Ideas for Improvement from Redbird Migration!

There were many great presentations and breakouts at Redbird Migration that will take weeks to digest and present here! The significant AOPA presence almost eclipsed the whole Redbird contribution, especially the new AOPA Flight Training Advantage App now in Beta test (more on this soon). For all pilots, Joe Brown masterfully modeled a pathway to greater safety in flying through discipline and regular proficiency.

Only 4000 Professional CFIs in USA!

SAFE member Eric Crump recorded an excellent breakout digging deep into FAA statistics and revealing that despite the 114K flight instructor certificates, there are surprisingly, only about 12K truly “active flight instructors” (working with pilots toward ratings). Of these, 2/3s or all CFIs are brand new (8K new CFIs last year). And most of these CFIs are hour-builders transitioning to another career. We have only about 4,000 professional CFIs in the US that are continuously active in the aviation industry for more than a year. This means only about 4,000 instructors in the field building their professional skills and carrying institutional knowledge forward from year to year. 2/3 of CFIs on the job are inexperienced. True lifetime educators in the business are increasingly rare! This points out the critical need for SAFE mentoring program and SAFE CFI-PRO™ This also explains the rarity (and value) of Master Instructors! The geographical listing of SAFE members is here.

Error-Based Learning and Constructive Criticism

Another helpful breakout session for educators was the validation of educational practices undertaken by Chris Moser as part of his Master’s Degree at Embry Riddle.

Leveraging and analyzing AOPA’s extensive survey data, Chris scientifically validated the importance of Syllabus Usage, Pre-Lesson Preparation, Error-based Learning and Constructive Criticism. Though the first two (syllabus and prep) are well-accepted aviation tools, both error-based learning and constructive criticism are rare (and were found to be even more important). These two tools are underappreciated by educators and also mentioned in the SAFE breakout.

Error-Based Learning is often missed by new aviation educators since it is not covered in the FAA Instructor’s Manual. And there is a tendency for inexperienced CFIs to overcontrol most flight lessons both on the yoke and the radio preventing any experimentation and wandering by the student. But a well-established necessity in learning skill-based activities is for the learner to explore, and discover their own errors and self-correct. Constructive Criticism (and guided reflection) after a lesson guides the corrections to ideal standards and suggests “opportunities for improvement.”

The SAFE breakout reinforces the point that new CFIs seldom allow “constructive exploration” by the learner. Most aviation experience for new CFIs up to the point of CFI certification mandates precision and accuracy in every flight; additionally, the “pilot personality” is most often competitive and emotionally cold (whereas “compassionate coach” is a better model for success). It is often shocking for new CFIs to be going sideways and frequently off altitude in their new world as a learner explores their abilities and controls! (See the previous blog on “Two Certificates-Two Skill Sets!“) Another recommendation in the SAFE breakout is leveraging “incremental mastery” to motivate and inspire students to increase retention. Fly safe out there (and often)!


  Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Airlines -vs- GA: Safety Solutions!

Comparing the safety record of “big iron operations” with general aviation is a very common but also inherently unfair contest. The airline “safety sales pitch” goes something like: “airlines have a near-zero accident rate due to some superior skill, secret sauce or magic techniques (buy it here…)” But in fact, the General Aviation piloting job, by its nature, requires more diverse skills and responsibilities in a more demanding safety environment. The airlines have incrementally “engineered out” the risk for efficient transportation – which is indeed the goal of safety. But they have achieved this by limiting the flexibility and opportunities in flight that are the beating heart of GA flying.

Airline operations are not flown by solo pilots, but actively utilize a much larger “safety team.” Part 25 aircraft are piloted by a crew (required by certification) which all by itself conveys an amazing 8X benefit in safety! Additionally, automatic systems carry most of the pilot workload with operations to only 1% of available airports and almost always IFR.

Not only does the GA pilot usually carry all the piloting responsibilities solo, but GA pilots also cover the maintenance, planning, and dispatch while accessing thousands of non-standard airports in often challenging terrain. Airlines, by contrast, employ huge teams for maintenance and an army of licensed dispatchers doing all the planning from start to finish. And the regularly scheduled environment enables a high degree of standardization and predictability. Fortunately, though the safety comparison is dubious, there are many valuable techniques that can increase GA pilot professionalism and add safety to the challenging GA environment.

GA flying is lots more versatile (and fun), but as a result, more accidents do occur. It is not practical – or desirable – to give up the freedom and flexibility of GA flying – hire a copilot and file IFR? But there are many professional techniques and resources GA pilots can adapt to GA to increase the personal flying safety margins.- and many airline pilots flying GA are examples of this strategy. Every pilot should leverage these tools for greater safety. And CFIs reading this can build up clientele and professionalism by raising their game and developing these programs for their clients. Build your own “safety team” and become a personal professional pilot!

1) Objectively rate your flying after every flight and develop personal SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Whatever your piloting level, define it precisely with personal limitations and minimums. In professional flying, every new captain has restrictions until the specified experience is acquired and every operation conforms to SOPs. Matching capabilities to conditions is the key to safe flying. The “reflective review” after every flight ensures you are not “normalizing”  lucky – rather than skill-based outcomes in your flying.

2) Create a personal proficiency plan and upgrade plan for skill and knowledge. One huge safety advantage professional pilots have is the required 6-month recurrent training. To leverage this in personal flying, create a personalized program for maintaining and upgrading skills and knowledge. This probably requires a CFI at certain points for upgrading and objective analysis. (and if you are a CFI, setting up a program for your clients assures regular training opportunities and growth for your skills). For new VFR pilots challenging the busier airspaces like NYC or SoCal enhances skills and confidence. The required additional planning and radio savvy often motivate private pilots toward an instrument rating.

3) Carefully plan and brief every take-off as a potential emergency.  Professional pilots are required to calculate and brief all possible take-off (and landing) contingencies for every operation. This preparation ensures that emergencies are “expected” not “surprising.” A rejected take-off or power failure on the initial climb will lead to an accident unless it is trained then briefed before power application. This training is quite rare at the GA level. Consequently, the  “pilot killers” in aviation (when adjusted for exposure time). 24% of pilot fatalities occur during this phase of flight! For the CFI, it is critical to include a rejected take-off (pull the throttle, pop a window open or release the pilot seat to create surprise). Emphasizing a “prepared mindset” for every runway operation (take-off and landing) will exponentially enhance safety; pro pilot!

4) Utilize ATC services for longer or challenging flights. Every 121 or 135 operation requires continuous “flight monitoring” from the engine start to shut-down (usually IFR). In GA, there is a cultural drive toward “lone eagle bravery” (the “Lindbergh Effect?”) that spurns the use of resources. But the advantage of another set of eyes for traffic, and assistance in the case of an emergency or weather challenge is a huge safety boost for every flight. This also improves radio skills for future ratings (e.g. instrument).

5) Thoroughly brief the weather and specifically plan alternate routes and airports.  Though 91.103 specifies planned alternates for every flight, GA pilots seldom consider and prepare other routing or landing options. (As a CFI on a flight review, NOTAM your client’s primary airport OTS enroute?)As a solo pilot facing challenging weather, call a trusted pilot friend for a second opinion (the “crew advantage”) and set objective standards for each continuation point – “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion!”

6) Build a system for maintaining vigilance enroute,  continually watching for potential landing areas and monitoring trends. “Immediate memory items” – boldface in POH (again, professional pilots go to training every 6 months and beat this up). When the engine has problems or quits, the “pilot pull reaction” seems into the human DNA. Recent training must take over and quickly reduce the flight attitude to the glide picture (your wing cord line level with the horizon). For CFIs, this needs to be repeatedly emphasized in every flight review; “surprise!”

7) Practice take-off and landings in windy conditions: “Where the rubber meets the road” is the major cause of aviation accidents. And surprisingly, there is no requirement to test crosswind landings on any flight test! Windy landings are “voluntary professionalism”  that few pilots attempt or master. Every flight review needs to sharpen this skill set. “Tough love” from the CFI keeps pilots alive. Fly safely out there (and often)!

 

8) Identify and separate emotions from facts. We are all subject to cognitive bias and many “landmark accidents” clearly illustrate “magical thinking” at work. Another huge advantage of a larger “safety team” with crew-based flying and SOPs is the objective analysis of the risks. As the only planner and pilot in GA, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing what we want to see. Conversely, many pilots miss out on manageable trips because of initial fear. If a trip meets your standards and adds up to objective safety, the flight will be safe. It takes some courage to overcome initial jitters. It is also possible to dial down the challenge with a smaller mission or take a pilot friend for help. The key is to keep flying and growing skills, knowledge, and experience. Fly safely out there (and often)!

There are many more great “tune-up” skill builders in our “SAFE Extended Envelope Syllabus.” What are your favorite “tune-Up” maneuvers?


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Fly Adaptively – TLAR Defeats Perfectionism!

Pursuing excellence and striving to be better is a positive piloting trait and the heart of professionalism. It is unfortunately often confused with “perfectionism” which is a neurotic need to avoid any perceived errors – rooted in fear and insecurity. Perfectionists seek external validation and are often driven by shame. Being perfect “every day in every way” can be seriously disabling in both life and in flying. It is also a serious impediment to learning anything new since this requires some humility and vulnerability (not a “know it all”). Perfectionism causes indecision and procrastination since no action can be taken until it is absolutely “the best.”  And in flying, “no action” is definitely the “enemy of the good.” By contrast, aeronautical decision-making strives for the “best possible” solution in a timely manner; “satisficing” not maximizing. TLAR (that looks about right) is from the military; extemporaneous improvisation in the heat of battle. The  pitfalls of perfectionism go way beyond the usual “pilot OCD.” To be safe we need to fully understand the difference.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.”
Dr. Brené Brown

Perfectionism can cause serious psychopathology because perfectionists relentlessly drive themselves to achieve an impossible standard—no hesitations, deviations, or inconsistencies. (This is the driving force behind anorexia) They can become hyper-sensitive to imperfection (in themselves and others) and can fall easily into helplessness and self-recrimination. Perfectionists believe their acceptance from others (being a good pilot) is dependent upon never making any mistakes. For true perfectionists, there is never “good enough,” since by definition, “perfect” is always out of reach. Psychologists catalog perfectionism as a defense mechanism with a rigid set of rituals designed to avoid failure and especially shame (failure in the eyes of others). Operationally, perfectionists are vulnerable to distress and cognitive rigidity; haunted by a chronic sense of failure as well as indecisiveness, procrastination, and shame. Perfectionist pilots can be truly painful to work with since they often display an outward sense of superiority and condescension as well as an unwillingness to adapt to changing situations. In this way, perfectionism is very different from “striving for excellence!

If you see yourself in some of these descriptions, don’t be alarmed. Every psychological profile is a spectrum and pilots all have “tendencies.” There are good elements that can be salvaged, it is the core negative motivation that needs to be avoided. Though we should all maintain and aspire to the highest standards and ideal outcomes, we need to fight against rigid perfectionism as a weakness that is disabling. Flying is too dynamic and fraught with variables and surprises to be amenable to the rigidity of perfectionism. Our best strategy for decision-making in a rapidly changing, high stakes environment is “the best solution in the current situation.”

TIme to playA common metaphor for decision making in aviation is the sport of football. As in aviation, football requires  hard practice, drilling skills and technique.  It similarly runs all the hypothetical scenarios and even decides the perfect desired course of action in the huddle. But as soon as the ball is snapped and the whole situation evolves, everything is changing rapidly. This fluid world of multiple variables and limited time, requires fast action, improvisation and flexibility not the rigidity of perfection. Aviation decisions require “fast and frugal decision-making” rather than rigid and constrained pre-decided planning. As General Eisenhower famously said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Satisficing” is a decision making concept developed by a genius (and Nobel prize-winning) computer scientist named Herbert Simon way back in the 1950s. He was the first behavioral psychologist and debunked the Renaissance idea of “perfection in knowledge and action.” We live in a fast-changing world where we have limited time, resources, and information.  “Perfect choices” are impossible in a dynamic environment. Simon advocated the best choice limited by circumstances which he called “satisficing.” This is also the core concept which pilots call “aeronautical decision making” (ADM). We cannot freeze the action, we must decide on the fly and achieve the best outcome given the limiting factors of time information and resources.

F-16_June_2008The aeronautical origin of this concept was Colonel John Boyd, the famous developer of energy management fighter tactics (and later the F-16 aircraft at the Pentagon). Boyd ran the Nellis AFB “Top Gun” fighter school for years and created the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act model for decision-making in fluid, rapidly changing (usually wartime) conflicts. This was gratefully accepted by the Marine Corps and is taught at every business school in America for business decisions. The book “Team Of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal incorporates many of these ideas employing fast-cycle iterations. When the action is fast and furious, decision making is fast and frugal.

The heart of fast and frugal decision-making is the application of “heuristics” or rules of thumb. These predetermined scripts simplify the decision-making process through mental shortcuts. Heuristics bypass the careful, rational (but time-consuming) deliberation process and occur decisively and immediately in areas with a clear need for action. These also encompass the habits we, as pilots, work so hard to embed almost instinctively in our operating system. Another term from the military that often describes this ability is TLAR (“that looks about right”) and is an anathema to perfectionists. When Apollo 13 blew up (the famous quote “Houston, we’ve had a problem”) and the playbook had to be thrown out requiring calculations on the “back of the napkin.” Flexible thinking brought this crippled craft back home with the most accurate splashdown in history. So trust the force a little and work with “satisficing” to achieve the best outcome given the circumstances. You will always be better off acting decisively than frozen looking for an elusive “perfect choice.” Fly safely out there (and often)!


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Honesty & “Tough Love” for Safety!

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMThe most dangerous CFI is not the one lacking skills or with a history of safety issues. That CFI is usually locally notorious and avoided by astute (or scared) learners. A less obvious but much more dangerous CFI is the one that lacks professional standards and integrity and approves participation rather than achievement. On one level this can be a new CFI that craves approval and has not learned to properly (but gently) “deliver disappointment.” We all know that even despite hours attained, sometimes “more training is necessary” to achieve a known standard. New CFIs often lack a clear understanding of the standard or the process of getting to the goal line (see last week’s “10 Rules For New CFIs“). This is also a reason why CFI oversight and mentoring is so vital for new instructors.

SuperCessnaPanelProgressing deeper into the darkness is the occasionally dishonest “approval for a fee” method of flight training. A tip-off here is the large red flag promising “guaranteed success.” We all know the huge variety of human talents prevents any assurance of a set number of hours and dollars for true achievement. Only very careful filtering on the input side (and not just a fat bank account) can assure guaranteed achievement (and even then weather and equipment require “load balancing” for financial losses). Just look to the military for an honest example of how rigorous the intake and weeding out process in flight training can be. Honest schools present realistic cost estimates in their advertising and NO guarantees…”mileage may vary!”

Shopping for Santa Claus DPEs and granting undeserved privileges compromises the whole aviation safety culture. Our business has no room for “participation trophies” given away for “just showing up.”  And the hope that weak pilots will “get better later” never really works out! Being a professional necessitates “tough love” (honest care for your safety and better self)  and adherence to a known standard of excellence. Honesty and integrity are critical requirements of the CFI job to prevent the approval of unqualified pilots. Larceny at the DPE level are even more heinous and recently demonstrated here.

Pushy clients can always be found “shopping for a yes” in flight training. A professional CFI must set standards and carefully control expectations. The “power of the pen” is the only barrier between these pilots and their shiny new plane. Honest “tough love” can be a bitter pill that delays their “success” and also damages their ego. But all true progress comes with some struggle and personal safety hangs in the balance. CFI endorsements convey serious privileges that should be earned only by demonstrating proper skill, knowledge, and judgment.

SuperCessnaIf you are a client or student, watch out for the “pathological pleasers” and the “guaranteed results” who too easily gives away privileges you do not earn. There are no gifts in aviation – except the happy surprise of “weather better than forecast?” Safe progress requires some serious work and discipline to earn every achievement. If your CFI is overly helpful or continuously complimentary, seek a new coach on your way to your certificate or rating. And for your flight review seek out someone that makes you work hard – your life depends on it. Fly safely out there (and often)!


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

 

Surprising Gaps in FAA Requirements

It is shocking that the FAA instructor, who might be teaching your child or significant other to fly, is only required to have a total of 200 hours and 5 hours alone in a plane. And how comfortable are you learning from an “instrument instructor” when they might never have done what they are teaching  – flown in a cloud (NOT required)?  A “senior instructor,” is able to train a new CFI with only 200 hours teaching and 2 years experience required (and there is great pressure from the industry to soften these requirements). I see both good and bad versions of this system at work every day in flight schools I visit and work with. But safety demands higher personal standards *not* FAA minimums!

It is an understatement to say the FAA certification system has some “shocking minimums.” Even the flight rules allowing “one mile clear of clouds” clearly put true safety directly in the hands of pilots, trusting their judgment and integrity. Safety also requires professional organizations like SAFE to define, inspire, and build higher professional standards for pilots and educators.  Look at the significant change – ACS – our Pilot Reform Symposium fostered in the FAA training and testing system. We are YOUR organization, and appreciate YOUR support. SAFE achieved 3000 members last month and also the WINGS survey results placing us #1 as your “trusted knowledge provider” (our humble gratitude for such success!) But the votes of support are just the launching pad for much greater programs soon to come.

Both CFI-PRO™ and Checkride Ready! are very new programs that will grow into significant educational platforms as gatherings are again permitted and our industry picks up full speed after COVID. You can help by spreading our SAFE brand to flying friends in your area (that 1/3 off ForeFlight is an attractive incentive) please spread the word. Wear our SAFE branded apparel and share these posts. Get in touch to become a regional SAFE Ambassador. If you are already a member, Step-Up to a supporting level or provide a tax-deductible gift this “giving season” (SAFE is an educational not-for-profit 501-C-3). We also need volunteers for programs and committees as we grow. Stay SAFE and fly often, thanks for your help in growing SAFE.


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Fixing “Slow Motion” Accidents!

We have amazing technology in most of our airplanes these days. We navigate with satellites and have omniscient weather mapping on board. But despite all these tools, pilots continue to fly into terrible weather and kill themselves. These “slow-motion” accidents involve a series of bad decisions over time – starting with the launch – that increasingly restrict options like a funnel to a  (seemingly inevitable) wreck. “VFR into IMC” and IFR into convective or icing accidents are 90% fatal.  “What was the pilot thinking?” Let’s have a look.

The question “How can humans learn efficiently to make decisions in a complex, dynamic, and uncertain environment” is still a very open question.

It is first essential to understand – and confess – our human weakness in the “thinking” part. We crash planes because our human brain is not rational by design. We are “optimizers”  and proceed by “satisficing,” a term coined by AI pioneer Herbert Simon. We achieve “good enough” and push optimistically forward, with resilience and flexibility. This attribute has led to our incredible success in populating every diverse environment on the planet and launching rockets to the moon. As decision-makers, we have adapted to be optimistic and aggressive (92% of drivers think they are “better than average!”) For years economists predicated human behavior based on the Renaissance “Rational Man Model.”  But both Herbert Simon and later Daniel Kahneman won Nobel prizes in “Behavioral Economics” by demonstrating how “predictably irrational” humans are when making decisions.

The smartest people in America were fooled (twice) by “normalizing deviance” and people died as a result.

We do not perceive reality precisely. Every individual senses and assembles a different world through a personal lens of need and intention; “predictive perception.” Then we stereotype that input data into pre-existing categories relying on past experiences (which we recreate like impressionistic painters) to create a personal understanding; “magical thinking.” Decisions are then often colored with our many cognitive biases and emotional needs developing procedures based on “successes” rather than objective standards; “normalizing deviance.” If we thought accurately and decided rationally no person would ever buy another lottery ticket and we would all aggressively leverage compound interest like Warren Buffet. But in a totally rational world, there would be no incredible optimism and energy creating innovation and growth (and probably no art, fashion or culture). Our “magical thinking” motivates human success in many fields but sucks for facts, science and statistics (and sometimes flying).

We have to apply the discipline of P-A-V-E and 3P to be safe in flying. We have to stick to know standards and consult experts when we are unsure of our own judgment. There is no room for rosy optimism or complacency in flying (I personally go hard on people who count on “luck” too) Decision making has to be systematic and conform to reality (gravity never sleeps). To be safe we have to visualize and account for the worst outcomes and surprises; “what if?” And this “evil agent viewpoint” is something every good flight instructor must encourage and *always* be helping their pilot-in-training to understand. (Though not for the first five hours please – that is all “sunshine and light” – building “confidence and comfort”). During X-C planning, I also encourage the 3D rule for X-C planning; “Delay, Divert, Drive” as a simple impediment to “launching with doubt.” Moving the timeline is one of the most successful strategies for flight safety; later or tomorrow? And few people in the GPS (“Going Perfectly Straight”) world realize the huge benefit of “rubber-banding” a planned course even a little to gain better alternate options below (and the time penalty is surprisingly minimal). If there is doubt about the take-off or plan it probably needs “3D” modification and maybe a scrub. “A pilot in motion tends to stay in motion…”

Once en route, the “3R rule of alternates” is a huge benefit to encourage wise options and defeat the “mission mentality” we see so often in the “accident chain.” A good alternate must be psychologically desirable. It should have a good Restaurant, Radar (ATC resources), and Rental Cars. If an alternate is somewhere you *want* to go, there will be less “get there itis”  pushing the flight down that fatal accident funnel. There will be no sense of personal failure in this diversion; you already want to end up there (and the passengers will enjoy it too)! Share the 3Ds and 3Rs with your flight students and people you mentor and see if it doesn’t help keep planes out of the trees? Defeat human “magical thinking” and apply disciplined decision making to your flying. Be safe out there!


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”on the toolkit app prevents “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Join “Online Safety Stand Down” Today!

LIVE online this morning (Saturday, Sept. 12th) I will be presenting at the Online Safety Stand-Down and I invite you to watch this presentation (maybe better than just a blog?) Go to this link and register: https://www.aviationsafetystanddown.com/

Here is a summary of the Kahneman book mentioned Thinking Fast and Slow

Look for the SAFEblog to be published tomorrow (Sunday)!

Commercial Flight Maneuvers for Everyone!

Flying commercial-level pilot maneuvers is a wonderful challenge and a useful skill-builder for every pilot. These are not only fun and challenging but teach correct rudder usage when flown properly. Many pilots at the private level do not understand or apply correct rudder inputs – a primary reason for LOC-I. Search out a qualified instructor and take your flying to a higher level of proficiency with some commercial maneuvers. Learning new skills and extending your flight envelope creates greater flight safety and is also great fun! These maneuvers are a gateway to an upset recovery course or aerobatics – but these should be mastered first to get full value from this kind of advanced training.

Mastering commercial maneuvers requires eyes-out aggressive flying at the edge of the flight envelope and begins with a thorough aerodynamic knowledge of the forces at work. The heart of all the commercial maneuvers is a concept called “cross-coordinated.” When you are climbing in a chandelle or navigating your way through a lazy eight you are often applying “crossed controls” to create coordinated flight. The control inputs and forces at work are not initially intuitive. Mastery requires study and practice to internalize a solid “feel” for the airplane during this more aggressive commercial-level maneuvering. And though all these maneuvers are “non-operational,” but you will be rewarded with much more precise (and  safer) flying skills as well as a greater sense of confidence and control.

Step one in discovering commercial maneuvers is getting the eyes outside and rediscovering aggressive VFR flying; “yank and bank.” Most pilots in a normal flight training progression just completed an instrument rating (smooth standard rate turns with reference to their trusted instruments). Commercial training can come as a shock, requiring outside visual references and a “tuned up butt” to properly sense and correct yaw. Try some private pilot steep turns at 45 degrees and work up to 60 degrees. Then reverse at 180 degrees of turn and work up to “60/90s” (reversing a 60-degree banked steep turn after 90 degrees of turn). This is “old school” flying – find a good instructor to help you. This will get a little sweat going as well as demonstrate the need for an outside sight reference and positive control usage.

Step two is serpentine climbing 30 degree turns right and left with full power and a Vx attitude. This will quickly demonstrate the need for right rudder while climbing in a left turn and left aileron while climbing in a right turn. Initially, this feels “unnatural” for many private pilots, but this is the beginning of understanding “cross-coordination” and will progress into chandelles. Your pattern crosswind turns will be immediately safer with your newly-mastered “cross-coordination.”

A series of  climbing and descending (coordinated) wingovers – working toward a lazy eight – will demonstrate the need for quick and accurate rudder usage as the wing loads and unloads. Suddenly pilots are “flying again” after 40 hours of instrument somnambulance (or years of rope-a-doping around the pattern); fun! These climbs and descents also illustrate the changing yoke forces necessary to maintain specific flight attitudes as the speed of the aircraft changes the effectiveness of the flight controls.

The last step in this introduction to commercial flight maneuvers is some slow flight and stalls first straight ahead, then turning. Flight training is an opportunity to fly at minimum control speed with the horn blaring (just don’t do it on a flight test – the FAA is sensitive about this). Bank 30 degrees right and left aggressively at the edge of a stall. Coordination is essential and LOTS of rudder is required to pivot left and right on the edge of a stall. Then demonstrate an old-style power off stall recovery letting the nose fall through the horizon with the yoke all the way back (stay stalled till the nose is down). As an instructor, when your pilot-in-training sees this dramatic nose-down attitude (while still feeling the stall) some understanding of angle of attack will be immediately built. (The angle of attack indicator in every plane is how much chrome is showing on the control yoke shaft).

Turning stalls recovered without power (just releasing AOA) are the last maneuver in this sortie as you descend turning right and left while stalling and recovering. This again shows the need for coordination and the power of AOA for recovery. Turning stalls are part of the Private Pilot ACS and often missed during initial training. Engage a qualified instructor and master some commercial maneuvers. Soon you will add finesse, safety (and FUN) to your regular flying. Fly safe out there (and often)!


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”on the toolkit app prevents “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Managing Student Fear For Effective Learning

As pilots, we all will eventually have to face the incapacitating effects of fear. This will either come during new flight experiences while training or when facing a shocking and unexpected emergency (e.g.  US Airways Flight 1549 or Neil Williams’ amazing inflight recovery). The startle response has received lots of recent notoriety, (and several previous blogs) but the fear new students experience during initial training, is seldom acknowledged and the “elephant in the room” we need to examine – and fix! Ultimately, our goal as educators should be to develop resilience in our learners: “a set of processes that enables good outcomes in spite of serious threats.” In aviation, like all high-performance operations, “stuff happens,” and pilots need to react with flexibility utilizing their resources not with “fear and freeze.”

Resilience is the ability to persist in the face of challenges and to bounceback from adversity. There are a number of evidence-based protective factors that contribute to resilience: optimism, effective problem solving, faith, sense of meaning, self-efficacy, flexibility, impulse control, empathy, close relationships, and spirituality, among others (Masten & Reed,2002).

Fear is most often regarded as a “weakness” or just a passing problem in flight training rather than a natural and common reaction. Consequently, though fear may be mentioned in passing during initial training, it is seldom addressed directly. The new pilot-in-training is sweating and thinking to themselves, “this is scary, I might die here…” while the CFI is busy describing the nuances of control usage. The student is often learning nothing as a result – their whole reality is fear.

Additionally, a scared student pilot feels unique and isolated in their suffering since every accomplished pilot in the room seems fine – “is it only me?” Adjustments to fear take time and incremental exposure; fear is a common and natural response to suddenly being a mile up in the air in a tiny aluminum tube. Unacknowledged fear may be a big part of our 80% drop-out rate during initial training. Every military spends months adjusting and tuning their recruits to accommodate fear; they know it disables any useful human performance.

People in the grip of true terror can feel utterly hijacked. Soldiers throw down their guns and run away. Pilots lose control and crash their planes. In such cases the grip of fear feels like possession by some implacable alien force. Indeed, the word “panic” comes from the Greek god Pan, whom the classical Greeks believed could overtake travelers in lonely spots and send them suddenly running in blind terror. To the ancient mind, possession by a malign deity seemed the only plausible explanation for such behavior.

Incapacitating fear is a natural biochemical “fact of life” built into our biology for survival over thousands of years of evolution. Fully formed, this natural reaction is called the startle response. In aviation, either during training or in emergency experiences, the results are incapacitating; fight, flight or freeze. Fear and “lock-up” (failure to process and perform correctly) are an integral part of most Loss of Control accidents and most people understand startle. But panic is an on/off reaction not analog.  We have to avoid triggering this biochemical hijack of your higher brain functions because once that sets in, the higher cortical functions shut down and we descend  into “survival mode.”

Panic and fear can trigger very rapidly during initial training from even a little bump or inappropriate demonstration; it can be a whole new (scary) world for a beginner. In the training environment, panic means no learning, no useful higher-level problem solving for complex situations – your student is processing with only their “reptilian brain” (help!) How do we stay calm in the face of scary or startling encounters and develop resilience? The human eventually adjusts to any risk with exposure over time. This can be a great thing for high-level performance and resilience but this is the same process that can generate complacency and “normalization of deviance.

The military spends lots of time and money conditioning its soldiers to adapt to scary and challenging environments (e.g. combat) attempting to “train out” the natural human reaction to chaos and danger. Despite this extensive training, >50% of soldiers in combat are incapacitated by fear and not even firing their weapons (much less achieving any accurate effect). The latest efforts involve full force “emotional mastery training” for all army recruits (and even Marines are learning to meditate). Fear research is big and DARPA is (of course) even experimenting with implanting computer chips to help with this problem (in case you thought Jason Bourne was a stretch).

the troops who went through a month long training regimen that included daily practice in mindful breathing and focus techniques were better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and experienced increases in working memory function. The soldiers also reported making fewer cognitive errors than service members who did not use mindfulness.

Initial mastery during flight training involves understanding and accepting the real (rather than perceived) risks, and incrementally mastering the fear (emotional/biochemical) as the environment becomes more comfortable and acceptable. This requires overwriting the initial (natural) caution with cognitive understanding and physical mastery. The CFI has to be an understanding coach and carefully monitor every student for fear to create the appropriate pace of exposure and adaptation. This comes from creating an open, honest learning environment with good communication. Soon enough, the personal satisfaction of progress (mastery) ameliorates the aversion and provides a neurological reward for the learner. This is called incremental masteryThis progress can be quickly ruined by an inappropriate fear-inducing demonstration – “watch this” or some startling random occurrence. The savvy CFI has to control the “fear level” carefully to make progress. And “time off” requires a step back and a slower pace.

During every step up the ladder your student takes, some elements “caution” and fear are conditioned out as they understand and achieve control of an initially scary situation. If you jump too quickly into a scary situation they do not understand, fear is the perfectly natural reaction. Every savvy educator must carefully scan and request continuous feedback (especially in the early lessons) to make sure the pilot in training is happy (and encourage them to “self-interrogate” to assess their own status). Once you carefully achieve 3-4 hours of solid, enjoyable learning, the initial fear will diminish and be replaced with smiles and high fives. But introducing stalls too abruptly on the third sortie, when everything is still chaotic and confusing is a sure recipe to lose a learner. Cue off your learner’s comfort level here, not a predetermined schedule.

Even if you overcome fear during early training, you might encounter it later when the engine goes quiet some dark night over the mountains. I teach “self-calming” techniques to all my pilots because if you fly long enough, you will eventually encounter the scary dark corner of a real emergency. Even Sullenberger, with 20K+ hours and 50 years flying, clearly said his first and biggest challenge in US Airways Flight 1549 was pushing back the overwhelming fear and adrenaline to calm down and “get to work.” People who can master fear can perform amazing feats. More remarkable than Sully was aerobatic pilot Neil Williams, close to exhaustion, who folded up a wing on his Zlin in competition, but managed to fly it upside down to the airfield and land unharmed.

Something extraordinary must have been going on in his brain. Some mechanism in his psychological tool kit must have somehow protected him from panic and perhaps even given him an extra dose of mental power to get him through the crisis. Whatever he possessed, it was a rare talent. Rare, but not unique. The annals of human achievement are peppered with stories of people who managed to survive lethal danger by thinking on their feet. How do they do it? What makes them different? And, most importantly, what can the rest of us learn from them?

Read more about self-calming and controlling fear in an emergency in these previous blogs – fly safe out there (and often!)


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Life is Short, Fly SLOWLY (and Enjoy)!

As pilots, we are truly blessed to see the world from above and control this process artfully. Less than 1% of the US population will ever know this joy (pilots are rare). Unfortunately, we often get numb to this privilege, and  seldom appreciate our flying with full awareness. As a tonic, I recommend (again) this wonderful book by Michael Maya CharlesArtful Flying” (SAFE members get a discount and Michael will sign a copy for you!) I also encourage you to read this article just published in GA News: (again, SAFE members get a free issue of this publication).

Flying is fun because you see it, feel it, and hear it while you are doing it — it’s all very sensual. The eyes see, the ears hear, and you feel the movement in the seat of your pants. Your hands feel the stick or yoke, the throttle, and other controls.

Whenever possible, I fly low and slow. I relish looking at the farmers’ fields with their neatly squared off patches of color.

Lastly, I encourage gratitude for those who taught each of us to fly. Artful flying is a lifelong apprenticeship and we learn lessons every day if we keep our eyes and ears open; there are teachers everywhere. I personally have been blessed (again) with some of the most amazing educators and mentors. As I scan the rolls of our 3K SAFE members – our group is amazing. (I will be posting some of the websites on our home page soon.) We are currently reformating our Mentor Program to be more interactive and I encourage you to get involved (at any level) since sharing knowledge is the essence of SAFE. If you are part of this program already, stand-by for new ideas…

And SAFE members please sign-up for an invite to our Annual SAFE Meeting on Tuesday at 8PM EDT on Zoom. Fly safely (and often) and appreciate it fully – we are all blessed.

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