“Artful” Control Usage; Pattern Precision

Rudder use in climbing turns is critical to safety in the pattern!

Flying around the pattern with perfect coordination is more difficult than most pilots think. Its also essential to safety because this is where the majority of accidents happen either from collisions or loss of control. Aviation educators must be insistent on thorough understanding and proper control usage if we are going to make better, safer pilots.

The correct actions and control pressures required in the pattern often go against what initially seems “natural” to new trainees; their “naive rendition.” Aviation educators need to patiently unpack and overwrite naive assumptions with correct theory and control usage. These are “trained responses” and require lots of practice to become embedded, implicit scripts that are constantly ready for use by the savvy pilot. There are lots of negative transfers from our more common transportation activity; driving.

Every educator will get arguments that mastering the correct control application is unnecessary because what they are doing “already works” or they will correct sloppy control later; neither is true. The basics must be mastered early and practiced often in flying or you have embedded a ticking bomb in your procedures that will surface later when a critical surprise situation requires immediate and accurate control skills to save the day. Marginal performance from power loss or density altitude challenges can suddenly require us to squeeze every ounce of performance from our aircraft. For safety and efficiency we need to unpack some of these less studied effects and work to master correct coordination.

A common example of “instinctual control” is seen in new pilots on initial power application and rotating to climb for take-off. These new learners counter left yawing tendencies with aileron;  a powerful negative transfer from driving. Many experienced but rusty pilots still exhibit a trace of this incorrect control input. Correctly canceling the yaw with rudder is a trained response that has to overwrite “intuition” and driving habits through continual reinforcement. With practice, the nose should rise straight and steady to a know climb attitude with outside reference and rudder pressure canceling yaw. (Extra points are awarded for not wagging left and right as the climb progresses) As the plane leaves the ground and starts climbing, some even more subtle control pressures are necessary to stay coordinated.

After rotation the pivot point for elevator shifts from the wheels to the CG point (forward of the wing) so a release of back pressure (lower nose) is required (nosewheel plane). Additionally, the increase of induced drag upon leaving ground effect requires a subtle relaxing of back pressure. The proper climb picture required should be memorized and acquired with visual outside reference. The view outside will also allow a pilot to see that left aileron is necessary to keep the wings level in the climb. Right rudder pressure causes a proverse roll to the right (more prominent in some planes than others). This subtle force surprises even experienced pilots when it is pointed out. Climbing coordinated requires some cross control pressure to keep the ball centered and the wings level; “cross-coordinated.” In the proper configuration, most planes exhibit 15% greater climb rate when correctly coordinated on the takeoff since they are stramlined and more efficient. (Try gliders to experience how necessary proper coordination is to performance) Though 300-700 HP can pull almost anything airborne even sideways, bad coordination in emergency situations is the killer. It is amazing that 24% of fatal accidents occur on the take-off and initial climb. Many pilots just don’t value all the challenges here – “hard to miss the sky!”

During the initial high-power, low-speed climb, most singles require right rudder pressure to center the ball. This induces a right rolling moment. Left aileron input against the right rudder is subtle but necessary to keep the wings level as the ball is centered. Once the plane is “subtly cross-controlled” in this manner, it will climb much better because drag is minimized.

The standard left crosswind turn in the patterm  is an even greater challenge to keep properly coordinated for new pilots; right rudder is required! Recent accident data indiates the climbing crosswind turn in the pattern may be even more dangerous than the well known base-to-final turn. Pilots turning left in a climb usually don’t apply the proper right rudder pressure to cancel the prominent left-turning forces since is initially “so unnatural.” As mentioned in many of these blogs, flying well requires many counter-intuitive trained actions to be safe. Remember, since both wings have equal lift in a stabilized turn, and the left-turning tendencies are still present and require right rudder – we are still climbing! Unfortunately, many pilots skid around their left climbing turns (standard right-hand patterns would be safer for control). Pilots who have tried chandelles – a more extreme climbing turn – are very familiar with the cross-coordination concept here. But even in less extreme left crosswind climbing turn, right rudder is essential. But why is flat-footed flying dangerous here?

In skidding turns, the force of roll and yaw are both acting in the same downward direction; they are coupled and adverse in effect – pro-spin. And when pilots inappropriately counter this skidding force in a climbing left turn with more aileron, this incorrect control application increases the angle of attack on the lower, slower wing. This makes the lower wing more likely to stall first and tuck into a spin. This illustration from Bold Method provides a depiction of the many problems with a skidding turn. Correct control application must be taught relentlessly by a committed aviation educator and studied carefully by the pilot in training to become an embedded habit. And this is particularly hard to master since it is a llearned action that is initially completely counter-intuitive. But anything less is clearly unsafe.

The skidding turn seems to be always depicted in a nose low, base-to-final turn in the pattern. This is where pilot action creates the skid with rudder to inappropriately increase the rate of turn. But you will see far more skidding turns in a climbing left turn if you pay attention. The skid here only requires pilot inaction. All the powerful left-turning tendencies create the skid that must be corrected by pilot action. These left-turning forces must be actively countered with right rudder to prevent a skid. This dangerous tendency is especially common in bigger planes and more powerful engines in the climbing turns. Do the math and you can discern that this is often demonstrated by the “captain of industry” – an affluent step-up client who bought a big new plane. This person is allegedly a “trained pilot” but often really requires remedial instruction to be safe. The professional aviation educator must be firm here to address and fix these coordination problems. Acquiescing to poor control or bad technique is unprofessional and unsafe; it’s how we are losing control in our aircraft every day. Fly safe out there (and often)!

An appreciative nod to Michael Maya Charles and his amazing book “Artful Flying” (SAFE members get 20% off) which continues to inspire me daily. Flying well is more than just being safe. It is the daily joy of pursuing excellence in aviation; flying artfully!



Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Teaching Landings More Effectively!

I recently spent a beautiful evening watching students in the pattern challenging their young instructors and abusing their aircraft. Almost every approach was clearly defective long before getting anywhere near the runway; inconsistent configuration, altitudes or ground track; and poor airspeed control with “lucky line-up.” Despite all these obvious problems they all continued to an “arrival” that also kept the lawn mowing crew nervously looking over their shoulders. Without any mastery of the critical sub-components necessary for landing they continued grinding out (and reinforcing) more errors all the while beating up the equipment and hoping for some kind of magical improvement – remember that definition of insanity? And 56% of accidents occur in the pattern – where we spend only 5% of our time. This lunacy also discourages and drives away many students with an assault on their self-worth and sanity. There is an easy remedy here and it is not complicated. It does however require a “culture change” (which can be difficult). We need to teach landings later  in training – and only after full mastery of the required basics. And instead of only teaching landing in their final form, try some “centerline slowflight.”

The common joke among flight instructors is that the only maneuver we actually teach is landing. This is partly because (if we are honest) most pilots are unable to consistently land well (except me?) But this joke is also true because “landing well” incorporates almost every aircraft control skill – plus judgement and risk management- with time pressure, low altitude and ego. Ironically, the critical importance and focus on landing also results in landings being taught very poorly during initial training.

Most schools and instructors teach landings way too early and only in their final form. They begin landing before the individual components have been mastered by the pilot in training. Usually this is a misguided attempt to motivate the pilot in training and demonstrate “fast progress” and success. But many times there is a worse motivator;  an ego-boost for the instructor or image-builder for the school demonstrating low-hour “success” (scare quotes because the specious low standard).  Unfortunately what usually happens is that the new duty of the CFI becomes “protecting the plane” while the student “figures it out” with a series of frustrating “hints and near misses” that I was witnessing. Is it any surprise young CFIs run for the airlines? Is it any surprise 80% of students drop out?

Dishonesty in teaching landing often starts on the first flight (and with the best intentions).  We have all heard (or said) “You landed on that Discovery Flight – See how simple that was?” (I once thought this was helpful myself- duh!) This dishonesty actually seriously damages the total process of learning to fly and results in many problems later. It can actually be a major cause of students quitting; “If it is simple why can’t I get it? – I must really suck at this!” It is so much better to begin the flight training relationship by honestly stating “learning to fly well requires hard work and commitment but the satisfaction and payback are incredibly worth the effort. Landing well is neither simple nor easy and pilots will probably spend the rest of their life mastering and refining this skill set.” We humans actually love challenges but only if there are clear, manageable steps and the results are demonstrably worthwhile (the *are* in flying). With proper guidance, students master landing more easily – in less time and ultimately more thoroughly – if they start later with “incremental mastery.

To start correctly, it is essential to carefully define and demonstrate that the objective of a “safe landing” looks like – on speed, on point in the proper landing configuration, etc. It is necessary to burn the media hype of “the greaser” and all that associated crap. Aim instead for a manageable, safe, landing with consistent, attainable, goals. A full explanation of all the skills and components gives motivation for working hard and incrementally mastering ground tracking, speed control and configuration changes when you are practicing together out of the pattern. Only after your pilot in training takes over all these essential components (see incremental mastery) are you are ready to begin “pattern work.” YOur pilot in training must earn landing practice by demonstrating mastery (not just because the clouds are low on the third lesson and the CFI has to pay rent). A relationship of trust in essential in this process because if your student imports all the crap they see on YouTube they will make this process longer and qeven more “exciting.”

Once in the pattern, I enforce the “rule of three”  – and transfer this to students as a necessary tool. This is simply calibrating the evaluation skills every good CFI already possesses. To be successful (and safe) the learner must see and remedy “high/low, fast/slow, not configured”  and terminate their attempt with a go around if necessary. The pilot in training must have evaluation skills too. There is absolutely no advantage to a continuing with a “salvage job” or accepting the landings I was watching. Even though the CFI is (usually) able to do salvage most landing attempts, we also fix way too many ugly landings for students and set a bad example. Whenever there are consistent deficiencies with basic aircraft control these issues need to be resolved before attempting further landings (otherwise we are practicing and reinforcing errors). It is essential to disassemble the bigger process (final form) into manageable elements that can be mastered safely at altitude then reassembled for success; e.g. once airspeed and ground track are functioning we can continue in the pattern productively.

Pilots in training master aircraft control at altitude first and progressively gain confidence and control at lower altitudes. Once slow flight has been mastered at altitude, bring it into normal pattern practice by flying down a long runway ground effect at approach speed. This is remarkable helpful and should occur before any landing practice with the specific goal of precise centerline control at progressively lower altitudes. In a few passes most students can track right down the line at 3-5 feet in ground effect (a skill that is still lacking after endless touch and goes) Achieving this kind of control through centerline slowflight is a trick used by every experienced aviation educator I know. Unfortunately, they usually only bring it out for “tough cases” as a “method of last resort.” YOu will be surprised how effective it is for every student (before landing practice).

Every CFI needs to be comfortable with centerline slow flight and it should be part of every normal student syllabus. This maneuver builds  confidence in your learner and overcomes “ground fear” for new pilots in training. It also builds the subtle control feel and visual cues for the bouancy of ground effect that contain 90% of the secret to effective landings. One huge psychological advantage to centerline slow flight is removing the expectation of landing that seems to be built into every pilot. Flying a series of low passes builds mastery of the go-around as a viable and safe “escape option.” This maueuver also saves wear and tear on the training aircraft and makes the subsequent teaching of a full landing a snap.

Once centerline slowflight is mastered, it is almost magical to train landing from a slow flight a lesson on a longer runway. Simply slowly reduce power as your pilot in training holds their sight picture in ground effect. Surprisingly your student has landed before they know it; tracking straight on the centerline without even expecting it. All you have to do is fully reduce power on touchdown ( a crutch you obviously want to later remove). It is simple to adapt and adjust this procedure to become a normal approach and landing. The steps now to landing are easy because all the necessary skills are there; no semi-crashes and “protecting the airplane” arrivals. How many pilots screw up landings because they are uncomfortable in ground effect or trying to “make it land” rather than “waiting for touchdown” with the perfect set-up? This and more useful techniques will be part of our  SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop at AOPA, October 2&3. Fly safely (and often)!

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).


3-5 Hours In; “Half Solo!”

The greatest gift an educator can provide after presenting the basics is creating a safe place for the learner to independently make and correct small errors; “flub it up and fix it.” This is the famous “learning opportunity.” Humans learn by doing, trying, experimenting. Once you have put the puzzle pieces on the table, your learner needs to move them around and assemble them for themselves. This has to be handled carefully in aviation and the conscientious CFI carefully avoids helping too much once the learner has achieved a level of basic competence. The CFI is there to coach and assist; guiding the learning situation with a velvet glove. Remember our ultimate goal in flight training is to get out of the plane – and we can’t do that if we have micro-managed the training and created dependence instead.

From the AOPA FIRC

All pilots tend toward perfectionism and CFIs can easily fall into the micro-management habit. It takes conscious effort and commitment to overcome this tendency but these become the truly great educators. The new and scared CFIs most commonly exhibit “over-control” and never release the yoke (or the mic) for any “experimentation.” They can create an oppressive environment and also never stop talking long enough for a learner to process and assemble information. The end result of a nervous new CFI is usually is a pathetically nervous and dependent pilot with no “command authority” or true skills – a “mouse in a maze.”

I personally advocate putting training pilots totally in charge as early as possible. I call this exercise the “half solo” and it should happen as soon as a learner has command of the basics. This challenge is carefully briefed and designed to be fun and diagnostic – for both parties involved. This experience validates the training and immensely empowers the student. If the CFI is a micro-manager they squirm and suffer in the right seat but often discover some new personal strengths also – trust takes time.

Rod Machado’s archive of “Bad CFI” stories

By 3-5 hours in the air, most eager learners can accomplish a weather and risk analysis, preflight, run-up, take off and mostly fly safely out of the pattern and level-off in cruise.  Briefing and accomplishing this “half solo” is amazingly empowering and educational for the learner. They immediately see the result of the time, money  and effort they have already invested (listen to them debrief their own performance after the flight – you will be surprised!) The larger process at work here is “incremental mastery” and this process should continue right up until the check ride. Moving forward, every time the learner exhibits competence in a maneuver or area of flight, they “own it” and command the process from that time forward – e.g. “show me your stall series.” Of course polish and correction can be added to tighten accuracy and enhance understanding later but it is vital to have your student “in command” as early as feasible.

By the time a pilot in training departs the nest, fully alone for “solo landings,” they are more confident, skilled and safer. They already know they can climb, turn, descend accurately because they have continuously demonstrated this component of the flight. Full “solo landing” is just another incremental challenge in the full contimuum of becoming a pilot in command. And for confident, empowered flight applicants, the FAA checkride is much less intimidating and they generally excel. By contrast, evaluating a cosseted candidate attempting true control is painful on so many levels. This is made worse by the realization that the CFI who recommended this person actually created these problems rather than solved them.

More ideas and techniques for flight instructor excellence will be part of our  SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop at AOPA, October 2&3. More details on the way soon. Fly safely (and often)!

BTW, there has been some buzz online that resonates with this idea – “I do that” but not fond of the “half-solo” name. We certainly need a better name but also community support and industry awareness for this technique grow. Our initial 80% drop-out rate is toxic;  LMK!

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Teaching “Invisible Angle Of Attack”

Angle of attack (AOA) is the most misunderstood concept in aviation – just raise the topic casually in a hangar flying session to sample the confusion. Our previous two blogs on tail-down force and the basics of a turn demonstrated the many scary gaps in the average pilot’s knowledge.  Some CFI somewhere has failed these pilots in training. Ignorance and misunderstanding, along with lack of solid skills are at the heart of many of our fatal loss of control accidents. Most pilots are fine and happy in the limited “comfort zone” of their 5% flight envelope, but terrified when forced by surprise events to maneuver. (I highly recommend Rich Stowell’s Emergency Maneuver Training to every pilot. This book will fill many “gaps” and is written in wonderfully clear language)

Controlling AOA is the central tool in the generation of lift and essential to everything we do as pilots defying gravity. Understanding and managing AOA is indisputably the most important knowledge and skill set we (should) learn as students. But unfortunately, if AOA exists at all in a pilot’s vocabulary it seems to represent only  the feared excess of the stalled condition. And even the simple stall is clouded in mystery and fear and hidden behind an over-reliance on technological protections. Now that  minimum controllable airspeed (MCA) has been removed from the private pilot ACS, educators often don’t teach this important skill and sample “the feathered edge” of critical AOA. Learning to maneuver in MCA not only teaches coordination, it teaches all the kinesthetic cues of the impending stall.

I have been privileged to own a 7AC Champ for the last 30 years. This plane has no stall warning device at all – and no blue button or “envelope protection” either. Demonstrating AOA and teaching stalls is so easy in a Champ or Cub (or glider); pilots in training learn it early and fairly painlessly. Add all the distractions of a technologically advanced airplane and the slow flight/stall process can take longer and be disguised by distractions. Don’t get me wrong, technology is wonderful and necessary in a “go fast” machine, but the physics of lift is identical and more easily learned in a simple plane.

Angle of attack is most commonly confused with flight attitude (an aircraft’s relationship to the horizon) but there is no relationship between AOA and attitude. I think this misconception is a deeply embedded “natural” human assumption. And it is essential to eradicate these misconceptions during flight training. This requires knowledge, demonstration and practice; but we often don’t get there. Any plane can be in level flight attitude and stalled, be pointed straight down and also be stalled (both exceeding the critical AOA). Air France 447 was a landmark case study of a very experienced crew mishandling AOA.

As illustrated above, in a still photo of an aircraft, you just can’t determine the AOA from the outside view; it is invisible. To discern AOA you need motion and trend; it is the difference between where the airplane is pointed and where it is actually traveling. And that is another good reason for a pilot to keep their eyes outside for more than infrequent glances; you need to see the trend to achieve control. If it’s going down out of control you need to unload and push it further down to recover. “Unloading” (reducing AOA – especially when nose down already) is so unnatural and at first it is incomprehensible to new pilots.

A secondary stall is a excellent tool to illustrate the difference between AOA and flight attitude and train unloading – the student is confused p“the nose is down below the horizon but the plane is stalling? How can that happen?” This initial confusion (cognitive dissonance) is a “learning opportunity” for full explanation, full understanding and training muscle memory in the learner. And here the aviation educator has to be patient and kind but also somewhat relentless in achieving understanding and proficiency (DPEs do not evaluate this skill on flight tests). If pilots do not fully grasp this “unload” concept, they will never be safe in emergencies.


My personal familiarity with AOA is largely from many hours of “dual given” watching people misunderstand and mishandle the physics of flight. And my passion is guiding them back to comfort, knowledge and control in their aircraft. But this takes commitment on both sides of this instructional relationship. Our natural human tendencies (called “naive rendition”) of how flight works is initially all wrong. Our intuition fails when it tries to “do physics.”

Everyone seems to “know” the nose high aircraft is “high AOA” (the crime of flight school demonstrations). But nobody seems to comprehend that a nose-low A/C can have an equally “high AOA” and be just as close to a stall (it mistakenly appears safe). The untutored knowledge that is “natural” to new pilots does not work and only gets worse when fueled by fear in an upset (pull away from the ground). Flying is largely applied physics and requires proper counter intuitive knowledge and understanding. Flight training is a careful process of discovery as we overwrite what humans intuitively guess is going on. And that takes trust and willingness on the part of the learner and requires a strong CFI/learner relationship to work through these issues completely – also rare.

After many years of flying and teaching, we know most people can drive a plane down the center of the flight envelope with very little guidance  – “look mom I learned to fly in a week!” We’ve all seen this on the cover of Popular Mechanics and I would love it if it was that easy. Unfortunately, if these marginally trained pilots experience displacement from “normal” or are startled, loss of control is a certainty. Even the most experienced pilots can fall into AOA traps. The video below is of an Air Force Thunderbird F-16 that suffered a very predictable LOC  problem. Watch carefully and see if  you can figure out why this happened (no one was severely injured here and the pilot ejected in time)

I often present this video at gatherings and call this “the perfect stall.” It demonstrates that even the most amazing military machine with endless power can’t make an airplane do the impossible and defy physics. Below is a screen shot that looks like a “fly by” – but in a static picture AOA is invisible – it takes motion and trend of a video to reveal the 7G stall.

And the question we left you with in last week’s blog; What is the AOA device installed in every airplane? AOA corresponds with how much chrome you see on your yoke (how far you are pulling back); and how much back pressure you feel on the stick (right side up). “Unloading” (overcoming that dangerous “monkey pull”) allows the reduction of AOA and is the first step to recovery of control (or don’t go there in the first place). To me personally, this huge, universal AOA device is more obvious and compelling in an emergency than a small electronic AOA device hidden somewhere in a busy panel.  But there are many good Upset Recovery Schools for you to try this for yourself and decide while experiencing upsets safely.  There is also excellent technical guidance on LOC-I in our SAFE public resource center (available to everyone) and in the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook. We will have a full syllabus of skill-building maneuvers at our SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop at AOPA, October 2&3. Fly safely (and often)!

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Basic Physics of Flight Control!

Basic center of gravity is critical to aircraft  control but this is another important concept  most pilots (and some CFIs) don’t solidly understand. And confusion about stability and basic flight dynamics seems to be at the root of many of our LOC-I accidents. To simplify all this concept for students, I call it “balancing the teeter totter.” And this is obviously a “donuts and coffee” level pilot discussion, not a “graphs and Greek letters” deep dive. My hope is to generate some awareness, surprise and more questions for further deep study. Once there is surprise there is learning and these concepts are best learned and mastered in a calm environment (not upside down).

I know from speaking presentations to assembled fliers that this question; “where is the CG” creates consternation and confusion – and half the pilots get it wrong! So obviously this is an “opportunity for growth and learning” if you join in and participate. Ask yourself honestly and pick an option please. Experienced CFIs please use this with your students – you will be surprised. Which end is heavy (and then we will talk about why it matters).

It’s ironic that in pilot training, we spend endless hours calculating and explaining the minutia of moments and moving imaginary baggage around to get into the approved CG range, but we miss the bigger more important picture – the basics of how every familiar GA airplane works. And I can corroborate this from giving flight tests over the last 20 years. Please make your choice…where is the weight? Then click here for the answer.

The nose of the plain vanilla, part 23 GA aircraft is the heavy end and the tail of every plane you fly is “lifting” DOWN. The implication of a heavier nose for most LOC-I situations is that the pilot is (usually) the responsible party creating the LOC-I problem with excessive back pressure. To restore control, step one is to stop pulling on the yoke (which creates and maintains the excessive angle of attack) and RELEASE, to reduce the angle of attack (AOA). There is inherent stability built into a well-designed aircraft if we do not over ride it with a fearful, startled pulling force. Reducing power is also critical (for reasons we will explain later). To simplify, planes don’t stall, but pilots stall planes by pulling. (The one exception being a batched go-around – trim stall!)

So why is it the pilot initiates this problem by pulling and stalling? There is no sure answer available but it seems to be a human tendency that occurs as part of the startle/fear experience. I personally call it the “monkey pull,” since it is an atavistic survival mechanism somewhere in our (ground-based) DNA. Pull away from what is approaching? Unfortunately for flight dynamics, this instinctive reaction in LOC-I is completely wrong for aircraft control and overrides the stability built into the machine. Much of our initial flight training involves attempting to train out this fear/startle response and overcome the pulling response in emergencies. I do not think personally we can ever entirely succeed and the training gets faint if we do not practice continuously.

Bold Method Graphic; click for CFI Tool

Adding a durable intellectual understanding of the how basic CG and angle of attack work on an aircraft (tail force down/heavy nose) is essential, but obviously often missed, in flight training. When you screw up an aerobatic maneuver (and I’m good at this) my mentors always counsel, “reduce power, and let go, the heavy end comes down.” The power part is obvious if you again click here for the CG diagram. High power (often added inappropriately in panic situations) creates induced airflow over the tail that further drives the tail down (and increases AOA). Power also compounds the LOC problem with yaw and torque.

The bigger CG picture and the inherent stability of the plane should be explained and demonstrated to all pilots in training by the professional aviation educator in a very careful and non-threatening manner. We discussed an airplane’s stability in  a turn  – trim and fold your arms and your plane will keep happily turning until it is out of fuel. A stable GA trainer in a stall will recover very nicely if you just reduce power and release back pressure. I personally think this is how the first stall should be demonstrated in training; start gliding power off- gently increase AOA (raise nose too high – not even above the horizon) and the plane will stall gently. Simply release back pressure and the plane starts flying…easy peasy! It is counter productive (and often permanently detrimental) to scare and confuse your new aviator with a complex procedure and wild flight attitude. We want to convey the concept and all the variations can be added later. No learning occurs in a terrified student and we perpetuate the fear that prevents proper recovery later.  The first stalls can be a great confidence builder. When I do that procedure with students they breathe a sigh of relief and comment “that was a stall?” and they can’t believe it. The often also comment “All the other students told me I would hate them and be terrified…”

Next week we will dig further into AOA. For a quiz question to lead that discussion, which of these airplanes here has a higher AOA?






Did you know that EVERY aircraft actually has an AOA indicator on board? And it might be more reliable than that techno-wizardry you just paid to install? Stand by for that… Fly safely (and often)!

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).





Is “Cross-Controlled” Dangerous?

We discussed the turning stall in the last SAFEblog and revealed the (often surprising) fact that in coordinated flight, with lift equal on both wings, a stall simply falls away from the lift vector and is very benign. There is only a burble and a drop of the nose, but no rolling or sudden departure from controlled flight that many people expect (and fear). This maneuver is in the private pilot ACS and should be comfortable for every aviation educator. This maneuver not only builds skills and confidence, but also creates a powerful opportunity to promote the need for coordinated flight and the value of correct rudder usage. Since there is no spin tendency in a turn when we are coordinated, this has a super safety value to every pilot; it opens their minds and gets their attention. But we then need a method to achieve better intuitive rudder coordination.

There is lots of confusion about the airplane’s rudder and its function in flight.  Remarkably, when Rich Stowell surveyed pilots he found 70% thought the rudder was used to turn the aircraft. This is dramatically wrong and should be a wake-up call to every CFI. Quite simply, the rudder cancels unwanted yaw created by the adverse effect of ailerons, power application, or rapid pitching moments. Most commonly, the downward moving aileron creates yaw, pulling the airplane away from the desired turn direction with “adverse yaw.” This can be *very* pronounced in an older (often tailwheel) aircraft but is largely designed out of modern (control blended) aircraft. That is a nice way of saying modern planes mostly tolerate and disguise “flat-footed flying.” Unfortunately, moving the rudders appropriately and learning coordination is the key to safety and preventing LOC-I.

The critical skill is to anticipate yaw not just reactively cancel it after it has occurred. That’s why the advice “step on the ball” – though correct – is too late and creates more problems than it solves. “Step on the ball” means you already created the yaw problem – slewing the plane – and are subsequently forcing it back into balance with a time-consuming, mechanical input. People who utilize this advice not only have their eyes inside but also fly like bad robots in a jerky and uncomfortable fashion. In addition to being clumsy, we just do not have enough mental bandwidth while flying to be cogitating about “stepping on the ball” (which lags badly anyway). It is essential to tune up our kinesthetic yaw sensing and develop automatic anticipation of adverse forces. This will also makes you an amazingly smooth pilot that your passengers will appreciate.

I recommend all flight instructors (and pilots who want to get sharp) demonstrate (observe) a brisk application of power, aileron, or pitch applied independently at a safe altitude. In each case you will see the nose yaw in reaction to this force applied (physics in action).  With practice you can predict which way this will occur (physics!) and discern how much rudder to apply to maintain coordination. I have my primary students initially move the throttle hand and the right rudder together to develop some “muscle memory” while on the ground sitting in the cockpit (works for “chair flying too). This yaw correction will become automatic pretty quickly with directed focus and practice (but is much easier to teach initially than to correct from a bad habit). There is a lot more to this art of learning/teaching rudder and our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop has many time-honored CFI tricks to tune up rudder usage.

“As the power increases, you’ll simultaneously press on the right rudder pedal knowing that the entire universe (specifically the airplane’s power induced left turning tendencies) is doing everything possible to yaw the airplane’s nose to the left. But you’ll have none of this nonsense because you are in command of your airplane, right? Right! So step on that right rudder pedal.” Stick and Rudder Mutter, by Rod Machado

But let’s get on to this “cross-controlled bogeyman” we started with. If after we demonstrate that turning stall we ask why the plane did not spin (as expected) in the turn the logical follow up question is “what would cause a stalled plane to spin?” And I guarantee the answer will be “if you stall when you are cross-controlled.” So I demonstrate a stable full slip (power off) and bring the plane to a stall. I love this demonstration, because though the plane is balanced and stable, every pilot anticipates a violent spin entry. In fact with a well rigged trainer, nothing at all happens (except the student finally begins breathing again). Another learning opportunity; why no spin? Because the slip configuration is stable (with no power) with the rudder yaw opposing aileron roll force (perform this only with an experienced instructor and know your plane). This illustrates that the obvious bogeyman is not “cross-controlled” but rather the pro-spin inputs of a skidding turn (ironically the force 70% of pilots think turns the plane) The skid is an excess rate of turn. This usually is created with the rudder but can also be uncompensated force from a go-around attempt (well represented in the NTSB files). The skid is the evil form of “cross-control” and often occurs when people fight yawing force inappropriately with aileron (“driving” again). If there is one aerodynamic principle every pilot must understand this is it; understand thoroughly the difference between a slip and a skid and why one is safe and one will kill you . This is the essence of safety in the pattern. More detail is in this Aviation Safety article I wrote.

Three incidents personally persuaded me to demonstrate these maneuvers and promote this understanding to every pilot. First was repeated flight tests where applicants did not want to “slip to land” because it was “cross-controlled and dangerous.” Then I discovered a website by a respected airline pilot (with great popular following and gravitas) that advised (completely incorrectly) to convert the base to final turn into a slip by applying aileron out of the turn as you lined up on final; “you already have the wing down.” This is of course a skid and very dangerous (pro-spin: do not try this!). The final incident was a young CFI applying for a job at our flight school who demonstrated a massive skid (intending to slip) and confessed he thought you “just cross the controls” to create a slip. This level of confusion is obviously killing pilots and needs to be corrected by every conscientious aviation educator. Again, more here.

Next weekend SAFE will be at the AOPA Fly-In at Frederick, MD (and we would love to meet you there). This blog will cover another misunderstood (and potentially dangerous) aerodynamic force; AOA, CG and pitch (“planes don’t stall, but pilots stall planes”) Fly safely (and often).

Apple or Android versions.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (like 1/3 off your annual 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 specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Surprising Airplane Control Facts!

Presenting seminars at public events like Sun ‘N Fun is a fascinating opportunity to both meet people and also sample the aerodynamic understanding of our pilot (and CFI) population. Having been a DPE for many years, I often ask a lot of questions while presenting to get a sense of the understanding level of my audience. Reliably, 70% of pilots are usually confused about which control actually turns an airplane. Pilots (and CFIs) are unfamiliar with the actual aerodynamic forces at work on our wings during a basic coordinated turn. And no one seems to know that *every* aircraft has an AOA indicator installed – which every pilot controls. Let’s unpack a few of these ideas; because they are essential to the safety of every pilot and especially essential for every aviation educator to understand completely.

I usually ask audiences about the balance of lift on the wings of an airplane in a stable, level altitude turn:  In a level, coordinated 30-degree turn, is the lift equal on both wings?Please make YOUR choice at this point before going further.

Reliably, more than half of the pilots in every audience will say lift is unequal on the wings in a level coordinated turn. For an educator, this is the classic “learning opportunity” to present a startling follow-up question. If lift is unequal in a stable turn, wouldn’t your plane would still be rolling? Presented that way it seems to make sense to pilots; lift is equal on the wings. Inevitably, someone always posits that the outer wing has “more lift because it is traversing a longer arc” (over banking tendency). But obviously if this was true your plane would still be rolling. I think what confuses pilots is the asymmetric lift used to create the roll initially, and I think also (surprisingly) the flight attitude is still somewhat scary to many pilots since we all spend most of our time straight and level. The fact that 70% of pilots are confused is also an opportunity to improve the understanding of our flight training community (see SAFE CFI-PRO™) We have great tools for teaching this area of flight.

So simply prove this to yourself the next time you go flying. Roll into a 30 degree bank and add enough nose up trim (and a touch of power) to maintain a stable level altitude hands off. Fold your arms and smile; your plane will happily continue to fly in a hands-off stable turn until it runs out of fuel (assuming it is properly rigged). Every CFI needs to  demonstrate this stability and explain the underlying aerodynamics very early in pilot training. This is not an automobile or a boat and ignorance of essential aerodynamics is responsible for many LOC-I accidents.

The natural follow up question is of course, what will happen if we stall in a coordinated turn? This is a very powerful question for every aviation educator to ask (and demonstrate) as soon as a student is comfortable with straight-ahead stalls. Student pilots predictably grab the seat cushion and start to sweat when I first demonstrate a turning stall in an aircraft during training (despite a full ground briefing). >70% of pilots (and CFIs) predict a spin entry as the inevitable result of a turning stall. But if lift is equal on the wings (we are coordinated), a stall in a turn will very simply drop away from the lift vector. Try this with an experienced CFI and you will see that the stall break is even less pronounced than the straight-ahead stall. This is a way of expanding your flight envelope and proving to yourself how the basic aerodynamics of turning an airplane works. A turning stall is a very empowering maneuver for every pilot to experience. And the turning stall is an element in the private pilot ACS for this reason; it is an essential learning experience for safety and understanding.

And for that last mystery question; which control is active in a level turn? The ailerons are neutral in a 30 degree turn – take a look out at your ailerons while turning and try wiggling them. And the rudder is also neutral  – because all it does is “cancel the adverse yaw” as ailerons are added to roll the plane. The active control responsible for the turn is what you added with the trim; your elevator! And over 25% of pilots guess the rudder is turning the plane – and that would be a skid and responsible for pro-spin force – a dangerous assumption. The actual control responsible for turning in level flight is the elevator. A more complete explanation of  the aerodynamics of turning are on Rich Stowell’s “Learn To Turn” course on community aviation. The fact that pilots are confused here is one reason we are providing expanded education for CFIs during our  SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop. A YouTube of Rich Stowell at the NTSB is available here.

The (largely unknown) AOA indicator we all have in an upright airplane is how much chrome is showing on your yoke (how far back you have pulled the yoke or stick). This will reliably show your angle of attack and also is the first thing to reduce in an upset – unload! Next week we will talk about the fact that planes don’t really stall – but in fact pilots are responsible for stalling planes.  Stay tuned – and fly safely out there.

Apple or Android versions.

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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

Calibrating Confidence

More than 100 people die every day on the US roads in their automobiles.  An active co-conspirator in this carnage is the fact that 90% of drivers believe they are “better than average.” As a species humans are notoriously overconfident! And the Dunning-Kruger Effect (a well documented psychological phenomenon) shows that the least skilled are the most over-confident. Though this trait keeps us humans forging ahead and accomplishing amazing things but it sure leads to a lot of fatal accidents in mechanized devices. We need to recognize this hazard in flight training and manage it during every preflight assessment. I-M-S-A-F-E-(C)?

Overconfidence is not specifically recognized as a “hazardous attitude,” by the FAA but lies  somewhere between invulnerability and macho (and is also well represented in our pilot population).  Calibrating our confidence is critical in every pre-flight self-assessment. Pilots do some crazy things in planes and seem to just believe/hope it will work out – hope is never a good planning strategy!  Every aviation educator should be alert for overconfidence in their students, it is a sure killer and seems to be increasingly popular (or is that just YouTube making bad judgment manifest?) The well-documented Dunning-Kruger Effect states that “low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.” We often need an independent analysis to reveal how risky we are being. When you read articles like the accident below,  consider how many endorsements a CFI has to put into this student’s logbook to make this flight remotely legal.

Calibrating confidence is of course a matter of achieving the healthy balance between hubris and doubt. Every pilot must maintain some level of assertiveness and bravery to fly appropriately “in command” because continuous doubt is equally dangerous to safety. Accepting peer review and maintaining objective standards help achieve the proper balance; staying humble and accepting curated advice is essential.

One of my mentors in aviation flew 125 combat missions over Vietnam. And though “you do not walk out to a $16M fighter with your tail between your legs”, his personal flight rules dictate that every mission needs to start by consciously encouraging some fear and doubt.  The “premeditation of evils” sharpens our situational awareness and maintains vigilance. At a minimum, every flight should at least begin in “code yellow.” This is, of course, easier when you are dodging SAMS but not too common in our daily “fun flying.” Complete a full briefing and add some “healthy doubt” to every flight.

Peter Garrison’s “Aftermath” column in Flying Magazine provides a shocking , over-the-top, tale of misplaced optimism. (App direct link HERE) This article starts almost predictably with the classic VFR pilot caught over a solid overcast; hoping to find a hole. However, deeper examination reveals the “pilot” (in a turbo Saratoga) was not even certificated as a pilot, but just a student with slightly over 2 hours of instruction logged. He just bought an airplane and started flying. The fatal result was pretty predictable and definitely preventable. In cases like this it seems incumbent upon the aviation educator to alert authorities before the inevitable occurs. Both of these pilots could be alive today if someone said something and stopped the process. (See Dr. Bill Rhodes on “Pilots Who Should Scare Us“)

Attitudes are notoriously difficult to shape as an educator. Running a busy flight training operation for 25 years, despite our best efforts, we had to “uninvite” a few people who just could not face the reality of managing risk and were a danger to themselves and the rest of the group. Rick Durden wrote a great article on this dilemma in flying clubs; painful but necessary.

Enjoy summer in California and visit SAFE at the AOPA Fly-In at Livermore today (or watch our FaceBook feed The STOL contest is at noon – we are at booth #52. Fly safely (and often)!

Apple or Android versions.

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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).

IFR into “Non-Controlled” Airspace!

Once upon a time, long ago, only an ILS got you to the ground in seriously crappy weather and the FAA protected that arrival from local “VFR” traffic with a 700agl echo transition airspace (and even a surface area echo). This assured some legal separation for IFR from VFR traffic. But now we fly LPV approaches into almost every small county field right down into the weeds and the FAA provides no airspace protection. You are IFR in the clouds down through the uncontrolled airspace into all kinds of local flight possibilities; potentially operating “one mile clear of clouds” with no radios!

Let’s review this quickly so we understand the problem clearly. When Orville and Wilbur were flying, everything was G airspace or “go for it”; no IFR, no serious restrictions. But as the instrument flight system was created, the 3 mile visibility minimum was created in controlled (IFR) airspace and the “buffer” of 2000 horizontal, 1000 above and 500 below was created to provide separation VFR/IFR. Visual separation was at least possible for faster moving IFR plane transitioning into visual at a smaller, non-tower; and remember no communications are required. These fields look like Watertown if an ILS is in place with weather protection to the surface. On the other side of the equation is the IFR approach plate which seemingly insures a safe descent from the clouds.

But with the advent of the many wonderful RNAV IFR letdowns into smaller county fields – right down to the ground – our current airspace now provides no separation for IFR operations from the local traffic potentially operating “one mile clear of clouds.” The even scarier issue is no requirement for communications at these non-tower fields. (And remember, I own a 1946 7AC Champ and love “low and slow”). Take a look at Raleigh Executive Jetport (KTTA) with only a 700agl Echo transition airspace. This field has an ILS approach that goes right down to 200agl in the clouds and records 172 operations a day at this busy reliever airport. You are “flying naked” into the “go for it” (G) airspace!  This is just crazy.

This all was all precipitated by the latest VFR sectional, where the 700 agl transition around my local airport mysteriously disappeared on the last issue of the VFR chart. With RNAV approaches down into the weeds, anyone could be flying up to 1200agl “one mile clear of clouds” (and don’t think this does not happen). The FAA needs to get serious about this IFR/VFR separation problem. We have fast movers shooting these approaches everyday and the potential for collisions is definitely an “accident waiting to happen”. Fly often (and safely).

Apple or Android versions.

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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business). SAFE CFI-PRO™ is Oct 2&3 at AOPA in Frederick, MD. Sign-up for more information soon.

SAFE CFI-PRO™ Released @ SnF!

Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ initiative was well received by the press and industry on April 3rd at Sun ‘N Fun and we had an  amazing show here in Florida. See all the industry visitors to our booth on our SAFE Facebook. There are many livestream videos from our booth with manufacturers like Piper, Cirrus, Lightspeed, Bose, Appereo and industry partners like Patty Wagstaff and Richard McSpadden.

We announced the date for our initial CFI-PRO™ workshop on October 2nd and 3rd at AOPA in Frederick, MD. This ambitious program is the ultimate expression of our SAFE mission of elevating aviation educator excellence. The purpose of these workshops is to codify and transmit the knowledge and skills that make a CFI professional truly proficient – far beyond the perfunctory FAA initial training. We are addressing the “CFI Gap” between “good and Great!” The heart of this workshop is our “Envelope Expansion Maneuvers.” We will present these in detail and explain the aerodynamics behind them. We hope to also fly them at the workshop so we can ultimately transmit these to every pilot at every airport (though our  CFI-PRO™ cadre) and expand pilot’s abilities to reduce the incidence of Loss of Control accidents.

There are great learning opportunities at this two-day course for every CFI. For new CFIs we will provide the “missing manual” of skills and techniques to elevate each educator from “good to great” taking you far beyond the FAA minimum standards. For the more experienced CFI we will reveal new and modern concepts of scenario-based training and testing and also focus on client-centered instruction. Everyone will also love the networking opportunities with some of the best educators in the country. A passion for excellence is energizing and a shared mission for improvement is  contagious.

What we mean by “expanding the flight envelope” is getting away from just scenario-based training and exploring flight outside the standard 5% “comfort zone” where we all fly. By definition “scenarios” are pretty tame flying. Envelope expansion maneuvers are non-operational, skill-building techniques and focus on full control authority. As an example, take a normal steep turn at the commercial level and reverse the heading after 180 degrees of turn. After you gain proficiency with this, reverse after only 90 degrees of turn. These 60/90s have been a standard tool of senior CFIs to build proficiency for many years.

As another example, perform a standard power off turning stall and recover in the turn without adding power – just reduce the angle of attack; what a confidence booster for both CFI and pilots. A normal turning stall is a required maneuver on the Private Pilot ACS but seldom taught by CFIs or well known by most students sent to a private pilot test. How about a power off stall in a full slip…what will your plane do? If you don’t know you are a good candidate for SAFE CFI-PRO™. We will cover the aerodynamics of this situation and also teach the maneuver in flight. You will become a more proficient CFI-PRO™. As we travel this program, we will depend on our growing cadre of professionals to spread these SAFE Expanded Envelope Maneuvers to other CFIs and our general aviation pilot population. Moving every pilot out of their complacent “comfort zone” by refocusing on confident “yank and bank” maneuvering is the antidote for LOC-I.

More people die in every sector of aviation due to LOC-I than to any other cause. The NTSB has been excellent at keeping this fact in front of the public until we figure out how to change the way we train pilots.” Realistically, however, Brooks adds, “If we look at how we spend our training time versus the LOC problem, there’s a huge gap, yet we continue training pilots the way we always have.”

The secret of success for SAFE CFI-PRO™ is teaching a syllabus of maneuvers that can be flown in a any standard part 23 training aircraft (no parachutes or exotic aerobatic planes required). This program is scalable to every pilot at every airport in the hands of a skilled CFI-PRO™ and ends up being highly effective at building skills. Pursuing an Upset Prevention and Recovery Course as the next step would be a great addition. Find more information here and please enter your contacts to receive more details as they become available. Registration will be available in about a month; stand by for a great educational experience.

In the meantime, fly safely (and often) and keep in touch. Together we are going amazing places.

Apple or Android versions.

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 facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed specifically for CFI professionals (and is the best value in the business).