesson. They are prone to slow progress, unexplained, unsafe, and arbitrary control inputs, fear of basic maneuvers such as stalls and slow flight, and higher levels of frustration and delayed progress with the landing phase. But due to the vagaries of the training and testing process, a pilot without a good conceptual foundation in attitude flying will eventually pass his or her check ride. 

One of the bizarre aspects of this general decline in knowledge about how we actually control an airplane in flight is a quite universal agreement among highly experienced instructors and evaluators that it is indeed widespread. Networking with highly experienced CFI’s and DPE’s, we find universal agreement that this lack of understanding is present at every level of the pilot population, and is an issue for both safety and training efficacy. Yet most seem apathetic about trying to change this pernicious trend, having tried over the years to move the needle of understanding in a positive direction. In most cases, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

Without a concept of attitude control at the base of one’s knowledge pyramid, hearing this message later has little impact on how a pilot flies or how a CFI teaches. Basic aerodynamic knowledge informs the (attitude flying) concept, which enables the learning of proper techniques and procedures. What most often happens in current training programs is this; background knowledge – informing no fundamental concept – then techniques and procedures drawn directly from the laws of physics. This does not work well. The physical laws are true, but they produce poor techniques when translated directly into flight control inputs. Attitude control as aircraft control must be introduced early (as it is in the Airplane Flying Handbook) and often, as the fundamental concept which enables precise and accurate aircraft control techniques. The CFI ACS is the place where a renewed emphasis on the teaching of attitude flying concepts and techniques can spark an industry-wide increase in understanding and application of correct control paradigms.

Evidence of the erosion of authentic knowledge about attitude aircraft control was highly visible in the recent NTSB roundtable on the Loss of Control pandemic. While a few participants did try to move the discussion towards attitude flying – Patty Wagstaff, Doug Stewart, Charlie Precourt, and Sean Elliot all tried – it seemed the discussion kept moving back to technology solutions and airspeed, airspeed, airspeed. The nifty device invented by the young EAA innovators is a wearable display of airspeed and factored stall speed; very cool. But this also points to a questionable paradigm. Airspeed is not the control reference, it is a result of aircraft attitude combined with energy state. The fellow who kicked off the roundtable actually described a scenario ending in tragedy when the pilot “took his eye off the airspeed indicator for one split second”.  I would say he actually lost situational awareness of his attitude and his energy state which caused a decrease in airspeed at a critical moment. We don’t want our students flying by looking at the airspeed indicator – we want them flying by outside attitude reference and reading the results on the flight instruments or the PFD, right? 

SAFE and allied professionals are poised to help advance this initiative in basic flying skills and instructor professionalism. I don’t believe you will find much dissent among those of us who are most experienced and knowledgeable about flight training and testing. It is our humble opinion that the most prevalent contributor to loss of control accidents is the loss of attitude awareness due to a lack of the solid foundation in attitude control concepts and techniques. Yet we seem to be slipping further and further from the truth of what we actually do with those flight controls. Please consider this suggestion carefully and feel free to contact us for additional aspects of this problem and its remedy. The CFI ACS is the place to change this trend.


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!

For Your Best Learning: “Own” Your Errors!

If you are an educator in any field, you know the “excuse-makers”. How often do we hear “it was the wind”, “I didn’t get enough sleep”, or “the plane is acting funny” (et cetera ad nauseam)? But you probably also noticed the people who “own” their errors and admit to struggling, actually learn faster. Excuses provide an external “not me” pardon for failures while attempting to preserve our sense of self as competent and capable. But that is not who we are when we are learning; we are initially bad at most new tasks- by definition. It is essential to admit and learn from our mistakes.

And if we can be truly honest here, we all make excuses to some degree when we attempt something new. Excuse making seems to be a hard-wired human defense mechanism to save face and prevent appearing inept, stupid, or disappointing to others in social situations. What’s ironic is that struggle, exploration and incompetence are really the essence of all skill-based learning. If we are only practicing what we are good at (staying in our comfort zone) we are not learning at all! We need to understand and acknowledge this fact when we enter a learning situation and agree to actively embrace the struggle  with the positive mindset of improving (game on!) Savvy educators can help here by understanding and encouraging this embrace of challenges. Belittling or minimizing struggle will only impede student progress.

A smokescreen of excuses seldom really fools anyone else, but in many cases it confuses our own brain at a deeper level and impedes our learning.  It also “forgives failure” and detaches us from achieving our goals. “Personal dishonesty” slows our ability to efficiently code the correct behaviors into our brain as we are struggling and learning. At a deep level, learning physical activities requires coding a successful script or schema: “this action is right and works, this attempt was wrong and harmful“. With excuses we are hypnotizing ourselves with creative illusions.

My best personal defense against this human tendency in new learning situations is just to clearly state “I suck at this but I will get better!” (and a little humor seems to help too). I remember trying to hover a helicopter for the first time; I very clearly sucked (and it also was not “the wind”). The whole reason for skills education is embracing the suck (often uncomfortable) then living and working in the “struggle zone” with a positive attitude toward improvement. By definition, we start from a position of  helplessness and ineptitude and proceed incrementally to mastery. Shortening this path by “owning our errors” helps us achieve efficiency.  Honesty and compassion (both to yourself and from your educator) are vital tools for success. Humility is the path to mastery.

In the very worst situations, your chosen educator might be a co-conspirator in dishonesty and illusion. We have all met rated “pilots” who never (fill in the blank) filed a flight plan, used the rudder, or can’t land in a crosswind (or all of the above)? Whatever their deficiencies are, these pilots never acquired the skills and in many cases may be unaware of their deficiencies. Some flight schools and CFIs enable pilot illusions (so long as they get paid). This collusion convinces pilots they are safe and competent despite their clear lack of necessary skill, knowledge and judgment. Read these Yelp reviews of a recently shuttered flight school; clients loved him! A good training relationship has  to be based on honesty and trust but also reference to an objective performance standard (ACS/PTS). There might be some necessary “tough love” here also. Agreeing to struggle earnestly and be initially spastic is also helpful.

So at any level, if you want to accelerate your learning, gain efficiency and make the most of your training dollars, one of the best techniques is to actually “own” your errors and deficiencies.  Embrace brutal honesty and seek out your “struggle zone”. I agree this can be emotionally painful at first (but also funny if you approach it humbly). Seek out an understanding professional – a compassionate educator as your coach.

As you gain comfort with this personal honesty, both as an educator and as a student, you will notice a more rapid improvement in every learning situation. With honest appraisal, we are now accurately “coding” the correct performance parameters into the brain more rapidly for reinforcement and myelination. See Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code” for more on this fascinating process (it’s a “broadband connection” for your neurons).  The way we learn is deep practice just out of our comfort zone, struggling a bit but not so far out that we are flailing. Savvy educators succeed by finding this “sweet spot” of optimal challenge for their students. Being honest with ourselves and “owning our errors” is also essential!


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!

Building a “Mindset of Professionalism”

It is difficult to define “professionalism” simply and comprehensively. This essential pilot attribute certainly requires personal integrity and commitment; to doing your best job, in the best way, every time (and even when no one is watching). But it’s not limited to a complex airframe or environment as is commonly asserted. You can be a super professional in your J-3 on a grass field or an embarrassing clown in an Airbus. Professionalism mostly resides in our attitude, discipline and mindset. Unfortunately, professionalism most often becomes obvious to us in its absence; when we suffer from bad service or observe inferior, disappointing performance. In daily operations, true professionalism often goes unappreciated until an emergency suddenly yanks us out of “the ordinary” and puts us too the test.

The recent Southwest engine explosion with Tammie Jo Shults at the controls or the historic Sullenberger and Skiles piloting of US Air 1549 are wonderful examples of professional performance in action. Unfortunately, in the media these exemplars most often get described as “miraculous.” Our non-flying friends have no idea how frequently professional pilots practice and prepare for unlikely incidents like these to make this magic happen. Training for and expecting emergencies is a large part of our jobs as pilots. These calm and professional performances are neither unique, easy, nor miraculous. They require constant training, hard work and commitment to excellence. And afterwards, each of these pilots commented honestly: “we all feel we were simply doing our jobs.” Professionalism is not optional, it is a required part of our job. Their calm professionalism exercised daily paid them back when the crisis struck. This something every pilot should aspire to emulate (and pass on). Safety in aviation requires that discipline to do everything to the best of our ability, on every single day. How can we better embrace this “mindset of professionalism”? And for educators, how can we build this essential capability in our students and clients?

“Mindset” is an increasingly common term in psychology, popularized inCarol Dweck’s book by the same name. According to Dweck, our pervasive mindset largely determines our success or failure in everything we do– much more than our IQ, innate abilities, or socio-economic status. Whether we continuously embrace a fatalistic, depressive approach to life: as a “victim”, or adopt a resilient, optimistic view of life, as an “agent,” determines our  success and happiness all through life. People with two unique mindsets encountering the same life challenges see them entirely different. A closed-minded fatalist will say “impossible” while the person with a “growth mindset” will say “game on!” and embrace the challenge.  In aviation the mindset we adopt is similarly critical to our future success and safety.

This “professionalism mindset” requires not only a “can do” attitude of agency and constant vigilance, it also needs integrity, curiosity and discipline to stay focused and sharp. As pilots, we must also have a ready toolkit of technical knowledge and flight proficiency. All pilots must be continuously ready and able to maintain aircraft control in both normal and emergency situations. The “startle response” is the classic fail preceding  loss of control; our most fatal causal factor in accidents. The reserve capacity to handle emergencies requires dual instruction  on a regular basis (its hard to surprise yourself!) Professionalism requires continuously learning and growing in skill and knowledge.

As educators, its essential first build, then model professionalism for our students. Committing to a positive example of continual learning and growth, such as new ratings or a Master CFI Accreditation, is a great way to stay excited and sharp in your daily job. It’s so very easy to get dull, bored and cynical as a CFI with frequent similar lessons around the pattern. Pretty soon we become egotistical and toxic. Reference to an established Code of Ethics like the SAFE Standard or the excellent Model Code of Conduct is a good tonic for both guidance and inspiration (and they are available at every level of certification). And training in something new and challenging always keeps a pilot humble.

For this reason also, many newer definitions of professionalism include references to  emotional intelligence and “relational skills” like humility, honesty, selflessness, and trustworthiness. These skills are certainly essential for a successful teaching environment but also valuable in a future crew environment. Most pilots first develop professionalism and good communication skills during their time as a CFI. (If you haven’t tested your patience, try teaching flying for a few thousand hours…) These instructional hours  are an essential crucible where interpersonal skills and good CRM are built. Other essential abilities are also developed here like maintaining calm during crisis, working cooperatively, and accepting errors graciously. These are all essential if/when you graduate to bigger/faster crewed aircraft.

A recent review of the NTSB report of the May 2017 Lear 35 accident circling at KTEB precipitated this blog article. At the time of this accident I was flying in and out of KTEB almost daily. Reading about the depressing level of training and lack of professionalism in this crew was demoralizing. This was a very preventable accident and a fear with the diminishing hiring standards we may be in for more. The Beach Aviation example currently in the news demonstrates how flagrantly some pilots ignore any attempt at integrity and professionalism.

 

In summary, though there are currently unprecedented opportunities for new pilots in our industry, my personal opinion is that every aspiring professional pilot should first become a CFI. Teaching for a while and doing the best job possible is an opportunity to develop professionalism and gain critical interpersonal skills. This growth is essential to future success in any flying career. And of course, join SAFE and support our mission. (You will save lots of $$ on the aviation products you already buy 🙂


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!

Easier is NOT Necessarily Better, BUT…

The FAA has made a bold move and dropped the requirement for a complex aircraft for the single-engine commercial and CFI tests. Dr. Donna Wilt, a professor at FIT in aviation and our SAFE representative on the ACS working group, alerted me to this change as it was being written earlier this week. We had heard hints of this when we met Brad Palmer at Sun ‘N Fun a few weeks ago. His team at AFS 800 was very concerned about the safety of our aging fleet of complex planes. To be clear the requirement in 61.129(3)ii for 10 hours of experience still is in place (only an NPRM process can change a regulation, and this has been pending for over a year). With a stroke of the pen however, the complex requirement in testing is gone.

So what does this mean for flight training and safety? For flight students there was a collective sigh of relief for reduced requirements and cheaper acquisition of their certificates. For older pilots there was a lot of justifiable grumbling about “lowering standards” and future safety implications. Obviously there is always a compromise between safety and proficiency in all our training standards but I think the recent Piper Arrow accident in Florida tipped the scales on this decision.

SAFE clearly stated our position on the proposed NPRM  changing comples standards in August 2016; lowering the training requirements is not commensurate with greater safety. But given grave concerns about the Piper Arrow wing spar issues, many flight schools are already operating under an FAA Waiver that eliminates the complex requirement. Why should Part 61 candidates not have this same relief from this regulation for a complex A/C on tests?

Pilots in training will inevitably seek the easiest and cheapest pathway to their certification. But those pilots who truly value safety and proficiency will go  further and seek out tail wheel, glider and other categories to build additional skills and proficiency. (Witness the recommendations from senior aviators at the NTSB LOC Roundtable yesterday.) Our job at SAFE is to inspire, encourage and enable the latter pathway; toward the voluntary pursuit greater proficiency and aviation excellence. We continuously work with the FAA to achieve reasonable solutions. We have all seen pilots that despite regulations, cut every corner and take the “low road” satisfying every requirement. Join and support SAFE to inspire and enable aviation excellence and professionalism. Your thoughts?


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

NTSB Loss of Control; April 24th

Loss of control in-flight is the #1 causal factor of general aviation fatalities. Though largely a catch-all grouping encompassing many diverse sources, the majority of these accidents implicate insufficient pilot situational awareness and maneuvering skills during critical phases of flight. For this reason, deeper analysis of this phenomenon is of particular interest to flight educators. Should pilot training and testing standards be higher or skill levels more stringent? Our SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led to embedding judgment and risk management into flight training with the new FAA ACS standards. Did this initiative go far enough? What can we do as educators to reduce these all-to-common fatal accidents?

Doug Stewart; Community Aviation (.com)

This Tuesday, April 24th, the NTSB is assembling a roundtable meeting of subject matter experts in the field of flight training. Veteran pilot and master educator Doug Stewart, one of the founding members of SAFE and former Executive Director, will represent the flight training community in this important gathering. Doug has over 12K hours dual given, is a FAA DPE, 10 time Master CFI, and also FAA CFI of The Year in 2004. This gathering will be covered live on the NTSB channel. (You can earn FAA Wings for watching)

Loss of control inflight has been on the NTSB “Most Wanted List” for many years. We believe that a deeper investigation of these accidents and greater understanding of root causes can help prevent these occurances. But the key lies in more vigilant and aware pilots with increased skills in maneuvering and upset recovery. As educators, we must sharpen our educational focus and build these pilot skills. SAFE has been integrally involved in these discussions with both educational articles and national seminars to inspire and motivate pilots to improve skills.  But the solution also requires every educator to commit to increased abilities both in initial certification and in recurrent training; especially in areas of basic control and maneuvering flight. Focusing on greater professionalsim and excellence to create safer pilots is a key SAFE mission mandate.

As a long-time flight instructor, I also encourage every pilot to access the excellent training materials from the Air Safety Institute. Their Essential Aerodynamics course is an comprehensive (and fun) tutorial that will benefit every pilot, both student and veteran (no Greek letters). Every pilot absolutely must understand the fundamental forces for our flying to be safe in the air.

Our many hours of straight and level cruising simply do not prepare us adequately for the surprise emergency events that cause accidents. We all must commit to study and train more often at the edges of the flight envelope to stay safe in aviation. The EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at Airventure is free and open to all, presenting surpises that test and train your skills and thought processes. (and we need proficient CFIs at all levels to staff this initiative) Please follow this blog for future updates and commentary.


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!