CFI Fail…Be A Professional! (SAFE Toolkit)

Nothing is more disappointing as a pilot examiner than meeting with a potential applicant for a certificate or rating and discovering either the endorsements are incorrect or the applicant lacks some required experience. We are dead in the water. All that work and preparation, anxiety and studying is wasted because we cannot go anywhere….done! This is a failure on the part of the (non) professional aviation educator. We have a responsibility here to professionally execute our duties in preparing their applicant in the most critical phase of training; the evaluation (I still train and endorse applicants for tests). The new AC61.65F just out is, of course, the official guidance for the correct endorsements. They just have to be there or the process stops.

After 18 years of examining for the FAA and endless disappointments like this I wrote the SAFE Toolkit App (it’s FREE). This app puts all the required endorsements right on your phone or iPad *and* all the experience requirements for every certificate or rating. (there is great mobile weather, Skyvector and FlightAware too) No paper to find and sift though…it’s in your pocket! Give this a try and please don’t disappoint your eager applicant on test day!

(Yes I was a member of NAFI for my first 5 Master CFI renewals…the next five with Master Instructors LLC) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

Pursue Perfection but Decide and Fly Adaptively!

Striving for perfection is a very worthy goal. But being driven by a deep need to achieve personal perfection in every case can cause serious problems. I believe all good pilots value excellence and strive to meet the very highest standards. But in flying, true perfectionism is often not just tolerated but occasionally encouraged; a bad idea. If perfectionism is about high standards, persistence, and conscientiousness, what’s not to like? Hopefully I can explain the dark side without offending any friends.

perfect-progressPerfectionism can cause serious psychopathology because perfectionists believe they themselves also have to achieve an impossible standard—no hesitations, deviations, or inconsistencies. They can become hyper-sensitive to imperfection (in themselves and others) and can fall easily into helplessness and self-recrimination. Perfectionists believe their acceptance is a function of never making mistakes. For a true perfectionists there is never “good enough,” and the “perfect” is always (by definition) out of reach. Psychologists catalog perfectionism as a defense mechanism with a rigid set of rituals designed to avoid failure and shame. 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 a sense of superiority and condescension as well as an unwillingness to adapt to changing situations.

If you see yourself in this description, that is not unusual, since pilots are statistically well represented in this group, (and we probably all have “tendencies.”) I would personally argue however that though we should maintain and aspire to the highest standards and ideal outcomes, we should also fight against rigid perfectionism as a source of weakness. Our game is just too 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 “satisficing” and heuristics.

TIme to playMy common metaphor for decision making in flying is a football game. We of course practice hard, drilling skills and technique.  We even run all the hypothetical scenarios and decide the perfect desired course of action with detailed execution in the huddle. But as soon as the ball is snapped and the situation evolves, and everything can change rapidly. In this fluid word of multiple variables and limited time, fast action, improvisation and ingenuity are the more successful strategies. We must employ “fast and frugal decision-making” rather than being frozen and directed to a perfect pre-decided outcome.

This decision making concept was 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, or information and can never make “perfect” choices. He 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, the 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 and an anathema to perfectionists. This translates to “that looks about right.” When Apollo 13 blew up (the famous “Houston, we’ve had a problem”) and the play book had to be thrown out, calculations on the “back of the napkin” 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 might be better off than frozen looking for the perfect choice. I will be talking about this at Sun ‘N Fun Friday 11AM, in Room 9 at the forums. SAFE will be at booth A-59..see you there. Our other SAFE presentations are listed here.

Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking: Micro, Macro, Meta

OK, let’s be honest, a human really cannot multi-task (simultaneously perform two tasks demanding intense concentration). Sad but true, neuroscientists have clearly proven this. Here are some great exercises to make sure you truly believe this. It is especially important to embrace this truth in our world of technological distraction. We all still see people texting and driving who are not yet believers and natural selection will probably soon remove them from the gene pool.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 8.42.03 AMWhat we *can* do is rapidly share attention between essential tasks. The only time rapid task switching (or scan) is recommended is when these competing demands are equally important. Then prioritizing and triage are impossible. Think of an instrument scan, “you mean I have to maintain heading *and* altitude?” This article suggests a useful method to execute cognitive time-sharing I have found useful while piloting (and it is expecially effective for “multitasking” CFI).

If several tasks are demanding immediate attention we first must carefully sort out the “most important” from the “urgent” and avoid getting caught in mere “busy.” That is why we emphasize the essential priority of operations: “aviate, navigate, communicate (mitigate).” This is prioritizing and all items must be accomplished. We also must occasionally “triage” a word from medical emergency operations. This is also handling the most important and manageable emergency first but also picking your battles and ignoring some demands.  Sometimes we have to shove less important (or impossible) tasks off the table or develop a strategy and advocate for a delay or diversion.

One reason prioritizing and triage can be especially frustrating for pilots is our almost genetic striving for perfection. And though this is a wonderful goal and continuous improvement is very desirable attribute, we don’t often, if ever, achieve perfection in this world. The impulse for perfection, if not controlled, can paralyze effective action and lead to unsafe operations (future article) since we try to do everything and nothing works. The perfect is indeed the enemy of the good. Our goal during intense pilot workload demands is to achieve the “most good” or “best solution given the circumstances.” (More on aeronautical decision making)

For equally important items, the scan I recommend in piloting is called “micro, macro, meta.” This method requires continuous shifting of our level of detail. Let’s say we are setting up an approach. Assume our plane is in stable flight so we carefully attend to a detailed operation (micro) e.g. selecting the desired approach in your GPS while hand flying. Almost immediately we expand your focus to “macro” to monitor and tweak any aircraft control issues. Just like an instrument scan it is essential not to fixate on any level of detail but continuously shift our focus in and out (like a lens) and check the different pictures e.g. “are we on course and at altitude?” With practice, this cognitive scan of micro/macro can continue several times to achieve a detailed set-up without losing the bigger picture of control. Essential is an internal alert timer that prevents fixation. After several oscillations between “micro” and “macro” I encourage “meta” to check the larger overview. This is the more global scan or “situational awareness.” Does the whole picture make sense? e.g. we may be on course, at altitude (macro) and I have everything set-up (micro) *but* does it make sense to be continuing this flight into convective through a cold front? These levels are presented in no particular order and starting big is probably the obvious choice. Most important is a continuous cycle of changing attention without fixating at any focus level.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 9.31.06 AMThe “meta” here is short for “meta-cognitive” which is the essential functioning of our “higher order thinking skills” or HOTS found in Bloom’s taxonomy. This global awareness (SA) utilizes our executive brain functions that always need to be engaged while piloting. This insures we are not operating on a single defective habitual script (mouse in a maze) but instead actually directing our flight like the super pilot we all want to be! (Did you ever arrive home while driving and realize you were on “mental auto-pilot?”)

Our minds can also easily gets stuck at the “meta” level and miss essential details. I call this the “human power-saver” mode. During a longer flight we can easily enter this mode and fail to drill down and cross-check at the essential level of detail. Too much automation can lead to dangerous disengagement (fat, dumb and happy?). If you keep the “micro, macro, meta” scan going you will more easily detect important fluctuations and early signs of trouble. I have the privilege of flying with many pilots more talented than me. One in particular, a retired Air Force General driving a Mooney, has taught me a lot about the essential discipline of an enroute scan. This is similar to the FAA 3P ADM scan and is critical for maintaining constant vigilance over longer flights. Let me know if this works for you. I would also encourage you to join SAFE and support our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Three SAFE Charter Members Earn Master CFI for Tenth Time!

Master Instructors LLC designated its next class of Ten-Time Masters.  The historic achievement marks twenty years of participation in the Master Instructor Continuing Education Program (MICEP).  Three instructors comprise this second group to reach the ten-time milestone: David Faile of Fairfield, Connecticut; Lonnie Hilkemeier of Boulder, Colorado; and Lou Wipotnik of Wheeling, Illinois.  All three are charter members of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE)

DavidFaileDavid Faile is an AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) representative, a FAASTeam representative in the Windsor Locks FSDO area, and the holder of the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.  The 1999 National CFI of the Year, David instructs at Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Airport (BDR).

LonnieHilkemeier

Lonnie Hilkemeier is the senior flight instructor and president of Specialty Flight Training (http://www.SpecialtyFlight.com/), a Cessna Pilot Center at Boulder Airport (BDU).  Colorado’s first Master Instructor in 1998, he also serves as a FAASTeam representative in the FAA’s Denver FSDO area.

LouWIpotnikLou Wipotnik is an independent Chicago-area flight and ground instructor at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK).  The holder of an FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot award and the 1996 National CFI of the Year, he is also a FAASTeam representative in the FAA’s DuPage FSDO area and serves in the Civil Air Patrol’s Illinois Wing. 

According to MICEP co-creator JoAnn Hill, “We are honored that these individuals have continued with the program for so long, and are excited to share their amazing accomplishment.”  Others will soon join the ranks of Ten-Time Masters over the upcoming months.

Dave McVInnie 10X MCFI and Lifetime SAFE Member
Dave McVInnie 10X MCFI and Lifetime SAFE Member

As a reward for long-term commitment to professional development as aviation educators, Ten-Time Masters receive embroidered MA-1 flight jackets sponsored by PilotMall.com of Lakeland, FL.  Additionally, Master Instructors LLC commissioned special wings pins reserved exclusively for Ten-Time and Emeritus Masters, sponsored by Aviation Instruction of Camarillo, CA and Specialty Flight Training of Boulder, CO.  The names of Ten-Time Masters are also listed on a dedicated page on the Master Instructors website under the menu tab “With Distinction.”

The Master Instructor Continuing Education Program was conceived and developed in 1995 by JoAnn and Sandy Hill of Longmont, Colorado, and launched in 1997 during AirVenture with the blessing of then-FAA Administrator Barry Valentine.  The Hills, highly experienced educators with a passion for aviation, developed the program as a means to encourage and recognize higher levels of professionalism in aviation education.  The program also sets professional standards to which all aviation educators can aspire.

The Hills initially administered the program through another organization; in 2009, however, they formed Master Instructors LLC.  According to MICEP co-creator Sandy Hill, “We, along with a vast majority of Master Instructors, believed the program stood for something much larger than any one organization.”  He added, “moving the program’s management to an independent entity has provided much greater autonomy and ensured impartiality in the accreditation process.”

The peer-reviewed designation process is rigorous.  In addition to other requirements, applicants must document at least 500 hours in qualifying activities within the previous 24 calendar months.  To foster well-rounded aviation educators, the hours must be distributed among five categories: Educator, Service to the Aviation Community, Creator of Media, Continuing Education, and Participant.

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The Hills are quick to point out that Master Instructors have “earned their black belts” in aviation education, thus setting them apart from instructors who merely use the job to further their air carrier careers.  The evidence bears out the Hills’ assertion: since 1997, a combined 37 individuals have been honored in the National CFI and FAASTeam Rep of the Year categories, 27 of whom are Master Instructors.  The marketplace has also responded to their commitment to the profession: a poll revealed that most Masters realize a 10 to 40 percent increase in income as a result of their participation in MICEP.

MCFIPin

MICEP’s success has been the model for other aviation accreditation programs.  The Soaring Society of America (SSA), for example, drew on the Hills work to develop its Master Instructor Cross-Country program.  The derivative programs, however, require membership in the sponsoring organizations to participate.  MICEP, on the other hand, is open to all qualified aviation educators regardless of their other affiliations; membership in a particular organization is not a prerequisite.  With more than 160 active Masters, MICEP remains the largest accreditation program of its type for aviation educators.

JoAnn Hill says the program will “continue to serve current Masters while improving outreach to other aviation educators.”  Continuing to influence training standards and doctrine, promote industry programs such as General Aviation Awards, and form new partnerships with training providers are goals as well.

For more information:
http://www.MasterInstructors.org/

The Dark Side of Adaptation; “Normalizing!”

Adaptability is an important defining trait of human existence and probably most responsible for our survival and growth as a species. Humans live happily in every corner of our planet from polar wastelands to equatorial rain forests and in every case seem to adapt and flourish. I am sure you have seen pictures, or experienced first hand, some amazing conditions people become comfortable with and contentedly call “home.” At first it might be awkward and weird but pretty soon it becomes “normal” as we adapt!

Adaptability is also an important trait for pilots. We must overcome diverse challenges transitioning to new equipment or flying in challenging environments. These new conditions at first require courage and ingenuity, but ultimately we conform and become comfortable. Air Inuit in northern Canada has an Op. Spec. to fly passengers “VFR” in Twin Otters with only 300′ ceiling and one mile viz (though this requires <90K, flaps 10 degrees and synthetic vision system for safety).

Challenger Space Shuttle LaunchChallengerExplosion

 

 

 

 

There is, however, a dark side to adaptability and that is the “normalization of deviance.” This term was coined by Diane Vaughan, a professor at Columbia University investigating NASA’s Challenger launch decision in 1986. The process of “normalization of deviance” is when a person or organization becomes so familiar with an odd or deviant behavior that it no longer seems strange and alarming but becomes accepted as the “new normal.” This chameleon psychic process seems to be an integral part of our human survival mechanism. Given time we seem to adapt and accept just about any deviant structure and made it a comfortable part of our world. This is also why a objective “standard operating procedure” (and the discipline to follow it) is such an essential tool in aviation safety.

In the 1980s, NASA’s Space Shuttles were being launched on increasingly short intervals. And despite the solid booster “O” rings leaking at launch temperatures much lower than specified, time pressures, historic success (the absence of immediate bad outcomes) and “group think” led to acceptance of these increasingly unsafe conditions. This “normalization of deviance” ultimately resulted in a dramatically public national tragedy. The fact that a similar NASA accident occurred only 8 years later with the “normal shedding of fuel tank insulation” on launch shows how pernicious this problem can be. (The only benefit gained from these tragedies is that recent work by NASA on accident theory is amazing.)

CognitionPicture“So that was NASA but how does this effect us in our everyday flying?” Please look around your airport carefully. I am sure you have been witness to a pilot who has strangely unsafe practices that they personally regard as “normal?” Over time these “rogue pilots” have unfortunately drifted far from objectively accepted safety practices and personally “normalized” techniques that are clearly unsafe. Maybe they have just become “less than proficient” but this too has become “acceptable” or “justified” due to high cost or time constraints. We pilots are a pretty respectful and tolerant bunch so often this “accident waiting to happen” continues unchallenged until the inevitable occurs. Let’s change this please and take action *before* the accident. “Friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!”

Please check out safety writer Dr. Bill Rhodes definition of “scary pilots” in an article by John King. Tony Kern also documents this phenomenon in the military with his book Rogue Pilot. And popular blogger Tom Rapp explains a scary 135 charter example in detail with his examination of normalization in the Bedford Gulfstream accident.

This dangerous “normalization of deviance” occurs even more easily in private aviation where the only normative filter is a (often perfunctory) 2 year flight review. Please don’t stand by if you are aware of cases of compliance drift and normalization. Embrace your normalizing friend and talk some sense into them, carefully and honestly. Let’s embrace the same culture change that cured a lot of unsafe drunk driving; “Friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!” It would be much better to have this friend mad at you than injured. Let’s modify our culture and help everyone embrace a higher standard of safety in their flying. And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Stress and Pilot Performance: Part 2

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

Stress hormones are catabolic in nature; in other words, they break the body down. In the last issue of SAFE, the magazine, we discussed the problems of stress relating to pilot performance. Now, we’ll continue the conversation.

In 1976, Selye described stress as “wear and tear” on the body. Some degree of stress is actually necessary in order to perform day-to-day tasks, but stress which persists over a long period can severely affect human performance and health.

Interestingly, individuals with the strongest psychosocial support systems seem to be able to tolerate the most stress without adverse effects (Mitchell, 1997), so creating and maintaining healthy relationships is critical to good stress management.

Stress that persists over a long period of time is called cumulative stress. Some clear indications of cumulative stress are physical and emotional exhaustion, apathy, and deterioration in performance. Cumulative stress needs to be dissipated or discharged through physical exercise, meditation, body massage, or other forms of relaxation.

Extensive research conducted by NASA over the years confirms that a moderate level of stress has a positive effect on human performance while abnormal levels of stress decrease human performance. Additionally, research findings indicate that the performance of complex or unfamiliar tasks requires a higher level of attention than completion of simple or over-learned tasks, thereby increasing stress levels. During an inflight emergency, the pilot’s workload can quickly exceed his or her capabilities to perform certain tasks within a finite period of time.

This inability to respond in itself creates stress, which in the extreme becomes traumatic stress. Everly (1997) makes the point that traumatic stress overwhelms our normal coping mechanisms while cumulative stress erodes them. The analogy that comes to mind is that of an ocean wave. A single ocean wave can easily knock a person down just as a single traumatic episode can overwhelm a person. But it takes many ocean waves over a period of time to erode a beach, just as it takes on going stress to cause “wear and tear” on the body.

Coping with Stress

In theory, as one matures and adapts to life’s many stressors, one learns to cope more effectively with stress. It would seem that as a pilot grows in experience, he or she should be able to handle more stress. However, there is a limit to the amount of stress a human being can handle. This limit varies from individual to individual and also varies over the life span. Elderly individuals generally cannot cope as well with the same amount of stress as a younger person.

There are numerous techniques available to cope with the effects of stress, but some of the most helpful techniques are very simple — just make sure you get plenty of exercise, rest, and healthy food. Research studies show that individuals who get less than seven-to-eight hours of sleep per night are not as alert as those who do (Foster & Wulff, 205; Hublin et al., 2007). Additionally, the Operators Guide to Human Factors in Aviation, a compendium of information first published in 2009, cites research to indicate the adverse effects of too much caffeine on pilot judgment and the effects of sitting for too long at a time on pilot performance. Few pilots would think that drinking too much coffee or sitting too long in the cockpit could produce stress, but it does.

Stress can be significantly reduced through increased awareness of one’s personal signs of stress. In addition, stress can be successfully managed through meditation, the practice of constructive self-talk, socializing with friends, deep breathing exercises, muscle tension release exercises, visualization or guided imagery, therapeutic massage, reiki therapy, listening to soothing music, and by being appropriately assertive in meeting your own needs.

Other stress busters include taking a walk for at least 20 minutes a day, journaling aboutyour thoughts and feelings, planning some “alone time” each day, simplifying your life on all levels, and doing at least one thing each day just because it pleases you. Learn to take control of how you spend your time and you will also reduce your stress level in the process.

Stress that isn’t dissipated daily will continue to accumulate over time and either “spill out” at some inappropriate time, such as yelling at your spouse, or become internalized in the form of high blood pressure, migraine headaches, stiff neck, low back pain, chest pain, or an actual heart attack. For that reason, it is important that pilots of all certificate levels learn to recognize their own personal signs of stress and have a plan for dissipating or reducing stress as necessary.

Rossiter Stress graphic

In Conclusion

The best way to cope with stress as a pilot is to do a thorough job of assessing your own fitness for flight. The checklist in Table 1 was devised by the FAA Aeromedical Branch to aid a pilot in determining fitness for flight FAR 61.53 prohibits a person from serving as “a required pilot flight crewmember” if experiencing “a medical deficiency.” In other words, pilots are expected to ground themselves if they have a physical or mental impairment that affects the safety of flight. Flying when you are depressed, angry, physically ill, fatigued, or emotionally stressed out is never a good idea because such conditions can and do impair pilot judgment.

While piloting an aircraft will never be a stress free activity, there are things a pilot can do to minimize the amount of stress experienced. Educating oneself about the effects of stress on human performance generally and on your own performance as a pilot, flight instructor, or crew member in particular can go a long way toward increasing safety of flight and your mental and physical wellbeing.

This is an excerpt from our SAFE magazine. Members get full access to this magazine (and so much more!) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Sherry Knight Rossiter holds an ATP and CFI-I for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has worked extensively with general aviation pilots who have survived aircraft accidents or other frightening flight experiences. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and teaches online psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Savvy CFI: “Baked In” Human Pilot Problems!

We humans contain “baked-in” reactions driven by our land-based biology that are extremely dangerous in flight. Our human “operating system” evolved over thousands of years of terrestrial existence and contains some unique inbred vulnerabilities that serve us poorly once airborne. Providing humans flight training, the only kind I have done incidentally :), is largely a concerted effort to overwrite these very basic visceral reactions with “unnatural” trained piloting responses. The durability of these new trained responses depends on the depth of the initial imprint and the recency of review and reinforcement. This last is a very important point. I believe our biology (and fear) will drag us back to unsafe piloting operations without recent flight experience and reinforcement of correct responses. As pilots we naturally revert to our unsafe terrestrial reactions through interference and passage of time.

EvolvedIntoPilotOur most dangerous “naturally human” tendency I see demonstrated as a CFI (and even unfortunately as a DPE)  is the baked-in human reaction of pulling away from the ground. This is especially apparent in new (or rusty) pilots and leads directly to the unfortunate “loss of control inflight” (our most pernicious safety problem in GA). New student pilots, all to some degree fearful and tentative, initially achieve success and comfort tuning and maneuvering at altitude. As soon as they get into the pattern down low, the nose keeps coming up and airspeed drops off (especially in the turns). All pilots, seemingly because of their human nature, unconsciously raise the nose to get away when they see the green earth coming closer. This fear and “monkey pull” response seems to be baked into our operating system; an instinctive and erroneous impulse to achieve safety. Sound aerodynamic knowledge and careful flight training tells us that exactly the opposite response is necessary. Every safe pilot must substitute a trained “unload” response to overwrite this natural “monkey pull” tendency. This same “monkey pull” appears on final approach if the plane gets low at a constant airspeed.  As the runway starts rising in the windscreen and the ground comes closer, you will see the yoke coming back in the aircraft (oh so naturally) with a poorly trained pilot. Witness the B-777 “seawall approach” in San Francisco and endless other examples.

fuseliftAnother related problem that seems to be baked-in and must be carefully trained out is a fear of banking and the resulting turning of the plane with the rudders alone. If you are a long-time aviator I know this seems inconceivable but please reach way back with me and imagine those first flights accurately. (I still teach those first lessons to a lot of people and see the very tangible fear) For all future safety, a pilot must from the very beginning  be able to turn confidently (and coordinated) with a reasonable bank. Unless a pilot gets comfortable banking the plane with coordinated controls and learns to enjoy the bank, they will somewhere deep inside fear turning and instead skid the plane to achieve a turn. Again, this is where comprehensive aerodynamic understanding is the necessary tool to overwrite an initial “naturally human” aversion. Many fearful students have confessed they believe the plane will roll over. Other poorly trained pilots believe lift is unequal on the wings in a stable turn!

These original impressions in psychology are called “naive rendition.” A savvy instructor knows they must be addressed directly and overwritten with correct knowledge to create an enduringly safe pilot. Nervous pilots who never get comfortable banking, usually get increasingly cautious over time and develop the habit of skidding every turn. They limit their bank to 20 degrees and fly huge traffic patterns. Combine this with the “monkey pull” instinct and you can easily explain many LOC-I accidents. Additionally in a startle situation the erroneous response resurfaces. The roots of all these errors are psychological “baked-in” tendencies. Our human psychological payload is often ignored or not specifically addressed in flight training but this is the only path to durable flight safety.

Please make sure your students acquire good basic turning habits before proceeding to more complex maneuvers. Spending time on the basics and achieving a durable “trained response” (as well as stable, comfortable turns) is essential. Constant exposure is then necessary to retain this trained response since our “natural instincts” take over and misguide us in flight. Ultimately, through flight training and aerodynamic knowledge, we need to recognize and unravel these “natural” problems and substitute safe and aerodynamically sound flight reactions.

Future savvy CFI topics: fear, a natural reaction. No fear is dangerous, too much is paralyzing; where is your correct balance? We will also explore cognitive biases that can lead us into disaster; 90% of drivers believe they are better than average 🙂 Another rich area of inquiry is the “two minds problem.” Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow explores our human irrationality. We will see how this impacts our piloting success and safety.

Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

The New AC-61.65 is Available! CFI Power of the Pen!

Our essential guidance as aviation educators, the FAA Advisory Circular 61.65, has finally been updated. This essential document contains all the official FAA guidance on certification standards, knowledge test procedures and “everything in flight training.” Additionally, it conveniently provides the “script” for accurate endorsements. With a stroke of your CFI pen (and the correct solo endorsement) you can make a land-based biped into a pilot (I would also suggest some flight training per 61.87 🙂  As a DPE I see many lousy versions of the required endorsements. And without the correct endorsements your clients cannot start their flight test, and boy is that inconvenient and embarrassing on test day.

6165F_SAFEAppOne major reason I wrote the free SAFE Toolkit App was to provide these exact endorsements (as well as experience requirements and every tool) for every CFI. Everything in one place in your pocket! The SAFE Toolkit is now updated to include the changes found in the the new AC.

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The new FAA AC 61.65F also provides guidance on how to acquire the new plastic student pilot certificate (required after April 1st) for your student pilots through IACRA. Please note that even a DPE will enter IACRA in the “recommending instructor” role (not DPE) to acquire this for a student. And all CFIs can perform this function now. Download the new pdf here: AC_61-65F and put the SAFE Toolkit on your phone (or iPad) so you have this and the experience requirements readily available. Try an emulator copy here.

And please Join SAFE and support our mission of enabling aviation excellence in pilots and educators. The amazing member benefits alone make this important commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

 

 

Stress, and Pilot Performance: Part 1

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

     Imagine that you are on a solo cross-country flight in a single-engine airplane. According to your last calculation, you have used more fuel than you’d anticipated due to increasing headwinds. The clouds ahead are building, and you are not IFR current. You recognize you are off course, but can’t locate your current position on the chart. On top of that, your bladder is full and you are feeling tired and hungry. By now you have plenty to think about. It won’t be long before your heart rate increases and your mouth becomes dry. A growing sense of urgency about your situation causes you to lose your concentration. Your mind begins formulating “what if” questions rather than problem-solving.

Most pilots, if they’re honest with themselves, will admit that they have had at least one experience similar to that. And the experience was, in fact, stressful. Part of what makes flying stressful is the need to do several things, at times simultaneously, while keeping track of many different types of information. In addition, there are a number of factors associated with aviation over which a pilot has no control. Changing weather conditions is certainly one of those factors.

Rossiter-Stress_crop copy

At some point, too much stress begins to affect your ability to think clearly which, in turn, affects your ability to make good decisions. One poor decision followed by another poor decision is a setup for disaster. That is why it is crucial to know how to assess the impact of certain stressors on your body and mind.

The Physiology of Stress

     Stress is a difficult term to define because it is dependent upon personal interpretation. What is perceived as a negative stressor for one person may be perceived as a positive stressor (i.e., energizer or motivator) for another person. For purposes of this discussion, a commonly accepted definition of stress is the body’s non-specific response to demands placed upon it, whether those demands are pleasant or unpleasant (Selye, 1936).

All living organisms experience a certain amount of physical and psychological stress simply as a result of being alive. Organisms experiencing only a small amount of stress are usually at rest or asleep. A good example of an organism experiencing minimal stress would be a cat stretched out in the sunshine or a bear in hibernation. The only time an organism experiences no stress is when it is dead. All living creatures experience stress of some type each and every day, and that is why it is important to understand the relationship of stress to human performance.

Hungarian-born researcher Hans Selye (1907-1982) spent his life studying the topic of stress. Selye discovered very quickly that the human body experiences two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is experienced by the body as positive stress. Common examples of eustress are laughing while watching a movie or playing with the family dog. Distress is experienced by the body as negative stress. Some common examples of distress that might be experienced by anyone are fatigue, high work load, or a life-threatening situation.

When an individual experiences distress, a natural physical response occurs. This arousal of the nervous system is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It is as old as humankind ands located in the lower part of our brain, sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain. This part of our brain controls breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and balance. The fight-or-flight response is so basic to human behavior that it can be called instinctual because it spontaneously activates whenever our brain senses danger in any form.

Sensory stimuli (i.e., stressors) are interpreted by the brain as either threatening or non-threatening. If a stimulus is perceived as non-threatening, no stress response is forthcoming. However, if a stimulus is perceived as threatening in any way, then certain protective mechanisms are triggered. In other words, the fight-or-flight response is automatically activated as a survival mechanism.

Any internal or external stimulus that is perceived as a threat to the body’s equilibrium causes a physiological reaction in the body. These reactions include the release of chemical hormones, such as adrenalin, into the bloodstream, and there is a marked increase in the body’s metabolic rate. Blood is redirected away from the stomach and digestive tract to supply the muscles in the arms and legs with more oxygen. Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood sugar, and perspiration all increase under stressful conditions. In short, the body prepares itself to “fight or flee.”

It should be noted, however, that many other factors besides biology go into determining if an individual fights or flees in the presence of a perceived threat. Past experience in the form of memories plays a major role in the implementation of the fight-or-flee response. Research indicates that stored memories of survival have the highest priority of retrieval in frightening situations (Everly, 1989). This is crucial for successfully coping and surviving in any extremely stressful situation.

What is a Stressor?

     Stressors take many forms. However, stressors are generally classified as physical, physiological, or psychological. Any stressor is a stimulus to the nervous system.

Physical stressors include conditions associated with the environment, such as temperature and humidity extremes, noise, vibration, and lack of oxygen. Pilots deal with physical stressors all the time during flight. For example, continuous noise (like the sound of a rotor blade or propeller) can have long-term, adverse effects on not just hearing, but also on blood pressure and heart health.

Physiological stressors include fatigue, lack of physical fitness, illness, and missed meals, which lead to lowered blood sugar levels. Pilots who regularly fly long distances are especially prone to the effects of physiological stressors. A pilot may be able to exist on coffee and nutrition bars for a day or two, but in the long term such poor nutrition will affect the pilot’s body and mind.

Psychological stressors are related to social or emotional factors. Some examples of psychological stressors are a pending divorce proceeding, a sick child, a demotion at work, or thoughts of a previously frightening experience.

The Relationship Between Stress and Performance

     It is now known that stress affects human performance in two important ways. In some situations, stress serves as an energizer, thereby increasing human performance. In other situations, stress serves to interfere with or detract from human performance. Ironically, too little stress can cause poor performance, and so can too much stress.

Research into human performance limitations in the last three decades shows that simple tasks are performed better under higher degrees of stress and complex tasks are performed better under lower degrees of stress. This means there is a range of moderate stress referred to as “a peak performance envelope” (Garfield,1983; Currieri 1985, 1995), wherein optimal performance can be expected – indeed, predicted — in any given situation.

Both Garfield and Currieri have independently conducted research to (a) prove a correlation between stress level and peak human performance and (b) stress level and optimum human judgment. Data gathered seems to indicate that peak performance and best judgment are most evident when the research subject’s physiological responses to the stress imposed are within certain parameters of body temperature, heart rate, and so forth – hence, the reference above to “a peak performance envelope.”

Relationship Between Stress Arousal and Human Performance

Rossiter Stress graphic

 

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

Look for Part 2 of this article in the next issue of SAFE, the magazine

This is an excerpt from our SAFE magazine. Members get full access (and so much more!) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Sherry Knight Rossiter holds an ATP and CFI-I for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has worked extensively with general aviation pilots who have survived aircraft accidents or other frightening flight experiences. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and teaches online psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. 

 

 

Providence In Flight!

Parvez Dara, MD FACP, Master Instructor, SAFE Member

There is Providence in the flight of the bird. Its departures and arrivals are never certain and its flight path is not when or where, but dictated by the breezes, the feeds, the treetops and its kin. There is magic and majesty in that flight nevertheless. From the ground there is a joyous longing to belong to that carefree, wild and non interpretive version of life.

As equally as the joy of flight in an airplane, humans have learned to master the art of that magic. As thrust overcomes the drag and lift picks up the weight, the momentary weightlessness on untying the surely bonds to the earth has a unique if not special meaning to the flier.

The earth recedes as the blue sky enriches the vistas. Little dumplings of white clouds seed the blueness like cotton candy, delicious in their being. The smooth air and the power to transform the landscape by a turn here or there is intoxicating and liberating.

You pull back on the stick/yoke and the climb continues as you feel your weight against the seat, the fears and expectations of living recede with the green earth. The magical metallic beast honors each command without a moment of hesitation.

The roar of the engine, recede fades and dissolves into the sights that come in bunches of wonder. Here there is a cottage where the setting sun sprinkles its embers to color it a golden yellow and there the forest of treetops are illuminated as if the painter had a last minute desire to add color to the rich landscape.

sky1If you are lucky, someday you might see the sun dissected by a thin layer of cloud that stretches from here to the ends of the earth as you witness the golden hue bounce off the bottom and then the tops of the wavy clouds in a climb. It is a beauteous sight to behold; one for the memories. You might see the rich blueness of the sky slowly give way to a darker hue and the first signs of the sunset come alive. The rich tapestry unfolds with its lights burning below, enriching the darkening landscape. Ah, there is such Providence in flight.

You might encounter a momentary pulse of euphoria about then as the night owls rise to take their space and the full breadth of human endeavor below begins to shine. Humans are such creative species to desire to view the earth, in all its phases with the sun, through a birds’ eye.

From above there are no large and small, no tall or short, no fat and slim, no young and old but only in the mind’s comparisons. Everything below dissolves into a symphony of symmetry. The cadence, the pitch and the notes, all resolve to the hum and liberating feeling of freedom.

As the colors darken outside, the colors within the cockpit brighten. The world outside is displayed in a rectangular screen for positional awareness. Ah there the nonlinear, convoluted darkness amid the city lights is the river and here the bright linear flow of lights is the bridge joining the two land masses.

If you are gifted in knowing the Instrument flight systems, the alignment of the horizontal and vertical course deviation indicators show you where and how to arrive safely at your destination. All the lights, darkness or cloudy encounters cannot hide the safety of the runways that beckon you.

There is Providence in flight. There is magic in its delights. There is existential freedom.