New FAA Instructor’s Handbook!

The new FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook is finally available this week. A quick first pass reveals reorganization and updating with a laudable new focus on risk management (first chapter and a new chapter 10). Unfortunately, some ancient ideas from the 1970s persist – “Myth of Learning Styles” has long been discarded by educational researchers. And how “self-help guru” Ricki Linksman and her “Superlinks” got into a serious government textbook is a good question to ask – the power of internet fame and fortune?

But here it is, please take a look and see what you think. “Student” becomes “learner” and the “cockpit” becomes “flightdeck.” I suggested a change to “aviation educator” several times but this went nowhere. Is the rest eyewash or valuable? Please post your comments. Certainly some new terms and concepts for all new prospective CFIs studying for the FOI this fall (not on tests until September).

New FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook

A few times through this will make you want to get free and FLY! I have been busy helping with a few annuals on some old Champion products (hopefully both flying again soon!) Stay safe, have fun.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Better Flight Reviews; Get Focused!

The blog last week provided methods to instill an urge for excellence in your pilots, creating lifetime learners during initial flight training. This internal motivation is easier with a new pilot-in-training since there is time and opportunity to build a relationship and establish expectations. The toughest place to conduct quality flight training and get beyond the FAA minimum requirements is during a flight review. Any hope of conducting serious training is often trampled under the cultural expectations of FAA minimums and the “lunch date flight review.”

But let’s be clear, the FAA gives the CFI total control to decide the flight review content and required duration; everything is on the table. The FAA required-minimum of an hour flight and an hour of ground study on part 91 is just as suspect as the 3SM day viz; a bare minimum. (And the multi-engine ATP who flies a flight review in a Champ is legal for 24 months in everything else!) Ultimately, we need to appeal to every pilot’s better angels here and inspire a personal desire for greater proficiency and safety we cannot legislate this. Clearly, bending planes and bleeding out really sucks. An hour flight may scrape off some of the serious rust and discover and correct some bad habits, but we can’t assure consistency and actual skill in an hour. And we never get beyond basics to what I call “the killers” (important safety items) in an hour. So let’s default to three hours and work plus or minus from that more realistic baseline.

AC 61.98D: the FAA reminds flight instructors that a flight review may require more than 1 hour of ground training and 1 hour of flight training. Since satisfactory completion of a flight review is based on pilot proficiency, it is up to the instructional service provider to determine what type of instruction is required and how much additional training time, if any, is required to ensure that the pilot has the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct safe flight operations… it is the flight instructor that ultimately determines the total training time required for a flight review.

As this excellent FAA document on flight reviews suggests, controlling the expectations starting with the initial interview. It is critical for the CFI to “sell” the safety advantages of greater proficiency so we can get to the real “pilot killer” phases of flight. The FAA WINGS program was originally developed around this focus on these specific “pilot risk factors.”  And participants in FAA WINGS are statistically correlated with safer flying. But unfortunately in most safety seminars we are “preaching to the choir” how do we reach further?

To this end, SAFE contributed extensively to the development of the Focused Flight Review with AOPA. This excellent toolkit was created to provide the resources for a more extensive (hopefully annual) review and this works hand in glove with FAA WINGS. This program is diverse and focuses attention on the areas of true risk for every pilot (“the killers”). e.g. It is almost incomprehensible that 24% of fatal accidents occur during take-off and initial climb. We are not teaching people to adequately manage risk during this phase of flight (every pilot should be Code Yellow on take-off).

Every flight is different … but GA accidents follow well-worn patterns. Whether heedless, hapless, or simply clueless, pilots keep falling into the same traps that have snared others before them. It happens every year all across the country.

The learner involvement and imaginative scenarios of the Focused Flight Review provide a great advantage for the aviation educator. It is otherwise too easy for all of us to fall back into the “initial training rut” and just review airwork – thereby missing the important “added value” items that should be included in a good flight review. The opportunity of a more extensive – exceed the minimums – review allows a good CFI to go beyond basic proficiency and cover “the killers” that are often never trained. Complacency is a huge contributing factor in aviation accidents; we all mask risk because of familiarity. Try surprising your client by popping open a window during initial take-off (inspire an abort). Way too many pilots regard the take-off as the simplest phase of flight when in reality, it is the most toxic. A good briefing is essential before the power is applied on every take-off. Actively involving your pilot in the challenges and construction a personal flight review also inspires a sense of mastery. Have fun and fly safely.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

“Metacognitive” Teaching; Mastery and Expertise

Achieving expertise in piloting requires so many diverse skills and aptitudes it almost defies explanation. In aviation, we point to experts like Sully or Al Haynes (pick your favorite) to model expertise, but we are often frustrated trying to recreate these remarkable attributes in our students. Dr. Gary Kline, an amazing learning psychologist, has patiently deconstructed expert performance with “Cognitive Task Analysis.” Unfortunately, even having a “box of parts” only gives us hints and does not tell you how to reliably recreate pilot mastery and expertise.

The core question (and responsibility) for educators is not the expert end product as much as providing the pathway and inspiration – “How do we embed an urge for excellence in our pilots during training?” Viewed negatively, how do we prevent the “happy D- student” that inevitably also becomes a pilot for life and infects our aviation system (perhaps flying a personal jet over your house as you read this?) This endless enigma is the primary source of frustration for educators and safety researchers. This often leads to disillusionment and burn-out as history repeats itself. There is however a very clear solution to this problem and a toolkit for pilot success.

As I have written before, the FAA standards never describe (or require) “mastery” or “expertise.” They only tell us when “mediocre” becomes “unacceptable” and more training is required (to achieve the minimum piloting level). Unless there is an internal “urge for excellence” within every pilot,  there is no necessary upward skill trajectory after a “pathetic certification.” Nothing prevents (or improves) “the happy D-” performer in our current aviation system. I know many good pilots who are surprised (and frustrated) to discover the same low-performers they met during initial flight school sitting next to them when they finally get into jets; the “happy D-” often never improves.

The real secret to inspiring excellence in pilots starts by creating a “self-aware learner” beginning with the very first flight lesson. Until a person is aware of what they do NOT know, there is no pathway or motivation for improvement and the personal pursuit of excellence. It is incumbent upon every educator to share the bigger picture regularly and create this pathway toward success.  Critical habits like self-questioning and self-efficacy build the “urge for excellence” that always strives for better and builds a margin of skill and safety. A desire for mastery also creates personal responsibility for being better (no more excuses) and ultimately leads to “command authority” (a rare attribute in modern culture).

The global term for all this self-awareness/efficacy is “metacognition.” Literally “thinking about thinking,” metacognition represents a whole arsenal of higher-order thinking tools for self-control and regulation. Some researchers have described it as the “view from the balcony” or the “angel on your shoulder” because it allows escape from the immediate demands of a task and provides a bigger picture. Metacognition creates both more effective learning and the drive for excellence that yields lifetime learners. It is also a critical part of situational awareness and the beating heart of mastery and expertise.

The specific pathway to “expert pilot” starts with incremental mastery. This technique requires recognizing every small learning achievement immediately; “you got that, you did a great job, and now you are in charge of that!” The instructor hands over of responsibility to the student a step at a time, creating a sense of mastery from day one. This sustains student motivation and builds that essential urge for excellence.

As CFIs we are all guilty of “helping too much.” We all know a good CFI should mostly be asking questions, not answering them. The CFI that takes total control from the right seat quickly spoils any sense of student accomplishment and mastery. And this rigid learning environment also prevents any student errors and self-correction (both critical to learning and self-mastery). Ultimately, too much control by a CFI ruins motivation and learning. This student could easily become part of the 80% drop-out rate in aviation (for good reason). It’s critical to remember the ultimate CFI goal is to safely get out! Once a student sees the bigger picture and feels empowered, they are on the road to becoming an inspired lifetime learner and PIC. This all starts on day one (but requires time and great patience from the CFI).

Some students are obviously quicker to embrace personal responsibility than others. Transferring PIC authority can take more time for some; so it helps to be patient and keep the learning fun. Eventually, every successful pilot must achieve “self-efficacy” and “command authority” or they will never be a successful PIC. This essential core skill (at every pilot level) also involves the metacognitive skill of knowing personal limitations and accepting the need to continually improve. Expert pilots have a core of humility and a burning inner need to learn more and improve. The problem with the “happy D-” pilots is the mistaken illusion they are “good to go.” They are writing checks on an empty bank account. This ignorance coupled with larger ego and narcissistic tendencies is the definition of the well-known Dunning-Kreuger Effect.

As a pilot progresses with expertise, procedural knowledge becomes deeply embedded and constantly available in the “tacit dimension” of the brain for immediate and fluid recall. Beyond this “subconscious hard-drive” of reflexive skill response, a true expert is operating on the reflective level with metacognitive accuity. The spare RAM freed by total proficiency allows an expert to see meaning and detail in every activity often inaccessible to a novice. Dr. Gary Klein has been studying and teaching expert flight performance since first working with Air Force fighter pilots in the 1970s.

Novices see only what is there; experts see what is not there. With experience, a person gains the ability to visualize how a situation developed and to imagine how it is going to turn out…Our emphasis is not on rules, or strategies, or the size of knowledge base per se, but the perceptual and cognitive qualities of experience – experts do not seem to perceive the same world that other people do…Only with experience can you notice when the expectancies are violated, when something that was supposed to happen did not. And only with experience can you acquire the perceptual skills to make fine discriminations.

Unlike what most people believe, everyday perception is not a camera of the “outside world.” What we perceive and mentally organize into our “reality” is guided largely by our personal past experiences, memory, and emotions. What we see/hear/feel in every experience is what psychologists call “predictive perception,” a blend of what we know, expect and filtered input from our senses. It is very true that we “see what we want to see.” And this leads to “motivated reasoning” which is behind the very true phrase “to a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

Since we construct our world based on personal past experiences, every instructor must understand and accommodate this fact during every flight lesson (this is a personal relationship with CFI as a “compassionate coach”). Until your pilot-in-training has any relevant experience, context and frame of reference, they will not even see what you are seeing– the humorous phrase “dog watching television” is true here. The primary function of a CFI, beyond assuring safety, is to pre-load and guide perceptions creating insights and meaning. Until context and meaning are available, what you see as a CFI does not even exist for your student (and if you scare them at all their processing shuts down). This is how an experienced CFI knows a mile from pattern entry that the student will overshoot the landing; the cues are there, but a pilot-in-training is missing them all. Pointed questions can illuminate these important cues to create the important metacognitive questioning; “am I high or low, fast or slow?”

Perceptual overload happens at all levels of flight instruction and in every new context. The first time taking off in a jet, the experience is so new and fast, that every new pilot is literally a mile behind the machine missing every cue. The tow first time in a glider is similarly overwhelming. The more carefully the educator guides the perceptions and builds a meaningful frame of reference, the faster learning and proficiency will develop. The”startle response” has the two-fold effect of diminishing the cognitive abilities with fear while simultaneously presenting an unfamiliar perceptual problem to decode. Only having a preloaded (automatic) UPRT response to upset will save the day.

Lifetime learning in aviation is a continuum of acquiring, building, and refining the necessary mental library of experience and procedural skills. This process leads first to competence, then mastery and finally expertise. Once you have achieved a level of expertise, there is an additional empyrean 5th level of “reflective competence” or “artful flying” where the total function is fluid and almost magical.  I highly recommend the book Artful Flying by Cpt. Michael Maya Charles. Unfortunately, an alternate path is also possible at the fifth level of “knowing it all” which leads to directly to complacency and an ironic diminishing of skills with more hours (the “been there, done that” EZ-PZ attitude). Let’s not go there! Keep it fun and artful.

Future articles will offer tips and tools for accelerating learning and achieving expertise. There are well-documented tools available, but unfortunately not common in our aviation world. Fly safe out there and have fun.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).


“Super Solo” and Lifetime Landing Focus!

Accidents during the landing phase of flight represent almost 50% of total airplane wreckage. The landing phase also involves less than 5% of total piloting time – we obviously have a problem here. This deficiency continues right up to jets with statistics showing 38% of these accidents are pilots with commercial and ATP certificates. This is not just a beginner problem but it all starts with solo.

Refocusing on how we teach landings and regard solo can help this problem. During initial flight training, we need to embed increased regard for landing well and emphasize the need for excellence – not mere survival. Landing well is a lifelong challenge, not just a hurdle to hop over during initial training to move onward. As an examiner, I see an amazing number of crappy landings and often wonder, “don’t applicants and CFIs care about this poor performance?” Landing is certainly not a place to achieve “minimally acceptable!” The landing should be a point of pride that every pilot should continually work to improve. I posted this clip on FaceBook and got lots of input.

Though the landing phase is obviously the most complicated part of most missions, refocusing on solo can help improve all landings. As educators, we need to emphasize that first solo is only the “minimum viable product” and there is a lot of work ahead to achieve checkride level performance and lifelong proficiency. Landing well is an endless process of refining and improving our skills in all kinds of aircraft and conditions: AOPA Safety Spotlight on Landings.

A student who is ready to solo has consistently demonstrated good safe landings (probably not perfect but certainly safe) in varying conditions and on different days. A “lucky day” is certainly not a sign for solo. Additionally, a savvy CFI has already provided all the emergency challenges that *might* occur (loss of airspeed, loss of engine, etc) and the student handled all this well.

The final challenge is the psychological issue of being “all alone” for the first time. If the instructor has been allowing the student to operate independently without micro-managing their flight training this should not be a big problem. A “hands-on CFI” that is constantly on the controls and the radio (bad technique) is going to have a hard time getting out (see “incremental mastery” here).

Knowing When to Solo a Student
(From a CFI seminar in 1971 given by D.A. Henriques)
As instructors, it goes without saying that all of you will be dealing with the issue of deciding when a student is ready to solo, and what to do when this stage of training is reached. There are many methods a CFI can use to determine when the student is ready to go it alone. Let me explain one method to you. This method has never failed me. As you form your own method, it might give you a starting block in understanding the issue.Somewhere during the takeoff and landing stage, using full stops and NOT touch and go’s, I will reach a decision on solo based on a demonstrated consistency and performance level from the student. This is the easy part! As the solo decision is reached, I inform the student in a calm and quiet manner while taxiing back to take off again that in my opinion, solo is now possible WHEN THE STUDENT IS READY, AND TELLS ME SO!!!. This is stage one of the solo process. It informs the student and begins the student’s mental preparation for what is to come next.

Stage two now begins. By informing the student of possible solo, I have effectively changed the student’s thinking process from a dual scenario into a solo scenario so that as the airplane takes the active for the next takeoff, the student is now thinking in that all important solo perspective. I now repeat to the student, “I feel you can fly this airplane. When YOU feel you can fly it, let me know and I’ll get out”. I have always considered this statement critical to the solo equation .Telling the student that the student is ready opens the door for the critical change from dual thinking to solo thinking….and that change is CRITICAL!!

Now stage three. The student is now on the active and ready to take off. In his/her mind I’m not really there. The student, whether or not he/she actually realizes it, is thinking as though I wasn’t there. At this juncture, I make it a point to avoid all physical contact with the airplane; letting the student do everything.If the student has a question, the answer I give is something like ” What do YOU think you should do?” The student should be required to solve and perform with the instructor keeping a watchful eye but not interfering. Any physical interference at all constitutes a solo abort until the problem can be addressed with further dual. I should note here that if such a failure occurs, the CFI has made an initial error in the solo judgment going into the problem and should seriously evaluate his/her own performance!

Assuming no CFI error at this point, as the student applies power to the airplane after being told that solo is his/her choice, his/her entire mental process will now be focused at the solo level. Mentally, the student will now be filling in the gaps in confidence that are a must before a safe solo can be accomplished. Some students will breeze right through this process, but many need this last extra step to firm up what the instructor should already know…that they are ready to fly the airplane without the CFI being there!!! The key here is that although the student is thinking on a solo level, the CFI is still in the airplane.This last time around the pattern will be critical. The instructor should make every effort not to interfere PHYSICALLY at this point. Every effort should be made to allow the student to solve any problem encountered during this last pattern. Verbal prompting should be kept to a minimum, and encouragement should be freely given as the student enters into and solves a problem of altitude/airspeed/ configuration/and position.

Assuming a good landing; on the way back the instructor should ask, “Well, what do you think?” If the answer is positive at this point, (as well it should be ) the student can be soloed.This procedure is what I have used with all the students I have soloed and it has never once failed to produce a successful solo. Every CFI will find their own personal method for making the solo decision. This decision is one of the most important single decisions made by any pilot at any time in aviation. It deserves careful and serious study and a constant self evaluation by a CFI to fine tune the factors that go into the making of this decision.    Dudley Henriques

Share *your* tips here and stay safe as we restart aviation. The AOPA has just come out with an excellent guide to COVID procedures.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

COVID Precautions For Flight Schools – “New Normal”

Aviation has obviously suffered a huge blow with this pandemic. Airline activity is down 95% and most flight schools are shuttered impacting the whole flight training pipeline. Aviation training and careers have gone from the “best of times” for CFIs and pilots to absolutely the worst in a few short months. But the rebound has already started with many schools opening May 1st. Here are all the resources we have to help function with the new precautions.  Bleak times now means more jobs available soon for those that are prepared; opportunity!

The FAA issued an SAFR this week, extending most of the regulatory and training deadlines (your medical, flight review, written test, etc). As we start to train again, it is critical to remember that the threat is still real and dangerous do not make the mistake of minimizing this disease or letting down your guard. Educating staff and ensuring they are serious about new CV-19 SOPs is essential. Your staff reaction will probably vary from “still not flying” to “what is the problem dude?”As with all successful interventions, training and supervision are critical for safe operations and to ensure staff “buy-in” and compliance. The accurate joke is that the most dangerous new virus as we open up is “complacency.”

We know that at least 44% of all infections–and the majority of community-acquired transmissions–occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.

MandatoryTestingFlightSchools2Here are some “best practices” from the FAA, CDC and industry to help with your reopening and prevent transmission of the virus. Pilots are  savvy “risk managers” but the enemy of any significant change in operations is “habit” and “business as usual.” This is a “new normal” with careful precautions and new SOPs. We will add and modify this page as new information is received. The manual here is thanks to FSANA and some schools that have continued to operate safely throughout this pandemic (with no new infections). Remember, one COVID case and you are shut down in this new world.

As wide-spread testing becomes available (finally?) this will be a requirement for admission to a flight school (added to the agreement to intelligently self-isolate). All testing/training applicants should sign a form assuring they are serious about avoiding infection both before and during flight operations. And if they start showing symptoms after they flew with you, notification is essential for *your* health!

AOPA New COVID Procedures Manual

AOPA state-by-state summary of COVID restrictions

New FAA SAFO on Flight Crew Operations with COVID

CDC guidelines for all operations. CDC on disinfecting procedures.

FAA COVID website on extensions and changes to requirements

Critical Infrastructure List includes flight schools!

The real hazard of COVID is the asymptomatic transmission (people don’t even know they are sick and are spreading the disease!

Here is a thorough manual some schools have used successfully to operate and provide comfort and confidence for your clients/pilots.

COVID response guide; Wayman Aviation

Here is the guidance from Garmin on sanitizing avionics (avoid ammonia)

Here is a YouTube on sanitizing the airplane. Each plane grounded, cleaned then released after each flight!

Each student and instructor sign a form indicating that they have not traveled by commercial air, have had a temp over 100, been in contact with anyone who has COVID or exhibited symptoms all within the past 14 days.

This clip from Nassau Flyers is an example of the “new normal” in the industry (The tower at KFRG reopened yesterday, the school reopened today!)

PPE (mask) for each occupant, no sharing of any personal items (even pens)!

Limit random “outside” access to aircraft: no IPCs, Intros, and flight reviews (without very careful screening)

Temperature check before every flight (get a point and shoot thermometer) I personally never thought this would be part of my flight kit!

Both student and instructor must elect to fly by their choice, no pressure.

CFI and student must wash hands before and after each flight

Both must bring and wear masks from the time they enter our office to the time they depart after their lesson.

Please share your ideas and comments here to help everyone be safer

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Sad Fact: We All Rust and Forget. FREE FIRC!

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know the secret to greater aviation safety: regular review and study, frequent training, and professionalism. Raising our level of currency and personal standards above the required “FAA minimums” in all areas would certainly lead to fewer accidents. Airplanes get an extensive annual every year with all deficiencies noted and corrected while their operators get a one-hour perfunctory review every two years!

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 1.08.43 PMAdmittedly there is no scientific proof of these assertions, just good correlational data and the airline model of discipline and safety. Professionalism and safety require time, effort,  money and discipline – all impediments that hold us back from pursuing this higher level. I also think there is an embedded “driving illusion” residing in many GA pilots: we learned this once and got it for life?! But 38,000 annual auto deaths argue otherwise (and no one is scared to drive to the funeral?!) Pilots operate in an even more challenging environment with greater consequences; continuous training required.

Pilots, as a group, tend to be pretty self-assured individuals (see pilot personality here). We all “think” we can analyze our own level of skill and personally assess our level of currency (my hand is up too). But honestly, humans are inclined toward optimism. Studies show 80% of drivers think they are “better than average” (and we know pilots are worse!). I also know personally from heading to Flight Safety every 6 months that rust and forgetfulness are a fact of life. We are only good at what we regularly do (center of the envelope). And none of us can really “surprise” ourselves with emergency procedures. When studying, we cannot “know what we do not know” either, we have blind spots. We need to work with a good instructor on a regular basis. FAA WINGS is a good format, knowledge source and reminder (and a new revamped version is on the way, take the survey here).For CFIs, the “every-two-year FIRC” (you bought the cheapest, good for the rest of your life model?) is a bit embarrassing and simple-minded. 141 chief instructors are required to renew every year. And the quality of these courses is amazingly variable. Let’s raise our level of proficiency and challenge ourselves a little here. We need to be especially sharp if we are going to be responsible for educating all future pilots. And bless the great guys at Sporty’s for providing a “no excuse price it’s now FREE, and this course is comprehensive and interesting; start your FIRC today…and stay safe out there!

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Building Awareness With the “Cooper Code”

Colonel “Jeff” Cooper, developed the “Color Code of Awareness” for the military to inspire self-assessment and vigilance. Warfighters know that situational awareness is just as important for success as physical skill or conditioning. A tuned-up awareness is critical for pilot safety too. “Fat, dumb and happy” is no way to fly safely. Unfortunately, we *do* see this attitude with lots of flying where the purpose is solely enjoyment when there is no obvious threat. It is only self-discipline that enforces a higher level of awareness and keeps us re-engaging our “what if” thinking for critical phases of flight. Awareness is something we can practice every day and in every situation- we don’t have to be flying.

Situational awareness is a mindset that you have to purposefully cultivate. You want to get to the point that it’s just something you do without having to think about it. To get to that point, you have to practice it regularly…Don’t be paranoid, just mindful.

IMG_2439Code White in this system represents total relaxation, the basic “fat, dumb and happy” where a person is not on guard or self-aware. This level is appropriate for viewing NFL with a beer, but a highly vulnerable awareness state inappropriate for any complex or demanding task. Code white is the most common human mental state;  “human screen-saver” mode. Psychologists call this the “default mode” as is most often internally focused and characterized by “mind wandering.” Psychologists estimate we spend 70% or more of our time on “autopilot.”

Code Yellow is “relaxed aware;” scanning and vigilant. Awareness in Code Yellow is wide-ranging but not specifically directed, kind of like ATC radar. Once we focus on a specific threat (“I smell smoke”) the mind moves to Code Orange – target acquisition. This state is “game on” with a higher attention level and a more narrow focus. This “specific alert” gathers more data but introduces some vulnerability because some global awareness is lost with focus. Code Red is characterized by intention – a plan is generated and action is taken. This is where the aviation paradigm “Perceive-Process-Perform” can be integrated. Aeronautical decision making is the best option within the constraints of time, equipment and processing power. Remember, “the perfect can be the enemy of the good.” Time to do that “pilot stuff.”

Code Black was added by the Marine Combat Warrior Program and is a state of too much stimulation or panic. This is a natural neurological state driven by instinct to assure the survival of the body when we are overwhelmed and panic. This state automatically prioritizes survival circuits like breathing and muscle activity (shutting down digestion, narrowing the focus etc). Unfortunately, here the brain is swamped with cortisol and adrenalin preventing consciously-directed action: “immobilized by panic” or “overwhelmed by fear.” We are consciously out of the game at this point.

As you can see, for a pilot engaged in flying, awareness at the Code White or Code Black level is inappropriate and harmful. Unfortunately, the fatigue of long hours or just boredom forces the mind down into the Code White level of awareness. The human neurological system needs novelty and surprise to remain alert; hours of “sameness” dulls the senses. Here is where self-discipline is critical to keep awareness in the yellow.

At the Code Black level, a pilot is overwhelmed by the “startle response.” Ideally, a perfect scan repeatedly switches from code yellow to orange “macro/micro scan” attending to details, tasks, and investigating hypothetical or potential problems (what if). It is essential to continuously shift back to “the big picture” about every two to three seconds. Remember “landmark accidents” like Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 where exclusive focus on a small problem led to loss of all situational awareness.

This is a good time to explain that the human mind really cannot “multi-task.” We only seems to do this by ‘task-switching.” It is a maddening fact of life that whenever we engage with fixing some detail, we get blind-sided by a surprise in the environment we missed due to our narrow focus on a problem (texting and driving). In flying, we best accomplish multiple tasks by switching “micro to macro,” in a very disciplined manner; tune a radio, then wide view for control, then back to the next specific task.

I personally add “meta” to my scan to add the time-line into the scanning process. “What’s next?” is always important since we are always moving and the most important thing after control is the next thing; “micro/macro/meta (timeline)”.

If all the ducks are mercifully walking in a row and I have a few extra neurons to spare I also personally add self-analyzing and looking for “blind-spots or counterfactuals” to my scan. This is actively challenging the plan in action to see if I missed something.  This is Don Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns.” This actively scans for “did I miss anything here?” and “am I thinking straight?” In a crewed environment, this might be an actual verbal question if it is a critical planning item. How many times do we fool ourselves by engaging in a plan and it either is on totally the wrong track or there was something important that was neglected that might change the whole situation (no fuel available at that destination I diverted to…) So “how can this go wrong” without being too paranoid is a good question to ponder occasionally. But conscious competence is a whole different blog. Practice your awareness and stay safe out there!

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).


Active Learning; Rewire Your Brain!

What is the secret to getting really good at something? As in, how does one shabby Russian tennis club turn out more top 20 women tennis players in a year than the whole USA? What are the secrets of top performers (and their instructors)? Listen to this excerpt from the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. (Great performers are made not born) Rewire your brain with deep practice!

• Deep Practice–Everyone knows that practice is a key to success. What everyone doesn’t know is that specific kinds of practice can increase skill up to ten times faster than conventional practice.

• Ignition–We all need a little motivation to get started. But what separates truly high achievers from the rest of the pack? A higher level of commitment—call it passion—born out of our deepest unconscious desires and triggered by certain primal cues. Understanding how these signals work can help you ignite passion and catalyze skill development.

• Master Coaching–What are the secrets of the world’s most effective teachers, trainers, and coaches? Discover the four virtues that enable these “talent whisperers” to fuel passion, inspire deep practice, and bring out the best in their students.

Have you ever had a professional that excelled at everything in their life but was a painfully slow learner in the cockpit? Want a clue why this is a predictable (and solvable) problem? Read “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” by Chris Argyris. A shorter review is here. Spoiler alert;  these are people who never struggled with anything (everything they tried came easy) and they have never learned *how* to learn properly. And “double-loop learning” is valuable for accelerating everyone’s learning curve.

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

If you have some free time (and who doesn’t) read How People Learn. This is an amazing book for educators and is  FREE  from the National Academy Press. You can download as a pdf or read online html (available chapter by chapter in either format) There are some amazing insights in this book for every educator! If you are like me you will realize the FAA preparation is a very perfunctory beginner course.

Have a great holiday weekend. More tools for educators from SAFE here  (and on our website). The single FAA  portal for the current COVID waivers, actions and news is HERE. Sorry, but there are still no extensions for flight training deadlines (despite promises of “soon”). Stay busy and keep learning!

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).


Ready to React? “Reflexive Skills!”

Any fan of action sports, whether it’s football or air racing, knows that the greatest moves and memorable moments are not in the huddle (reflective) but during time-critical (reflexive *1) action. These “snapshot moments” are automatically deployed (but previously trained) skills that occur in a few microseconds. The reflective, thoughtful mind is not even in gear. We certainly should make plans (prebrief) on the sidelines or in the huddle, but the amazing moments come when the surprise blitz occurs and we must respond reflexively. This is true for pilots as well as in sports.

A fastball at 90mph takes only 4/10ths of a second (400 milliseconds) to reach the batter. It takes more than half that time, 250 milliseconds, just to make a decision whether to swing or not and execute that action perfectly. Psychologists still do not totally understand this subconscious process but some insights are available and important for pilots with time-critical challenges.

The neural circuit that makes this “snap judgment” to swing (or not) and tunes the response correctly, is not reflective and language-based. There is no time for this “slow thought.” Reflexive action is immediate and subconscious and comes only from hours of practice and rehearsal. These tuned-up brain circuits are developed through careful practice that is then myelinated for immediate, appropriate response. These memories are even stored in a different part of the brain (and this too requires a time investment). Though the practice and development occur as a methodical, conscious process, the resulting “immediate action capability” is then stored like books on a shelf ready to go with the correct triggers from the environment. Scenario flight training can develop judgment for the “when” but drill and repetition are essential to sharpen these reflexive pilot reactions.

Our action timeline for pilot decisions varies considerably depending on the challenge of the day.  In most operations, we have time to research, plan, and adapt a fairly predictable flight. And most challenges we face allow time to consider and decide a plan of action. But there are definitely moments in flying that require immediate, reflexive action that must be both appropriate and accurate to assure safety. These challenges require confidence and an appropriate “automatic” trained response.

In aviation the times that require “reflexive action” are usually during take-off and landing or when “surprises” like loss of control inflight occur. These are time-critical and the brain circuit at work here is not the reflective (language) part, but the embedded, trained reflexive part. Not surprisingly, this is also where most accidents happen. (We spend only 5% of our time in the pattern, but 60-70% of accidents occur here.) Similarly, startle and loss of control require immediate and appropriate reactions, but this is the primary cause of fatal accidents. In both areas, drill and repetition practice is required to build the necessary basic skills for “immediate action” responses and safety. Without this practice, we are stepping up to the plate for a fastball and complacently capable of only a slow pitch game.

Many researchers talk about “cognitive unavailability” when analyzing LOC-I or landing accidents. But cognitive (reflective) brain function is not involved here at all.  During time-critical reactions, especially with “startle incapacitation“, it is the “reflexive,” immediate action brain circuits that must respond appropriately to save us. These deeply-trained “reflexes” are either honed sharp from appropriate and recent practice, or we fail and crash (see “startle response“)

To be clear, cognitive “rehearsal” before every expected challenge is valuable to prepare for potential surprises (e.g. pre-take-off briefing) This highly effective technique improves pilot response by creating an alert state of mind (“code yellow“). But the kinetic skills in time-critical maneuvering must be automatic and appropriate, ready to deploy. Any “out-of-the-blue” surprise is going to require the subconscious implicit brain domain not “cognition.” There is a lot more to examine and explain in this area of operation – especially tips for the instructors who need to build these skills. We will examine those in future articles.

Please visit our “WIngs Up” YouTubes from Gold Seal this week and enjoy some aviation learning and FUN during the CV-19 lockdown. We’ll be flying more soon!*1) “reflexive” is used herein as “subconscious, habitual and unthinking behavior, not subject to conscious reflection or review”

SAFECFI-PRO™ workshop is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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

Go Fly (Solo!) and Join Us (LIVE online!)

These are tough times for pilots in flight training with our inability to “social distance” safely in little planes while flying. For this reason, doctors advise against sharing the same “respiratory space” in a small plane with untested students and passengers. But solo flying seems to me to be available and encouraged (and therapeutic). Pilots thrive on the freedom of flight and most controllers will actually appreciate a little company at the (mostly empty) airport; go flying solo! Please be careful to check for fuel and FBO services at the smaller fields, since most are suffering from lack of traffic. And there is that nagging question of whether it is legal to drive in some locked-down states (not my call!)

We do know that federally-funded airports cannot be closed by state or local laws and the federal guidance on “essential services” protects “flight training” and aiports specifically. If you are qualified to fly solo – as a student or as a certificated pilot – going flying by yourself is a great break from the home-bound routine. And we all need to keep both our skills and the aviation infrastructure lubricated. It is too easy to get rusty with a layoff of even a few weeks so please take an opportunity to go stretch your wings (solo) and preserve our freedom to fly as aviators.

Other great ways to stay mentally sharp and connected to aviation is the wonderful library of resources. AOPA has put together a collection specifically targeting aviation addicts during this quarantine.

Also, this next week SAFE will be collaborating with Gold Seal Ground Schools to offer a live substitute for the canceled Florida Flight Expo. Check here for times and channels. This launches Tuesday at 15:00 on Gold Seal Facebook, YouTube and GoldSealLIVE. See you soon (LIVE) and support aviation excellence with SAFE.

SAFECFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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