Addressing I-LOC: More Training?

Author Randall Brooks is a SAFE member with Aviation Performance Solutions and President of the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training Association (UPRTA)


I was talking with another pilot regarding the general state of airmanship in the piloting profession. It brought to mind the distinction between the pilots we think we are, versus the skills we actually possess.

Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) clearly sits on the top rung on the ladder when it comes to fatal accident causes. Across the board in airline, corporate, and general aviation, more people die from pilots losing control of an aircraft in flight than from any other single cause. Yet LOC-I remains a relatively invisible threat that most pilots do not appreciate.

A large international corporation that comes to Aviation Performance Solutions for Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) recently evaluated the safety hazards affecting its flight operation. One executive questioned the expense of UPRT under the assumption that mid-air collisions posed a greater threat. This company’s flight operations involve hundreds of aircraft worldwide and had experienced two mid-airs in the previous year. As harrowing as a mid-air collision is, there had been no fatalities associated with these two. However, during the same period, the organization experienced five fatalities due to LOC-I.

The problem is that unlike the persistent presence of the mid-air threat, the rare yet catastrophic nature of LOC-I means that it may never be appreciated until it suddenly appears in the form of a fatal upset accident. Why is this?

The Small Aerodynamic World We Live In!
The Small Aerodynamic World We Live In!

One reason is we are highly unlikely to lose control in the region of the flight envelope in which we normally fly. Proficiency within the normal flight regime gives no hint at what lies beyond the boundaries of our everyday operations. But in those regions beyond the threshold of an in-flight airplane upset, situations can escalate amazingly quickly into aerodynamic regions and behaviors that are not at all common to flight within the normal envelope. These situations require quick responses, but to the pilot unfamiliar with the all-attitude/all-envelope domain, reactions will become slower rather than faster. The brain is called upon to process confusing information in an unfamiliar environment. Accident statistics provide evidence of this cognitive impairment that can accompany a LOC-I accident.

This author participated in a study that was published through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 2012. Titled “Unexpected Pilot Performance Contributing to Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I)”, the analysis focused on fatal airline LOC-I accidents worldwide from 2001to 2010. Among the four factors evaluated was whether or not the pilots acted in a reliable and predictable manner when confronted with an unexpected airplane upset event.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.22.14 AMIn a startling finding, all 16 accidents for which data was available revealed that the pilots reacted in a way contrary to how common training practices should have prepared them to react. This does not indicate a few pilots with weak skill sets. Rather, it suggests a systemic deficiency in the way today’s training prepares pilots to react to unanticipated airplane upsets.

It is important to note that the knowledge, skills, and abilities of pilots in the normal operating envelope are no indicator of success in safely or effectively navigating the unfamiliarity of an airplane upset event.

Because there is little time or opportunity for creative thought beyond a certain threshold of upset escalation, the only way to mitigate this rare but potentially catastrophic situation is through pre-emptive, comprehensive UPRT. This is why the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is calling for the amendment of pilot licensing standards to include on-aircraft UPRT for all pilots, worldwide, prior to Commercial Licensing. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is fast-tracking this proposal and hopes to have a requirement for UPRT in place next year.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.22.41 AMWhen implemented in the future, the requirement for universal UPRT prior to receiving a Commercial Pilot certificate will ensure that in the face of an airplane upset event all pilots should possess the skills needed to execute recovery when the threshold for prevention has been exceeded.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

KISS, and Tell – Avoiding LOC Can Be Simple

From our magazine: Written by the amazing Jim Alsip, MCFI and tail wheel specialist in Florida.

slip-skid-indicator-bylineLoss of Control (LOC) has been all too common in recent years, and is currently the leading cause of deadly accidents. I am pleased that the major aviation magazines are addressing the subject in articles and comment; the FAA is concerned; and I am especially encouraged that the membership of SAFE is showing leadership with this issue.

At the same time, I am frustrated that the resulting commentary is showing the all too common signature of “group think.” For example, the current FAA paper on LOC mentions almost every aspect of the pilot condition. It seems everything contributes to LOC. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive cause, so the pundits are short on direct and effective solutions. It seems to me that discussion of the fundamentals is blatantly omitted from the conversation. What I do not see is the big KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle showing up in current pontifications about LOC.

Can we all agree that fundamentals, by definition, always apply? Can we also agree that in an emergency, pilots fly like they trained. They respond in accordance with habits? Those habits can be good or bad. In an emergency, the way a pilot responds is either correctly done, or improperly done.

You might say the fundamentals of flying an airplane are not simple. That’s a big subject, and someone could write a book on it (and I did — Artistry of the Great Flyer – A Pilot’s Guide to Stick and Rudder and Managing Emergency Maneuvers). Still, the fundamentals as they apply to LOC are not complex. I’ll bullet point my arguments:

  • In the discussion of LOC, it is implied that the pilot is maneuvering, frequently at low altitude. Loss of control typically involves stall-and-spin incidents.
  • To avoid LOC, a true flyer (as opposed to just a “pilot”) need master only two fundamental dos and don’ts: do control yaw; and do not stall.
  • I suggest too many student pilots are not learning to be flyers; in that they are not learning the fundamentals. Pilots who did learn might have forgotten and/or developed bad habits that negate fundamental skills.
  • Every student pilot and every current certificated pilot should know how to recognize and recover from accelerated stalls. They should practice accelerated stalls frequently.
  • Student pilots must learn to recognize and control yaw. Essential to this task is correctly using the sight picture for attitude awareness. I continue to be amazed at how “good pilots” do not understand how the sight picture can be used for attitude information. Maybe we should return to yesteryear and re-name the attitude indicator an Artificial Horizon.

Teaching the fundamentals to student pilots is essential to keep them safe throughout their flying careers, but to reduce LOC accidents among existing pilots, we need to help them build and retain good habits – that means practice. I suggest that simply teaching pilots to properly turn an airplane is one solution to saving lives lost to LOC. Too many instructors teach only shallow bank angle and constant-rate change of direction maneuvers. When you repeatedly practice maneuvers incorrectly, you become proficient at a bad habit.

And there is one maneuver that encompasses all the fundamental aspects of flying an airplane. If only we would teach all pilots to learn — and practice — proper turns, like this:

  • Use rudder and aileron together. Teach use of cadence to develop that skill – say aloud “on it – off it” as you use rudder and aileron together to establish desired bank angle. Proficient pilots will be comfortable with fast roll rates (lots of aileron).
  • Elevator should be neutral when inputting aileron. Premature application of back elevator pressure is a “killer” bad habit. I have flown with way too many pilots who always “pull’’ as they roll.
  • During a level turn, once established in the bank, aileron and rudder become neutral. Then use elevator if needed, to control loss of lift. This is another area of misunderstand among pilots. Too many pilots never learn that sometimes (often?), the need for up elevator is a result of an uncoordinated roll.
  • Release any elevator back pressure before rolling out of a turn with “top rudder” and aileron.

Do you get the connection? A proper turn, recovery from an upset, recognition and recovery from a spin. If pilots know the fundamentals and develop good habits in executing turns, their skill intuitively avoids LOC. And should they succumb to LOC (for example; upset from wake turbulence) intuitive control inputs from the acquired skill will direct the airplane to an immediate and safe recovery.

If the FAA and their associates in academia are serious about reducing LOC accidents, they can easily and quickly establish standards that require students to be “flyers” before they train to be pilots. Back in the day, that concept was called basic training.

Keep it simple, stupid – control yaw and don’t stall.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

Essential Safety: Determining PIC

By Chris Hope, MCFI and 2015 National FAASTeam representative of the year.

Whos-Flying-copySo, you’re flying with a friend in their aircraft. Although you have more total time and experience, it is their plane and they have a lot more experience in it than you have. The ATIS is calling for some strong, gusty crosswinds at the destination airport, but you continue, anyway. After a rather scary landing, you say to each other, “I never would have done that by myself, but I figured you knew what you were doing.” Hmm.

Or maybe this: Your buddy is flying from the left seat, when you notice that he seems engrossed in his iPad. You notice the plane has wandered off course and altitude a bit, so you nudge it back to wings-level. Your partner notices, but doesn’t say anything. After a while, you again notice it’s off, and you correct again. Then, a few minutes later Center asks if you are on the heading and altitude you really want. And the two of look at each other and say, “I thought you were flying.”

Here’s another one: maybe most pilots don’t know that a flight instructor without a current medical can still administer a flight review. The FAA, in a bit of logic understood by no one, maintains that flight instruction is totally separate from…flying. And using this logic, a CFI can exercise the privileges of his CFI certificate even though he might not be legal to exercise the privileges of his pilot certificate. Under this thought process, a CFI can give instruction as long at the person receiving instruction can legally act as Pilot-in-Command (PIC). This scenario usually comes into play when a pilot, still within his 24-month flight-review window, asks for a flight review. Under th0se circumstances, the CFI can conduct the review.

This was the situation that one CFI saw. A pilot he knew asked for a flight review, and he knew that he personally could not act as PIC. The pilot knew that the CFI did not have a current medical, but he did not consider the ramifications further. The CFI knew that the pilot knew that he did not have a medical, but he assumed that the pilot was legally current in the plane. Both thought the other was PIC. OOPS!

All of these situations have one common thread that can lead to a deterioration in safety, “Who is in charge…who is PIC?”

According to FAR 1.1:

Pilot in command means the person who:
(1) Has final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of the flight;
(2) Has been designated as pilot in command before or during the flight; and
(3) Holds the appropriate category, class, and type rating, if appropriate, for the conduct of the flight.

Note that nothing in this definition relates to actually manipulating the controls.

FAR 61.51, on the other hand, deals with logging PIC time, and it states in part, that a person can do so:

(e) (i) When the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated, or has sport pilot privileges for that category and class of aircraft, if the aircraft class rating is appropriate;

So there is a bit of conflict between who logs PIC time, and who acts as PIC. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s concentrate on “Who’s in charge here?”

First of all, who has “the final authority”, and who has been “designated as pilot in command?” I think that when two pilots fly together, the topic does not usually come up, because one or both are embarrassed to bring it up. After all, when you declare who is PIC, that’s who will be responsible to the FAA and the insurance company when things go wrong. And secondly, you are agreeing that in an emergency, one of you will be telling the other what to do. Could be touchy.

I often see the situation myself when I fly as an instructor in my student’s plane. We decide the PIC question on a case-by-case basis. If my student is legally qualified to act as PIC, and we both feel that he is competent to act as PIC, generally we agree that he will be PIC. If, on the other hand, I am conducting a checkout or a flight review for a pilot who is really not comfortable with acting as PIC, I will take on that role. (And whenever I fly another person’s plane, I ensure that I am covered to act as PIC by his insurance.) In either case, before we walk out to the plane together, we settle the question. Note that establishing who is PIC does not mean that the non-PIC is supposed to sit back and be a spectator when the situation deteriorates. But the designated PIC is the final authority on the course of action. Need to swap roles in flight? No problem. Just make sure that both of you agree.

Then, there is the question of who is actually in charge of manipulating the controls, and this can be the occupant of either front seat. Obviously, the person who is actually flying needs to be qualified to do so, but again, both of you need to agree on this. A simple solution – This conversation:

“Would you take the plane for a minute?”
“Sure. I’ve got it.”
“Right. You have the flight controls.”

Then, when you are ready to take the plane back:

“OK, I’ve got the flight controls again.”
“Roger, you have the flight controls”
“I have it.”

A little communication goes a long way. Go Forth. Fly safe. Have fun.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

Chris Hope has taught flying for more than 40 years. He holds flight instructor certificates for single-engine land and sea airplanes and multi-engine land planes, as well as for instrument training. He holds ground instructor certificates for advanced and instrument training. Chris is an FAA Gold Seal Instructor and a Master Certified Flight Instructor and is the 2015 National FAASTeam representative of the year.

FAA Restores Aviation “Sim” Time!

FMX_2Training time credited by the FAA for flight simulation devices is a moving target caught in a web of regulatory confusion. Even the names and levels have been changed continuously as this process has evolved. Finally, the new rule will be published today April 12th, taking effect on May 12th with a strong move in the right direction. The FAA has restored the 10 hours of credit for BATDs (Basic Aviation Training Devices) and 20 hours for AATDs (Advanced) previously permitted by manufacturer LOAs. Time with a professional educator on even a modestly priced machine can provide a wide variety of challenges unavailable in flight with much greater efficiency, economy and safety. SAFE has advocated continuously for greater “sim” time credit.

ATC-610-CopySince the 1970s, the FAA has gradually expanded the use of various forms of flight simulation for training. The venerable ATC-610 with realistic “steam gauge instruments” was a mainstay for training all kinds of approaches. Computer based training devices have dramatically expanded the realism and also the utility of these devices with companies like Mindstar even networking devices into a virtual environment (demonstrated at the Pilot Proficiency Center at Oshkosh last year). The realism of the new hardwareFMX_1  is exceptional with motion incorporated in models from Redbird, Frasca and many other progressive manufacturers. SAFE has led the charge for approval of increased simulation credit and we are proud our proposal to the FAA is quoted extensively in the current NPRM. Flight simulation provides a huge opportunity for aviation educators and a superior, less expensive, training environment for clients at all courses and levels. For both initial and recurrent flight training, increased FAA credit for simulation is a huge win.

Incidentally, the requirement for a “view limiting device” was thankfully dropped in the most recent rule (can’t see the ground anyway!) The FAA NPRM again mentioned helpful input from SAFE. Also, per 61.51 (g)4 you do need an “authorized instructor” (we presume that would be a CFII) to observe and sign your logbook to log legal training time or maintain currency. There was lots of confusing interpretations circulating but the recent legal letter of interpretation makes this abundantly clear.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.11.14 AM“Follow” this blog to receive notification of new articles. and write us a comment. And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.




How to Apply in IACRA for a Student Pilot Certificate

Student_PilotAccording to the new FAA rule, as of April 1st, 2016 all new pilots now have to apply for their student pilot certificates through IACRA or on a paper 8710-1 (not encouraged). It helps to repeat after me “IACRA is my friend” because a positive attitude helps immensely when navigating this website for the first time. All DPEs (and many FAA Inspectors) initially struggled with this process but it works amazingly well once you understand the logic. You have probably worked this site recommending pilot applicants, this is a similar process. There is actual necessity for the complexity when you consider how many diverse certificates and ratings it needs to produce. The site requires everyone to log in as a “recommending instructor” to be a validator. The pdf manual for IACRA is here. The help desk number is now (844)322-6948.

First, remember you (CFI, DPE, ACR) are the validator of this applicant’s identity and ability to read, speak, write and understand English. The FAA guidance is from the 61.65G “In accordance with §61.193(b), before processing an application for a student pilot certificate, the authorized individual must ensure the applicant meets the eligibility requirements of § 61.83 as well as verify the applicant’s identity. The authorized individual should use AC 60-28 and the ICAO Web site to prepare for the assessment. (speaks English)”  And yes, you of course need to meet face-to-face; a virtual arrangement is not acceptable!

Every “validator” or agent will login for this process with the role of “recommending instructor” (as DPE I have done many glider and sport pilots with that role but that is gone). Make sure to advise your applicant before the meeting they  will need valid proof of identity: an unexpired government ID with a photo with printed expiration date. For young people without a license or passport that can also be a “Sheriff’s ID” so get that process started early. Make sure you have a fairly new web browser (without a pop-up blocker activated) and you have a pdf reader installed on your computer. You have to certify that your applicant can adequately speak, read, write, understand the English language also per AC 20-28.

This IACRA process begins with your applicant. They need to access the IARA website and establish a login and password and obtain their FTN (Federal Tracking Number). The new 61.65G is a little misleading here.


Your student will now log out and then back into IACRA with this unique FTN and apply for their student pilot certificate. This is simple with 6 fields to complete.


They are applying for a “pilot certificate” and the selection should be “student.” Like gliders and sport, no medical is needed here. The medical travels separately and could be acquired later (before solo obviously) according to the help desk. Here are some FAQs from the FAA guidance.

Once all six tabs in the application process are green, click “review”. This button should pop up a pdf of the application (depending on your internet connection this might require some waiting). Make sure you do not have a pop-up blocker set in your browser. This “review” step is required first before “submit” to make that button active. Once the applicant has reviewed the application (opened the pdf) close the document at the top of the pdf and they click “submit.” Once this is complete it should be available on-line for the CFI , DPE or ACR to retrieve and validate.  All validators for a student pilot certificate will enter IACRA in the role of “recommending instructor.”

So now finally it’s the CFI’s turn to login. You will need to meet with your student here since you validate their identity and command of English for this certification. This process cannot be performed remotely. ON the IACRA site, put in your (CFI) username and password and accept the “terms of service” in the role of “recommending instructor.”


When the page loads you will enter the student’s FTN in the box and it should bring up their application for action. There should be a pull down with several options here. This will open a page with a list of hyperlinked actions you need to complete in order. First is verification of identification. You must enter the data from the approved government ID accurately…check it twice!

There will be a link for the applicant to now login again to accept the PBR then “review” and “sign” their application (in each case “close” the pdf with the button on the top). The “signature” is a blue hyperlink which will center on the pdf and only requires a mouse click. If this does not appear, check for a pop-up blocker or suitable pdf reader installed on the computer. This can be slow depending on your internet connection. Once the application is “signed”, close this at the top of the document and the student’s part is complete.

As the final step, the CFI logs back in (with your CFI login/password) and again enters the student’s FTN as before. Now you should be able to complete the certification process with a “review” and “sign”. Both are pop-up pdfs and you might again need to wait for them to load depending on the speen of your connection.

There is lots of discussion about which browser to use for the IACRA process but most webkit versions work fine. My favorite, that seems to work on Mac or PC, is latest Firefox Browser. Remember in every step you will always have to “review” before you “sign” or the field will be gray and inoperative. Check your browser for a “pop-up blocker” or the pdfs will not load. Take your time and remember to always scroll to the bottom of the page for the action buttons…be patient and good luck!

Personally I would copy the final result with the date so you can track the progress on the application. There are many guesses on how long the plastic student pilot certificate will take coming from the FAA. You can always look up the date the gov. is currently working on [here]

Let me know if you discover snags in this description and I will update this so we create a clean and usable document for all CFIs and move this process forward. When I put a student through this process I will add any details that differ in the new sequence…good luck. If you have a problem, please write a comment and we can all learn something. Thanks…I hope this helps.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun!

Necessary “Tough Love” in Flight Training

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMThe most dangerous CFI is not necessarily the one you would expect! The person lacking skills or with a history of safety issues is usually obvious through reputation and avoided by serious pilots. The real sleeper is the popular CFI who is everyone’s friend and cannot say “no.” This CFI lacks the ability to set standards and firmly guide behavior with occasionally disappointing news. I know this sounds harsh but this person is too often giving away privileges that are not earned and compromising our whole safety culture. Being a professional necessitates some “tough love” and it’s usually uncomfortable to be the bearer of disappointing news (as a DPE these are my darkest days)! Sometimes hostility can occur no matter how gently you convey the need for “more training” but it is a necessary burden of the job and essential to aviation safety.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 12.17.04 PMMany clients are (unfortunately) “shopping for a yes” or permission to get signed off for a test or to fly their shiny new plane. The “tough love” of necessary skill and knowledge can be a bitter pill keeping them from their goal. But every CFI conveys amazing power with each endorsement placed in a logbook and holds the keys. That privilege granted cannot be a gift but must be earned through demonstrated skill, knowledge and judgment.

Most new flight instructors start out with this tendency due to a need to please and to acquire new students. The “newbie CFI” will fly at any hour and endure all kinds of abuse from students (those who are chronically late and unprepared) to generate business. This usually leads to a chaotic co-dependency and the student training fails to progress. This new instructor will be very busy and popular but generates no progress in student skills. Safety can be seriously in question while this new CFI learns to calibrate their standards and gains confidence. This is one reason why CFI oversight or mentoring is so vital for new instructors.

SuperCessnaPanelThis same “need to please” can also happen with an entire flight school. Most often this is “the new guy on the block” with shiny equipment and an attractive new facility. This school can sometimes be desperate to attract new students and make money rather than create safe pilots with real skills. For the parents among our readers think “spoiled child” and the modern cultural meme of “everyone is above average” deserving of a trophy. Successful flight training requires a little “tough love” to be safe. Privileges must be earned not purchased.

Hopefully, as a new CFI (or school) grows and becomes more confident and knowledgeable, they realize the need to set real standards and emphasize the personal growth of skill, knowledge and judgment in their students. Unfortunately, I have also met the CFI that never gets the message and continues to massage everyone’s ego and promote “universal happiness” over true aviation safety and progress toward a rating.

SuperCessnaIf you are a client or student, watch out for the “pathological pleaser” who too easily gives away privileges you do not earn. There are no gifts in aviation and safe progress requires some serious work and discipline to earn 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 find someone that makes you work, your personal safety hangs in the balance.

“Follow” this blog to receive notification of new articles. and write us a comment. 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 Sun ‘N Fun Hangar A Booth 59.

SAFE Working For You! Visit Us at Sun ‘N Fun!

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMSAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators) is a relatively new and dynamic not-for-profit. Our mission is to promote excellence in aviation education and thereby raise the level of safety and professionalism in our whole industry. We want nothing less than to change the aviation world for the better. Thank you for reading our blog. We have enjoyed a tremendous following here thanks to your interest. Please “follow” us for notification of new content. We also publish a quarterly magazine for members edited by the very talented Mark Phelps. Our SAFE Toolkit App SAFE Toolkit Video Introduction has received amazing activity and rave reviews. Utilizing this FREE software makes all CFIs better prepared in the field. It contains the FAA endorsements and pilot experience requirements (and so much more) right in your pocket to do your job more professionally. [See it at work].

One of our proudest and most effective safety programs is our SAFE mentoring system. This enables a new CFI to sign up and gain an experienced guide in the process of becoming a really effective and excellent instructor. A lot of learning as an educator is necessarily an apprenticeship. This program passes on the wisdom from experienced, sage-like wizards to fresh excited beginners. Become a mentor and pay it forward.

SAFE_SnFMapWe are currently working with a talented web and media designer, Chris Palmer, to entirely revamp our web presence and make it as exciting and inviting as all of aviation; a portal for member participation. And lastly, we are organizing, with other aviation partners the Pilot Proficiency Aviation Symposium to occur in Oshkosh on July 24-25, just before Air Venture. This gathering will actively engage all aviation professionals and help us discover a better way forward in flight training (just as our last gathering in Atlanta did.) Expect great things, join us and help support our mission of raising the bar on aviation education professionalism. Our amazing member benefits pay you back and make this commitment painless and fun. Visit us at Sun ‘N Fun in Building A Booth #59. Attend a seminar by a SAFE member, we would love to meet you!

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.