“Growth Mindset;” Continuous Learning!

To be safe as pilots, and stay sharp as CFIs, we must embrace the “growth mindset” of continuous lifetime learning. Good pilots (and CFIs) should never leave the “student mode.” To do so means we have succumbed to complacency or arrogance and become a dangerous “know it all.”  Every pilot can always learn more or expand and sharpen their skills. Pilots who stop learning and lose their curiosity are “frozen;” stale, arrogant, and dangerous. Constant growth keeps a person curious and humble. It is the real fuel for life, which makes waking up and embracing life, motivating and exciting on a daily basis.

“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” —Carol Dweck

“Growth Mindset” is a term invented by psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford. It starts with the understanding that no one was born with the innate abilities to fly a plane or perform any other higher-order skill. Though we all have areas we are better at, every complicated skill requires considerable effort to learn and constant maintenance to retain. We all admire excellence in every field and often mistakenly think it is “natural” or “god-given.” A deeper examination always reveals the real effort required to obtain and polish expert performance.  Any proficient performance requires a continuous learning initiative.

Piloting skills are not a fixed skillset that we obtain once and put in a box for safekeeping, they will very quickly get rusty and the pilot becomes dangerous (we have all seen this in action). Hopefully, one benefit of the COVID quarantine was proving the consequences of “rusty skills” to everyone.

The peril of unfocused internet learning should also be apparent to everyone. To be valuable, aviation knowledge must be carefully vetted and incrementally presented in a systematic fashion or there are dangerous gaps. The FAA WINGS program is an excellent repository of the collected wisdom from a diverse collection of educators. Though the clunky FAA web interface will continue to be a challenge, many in the aviation industry have stepped up to optimize this dinosaur and renovated the content. One of the best examples of this is AOPA’s Focused Flight Review. This was the brainchild of a consortium of “alphabets” that worked together to create a more comprehensive review for pilots and a resource center for aviation educators. If an airplane requires an extensive annual every year to remain airworthy, every pilot should also merit much more than the FAA-required (perfunctory) review every two years.

For flight instructors, “stale and frozen” is a serious trap due to the repetitive nature of the daily flight profiles. A lack of challenge and a failure to grow quickly results in a painful pedant instead of an exciting and motivating “flight coach.”. The Master Instructor Program was created to motivate and challenge aviation educators to pursue excellence instead. The 500 “continuing education units” required every two years ensure new skillset, ideas, and challenges, keeping a CFI motivated!

The WINGS Industry Network was created by a consortium of “alphabets” to promote and improve the FAA WINGS system. Since this FAA website seems internally “frozen,” many in the aviation industry have stepped up to improve its functionality expand its popularity. SAFE will present an industry profile and ideas on safety as part of this program this Wednesday at 8PM EST (WINGS Credit) Please join us with your ideas and comments; fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Your membership 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).

Flight Instruction At A Higher Level

This article is contributed by Dudley Henriques, a vastly-experienced retired CFI. It is longer than our usual blog but contains rare wisdom about effective flight instruction from an obvious pro; well worth your time and effort!

We need good instructors in aviation generally and especially in the aerobatic community. Becoming a CFI isn’t really all that difficult for the average pilot but developing into a GREAT CFI takes effort and a love for teaching that goes WAY beyond the FAA requirement.

I’d like to devote this article to the pilots who decide to go into flight instruction by exploring the subject based on my personal experience. It’s my hope that you new instructors out there find this information useful as you begin to build and add to your personal kit bag of knowledge and experience.

Back in 1953 I was one of those rare young pilots who decided early on I simply wanted to be a flight instructor. I sought the rating because I loved to teach and I saw a great need in aviation for GOOD instructors. For me the rating wasn’t a stepping stone on the road to an ATP but rather a calling that promised an opportunity to do something useful in aviation.

So along these lines, I became a CFI and I stayed a CFI concentrating initially on primary students then later on into my aviation life I became a private tutor in aerobatics for pilots owning their own aerobatic aircraft.

Today I’m retired from flying but remain active as a consultant on flight safety-related issues to ICAS, EAC, EAA, and ASSA. I’ve never lost that initial love for teaching people to fly and I still believe strongly in the important role played by flight instructors in our aviation community. My main area of interest these days involves flight safety in our airshow community where we are fortunate to have some of the finest pilots and instructors in the world. Naturally, as we age we will have new instructors coming on board and it is with this in mind that I wrote this article.

Naturally in our airshow community, our main interest lies at the advanced end of the training spectrum where aerobatics is the main issue at hand. But make no mistake, every instructor teaching aerobatics today had to start somewhere by teaching the basics at the primary level and it’s at that level where it all begins for the CFI. It’s here where new instructors develop the methods that define the quality of the job and where they fine-tune those methods into what can develop into the makings of a truly great instructor.

Through my tenure as a CFI, I believe I learned a few things about flying airplanes and how to teach pilots to fly them. My students made me a better teacher as I learned as much about teaching by teaching them as they learned about flying from me.

With this article, I would like to pass on to you new instructors some of what I learned along the way about teaching people to fly in the hope that I can impart some alternate perspectives that you may not find in the usual course manuals available for study as you go for your CFI rating.
This article assumes you have received your CFI certification and are beginning to teach people to fly.

You are a flight instructor. I’d like to help you be an even better flight instructor.

When you begin teaching student pilots to fly you have a choice of what kind of instructor you will be. My experience over time revealed two major types of instructors that stand alone above the others. Let’s take a look at both types.

“Instructor A”

First, you have instructor A. This type teaches mainly by voice and demonstration, always showing and explaining in the air, spending a lot of time personally on the controls, then allowing the student to take the controls.

At first glance, this seems a fine way to teach, and indeed the student can learn to fly this way… “eventually”. But this method of teaching can easily result in the development of a “back and forth” scenario between the student and the instructor where the instructor is constantly demonstrating by flying the airplane, the student is constantly trying to replicate what the instructor has demonstrated, the instructor corrects again, the student retries……….and on and on it goes until the student, through trial and error finally manages to get it right.

Then we have “instructor B”

Basically, instructor B’s method involves the instructor explaining while the student basically ALWAYS HAS THE CONTROLS. This is begun from the very first dual session and continued on through the entire learning curve.
The B method requires that the control of the airplane is accomplished by the student with the instructor providing ongoing verbal advice and encouragement with an absolute minimum of gentle control “assistance” from the instructor.

Let me insert a key point here concerning the first hour of dual. Naturally, the student will need some “help” from the instructor while initially taxiing the aircraft and also through the first takeoff. This is normal but even here the objective of the instructor should be to achieve a minimum amount of time physically flying the airplane. Most good instructors can talk a student through a first takeoff by allowing the student pitch control while they monitor power and rudder control for the student. Trust me. I have done this as a normal procedure for many years without incident.

There is a KEY DIFFERENCE between instructor A and instructor B. Both instructors must naturally be on the controls to demonstrate. The difference is the TIME each instructor physically is involved with the control of the aircraft. Type A spends MUCH more time flying the airplane than type B and it is THIS factor that I’l like you to not only remember but adapt as your our style of teaching. BECOME A TYPE B INSTRUCTOR!

Let’s talk a bit about the type B instructor.

This method recognizes that teaching someone to fly an airplane takes place in a constantly moving and changing dynamic classroom. It recognizes also all the ramifications implied by that scenario. In other words, the “classroom” where teaching and learning is taking place is not stationary but moving at well over one hundred miles an hour or more and exists in an airborne three-dimensional sky.
Teaching in this environment requires dedication and attention from the instructor to what’s happening in real-time not found in the normal stationary ground-bound classroom where teaching usually takes place.

The type B method involves the instructor allowing the student complete access to all the controls from the very first hour of dual.
It’s really quite simple in concept. But make no mistake. The type B instructor will be tasked to a “higher level” than type A.
In concept;
1. The student has all the controls
2. The instructor advises while closely monitoring the student’s actions.
3. The student acts on the controls.
4. The instructor fine-tunes with additional advice and continues to monitor as the student continues to fly the aircraft.

ALL physical interaction with the aircraft is accomplished by the student. The instructor can of course interact with the controls when necessary but ANY interaction by the instructor is done in a quiet and calm manner and kept to an absolute minimum. Every effort by the instructor is made to maximize the building of confidence in the student and this is accomplished by minimal PHYSICAL intervention by the instructor.
THIS is optimized teaching, and THIS is optimized learning!

It’s notable here that there is a difference in retention when a student is allowed to correct an error as opposed to the instructor intervening physically then allowing the student to resume control of the aircraft. If the instructor corrects an error by taking the controls what could have been retained by the student can be easily be lost as what was done intertwines mentally for the student with other errors and corrections made during the session. The student is much more likely to remember what was done and why as it was he/she who physically made the correction.

There is a caveat in this method, however. Using this method requires that the instructor know EXACTLY how far to allow the student to enter into an error before correction is necessary. And right here is where we see that an instructor who uses this method has to be teaching at “a higher level”.

There are two ways an instructor can intervene with a student when teaching this way. The first is a verbal correction that takes place early into an error. This method should be the goal of every instructor. This allows for the recognition of the error by the instructor, verbal interaction by the instructor with the student on how to correct, then physical action by the student to make the correction.

By now I’m sure you are asking yourself, “ But there will be instances while in flight when there is little time for verbal correction by the CFI due to the need for immediate correction”.

This is a valid point. There WILL be moments like this when giving dual to a student but handled correctly they can be stress-free and done in a manner that doesn’t degrade the confidence of the student. It’s during these “moments” that the quality of the instructor either rises to the top or sinks to the bottom.
The answer is that when these moments occur and physical intervention by the instructor is necessary (such as near the ground during the takeoff and landing phase) any and all physical intervention by the instructor should be done gently and accompanied by a stress-free verbal comment with control returned to the student ASAP.

ANYTIME you have physically taken the airplane away from a student QUICKLY you have missed the opportunity to verbally correct and have allowed a degrading of confidence in the student.

This is a very important point for new instructors. The reverse (verbal method) could have been the case and student confidence would have been increased had you acted sooner verbally and allowed the student to make the correction. Naturally, altitude is your friend when it comes to allowing a student complete control access. The timeline to correct any error decreases proportionally with a decrease in altitude. If the student has been taught correctly at altitude by the time you reach the phase with dual involving takeoffs and landings physical intervention on controls by the instructor should be at a minimum level which of course was the overall objective that brought you to this point in the training.

It’s an oversimplification to say that teaching this way can be summed up by saying “Don’t ride the controls on the student”. It’s MUCH more than that. It involves a philosophy of teaching unique to the job of handling education in an airplane which is of course a moving classroom.

Teaching this way requires an instructor who is not only sharp and knows the airplane extremely well but also an instructor who has taken the time to treat the student as an individual, thus knowing some basic things about the student and how the student might react to instruction.

THIS is a CRITICAL POINT for a new instructor to understand. No two students are identical and each one will require the instructor to “adjust” to that individual student’s ability to absorb instruction. In other words, there is no “cookie-cutter” solution to good flight instruction. You can have all the lesson plans the FAA can provide but in the end, good flight instruction depends totally on each instructor’s ability to teach each student on a level and in a manner that each student can understand and comprehend.

So here’s the technical recap for the above:

As an instructor, YOU are flying the airplane mentally in real-time without touching it.( if you’re doing it right anyway 😉

This means that the student’s physical actions with the controls are directly tied to your ongoing mental processing of what the student’s physical control actions should be at any given instant in time. This poses an interesting problem for the instructor.

You’re mentally flying the airplane as though you were physically flying it but you’re not. The student is physically flying the airplane. This means the student is either in sync with your thought process as he/she flies the aircraft, or is behind or ahead of what you would be doing physically with the airplane as it’s being flown. If you’re good…..and I mean GOOD……what happens in real-time is that as you are monitoring and your mind is processing the flight situation at any given instant, you will process what is happening as though your hands and feet were on the controls. Your brain will of course pick up and process what is happening based on YOUR experience. You are processing where the airplane should be in 3-dimensional space and what it should be doing at any instant in time and position in space. These cues are based on YOUR mental processing, NOT the student’s. This is important to understand, as it means you are, or should be at least, way ahead of the student mentally as that applies to what is coming next with the aircraft.

All this going on supplies you with 2 possible scenarios. The student is correcting an error in sync with where you would be correcting it, which is fine, or the student is late which will most likely be the case due to the experience differential between the two of you.

I’ll repeat it once more for clarity. The trick in GOOD flight instruction is in knowing EXACTLY how deep into an error without a PHYSICAL correction you can allow the student to fly the airplane before YOU have to take corrective action.

In fact, if you are doing the job right, you already know the student is behind the airplane and have taken VERBAL action to allow the student time to self correct, which is the proper procedure in good instruction and the basis for much of this article.

You will find that your ongoing assessment of where the airplane should be at any given instant in time and how the student is interfacing with that assessment by his/her physical action flying the aircraft is the key for you in knowing where the student is on the learning curve. In the beginning, the student will be well behind your assessment. You will find yourself anticipating an action by the student that won’t be performed in time. Your ability to use verbal correction instead of physical correction will be taxed to a maximum. As the student gains experience, you will find that your assessment of the ongoing flight situation and the student’s reaction time to correct any errors will become shorter until the time when you notice the student is flying the airplane EXACTLY where your mental processing is telling you YOU would be flying the airplane physically. This results in the student making corrections where you would be making corrections and is the sign you are looking for……a complete co meeting of what the student is doing physically with the aircraft vs what you would be doing physically with the aircraft. The student is now ready to solo!

the learning process: how it’s accomplished when applied to the experience of learning to fly an airplane.

You can read all the manuals on instructing in print and rarely will you (if ever) come across material that informs you as an instructor that much of the retention and real understanding that takes place in flight instruction doesn’t actually take place in the airplane but rather in-between dual sessions.

Yes…..that’s right……IN BETWEEN the times when the student is actually flying the airplane.

As a good instructor, you NEVER want to be teaching theory while giving dual in flight. Spend time on theory with the student both before and after you fly. Explain the what’s, why’s, and how’s for the lesson before flying, then allow the student to do it in the air by ROTE under guidance, then go over the detailed explanation again after the flight.

The student at that point most likely won’t have reached the level of retention and comprehension you want as the instructor, but now after flying the airplane, the student can go home and while relaxed and away from the pressure and tension of physically flying have time to reflect and think and go over in their mind what was done by rote in flight. It’s during THIS period where many things fall into place for the student and a deeper more meaningful understanding of what was done in the air registers. I think you’ll find that after this “between time” when the student arrives for the next hour of dual they will have a better understanding of what was done during the prior dual session and will be ready to take the next step forward. It’s a natural process of learning and something you should encourage students to engage in as they progress along with you on their path to certification.

Stalls and how to deal with them as an instructor.

Reading over the new ACS I’m the last person on the planet who wants to come down hard on the FAA for attempting to make flying safer and save lives, but this doesn’t mean I agree with the FAA all the time on policy, regulation, and especially when it comes to procedure. The FAA has a distinct tendency when it comes to flight instruction to attempt dotting every “I” and crossing every “T.”

Looking at the ACS is like looking at a laundry list that attempts to anticipate every possible situation one can possibly run into while flying an airplane. To be blunt the ACS is one complicated piece of work.
This is all well and good……………..BUT:

What the FAA seems to miss sometimes is the simple fact that flying an airplane is performed in a constantly changing fluid three-dimensional dynamic where absolutely nothing is written in stone because nothing is static. Flying is NOT done in a static environment.

All those I’s and T’s have to be dotted and crossed in different ways at different times as the situation dictates at any given moment; where no two flights are ever exactly the same and occur under identical conditions. In other words, there are NO CONSTANTS involved with the flying of an airplane. Even the wind and its effect on the aircraft change every second while in flight.

Flying an airplane is a fluid and dynamic experience accomplished in a state of constant change!

The stall as IT relates to you the instructor.

First of all, don’t neglect the ACS. By all means, do as directed by the FAA………..but use the ACS as a beginning for what you teach your students, NOT the final lesson plan, ESPECIALLY when it concerns the issue of the stall.

By now, if you have been doing your job correctly your student has been taken out of the cockpit during the very first hour of dual and far away from that ball in the glass tube on the panel. You have shown that ball to the student and demonstrated its usefulness but during the very first hour, you have taken your student’s attention OUTSIDE THE COCKPIT and onto the nose of the airplane and its relationship with the horizon for any and all reference concerning control coordination. Your student has as well been taught how the proper use of rudder in ALL phases of flight is so important, not only in turn entry and exit but as well in climbs and descents where proper rudder use that streamlines the aircraft can actually be reflected in improved airspeed. In other words, your student is “control aware” and has been taught how to “feel” the airplane. This doesn’t mean you have neglected the importance of instrument integration. It DOES mean however that you have taken your student to a “higher level” of instruction and have been teaching the student to fly above and beyond the FAA requirement.

About the stall

The stall is perhaps the most misunderstood and undertaught phase associated with flight training. In my opinion, if you stop teaching at the ACS requirement you are NOT giving your student all of what you could have given them as they enter post-pilot certification life.

As a flight instructor, you owe the student more than the ACS provides concerning the subject of the stall. It isn’t that the material isn’t listed on the ACS. The problem is that too many instructors don’t teach deeply enough about the areas of the stall where the danger actually exists.  In some cases, the instructors themselves are not as comfortable as they should be with a stall to teach it properly. I don’t want you to be one of those instructors.

The entire purpose of this article was to convey to you the concept that it’s possible to make a student feel comfortable in an airplane and STILL teach the student to fly at a “higher level”. This is never more pertinent than when we start dealing with the subject of stalls.

I have never had a problem making a student comfortable in an airplane while at the same time teaching stall “beyond the test requirements” and I don’t think you will either. It’s all about knowledge, training, and most of all…….ATTITUDE. My suggestion to you new instructors is to first and foremost make YOURSELF more competent, comfortable, and knowledgable about stalls generally and practice stalls until you feel at home with them in all areas of the aircraft’s flight envelope. Unless YOU are confident with the stall in all flight attitudes your instruction will reflect this and will be far less than the desired result.

The technique when teaching stall

I highly suggest using the gross weight 1g power-off stall simply as an entry point from which you will be teaching stalls. This stall is perfect for establishing exactly how comfortable your student is with the stall. When you are satisfied the student is relaxed and ready to proceed, explain that the real danger associated with stall has little to do with that 1g power-off stall but rather with stall above 1g, at higher airspeeds, in-flight through all three dimensions, and especially when and if control coordination is crossed. THIS is the area where you want to take your student for stall training and THIS is the EXACT AREA of stall training where some instructors spend the least amount of time with the student. Don’t make this mistake. Be careful and prepare the student properly. When (and ONLY WHEN) you feel the student is ready,  take the student to where the REAL training in stalls will serve them well after the license has been obtained…… TO WHERE THE DANGER LIES……….in the accelerated and crossed control flight regime. Spend enough time in this area to allow your student to become completely familiar and comfortable there.

NOTE; Your objective as a good instructor in this area is to make the student comfortable AND PROFICIENT with a stall above 1g.

Do that and your student will never have to worry about stalling from a skidding turn or any other flight attitude. You will have trained a pilot who not only understands what to avoid but also has a genuine “feel” for where the aircraft is at all times in relation to the critical angle of attack. You have trained a pilot who is ANGLE OF ATTACK AWARE! You have trained a pilot who can “FEEL THE AIRCRAFT” and fly the airplane above and beyond the FAA requirement.  Your student can now fly the check ride with an examiner to the FAA standard and obtain their pilot certificate and that student can ALSO fly the airplane well beyond the FAA standard and into that “higher level” of the standard that YOU the instructor have provided.

Knowing when a student is ready to solo

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 a student is ready to solo. You will develop your own criteria for doing this.

Let me explain one method to you that I’d like you to consider. This method has never failed me. As you form your own solo decision process, it might give you a starting block in understanding the issue at a “higher level”.

At some point during the takeoff and landing stage with your student, you will reach a point where you determine the student is about ready to solo. At this point, if you are using touch and goes, stop doing them and start making complete landings. Doing this allows much-needed time while taxiing back for the next takeoff for you to critique and fine-tune the student’s pattern and takeoff and landing performance while the student is relieved of the pressure of flying the airplane. It’s a critical time for both you AND the student. It’s valuable time needed for the student to relax and listen.

As the solo decision is reached, you should inform the student in a calm and quiet manner while taxiing back to take off that in your opinion, solo is now possible WHEN THE STUDENT FEELS READY AND TELLS YOU 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, you 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. You might 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 comment from the instructor extremely important to the solo equation. Telling the student that they are ready to solo opens the door for the student to a change from dual thinking to solo thinking….and that change is a CRITICAL step !!

Now stage three. The student is now on the active runway and ready to take off. In his/her mind due to what you have told the student about solo you are not really there. The student, whether realizing it or not, is thinking as though you were not in the aircraft.

At this juncture you should make it a point to avoid all or very little physical contact with the airplane; letting the student do everything. If the student has a question, instead of answering it ask the student what the answer should be. The student should be required to solve and perform with you keeping a watchful eye but not interfering. You are now engaged in transferring all pilot in command decisions from you to the student. Any physical interference by you with the aircraft at this point constitutes a solo abort consideration until the problem that causes it can be addressed with further instruction.

I should note here that if such a situation occurs, you have made an initial error in your solo judgment process and you should seriously evaluate your 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, the student’s entire mental process should now be focused at the solo level. Mentally, the student will now be filling in the gaps in confidence that must be achieved before a safe solo can be accomplished. Some students will breeze right through this process, but some need this last step to firm up what YOU should already know…that they are ready to fly the airplane without you being there!!! The key here is that although the student is thinking on a solo level, YOU are still in the airplane.

This last time around the pattern is of course critical. You should make every effort not to interfere PHYSICALLY at this point. Encourage and point things out gently and quietly. Basically, you want to convey the feeling that you are just a “passenger” to the student. You want to transfer the “Pilot-In-Command” thinking completely onto the student.

Allow the student to solve any and all problems encountered during this last pattern. Give the student wide latitude in solving for altitude/airspeed/ configuration/ and position.

Assuming a good landing; while taxiing on the way back you should inquire with a smile, “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 good result. You of course as I have said, will find your own method for making the solo decision. The solo decision by a CFI is one of the most important decisions made by any pilot at any time in aviation. It deserves careful and serious consideration and a constant self-evaluation by you as an instructor to fine-tune the factors that go into the making of this decision.

In summation;

I sincerely hope that this article will fill in some gaps for you new instructors and serve as an aid to a better understanding and possibly inspire you to;

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).

Practice the Hard Stuff; “Deep Practice!”

If you want to improve as a pilot, at any level, you must stretch your known skills a little further and practice in the “struggle zone.” Just going out and repeating what you already know -usually solo- will not create improvement. The struggle zone is just beyond the comfort zone but not so challenging that you are flailing; extend your envelope!

Practicing in this “struggle zone” and working relentlessly toward a well-defined goal builds skills six times faster than usual techniques. Simple repetition of what you already know is wasted time (and can lead to a lack of motivation eventually). Working instead on the edge requires a good CFI and a little sweat (FUN!) You gotta work at it (and pay a talented educator). Even CFIs and DPEs, need to access mentoring to build and expand skills.

“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.” Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

“Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them—as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go—end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.” Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Struggle is not optional—it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practicing—in order to [build and] keep myelin functioning properly Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

As far as the educators who provide this “turbo learning,” Coyle calls them “talent whisperers.” Usually quiet and offering minimal and very precise direction, there are many useful tips in Coyle’s book for educators about creating technical mastery.

CFI and DPE Mentoring at SAFE! We have expanded our mentoring program to allow new DPEs access to professionals (like SAFE DPEs Hobie Tomlinson and Bill Ziesnich – each of whom has been a DPE for 44 years!) The recent FAA ARAC Report recommends mentoring for new DPEs; available now from SAFE.

SAFE’s members … are highly accomplished people with a lot of valuable experience to transfer. So let me congratulate you on starting the SAFE Aviation Educator Mentoring Program. I especially like the program statement that “Even experienced educators may occasionally want or need insights when teaching in new aircraft, or with new technologies and techniques.” — Former FAA Administrator Babbitt

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).

“Scary Pilots” Determine *Your* Insurance!

The burning question in aviation safety is why pilots who know the “right thing” choose to ignore conventional wisdom (SOPs) and operate recklessly.  Frequently, pilots involved in accidents are simply contrarians who think they know better than everyone else or can somehow defy the laws of physics. Adding overconfidence and a “hurry up” attitude to this personality creates a toxic cocktail leading directly to another (predictable) accident.

In an extensive study, funded by Avemco and other sponsors, Dr. Bill Rhodes carefully examined these “scary pilot” personality types.  As a result, “red flags” determine who gets aviation insurance and what they must pay. These “red flags”  should be known warning signs for all pilots, educators, and DPEs to correct and/or avoid in aviation. Some highly intelligent and seemingly sane people can accept instruction, performing to a standard during evaluation, but then operate completely contrary to training. Here are the warning signs:

1) Failing to calibrate risk and draw a reasonable line.

Scary pilots seem to embrace and increase risk for the sake of excitement and adventure; “how close can we get to the fire?” Instead, safe flying needs to define, control and calibrate risks (control the “inner child!”) Scary pilots seem to “push the edge” going well beyond accepted norms for adventure, utility, and perceived efficiency (and YouTube viewers). This behavior normalizes some crazy procedures contrary to common sense and even regulatory guidance.

2) Know it All

Scary pilots resist instruction, hurry through lessons, often refuse to study and listen, and blame their equipment or conditions for any failures. Refusing to admit errors and accept responsibility are clear “red flags” of scary pilots. These people often brag, exaggerating skills and experience – very status conscious. These pilots need the “last word” in every conversation and want to be the smartest person in the room.

3) Superman/woman

Over-rating personal skills or capabilities when facing challenges is a hallmark of scary pilots. An unrealistic assessment of their personal piloting abilities or of their airplane’s capability fuels the “accident chain.” (see “magical thinking.“)

4) Always in a hurry

Rushing to get through training and being excessively competitive are common traits of scary pilots. They value the superficial goals – certificates – rather than deeper knowledge and skill – “looking good” is essential. These people miss important threats and fail to accomplish critical details; rushing is a huge “red flag” in safety.

5) Overconfidence

Pilots need a proper balance of confidence to fly safely. Too little confidence can prevent any activity and compromise safety. But scary pilots are way overconfident, compromising their evaluation skills and decision-making abilities. Safety is the “science of limits!”

6) Advancing Too Quickly

This trait is often associated with “too much money,” the lack of which usually tempers progress and builds experience. Solid skills, comprehensive knowledge and caution, require hours and experience – often stated as “marinating” or “seasoning” by master instructors. Experience also provides the necessary personal caution. Understanding possible threats – visualizing all that might go wrong – increases safety. Insurance companies carefully monitor this “too much plane for the pilot” syndrome.

7) Show Off/ hotdogging

Scary pilots have a great need for attention. The “look at me” syndrome,  often leads to doing something edgy or outright scary. This personality trait includes “look at my fancy equipment” and stems from an ego-driven need for attention.

8) Ignoring mentors and knowledge

Scary pilots are anti-authoritarians spurning advice and industry “best practices.” This often includes an active dislike for the FAA and NTSB. These pilots lack humility and appreciation for others’ accomplishments and often do not socialize well.

Most of these documented weaknesses among scary pilots are driven by low self-image and a lack of emotional intelligence (argh, those “soft skills”). The root of many aviation accidents is personality disorders that need counseling more than flight training. This is why great CFIs often are “practical psychologists” emphasizing “head work” more than amazing skills. But changing attitudes is notoriously difficult and seems to require a good scare to straighten out.

Ironically, not being scared enough is what can make pilots scary. Caution and respect applied to the learning process seem to create the best pilots. Both Bob Hoover and Sean Tucker developed into amazing pilots to overcome initial paralyzing fear. Adequate self-knowledge, self-mastery, and humility are key ingredients in safety. Please intervene if you see some “crazy pilot stuff” (time to “take the keys?”) Intervention is painful (but necessary) to keep our aviation system safe and avoid negative public perception. Fly often (and 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). Talk to Victoria (a CFI) about your insurance needs.

Trust Not Trauma: “Student Lockup!”

A recent poll in the SAFE eNews revealed that a shocking 65% of CFIs, at some point, had to physically take control from a student who “locked up” on the flight controls. That is an astonishing frequency of student “fear paralysis” during training. Obviously, we are doing something dramatically wrong in flight training if this number of incidents are occurring. Fear activates the “freeze/fight/flight” circuitry in the human brain and causes startle and lockup. The higher brain functions become unavailable to the pilot in this condition, preventing rational conversation and necessitating physical intervention to assure safety. We need to create trust not trauma in flight training.

The second question in this quick poll indicated that the majority of flight instructors also had never been advised or trained about the possibility of a student “locking up” or “freezing.” Most CFIs were never educated on how to deal with this kind of situation; sad and dangerous. A previous blog described the “CFI Ninja Move” to recover from a frozen student and reduce the angle of attack. Every CFI should have training here and a plan to keep every flight training adventure safe.

Another important contributing factor in student “fear paralysis” is that many recent CFIs were trained when stalls were recovered at “first indication” and are not fully trained in high AOA flight; they are scared too! Their fear is transmitted to new students so both are on edge practicing stalls. SAFE created the CFI-PRO™ program promoting Extended Envelope Training for CFIs (and their students). This program develops proficiency in the entire flight envelope (required for airline pilots). We need more comfort for all pilots in high AOA flight to inoculate them from startle incapacitation.

Never Scare Them!

The first order of business in preventing a dangerous situation is to simply work very hard to establish a trusting relationship with your learner and never scare them. The brain shuts down and  *no learning* occurs when there is fear. Build slowly into the areas known to alarm new pilots (nose high flight attitudes and stalls). Give every new learner enough time to get comfortable and achieve confident control before introducing stalls. “Let me know if you feel uncomfortable (queasy) or scared.” Create a trusting environment of sharing and communication. Rushing into stalls is just going to terrify your students; creating an unsafe situation and possibly causing them to drop out quietly over time (“I thought this was supposed to be fun?”)

A Diamond A/C doesn’t “bend” but interesting article…

Stalls should be much further back in the syllabus than the usual 141 dogma dictates; at least after ground reference maneuvers.  These added hours before radical maneuvers allow every new flight student more time in the cockpit to become comfortable and competent. It also provides more opportunities to build rapport and trust. Additional practice on the controls allows for independent student mastery of basic coordination, making for safer (and less exciting) stall practice too. Try to remember what your first exposure was like.

When introduced, stalls should be demonstrated and practiced very gently in a power-off descending (clean) configuration (every learner is different here). The nose only has to be raised a little to “normal level” to achieve an excessive AOA and trigger the stall (and the break is gentle). Recovery should be made without power, building the “unload” move as a reflexive action (and also emphasizing AOA). This keeps the first exposure simple and understandable and NOT scary. Build gently into the more extreme variations. I used to regularly see logbooks with spins demonstrated on lesson one or two from a local flying club (old school “weed them out” version of flight training). To repeat; creating predictable terror in flight training is potentially unsafe and causing student dropout  – are we having FUN yet?

But just in case, every CFI should have training to handle student lock-up. Successful techniques for regaining control need to be discussed and practiced with your senior instructors. Since lock-up most typically happens at the edge of the flight envelope, quick and decisive action is necessary to immediately regain control. A previous blog revealed how your foot on the yoke bar under the front panel (primarily in Cessnas) can easily overpower any student pulling inappropriate backpressure. Find this bar and practice so you are ready. Diamonds and most Piper products do not have access to this yoke connection. An easy way to overpower and break a student’s grip is an upward movement of your clasped hands between their arms. This will quickly remove their hands from the controls without harming them. Stating simultaneously in a loud voice “I have the flight controls” might help prevent and further dispute of control. Who said every day as a flight instructor would be fun? Fly safe out there and often (and stay vigilant)!

“But, My CFI Told Me…”

AOPA CFItoCFI Newsletter

CFI guidance can sometimes be wrong. Either you learned it wrong or your CFI taught it wrong – but either way, it’s a mistake. As a result, amazing errors and weird techniques often get demonstrated in flight tests or during flight reviews. The “probable cause” in NTSB accident reports often reveals ingrained bad habits that were personal SOPs. Pilots fly for years committing errors because their initial training was flawed. The supporting explanation or justification provided by the pilot flying often begins with “but my CFI told me…”

There are two obvious pathways to these errors. The first cause is benign, resulting from faulty communication/transmission. Your CFI never really did say this, you just misunderstood it. This happens; even in an undistracted environment, human communication is only 25% efficient!  The unfortunate result is that an erroneous or dangerous fact or technique was accepted as “true or usable.” The antidote for CFIs is making absolutely certain your instruction is properly heard and replicated. Insist on consistent feedback/readback of facts and repeated demonstration of skills conveyed during training.

The antidote for every pilot (at every level) needs to be an “on guard attitude” for spurious information coming from every source and channel. The aviation world is full of “instant experts” with dubious experience and credentials. Exciting, sexy websites promote all kinds of crap online. Once we accept something as “true” it is imported into our daily operating system like a virus. It is vital to check all your facts and verify every technique; your life depends on it.

Not all flight instruction is good. Not all flight instructors are sharing beneficial information. Not every flight school is acting in your best interest. Jamie Beckett

The second reason these non-standard techniques or weird “facts” get spread is from CFI with “personal techniques” they transmit as “valuable and true.” These CFIs obviously think they know better than the accepted FAA Handbooks and industry wisdom. They have developed (and are spreading) their own version of “safe and efficient flight” based on personal experiences (see the recent blog on luck reinforcing errors).  This happens more often than you would like to believe. In the absence of reflective analysis, this is how humans learn and adapt. And when any group of aviators adopts an unsafe behavior it can easily get “normalized” as “acceptable” and safe. New trends in aviation are not always positive developments.

What both of these pathways point out is the vital importance of assuring accurate learning when you are teaching or learning. For the learner, there is a responsibility to verify the data and techniques you are presented – even from your CFI. After years of flying, every pilot has discovered some facts or techniques that were improper or needed adjustment, even from the most conscientious CFIs.

Then there are just bad CFIs. Sometimes these are the people who took the “instant expert” course and did not learn thoroughly. In other cases, unchecked “adaptation” leads to a downward spiral of shortcuts and noncompliance. (See The Rogue Pilot by Tony Kern for some scary examples)

Canadian CFIs are required to go through mandatory mentoring before teaching on their own; but not in the US. Out the door with a new FAA CFI temporary and you are an “expert!” And at every level there are short-cuts available for pilots looking for “faster, cheaper, easier.” Only personal integrity will prevent a learner (at every level) from cutting corners in flight training. Do you value your life and the lives of your family and friends? Learn well and thoroughly and pursue excellence in aviation; it can be terribly unforgiving. Join a positive safety culture and test your knowledge with reliable mentors and a solid base of resources. With the right attitude, you will learn something new every day. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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)

Too Much (Useless) Talking!

Most CFIs talk way too much (guilty). I was reminded of this listening to a very good Sporty’s “Fast Five” podcast with AOPA’s Dave Hirschman. His primary advice for improving flight instruction was “HUSH!”

Every CFI learning to teach spends a lot of time mastering the ability to fly and talk (cogently) simultaneously. This dual-channel processing takes practice to develop because it requires a lot of mental capacity. The British aviation system requires new instructors to memorize specific scripts called the “patter tape.” But step two in becoming an effective educator (after passing the FAA test) is to talk less. Savvy CFIs quickly learn that talking less allows an aviation learner time and mental bandwidth to process and internalize their flight experiences. Human communication, even in an undistracted environment is only 25% efficient!

Continuous “CFI chatter” is largely just “interference” during a flight lesson and can actually impede learning. A student who is appropriately challenged is mentally at full capacity just trying to manage their flight experience. The majority of our precious CFI “pearls of wisdom” are just flowing past unheard. Too much talk is just an unnecessary distraction. Important corrections should be recorded for the debrief at the end of the lesson. Any critical inflight corrections should be very carefully formulated and delivered only in brief “chunks” at an appropriate low-workload phase of flight. The majority of educator input should happen in the debrief – where 70-80% of all learning occurs.

Unfortunately, CFIs who talk too much usually also handle the controls too much; micromanaging the entire experience.  After some basics, and except for emergencies or a few demonstrations, the learner should be doing all the flying. We all have to remember that the real job of a CFI is to get off the controls (and the radio) and actually ultimately all the way out of the airplane – one step at a time. Our objective is to create capable, independent pilots as efficiently as possible.

Another consequence of CFI chatter is that the pilot can also become a talking machine. I have had applicants on flight tests nearly ruin their evaluation by attempting to continuously narrate their whole flight. This “technique” consumes mental bandwidth and often jeopardizes their ability to fly. And in addition to blocking out ATC, this continuous narration often reveals mistakes and mental errors that would not be otherwise obvious.  Fly safely out there (and often!)

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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)

Murphy’s Real Law; Luck!

Murphy’s (real) law seems to be that we often succeed despite poor procedures and sloppy execution. A painful failure would result in learning; ouch! Instead, every “lucky success” actually reinforces and “normalizes” questionable procedures and activities. Online stupidity provides an additional catalog of “leveraged luck.” Just because some wild act worked once (for one person in a rehearsed environment) does not mean it is a good idea or solid procedure for us (please watch those “fail” videos too).

Humans are “learning machines” and we input everything despite our best intentions to “unsee” some content. Our continuous input requires analysis and filtering or bad habits can easily get embedded in our operating system – coded as “useful/acceptable.” These usually lie dormant, like viruses, to surprise us at the worst times e.g. “what was I thinking?” Reflective analysis is the proper antidote; a skill every pilot must learn and practice for safety. The military version of this same process is an after-action report.

Challenge and adventure are what makes flying so addictive. Pilots are very practical, straight ahead, hard chargers, and enjoy overcoming obstacles. Aviation requires positive, time-critical decisions in a real-world, high-stakes environment. However, learning and growing the pilot and educator toolkit of resources safely requires reflection. This process involves making a quiet, thoughtful time for a review and analysis. Reflection has to happen soon after every active flight and is the heart of improvement and positive change. Reflection requires asking questions of ourselves: “How and why did this action work?” “Was our success (or failings) a result of skill or luck?” “Am I normalizing some non-standard procedure that just happened to work (luck)? It is a huge (but very human) mistake to validate procedures based on results alone. Just because something worked (for us or for others) is not a reason to accept and use a procedure.

Because the flight environment is time-critical and always in motion, pilots often function on the level of embedded, automatic “scripts.” These stored routines come from prior hours of hard training and review. When facing unique and rapid challenges, a pilot often has to punt, choosing the “less bad,” reflexive actions guided by previous experience but with no clear script. (A previous blog covered “satisficing,” which is the heart of aeronautical decision-making) Careful after-action analysis of these actions that occurred “in the moment”  builds the master pilot and educator.

This contrast of “regular day, plain vanilla” missions vs “off the wall challenges” is profiled in Gary Kline’s excellent book “Streetlights and Shadows.” Dr. Klein argues for a precise script – think checklist/SOP –  when the situation is predictable (Streetlight) and inspired and flexibility when “all bets are off” and no rulebook applies (Shadows). The latter would be the Sioux City DC-10 or the Miracle on the Hudson response; they never wrote a checklist for these situations. The key to safety is defining these different worlds and applying the correct formula. “Going cowboy” is inappropriate to meet the demands of an ordinary day where checklists and procedures are the proper guidance.

Reflection is the antidote to “normalizing” or “regulatory drift.” Celebrating mere success might create permission to lower or reform performance standards or adopt new procedures. This process was the cause of both of NASA’s shuttle accidents where a deviation from protocol was accepted as “normal procedure” due to the lack of any immediate negative consequences (they got “lucky”). In these cases, when the luck ran out we experience the shock and surprise from of our inadvertent violation of proper safety standards (“what were we thinking?”)

After every flight spend a moment and review your actions. Did they meet standard SOPs and regulatory standards. Were the successes of tthe flight from skill – or from luck? The debrief every CFI does with pilots-in-training is this same reflective analysis. And this process should become a habit for every pilot when they achieve certification. To make master pilots, every CFI must encourage and embed this habit into every new pilot. After every flight ask yourself; “Was our success a result of skill and knowledge correctly applied or was I lucky?” and adjust accordingly. Fly safely out there (and often). Live longer and fly more.

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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)

Flight Schools Lobbying DPEs

Collusion between flight schools and DPEs can easily create corruption in pilot certification; we have all seen this problem in action. There is a good reason to maintain a professional distance between flight schools and DPEs to uphold the high moral standard necessary for the honesty and safety of the pilot certification system. DPEs are the “gatekeepers” and there are always temptations and ethical questions. More than anything, the DPE function requires honesty and great integrity. Maintaining a professional distance between schools and DPEs removes temptation and protects the independence and integrity of this process. Geographical freedom, announced in October 2020, created chaos in the system nationally by suddenly shifting the balance of influence toward flight schools and creating a glut of DPEs in busy flight training markets.

Immediately following this change, solicitations went out nationally from larger training facilities seeking services from DPEs from across the country offering lots of tests, transportation and living accommodations. You can’t blame the schools, they need to get tests done in a timely fashion, but too close a relationship can create temptations (and bad public optics). WIth geographic freedom, DPEs from the frozen north aggressively invaded the southern states. Suddenly, long-time DPEs in states like Florida had no tests at all with DPEs from North Dakota and Minnesota testing in Miami and Orlando. In the private market, “DPE-hopping” became the new norm with applicants triple booking examiners then canceling at the last minute based on their changing schedules. The result of this change was all the leverage was in the hands of the flight schools with a glut of DPEs in the busy flight testing areas. Meanwhile, the northern states were languishing. The FAA’s attempt to create availability resulted in some surprising and unwanted consequences!

In an honest system, there will always be some distance (and occasional friction) between flight schools and DPEs, just by the nature of the relationship. Flight schools understandably want their students to pass and pilot examiners need to work. But integrity and independence are essential to assure an honest government standard (and protect aviation safety). Some applicants will always be unsatisfactory and need more training to be safe – no participation trophies in aviation! Good flight schools and CFIs understand this need for separation and work well with regular DPEs learning and improving their training. But this process requires mutual respect and professional distance; not cozy relationships.

The DPE system never envisioned professional full-time DPEs. The original system designated experienced, professional aviators offering part-time testing to assist the FAA in pilot certification. Full-time examining only became possible as the FAA got entirely out of the testing business. Some DPEs now conduct >300 evaluations a year. And most full-time examiner’s only income is conducting tests.

The FAA is working to create positive change right now, with listening post meetings at Oshkosh and lots of ideas in play. The free-market “money for ratings” system does not seem to be headed in a healthy direction Changes need to be well thought out and not improvised by industry. Success will ultimately depend on the hard-working, honest DPEs at the heart of the system. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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).

Clear Up Control Confusion; FREE Course!

It is embarrassing to realize that most pilots (and even a majority of CFIs) don’t know which flight control powers the basic turn. Through no fault of your own, you may be among this group. Spoiler alert; the ailerons and rudder are neutral in a stable, coordinated level turn.  We are all victims of the negative transfer from driving. As Rich Stowell testified to the NTSB, “The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable.”

The reality is surprisingly straightforward: airplanes are relegated to flight along straight lines and curves, and those paths are controlled primarily with the elevator. At the correlation level of learning, the myriad flight paths possible at a given angle of bank become readily apparent…

Even though pilots can cause rudimentary turns to happen under normal circumstances, it seems they have not been given the indepth education and experience to master turning flight.

Given the confusion of most pilots, it is no surprise that Loss of Control is the resulting causal factor for so many aviation fatalities. This “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge” demands the antidote of correct understanding, followed by diligent practice. Danger lurks not in what you don’t know, but in what we think you know that is mistaken.

Flying doesn’t happen to us; it happens because of us. We interact with the airplane via the flight controls, and the inputs we make have performance consequences. Absent a complete understanding of the consequences of our inputs, we will be unable to apply the controls correctly, or to see the connections between the myriad forms of turning flight.

SAFE founder, Rich Stowell’s (FREE) “Learn to Turn” course on is now on Community Aviation next week on Sept 10th (generously sponsored by Avemco and Hartzell Propellers). Please read the preview available  HERE and carefully proceed to the full course HERE. As Rich emphasizes in his course, reading is not enough. We need to apply and practice these suggestions in flight to be safer and defeat Loss of Control. Read it, practice it, and pursue excellence in your flying. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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).

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