Building Awareness With the “Cooper Code”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ready to React? “Reflexive Skills!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFI-PRO™ “Better Training=Safer Flying!”

The ASI Study on stall/spin accidents provides a very comprehensive analysis of the dilemma that has haunted pilots since the time of the Wright Brothers; Loss of Control In-flight followed by stall/spin (crash/burn). Poor flight training is implicated in this continuing carnage:

The stubbornly high percentage of stalls associated with personal flying (more than two-thirds) may indicate a weakness in typical pilot training. Most pilots are taught to recognize and recover from stalls in a controlled, predictable, and stable environment, with focus on recognition of aircraft response followed by proper recovery technique. Outside the training environment, though, pilots continue to maneuver into the stall envelope unexpectedly with little time to recover. Seemingly, some pilots fly closer to the critical angle of attack than they realize. Adding a little more bank, G-force, or both can trigger an accelerated stall without the slow, predictable performance indicators pilots are taught to recognize…

Stall accidents usually arise from sloppy control inputs and a weak understanding of aerodynamics, which means that an improved training focus on the areas identified in this report can continue to drive down the number of inadvertent stalls.

This analysis provides direct support for SAFE’s Extended Envelope Training (now FAA mandated for the airlines) We all need to train more thoroughly to the edges of the maneuvering envelope. This will be presented in detail at our Sporty’s CFI-PRO™ June 10/11th (canceled due to COVID).

One additional takeaway from this study was highlighting where the stall/spin threat is the greatest; 50% on take-off and initial climb (not the usual base-to-final turn!). Take-Off and initial climb represents 24% of fatalities according to the NTSB.

SAFE member and long-time educator, Dudley Henriques, posted on FaceBook and was most incisive and is copied here (with permission) for your consideration. We all need to teach stall/spin more frequently (and accurately) and emphasize “Code Yellow” vigilance during single every take-off.

The problem here is insidious. First of all stall “training” for the most part is ridiculous and has been for many years. There is a huge emphasis driven by a strange dichotomy within a flight training industry caught between a need to “sell” aviation as a comfortable and safe endeavor and an unwritten law that stresses a need to avoid “scaring” students Add to this in many cases instructors who themselves feel “uneasy” in any stall entered above 1g and you have what we have now, a GA community where everybody is happy “avoiding” stalls as opposed to feeling comfortable and completely trained in what stalls are and how to be comfortable with them.

All this has resulted in a training community dedicated to keeping exposure to the stall environment as comfortable as possible for the student AND the instructor!
The answer to the stall problem isn’t obvious and needs to be said over and over again by instructors who DO understand what is needed.

To train a safe and competent student working within the current FAA structure, CFI’s MUST teach above and beyond the flight test requirement. Instructors must first become comfortable themselves in the stall environment by adding to their own training, especially in the area of stall above 1g and in cross control where the real danger lies.

Instructors have to learn to talk to students; make them comfortable in the left side of the envelope, and TEACH their students that there is absolutely nothing to fear from stalls when a pilot knows what to expect and how to deal with it.

To address the point on takeoff stall:
This is obviously a training issue. Students HAVE to be taught to control angle of attack on rotation. No pilot who understands what is present at rotation will have any issue avoiding a stall as the plane leaves the runway. All the bad guys are present as a plane rotates; low airspeed, increasing alpha, P Factor as the prop disk forms an angle with the relative wind, gyroscopic precession as the prop rotates in pitch, spiraling slipstream forces, and of course torque (in roll).

The solution requires instructors to stop reading the FAA requirements that attempt to dot every I and cross every T and instead start TEACHING PEOPLE TO FLY THE DAMN AIRPLANE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SAFE highly recommends exposure of all students in training to secondary stalls. Failure to understand angle of attack (“an airplane only stalls nose high” training myth) is at the root of many accident surprises. Failure to automatically “unload” in an upset is critical to safety.

Get ready for spring with ASI’s new “Spring Tune-Up” advice: Fly safely out there (and often!)


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

Teaching Dynamic Risk Management

Managing risk in a changing environment is a critical skill to teach all pilots-in-training. Read our SAFEblog for techniques.

The risk equation of for a flight is not fixed before departure with a single analysis. It is continuously changing due to the duration and dynamics of each unique mission. Every flight seems to have a few “surprises” that are not part of the original plan even on the best days. This uncertainty keeps flying exciting and requires flexibility and resilience on the part of the pilot to successfully manage the changing risk profiles. It is essential we build these skills into our pilots-in-training for future safety.

An initial risk analysis like P-A-V-E should be an integral part of every flight – it is required in the current FAA ACS – but it’s often neglected on an average  GA flight. As educators, we know our students will model our behavior, so it’s incumbent upon us to embrace a higher level of professionalism and make this a prominent part of every training flight. These cognitive risk management skills have historically been under-emphasized and show up often as weak areas on flight tests. In addition to the preflight analysis, every pilot-in-training should work through a real “risk management model” in a dynamic flight environment (created by the CFI). This is not only for their flight test but as a working tool for their future safety.

Due to short lessons, limited geography, and a focus on “efficiency” ($$) “real” experience in flight training is obviously rare. We just can’t go enough places and build enough time to realistically “gain unique experiences.”. So CFIs must use their “creative license” and generate scenarios to present these challenges. Here are some  CFI-PRO™ techniques to improve your effectiveness (and your client’s future safety). Scenarios add variety and challenge (without cost) if used appropriately. (Your comments and additions are encouraged below!)

Visualize the P-A-V-E elements and specific common challenges like sliders on a mixing board. Each variable is constantly in motion anyway, but a creative CFI can intervene and change the balance at will. Be subtle and creative, using realistic experiences from your personal experience to challenge your students. As a CFI you can dial up the challenge by suddenly creating too low fuel (the cap must have been off) or a pop-up TSM along the route. Try taking away the NAV source and see how their pilotage is working. The secret to success as an educator here is creating realistic challenges appropriate to the level of your pilot. Scenarios need to be manageable to create teachable challenges. Your end result should be some struggle but ultimate success leading to learning, mastery and a boost to confidence.

Have your pilot-in-training share their “mental model” as they work through their challenges and solutions to each problem your present. In debrief point out the various mental models available to maintain situational awareness while applying and testing a solution to the current problem. Make sure you clients understand that ADM involves achieving the best solution given the hand we are dealt; “satisficing.” A “perfect outcome” is often not possible, this is an optimizing game. Decision-making under pressure is the heart of aviation safety, and certainly something they will see on their flight test from a competent DPE. Scenarios and ADM are the heart of the current ACS.

Every professional aviation educator should be working to create fully-qualified, capable aviators that exceed the FAA minimum standards.  Too often DPEs see questionable “test takers” some CFI sent just hoping they will successfully scape by. A “70% pass” might be an “outcome” but should never be a “goal” in flight training. When the FAA issues a new pilot certificate, it is not limited to the small geographical area your pilot trained in or just good flight days you previously specified. Your new pilot can fly the whole USA for the rest of their lives on any day they like. I did have one (airplane owner) pilot take off the day after his test and circumnavigate the USA!

Next week we will discuss using simulator scenarios for this same purpose of building skills and flexibility. What a tool to create some struggle! Fly safely (and often), have a great New Year.

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


Learning Tools for the Educator!

The best student you ever had as an instructor probably was the one who was “on fire” to learn.  That totally motivated learner is mostly effortless for an educator, like feeding a hungry child or watching a vigorous plant grow. You just provide the content and direction-some guidance and feedback-then stand back and watch in astonishment. I can think of five students I worked with to get a private in only 35 hours (part 141) and all turned into better pilots than students plodding along with 100 or more hours.

And similarly, our best personal learning experiences are when there is the correct combination of challenge, excitement, opportunity, and accomplishment. This magic zone of optimal challenge and experience in education creates an experience that is efficient and rewarding for both the educator and the learner. But unfortunately, this is not the usual experience in aviation; both educators and pilots-in-training comment and complain about friction and motivation problems. Every lesson seems like a struggle rather than a breeze. How can we create and retain this learning magic in every lesson?

The secret to motivation and achieving that “zone of proximal development” is the dynamic educator and learner relationship.  If either side is not alert, energized and motivated, the fire is quickly extinguished and the learning process becomes a chore. Most typically, too much control and micro-managing on the part of the educator is the problem. The CFI is most often guilty of excessive caution or lack of caring and involvement.

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.

Sometimes the reasons are valid since we have to ultimately create a safe environment for learning and instill an attitude of responsibility in the future pilot. But we usually overdo this end of the equation (especially initially) and put out that initial fire of motivation. The usual combination I see is a jazzed up, excited learner and a jaded, “not so fast sonny” educator with the brakes on. As soon as that first exciting “sell them” discovery flight is over, we educators clamp down with the “burden of responsibility” and excessive caution and correction.

So lately, I have been trying to very carefully retain and build that initial fire of excitement and discovery into every lesson, providing the fun and benefits to the greatest extent possible. That initial spark of excitement is too precious to waste. Flying can be intrinsically motivating through continuous accomplishment and mastery. I personally think we can instill caution and care as we proceed without diminishing the motivation (if we are careful).

As an educator, I work hard on my personal attitude and approach to avoid burn-out. Reading and podcasts- focusing on the craft of teaching- are very helpful (Try the cult of pedagogy?) We not only have to grow as pilots but also as educational professionals. SAFE has an extensive library of resources for educators. And consider our next SAFE CFI-PRO™ coming in June at Sporty’s for some collaborative fun and learning. Fly safe out there (and often).

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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

Fancy Footwork; Yaw Canceling (for Safety)!

We had 45 professional aviation educators at the “You Can Fly Center” for our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop this week. These dedicated professionals (half with more than 20 years teaching) really inspired me to present some deeper flight fundamentals. Proper rudder usage – yaw canceling – is often skipped in early flight training but is critical to flight safety. Most new pilots can program a G-1000 but not coordinate a climbing turn. And unfortunately, misuse of the rudder here leads to the “stall-spin accident” (really a “stall>yaw<spin accident”). Understanding and compensating for yaw takes a little effort since rudder effects are very non-intuitive (stay with me here!) If you don’t develop this critical skill in early training, you are probably skidding all the way around the pattern (an “airplane driver” and not a pilot). Please check your skid ball as you make your next crosswind turn; here is the “how and why” of that maneuver.

First, please watch this short video from Gold Seal. Russ does a great job clarifying adverse (temporary) yaw.

Adverse yaw is a transitory yaw effect caused by aileron deflection and gone once the aileron is back to neutral again. By contrast, spiraling slipstream produces constant yaw on every plane as long as power is being produced. Airplanes fly in a continuous spiraling vortex of air created by the propeller. Manufacturers engineer out this force in level flight at cruise power by offsetting the vertical stabilizer and other mechanical tweaks. But spiraling slipstream must be compensated for in the climb; your plane is slower here and the forces in a climb are more prominent due to angle of attack.

To be coordinated while climbing straight ahead (spiraling slipstream plus torque and P-factor), there is a neutral point of rudder balance (yaw canceling) requiring constant right rudder pressure while the nose is up in a climb. As we roll our climbing plane left, some left rudder (or reduced right rudder) is required to compensate for the temporary adverse yaw of the aileron deflection. But once in a constant bank left climbing turn, we are back to the original right rudder pressure for spiraling slipstream and other forces. Constant right rudder is required in a climbing left turn. Rolling out of this left turn oto downwind requires a huge amount of right rudder (you often see noticable left adverse yaw as a novice tries to pick up the left wing with just aileron). Rolling right in a climb requires compensating for the additive effect of spiraling slipstream and adverse yaw. CFIs must carefully monitor their pilots in training to be sure both the understanding and actions are correct here.


Two different cognitive domains; we need BOTH!

I know all of this seems complex and non-intuitive, but various simple rudder exercises practiced at altitude make yaw sensing more natural. These forces must be understood first on the ground with a briefing  then practiced and reinforced in flight (see a rough draft of our SAFE Extended Envelope Training) Keeping your eyes directly over the nose outside (guideing your student’s perception) makes, yaw more easily apparent. Another clue is your body’s natural leaning right or left to compensate for the yaw (very obvious from the back of a tandem aircraft). Once yaw canceling becomes natural it is transparent and habitual  and part of a safe pilot toolkit. A coordinated plane responds correctly and flies more efficiently. As an added benefit,  your passengers feel physically better without the yaw too.  Fly safely out there (and often)

Our next scheduled SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop is June 10/11th at Sporty’s Academy in Ohio. This is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Thank-You! Super Stars at SAFE CFI-PRO™

SAFE CFI-PRO™ is all set for next week and I am overwhelmed with both the attendance and the quality of our presenters. Thanks to everyone for supporting this important safety initiative, this is exactly the mission SAFE was created to address 10 years ago. We have five National FAA GA Award winners presenting (and several presenters have won these national awards in several different categories)! Both Doug Stewart and Rich Stowell have presented at the NTSB regarding Loss of Control-Inflight (one focus of this workshop). The SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop is off to a good start.

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We had a web snafu yesterday with SSL certificates (the site is back up now). For those registered, or curious, the info flier is here and the map here shows where everything is. We have added a happy hour at the Airways Inn and our amazing pilot BBQ is just down the road at the National Aviation Community Center  Attendees will get the best local BBQ in the presence of the AOPA sweepstakes RV-12 and some other interesting planes. MOre information is on the event website; available again!

Mike McCurdy from IFR6 had a family illness and will not be presenting (best of luck Mike) but good friends Bob Hepp and Adrian Eichhorn (both FAA National Award winners) graciously stepped up and will be presenting on Thursday. Adrian presents at all the AOPA Regional events but will be directing his comments specifically to the CFI-level airworthiness concerns. Bob operates Aviation Adventures with three locations in the DC Metro area.

A very exciting part of this show will be Community Aviation and Mindstar Aviation (the company that wrote the RedBird software) collaborating to demonstrate scenarios for LOC inoculation prepared specifically for the RedBird Simulator at AOPA. These will be broadcast from the sim directly into the auditorium with Billy Winburn and Stasi Poulos. There will be opportunities after the show to try the scenarios on the sim. This training is an amazing extension of the original SAFE Pilot Proficiency Project and we could not be more proud and excited!

If I created enough interest with the above description, be aware that we *can* accommodate a few walk-ins if you call soon (the catering order is already in so please call) We also have announced the date and location of the next SAFE CFI-PRO™ at Sporty’s Academy on June 10th and 11th.

Our next scheduled SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop is June 10th and 11th at Sporty’s Academy in Ohio. This is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

GA “Extended Envelope Training” (Required For Airlines!)

CFR 121.423 requires “Extended Envelope Training” for all airline flight crews to combat Loss of Control-Inflight. Practicing outside of the “comfort zone” of ordinary, comfortable flying is good preparation for a surprise encounter with upset. Unfortunately, this training has not been implemented (or even suggested) for GA flying except by SAFE. But since the average pilot only flies in an estimated 7-11% of the available flight envelope, “Extended Envelope Training” should be practiced for safety. These maneuvers are not aerobatic (or even close to it) and can be flown with an experienced CFI in any GA aircraft. For CFIs these are your tools. They are designed to keep your “flight chops” sharp!

This final rule [121.423] adds training requirements for pilots that target the prevention of and recovery from stall and upset conditions, recovery from bounced landings, enhanced runway safety training, and enhanced training on crosswind takeoffs and landings with gusts. Stall and upset prevention require pilot skill in manual handling maneuvers and procedures. Therefore, the manual handling maneuvers most critical to stall and upset prevention (i.e., slow flight, loss of reliable airspeed, and manually controlled departure and arrival) are included in the final rule as part of the agency’s overall stall and upset mitigation strategy. These maneuvers are identified in the final rule within the ‘‘extended envelope’’ training provision.

These maneuvers have been the subject of previous blogs here (which are referenced below) and are designed to build skills and knowledge beyond the FAA minimums required for pilot certification. A more comprehensive program with sample flights will be presented for aviation educators during the SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshops.”Extended Envelope Training” is exciting and fun and will make every pilot safer (and every CFI more effective). The “yaw awareness” maneuvers” should be part of every syllabus of training for a certificate. The stalls and turns are appropriate for later in private training and also for certificated pilots as an inoculation against LOC-I during a flight review.

1) Yaw canceling practice demonstrations: full power in and out while on a long runway to demonstrate yaw – Initial training – also during climb-out, raise the nose from level to Vx aggressively to demonstrate left yaw.

2) Climbing turns right and left (20 degree bank) to build pattern coordination skills and understand the need for “cross-coordination

3) Level off >3000agl Pitch/accelerate/power reduction/trim (eyes outside: remove pressure- trimming could be a whole lesson for beginners) Vary power in level flight to illustrate yaw of power application.[reference]

4) Execute 30 degree bank turns 90 degree duration back and forth. Emphasize roll with eyes outside directly over the nose to sense yaw. (Be vigilant for “driving habit” of looking in direction of turn to clear then rolling the plane with the eyes on the wing)

5) “Dutch Rolls” left and right with eyes outside directly over the nose to see adverse yaw. If necessary demonstrate aggressive aileron only to show adverse yaw. This should be performed at progressively slower speeds with more adverse yaw. Also can be performed nose high on a cloud or low. [reference]

Yaw inducing maneuvers: slip/skid:

6) Horizon slide left and right with rudder; slow to approach cruise (top of white arc) and while maintaining wings level slide the aircraft nose L/R with rudder maintaining wings level with aileron (yes- skidding). [reference]

7) Normal stalls power on and off but let the nose of the aircraft fall through the horizon and recover with AOA reduction: aerodynamics 101

8) As above but in 30 degree banked turns, left and right.

9) Level at Vy initiate full slips left and right holding the nose on a point.

10) Steep Turn Reversals: start with 720s then 360/1 80 and finally 60 degrees bank reverse after 90 degrees turn 🙂

11) Teaching landings, demonstrating crab and slip for crosswinds: “Centerline Slow Flight”

We will cover many other skills at the SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop include the CFI as evaluator. We also cover “client-focused” flight training. We need to fix our 80% drop out rate during initial flight training.

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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Creating Productive Scenarios; “Struggle Zone”


Scenario-based training has acquired a stigma in aviation though misuse. But if done properly, these experiences can be the most powerful tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And scenarios are the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS testing (what your good DPE is going to use during every evaluation). Every CFI must be an astute evaluator to be an effective educator. Proper application of scenarios requires discretion and creativity. Using the right tool at the appropriate time creates the most effective educational experience. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenge and motivation to training and more accurately resemble the real flight experience. Deployed properly, scenarios expand a small geographic area into the whole country (with no added cost!) and build higher level judgment skills making safer pilots.

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes primarily from imposing unimaginative (generic) scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges to the proper level. Many scenarios are applied too soon and exceed the learner’s skill level.  Every flight operation requires some level of fluid skill – often acquired by drill and repetition – before the scenario can be effective (why piano scales are taught before Haydn!) Failure to consider the unique needs of each student wastes valuable time and money. “Learning opportunities” instead become “play time for instructors” building hours. Complex and inappropriate scenarios become an expensive burden for the pilot-in-training; 50 hour solos and 100 hour X-C levels.

The critical skill for the aviation educator is evaluation so the proper level of challenge is achieved. The heart of a successful scenario is customizing each learning experience to achieve optimal challenge (struggle zone). Creative generation and applicatiion of new experiences creates rapid skill acquisition, excitement and judgement (higher level learning). The result is versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency). But in every case the pilot-in-training needs the prerequisite skills to adquately meet the scenario challenge -again – initially learned by rote and embedded through muscle memory, then extrapolated to each creative challenge with a scenario.

The Necessity…

The proven necessity of scenarios is simple. Your new pilot, or “rusty recurrent pilot”,  has the FAA privilege to fly day or night, anywhere in the country, for the rest of their life.  And this is despite being only trained in a small geographic area on good weather days, mostly in daylight.  To safely meet the challenge of real life flying, a student and educator must engage together in some “active imagining.” If done correctly, scenarios challenge the pilot and transport your learner to all the places and challenges they may encounter as a pilot.  Working together, you must mentally extrapolate from the local area to the challenges of the whole country, in different terrain and weather, encountered over the span of a lifetime.

Scenarios Done Properly…

If properly constructed and executed, a scenario puts your student into the “struggle zone” or what educational psychologists call the “zone of proximal development”.  An effective scenario presents the optimal level of personal challenge for an individual learner and enables an educator to both teach and evaluate at the highest correlation level of learning.  Done poorly, scenarios merely run up the flight training bill and become an excuse for extraneous trips to exciting lunch destinations on the client’s dime. Buying specialized scenario books or apps to deploy cumbersome generic scenarios usually fail; to be successful, each scenario must be personal and challenge each unique leaner. To present an effective scenario, it is essential to your student well so you can craft realistic challenges appropriate to their level of skill and realm of experience. Remember, a solid relationship of trust is the #1 ingredient to success in any learning situation.  Let’s unpack the “why” and “how to” of SBT  and also provide a sales pitch for this creative way to turbo-charge your teaching.

How to…Let’s get started!

Scenario training can be as simple as scrolling on Skyvector ( or ForeFlight) to a far off state and “mentally relocating” your student to a certain unique and surprising location with a mission and set of weather conditions. Active engagement and “buy in” from the learner is essential so adding a personal need to the mission is essential; make it personal! “You’re transporting your sick dog to the clinic and need to know what airspace we are in? And what viz and cloud clearance (radio/nav equipment) are required? Who do I talk to here and how will the plane perform at this altitude?” The more personally relevant and realistic each scenario is, the more actively your student will engage and the more effective their learning. (A previous blog revealed the learning benefits of practicing in the “struggle zone“) And all this can also happen effectively (and economically) on a bad weather day when flying might not be productive at your student’s level. If you have a simulator you obviously have an even better tool and the scenarios created for the EAA-PPC are available now on-line and available for FAA WINGS credit on

So  if I am dealing with a Cornell aerospace student, a plausible scenario might start with “You are back at the Mohave Spaceport for Cornell and suddenly have an opportunity to do some personal flying in Mohave…how would you unpack the challenges of mountains and high density altitudes, unique “traffic”?” Or present the “Oshkosh Fly-In Challenge” with the Fisk arrival (this and others are in the EAA-PPC list) And remember these are also exactly the kind of challenges a good DPE is going to present during a practical test. Scenarios build a flexible, thoughful pilot that can unpack challenges and manage risks with skill, knowledge and imagination.

Creating mountains…

And how do you create those mountains? Perhaps after some low level ground reference maneuvering, impose a hypothetical “service ceiling” on your plane in MSL (2000 over the terrain but below the hilltops) Then limit the airplane power to 2100rpm (density altitude) and now transit the “mountains”. “Can we safely transition through the hills to our home airport?  Should we divert instead>”  Similarly you can impose a solid cloud ceiling and  leave the weather decision to the student. Then accept the client’s decision -good or bad- if conditions are within your minimums and you can keep the flight safe and legal. Once  you are flying with too much wind or too low clouds, the client experiences the consequences of their folly (and perhaps log some actual or get some good crosswinds) within a safe environment (watchful eye of the educator). Share your favorite scnarios in the comments below.

The essential element in all scenarios is allowing your client to make mistakes (while carefully maintaining a margin for safety) and supplying only minimal guidance.  Allowing this famous “learning opportunity” to unfold is critical and easily ruined by too much “helping” from the CFI. As errors add up, their struggle will clearly demonstrate the consequences of bad decisions and the “accident chain”  without the safety risk.

Motivating for students and educators!

Scenarios are exciting for both the pilot and the educator adding fun and variety to the training experience; this is how Master Instructors are built. Good scenarios beat “going to the practice area for some steep turns” hands down for learning efficiency and motivation. And there is a real difference between “one hour 2000 times” and “2000 unique hours of real teaching experience”. Attend our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop and  acquire expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). Fly safely (and often!)


Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop covers the CFI as evaluator. We also cover “client-focused” flight training to address the 80% drop out rate in initial flight training.

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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Buffering “FAA Minimums” Aim For Excellence!

The FAA only specifies the absolute minimums (limitations) in their regulations and these are not recommended operating specifications.  This might sound silly to many pilots, but some people have not gotten this memo.  As one example, “one mile visibility and clear of clouds” in Class G airspace is an absolute legal minimum. All of aviation safety involves building (and maintaining) a personal margin above these FAA bare minimums. Minimum weather, fuel requirements, and even hours for pilot certification should have a margin applied to be safe and build better pilots.

I have been giving a lot of private checkrides lately and obviously a private pilot applicant must know Class G airspace and the basic legal weather minimums. But if they tell me they would go flying in this scary weather, they are not adequately managing risk. Similarly, FAA minimum flight instrumentation (day and night) requires only an airpseed indicator, altimeter (not even adjustable) and a compass. Again, every pilot should know this legal minimum, but should also be aware such primitive guidance is not adequate for most flights (especially at night). Building a margin by requiring more complete instrumentation, equipment, preparation and suitable weather is the basis for managing risk and building safety.

This paradigm of “FAA minimums vs safety margin” is an excellent method to understand (and teach) a risk management system (required in the FAA testing standards). Although a pilot applicant at any level must know the FAA minimums, they must also clearly define their personal “safety margin” for their  level of experience in a particular plane, environment and with unique external pressures of the situation. What examiners want to hear is “my thinking and safety margin in this situation is…”

The ACS defines specific areas to be considered when managing risk. This was developed straight out of the military’s “man, machine and mission” formula and is expanded and elucidated in the FAA Risk Management Handbook. P-A-V-E identifies the Pilot, Aircraft, EnVironment, and External Pressures that interact dynamically to cause (or mitigate) risk factors. Unfortunately, this subject is still given prefuctory coverage by many CFIs as they initially educate pilots or prepare them to take flight tests. In my opinion, this paradigm should be the primary vehicle used right from “day one” to expose new pilots to aviation. (Instead of a rarely mentioned “nice to know” addition “don’t forget risk management”)  Much of our aviation education system is still mired in the 1940s military curriculum of lesson planning. We need a cultural change that puts risk management as more central in our aviation education. P-A-V-E is an amazing safety tool for your personal flying and instructional focus.

And speaking of minimums, the current “rush to ratings” clearly is eliminating any “extras” and fun in the flight training experience. The required 5 hours of solo X-C for the private pilots now seems to often only involve one long flight on a very nice day. When I see a pilot applications with absolute minimum hours all I can think is “don’t you like flying?” Can’t we add a little more than the absolute minimum experience and build a margin of safety here too? Exposing students to more than one X-C flight or working with  more crosswind allows them to experience and internalize different weather, expand personal capacities and enhance their skills for a greater safety margin. They are going to need these hours and experience in the future anyway.

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The “minimums trap” seems to be increasingly common in pilot testing too, where applicants just just aim to pass with a minimum grade rather than striving for excellence. A 70% seems to make people happy and “mediocre” is too common in the current rush for ratings. But as proud safe pilots, our whole system of superior safety and professionalism is built on trying harder and striving for the best we can be. There is real safety value and satisfaction in exceeding the minimums and pursuing more comprehensive knowledge and skill when we aim for excellence. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop covers the whole extended envelope catalog and application to both initial and recurrent training. We also cover “client-focused” flight training to combat the 80% drop out rate in initial flight training.

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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).