“Soft Skills” for Safety; Honesty/Flexibility!

We often talk about safety only in terms of pilot operator skills and capability; very objectifiable attributes. But regardless of how proficient and talented a pilot might be, we all have limitations. Challenges that exceed the skill/knowledge capability of a pilot lead to accidents or death. This “safety equation” of skill vs challenge is unforgiving. For safety assurance, there must be an honest match between the pilot’s capabilities and the challenge of the day. Weather, terrain, A/C performance, and pilot endurance continuously present ways to get in trouble. Regardless of the level of challenge, there must be a “margin of safety” between pilot capability and task requirements to come home safely. The major problem is we don’t honestly assess our personal capabilities.

In our modern technological world, most challenges are painfully obvious; a nasty cold front ahead,  gusty winds or some lurking convective. The accident results when the (usually overconfident) pilot takes off and assumes too much challenge! Basic honesty is the lacking safety ingredient. Watch a few AOPA accident case studies – very therapeutic – where the dead pilot ignored the “known threat” or believed they could overcome it (“magical thinking”). These accident recreations play like horror movies where the audience is screaming; “don’t go into that dark and scary house ” – we all know the hero is going to die. The threat is obvious to everyone except the overconfident pilot, to whom this seems like a good idea. Not so much…

So brutal honesty is the tool we need to start out with: “Do I have the skill, knowledge, and endurance to handle this challenge?” Unfortunately, for the average pilot, an honest personal assessment is amazingly difficult. I think this is one (seldom-stated) reason why the safety record for two-crew operations is statistically 7X safer than solo flights. An honest arbiter provides an independent assessment of the challenges vs the skills and enforces good judgment. If every pilot just called a trusted friend before departing on a challenging flight, we might immediately be 7x safer.

This honesty goes beyond just the decision to initiate a flight. The common “just take a look” technique is often a lie that creates another set of hazards. Newton’s fourth law is “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion!” It is amazingly difficult to turn back or land short once a flight has begun. The only antidote to this kind of stupidity is setting absolutely objective “hard stops” before starting (again honesty). “If the ceiling drops below XXX or the wind is more than XXX I will divert or land.” Personal minimums are essential safety tools. Maintaining the “3 Ds” (Delay, Divert, Drive) is the viable option for safety.

The second major requirement (again psychological) of safety is building flexibility into the original plan. A rigid, unchanging “mission mentality” in the face of the dynamic challenges of aviation (weather, fatigue, and malfunctions) creates the second threat that is well represented in accident data. Pilots continue with an original plan into overwhelming circumstances once in motion and end up dead. In accident recreations, the “view from the balcony” makes these threats obvious. This objective skill is called metacognition. It is the essential ability to remove yourself from the action and objectively analyze the threats (thinking about thinking). I have diverted and landed short many times when my mind says (wisely) “This situation is starting to read like an NTSB report!” Another way to build this safety awareness is to ask yourself how you would explain your potential outcome to the friendly aviation inspector after the crash…

The mandate of a good CFI is to embed these critical “soft skills” into every pilot. These are the most critical and difficult skills to teach (or test). And this is where scenarios are the essential toolkit. Watching other pilots taking the wrong path (AOPA recreations) or allowing (leading) a learner to a wrong decision, demonstrates our human weakness for inaccurate self-assessment and “continuation bias“. The goal is to deliver this learning during dual training, *before* a future accident happens. The AOPA “Do The Right Thing” is also a highly recommended teaching tool. Building the habit of reflective analysis into every pilot is a lifetime learning tool to build awareness and save lives. This is similar to the instructional debrief and should become a habit in every pilot’s toolkit. “What went right, what went wrong; was my success luck or skill?” This is a critical question to answer after every flight. It turbocharges learning and helps keep you safe (and humble). Please fly safely out there (and often)!

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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).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here

Flight Test “Pilot Acronyms;” Good or Bad?

Flight test acronyms can be good reminders but must be backed up with a deeper understanding and context to be useful. Simple rote recitation (and forgetting what the acronym letters stand for) will drive your DPE nuts and reveal applicant ignorance rather than understanding.  With our accelerated training environment, the “oral” test portion is increasingly where PPL applicants “crash and burn.” Dig deeper for a thorough understanding. Hopefully, these examples might help.

“A-V-1-A-T-E” Acronym Confusion (Dig Deeper)

If the question is “What inspection(s) are required for VFR flight,” most of these items are not required.” Remember, at the VFR level, you could be testing in a Champ that someone owns. It is much better to start with most simple/basic requirements and layer on more detail based on airspace and operation (see below). This method reveals true understanding to your examiner. Acronyms demonstrate rote memorization that any DPE can see right through with a few questions. Demonstrate a thorough understanding of airworthiness instead of just spouting out everything that *might* be required or inspected. In AV1ATE, only the annual is a guaranteed requirement.

Reveal superior knowledge on a flight test by starting with the annual (required for every aircraft if not on a program). If this is not logged and valid, there is no need to go further, you are not going flying! If you own the plane, no 100 hour is required. The “V” (VOR check) is for IFR (and only if you are using the equipment). A pitot/static test or even a transponder is not necessarily required for VFR flight- nor is an ELT in certain cases: read CFR 91.207 to the end. Mentioning where “FAA legal” diverges from “safe and smart” and considering risk factors by contrast, will earn you big points here – relate risk factors to inop. equipment and your specific operation. Wouldn’t you rather have a two-way radio rather than a transponder anyway? You could at least get into a tower-controlled field.

To gain a deeper understanding of the required airworthiness items, spend a little time with a mechanic and really read the aircraft logbooks and POH (including the regulations cited in those endorsements). KOEL and MEL knowledge are in the ACS. Mentally place your plane in different airspace scenarios and think through what is *really* required. Go deeper than the “hangar flying drivel” everyone else parrots.

“A-R-R-O-W” Acronym Confusion (Dig Deeper)

The “O” in A-R-R-O-W (required documents) is *not necessarily* “Operating Handbook” as is often recited. It probably is required if the aircraft was put into service after the magic certification date of March 1st, 1979 (CFR 21.5, when the standard POH was required by regulation). Most older airplanes do not even have a POH, and are still airworthy (Champ/Cub again) . “O” in A-R-R-O-W would be better thought of as “Operating Limitations” and is often expressed in placards, markings on the gauges (green arc, white arc, redlines). Depending on OEM, an “Airplane Flying Handbook” might be required for older CAR 3 certificated airplanes. Check the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) for your airplane.

A simple weight and balance calculation (PA.I.F.K2e-f) is often pretty easy for applicants since it is a required knowledge test item, but pushing further to a correlation level and incorporating some aerodynamics (PA.I.F.K3) can quickly go beyond some pilot’s understanding. How many “Gs” is your plane rated for (limitations)? Are we in the normal or utility flight category? How do CG and weight affect Va (how does this change). One simple related question I ask that gets this conversation started seems to stump a lot of private (and  commercial/CFI) test applicants; “If an airplane can stall at *any* airspeed, how can we mark “stall speed(s)” on the ASI?”


The “required equipment” in CFR 91.205 is the historic heart of aviation acronyms (A-TOMATO-FLAMES) and this one works pretty well – if applicants can remember what the letters mean without writing it down. DPEs are required to require useful, *working* knowledge in aviation. I teach required equipment by “building the historic plane.” Have a look at an old Champ or Cub and see what equipment is onboard (we used to call these the “sacred seven”). The only flight instruments are the airspeed, altimeter, and compass, (no one seems to know this at the private level) the other four are for the engine. Seatbelts (no shoulder harness) are for the pilot/pax). Why is a stall indicator not required in CFR 91.205 and can we fly a C-150 without one? This is the start of how we progressively build the airplane. Shoulder harness, electrics, gear and MP guage are all added as your “historic airplane” gets more sophisticated; deeper uderstanding!

P-A-V-E: The Necessary (FAA) Acronym

Risk management is central to every ACS evaluation (PA.I.D.Rs/PA.II.A.Rs). Some old-school CFIs missed the memo here, but demonstrating pilot judgment (and PIC authority) is central to ACS flight test success (and your future safety)! Every applicant must be prepared to discuss their personal situation in detail, in terms of the FAA’s P-A-V-E paradigm and include a plan to mitigate these risks. Everyone’s performance suffers on test day, be ready to talk about that. Our “SAFE Checkride Ready!™” section of the SAFE Toolkit App has much more detailed information about the private, instrument, and commercial check rides. Fy safely out there (and often).

See “social Wall” on the SAFE website HERE

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).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


Spread Your Wings!

As pilots, we have an amazing diversity of “flying machines” available to us.  Unfortunately, most of us never take the time and money necessary to explore these unique experiences. In other articles here I have advocated for “envelope expansion” in your regualr piston flying. This builds unique skills but also enhances safety in all your other flying. Other categories and classes of flying machines are the pathway to transferable skills and new perspectives. To stay safe in aviation, it’s essential to challenge our skills regularly and also reexamine our procedures from time to time with a fresh perspective. In this article I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone a little and explore some new kinds of flying machines. This could be as simple as finally taking up your friend’s offer to experience flight in their Long-Ez – or try a glider ride at the local soaring school.

After a while in the air, everyone gets first ‘proficient’ at what they do regularly, then ‘comfortable’, and the very next stop is often ‘complacency.’ With complacency also comes the boredom of the “same-same round the pattern” flying and a diminishing safety margin if a surprise occurs. Very few of us challenge ourselves on a regular basis to get out of our “comfort zone” and build skills. The original excitement (and even the twinge of fear) from the new adventure soon goes away and we can get stale and rusty if we are not careful.

Not only is complacency damaging for safety, there is a definite trend of pilots dropping out after a bunch of years after they lose the original excitement of flight – the secret to longevity and growth is exploring new aviation adventures! The AOPA is currently partnering with the Recreational Aviation Foundation to encourage back-country flying From Peaks to Pavement: Applying Lessons from the Backcountry”  This is an excellent opportunity to restore challenge and adventure to your flying while building skills transferable to your everyday environment.

The amazing Ron Bragg when I got my DPE…years ago!

I learned to fly in 1970 and after acquiring all my ratings I ran a 141 flight school for 25 years. By necessity that means a lot of the same kind of repetitive flying. After 5 or 10 thousand hours of dual given, there is a diminishing level of new input in this flight environment (ask any CFI – the dreaded “burnout”). No matter how conscientiously you approach each day as a “fresh learning event” there is limited novelty and the human machine tends to stereotype each repetitive experience. As a pilot and especially as an instructor, you inevitably get stale and start “pattern matching” or stereotyping. This is a natural neurological process called “normalizing” – it’s complacency at work and not only is this bad for the piloting skills, it is also destructive to the instructional environment and safety. How many burned out CFIs have you experienced?  I could feel the excitement diminish hour by hour, day by day and year after year!

Fortunately, I discovered gliders (and then everything else that flies) could provide not only a lift in excitement and motivation, but also a unique set of skills to reinvigorate my daily world of flight. Once you are a proficient glider pilot (or instructor), the way you understand (or teach) a power failure in a piston plane is increadibly richer and more detailed…what a unique perspective to bring to a piston lesson.

Maybe you are a Zen Master and can approach each moment as unique, but I found the easiest path to escape “normalizing” is exploring a variety of new aviation experiences. Humans adapt readily to each new environment and we stereotype internally  without knowing it as part of our predictive perception. After a very short time, the scary edges and unusual procedures neurologically disappear and we get “comfortable” – even in the strangest environments – through normalizing. This process is a huge problem for safety because any pilot can subliminally adopt unsafe procedures through “drift” in everyday operations. Anything we do repeatedly becomes the “new normal.

Exploring other aviation environments  – and especially seeking instructional oversight and guidance with a creative professional – is necessary to gain perspective on our previously comfortable groove. We all need a shot of insight and excitement from time to time. I would encourage you to seek out and try some different flying. This experience will pay you back with new insights and skills that improve our skills and outlook. You will come back with a new perspective and fresh appreciation for your “normal” experience. Fly safely out there (and often!)

See our newly launched SAFE website HERE

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).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


“Negative” Stall Training (Bad Habits!)

In a stalled condition, the nose of every conventional aircraft falls toward mother earth. This is physics and happens every time. And the natural human reaction is to pull back away from the ground making the control situation worse.  Only high-quality flight training, both initial and recurrent, can overcome this deep human reaction of “panic and pull.” Education in the classroom yields understanding, but training on the controls in flight is necessary to build deep, reliable, and correct habits.

A good pilot is a healthy mix of mathematician, scientist and athlete, part mechanic and all curiosity.  They must know everything about their airplane;  control surfaces, power plant, the avionic systems, tire pressure.  Because, while the heart of an airplane is metal, fabric or composite;  the bloodstream fuel and oil, its brain is the person who flies it. Community Aviation

New pilots must be patiently taught the feel of slow flight and the correct reaction to an excessive angle of attack and full stalls. It is necessary to train deeply here and to slowly overcome the initial fear. It takes time and persistence to reach a level of comfort and control in high AOA flight. Our fatal accident statistics still demonstrate that we all need better initial education and more current repetition and review; Loss of Control Inflight (LOC-I) is the #1 pilot killer.

Unfortunately, especially in larger airframes, pilots were taught for years to “power out of the stalls.” Even if initial training was accurate, many years of “negative stall training” overwrites habits. Historically there was very little emphasis on reducing the angle of attack in larger, powerful aircraft. Instead, the emphasis was on preventing altitude loss. The FAA recently added Expanded Envelope Training to the 121 regulations for every airline pilot recurrency. And the new ATP ACS puts a clear emphasis on reducing the angle of attack for stall recovery. But this may be “too little and too late” for many veteran pilots who experienced and reinforced “negative stall training” for so many years.

During my recent recurrent training in Florida, I witnessed a very experienced (though somewhat rusty) pilot attempt to recover an intentional stall with power and no reduction in angle of attack. This was shocking but eye-opening for me. He panicked, fought the controls, and eventually put the large jet simulator into the (virtual) ground. This was identical to the mishandling that resulted in the landmark accident of Colgan 3407. Negative initial stall training is very persistent and hidden away in our deepest habits. One important purpose of recurrent flight training is to discover, correct, and retrain these very deep habits we all depend on as pilots. Accurate habits must be immediately available or our lives are at risk in an upset situation.

Proper stall recovery training requires time and patience. Complete and thorough stall recovery training is seldom included in our current accelerated flight training environment. It is also the professional responsibility of every CFI to not only train correctly but also to create safe and complete pilots beyond the minimum ACS requirements. Many important skills are not required in the ACS test and are consequently not taught. The FAA puts its trust in professional educators here. Eradicating deeply embedded “negative stall training” takes even longer. Panic and pulling, combined with incomplete understanding, are the root problems behind many pilot deaths.  Releasing and unloading in a panic situation is a trained and very unnatural response.

Various versions of the FAA ACS initially allowed stall recovery “at the first indication” of a stall. Consequently, many recent pilots (and even CFIs) have never experienced, or gotten comfortable with, full stalls. These pilots often panic when full stalls are requested for higher-level certificates. Old-school flight training often included ballistic “falling leaf” stall recoveries during flight training, teaching rudder usage and demonstrating control of the nose-low stalled condition. Every pilot can benefit from this “extended training!”

Every pilot (and especially CFIs) should invest the time to take Rich Stowell’s FREE Learn-To-Turn Course. Then put these ideas to use with a good instructor practicing SAFE’s Extended Envelope Training. This builds comfort and correct control during high AOA flight conditions. Until the unload instinct overwrites “panic and pull” you are not a safe pilot. Safety requires expanding your flight envelope and training out of your comfort zone. Build correct and reliable habits; fly safely out there (and often).

See our newly launched SAFE website HERE

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).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here

Injecting “Wisdom and Experience:” SAFE CFI-PRO™

In the current aviation training environment, a new pilot becomes a new CFI in a matter of months. This CFI then immediately teaches the next new pilot, which may result in a spiral of decreasing skill and knowledge.” This distortion and lack of new experience with each exchange resemble the old game of “telephone” with the quality diminishing continuously with each replication; a downward spiral.

Currently, 2/3rds of “active CFIs” have taught for less than a year and often only have 5 hours of real solo time. Consequently, there is no real experience or wisdom to impart to a new learner. Current flight training needs more of this “wisdom and experience” injected to increase the level of flight training safety and efficiency. This is exactly what SAFE CFI-PRO™ provides directly to flight programs. SAFE CFI-PRO™ travels to flight schools on request with a curriculum tailored to motivate and build professionalism in each flight program and in every new CFI.

At accelerated schools, there is no time to master and solidify the aviation skills learned at the private, instrument, and commercial levels. Once the required FAA test minimums are met, these hard-won skills and knowledge rapidly become stale and are often forgotten (never reinforced or improved). Ask an instrument applicant about the significance of E/G airspace and the implication for IFR safety on approach to a non-towered airport; crickets! “That is private-pilot-level knowledge,” and already gone. With accelerated training, each discrete skill set is abandoned as soon as it’s completed and it’s off to the new challenges. As a result, the instructional cadre demonstrates limited skill and real-world experience. Many essential skills are missed because of this repeating “cycle of beginners.” Crosswind landings are just one example of an alarmingly rare, neglected piloting skill. Since they are not required to be demonstrated in any ACS, they are not taught (ot mastered) at any level. A recent blog compared this to the Multi-Crew License Europe tried years ago that was intended to just train co-pilots with a new certification level.

The pedagogical skills of new CFIs are also severely limited to the methods they were taught to pass the FAA CFI practical test. Unfortunately, this test is an artificial construct and not how we actually teach flying. The typical new CFI, monopolizes the radio and micro-manages the flight controls out of fear and an attempt to create precision. SAFE CFI-PRO™ provides the “missing manual” of how real education happens in aviation and accelerates the effectiveness of the new eager CFIs. These tools are eagerly accepted in our classes; “good to great!”

By targeting new CFIs, SAFE CFI-PRO™ raises the level of safety in *ALL* pilots. Every CFI reaches 30-50 pilots a month, so improvement in CFIs leads to an exponential improvement in pilots. There is nothing wrong with building hours, but this must be done in a professional (not selfish) manner. Otherwise, the consequence for *ALL* of aviation is less skillful and safe pilots. And General Aviation flying requires a much broader range of skills, encounters a much more diverse set of challenges, and has a much greater risk profile than the narrowly focused world of more sterile airline operations.

Dream diminished?

Several other blogs in this series have pointed out the essential items usually skipped in the current pilot training environment. If a skill, like a crosswind landing, is not required on any piloting evaluation, it definitely will never be taught in an academy program. The professional educator is responsible to provide this more complete pilot training (mastery beyond the minimums). The CFIs are the primary “influencers” of aviation attitude and safety. New learners are entirely dependent upon the level of excellence of the CFI they get bonded with during flight training. Fly safely out there (and often).

See our newly launched SAFE website HERE

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).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here

Free FAA Chart Update Alerts!

Jepp paper manuals made changes more conspicuous when your home field got a new instrument procedure. Automatic digital updates can surprise you –  which is never good for a pilot🤣. Create a free account on the FAA “IFP Gateway” (quick and easy) and you will receive alerts about proposed and activated changes in procedures for all the airfields you activate. (Helpful Video) There are many other digital goodies here also.

Just navigate to the FAA “IFP Gateway” and set up a free personal account. Then select the airports where you would like notifications. Your filters determine the updates you will receive for upcoming changes or just send new procedures by e-mail. This site is also a great place to get clean current pdfs of every procedure. On the sidebar, you can also access “Minimum Vectoring Altitude” charts (previously hidden in the Tracon).

When you are roaming around the FAA website, also check out the FlySAFE Fact Sheet archive. These Fact Sheets are very concise pdfs covering various safety topics that are great to share with your students or flight organizations.

Enjoy the new courses available to members on the new safe website. And please download and use the (free) SAFE Toolkit App. This contains all the references a working CFI needs plus provides continuously new safety content.

SAFE developed an insurance program just for CFIs! When you are an independent CFI, you are a business (and have legal exposure). This program is the most reasonable but also comprehensive insurance plan you can have (and every agent is a pilot!)

Maintaining Our Vital “Safety Margin!”

Every properly prepared pilot can fly safely, even with a minimum level of skill, *IF* they accurately match their skills to the real demands of each mission. (That’s why CFIs can impose “limitations” on solo endorsements). In the vernacular, we are safe if we “don’t write checks we can’t cash.” The central problem, however, is the impossibility of accurately and objectively determining the two sides of this equation (see graphic above). Just about every pilot overrates their own skills and also underappreciates the threats they face. We inadvertently close that safety margin with our flawed analysis of both risks and skills. This is something I call “magical thinking.

To be safe we must accurately assess our real pilot skills and compare those to an equally accurate analysis of the demands of the flight. If an objective and honest analysis were actually available, maintaining safety becomes a simple physics problem; just maintain a margin of safety. Unfortunately, we are usually only capable of honest assessment during “20/20 hindsight.” (The “error correction” only arrives by virtue of a crash). Most often when we examine accidents in retrospect we end up puzzling “what were they thinking?”

The real culprit of failed safety is our numerous cognitive biases. As a funny example, 93% of American drivers think they are “better than average.” This impossible statistic is humorous in “Lake Wobegone” where “all the children are above average,”  but very dangerous when we assess our personal capabilities in a high-consequence activity like flying. Most pilots rate their abilities much too highly. They look in the mirror and see Chuck Yaeger staring back at them.

Similarly, when we assess the seemingly objective flight risks of weather, terrain, and workload, we exhibit confirmation bias; we “see what we want to see.” Another side of this problem is erroneously assuming the challenges are fixed and linear. But the weather, wind, and workload change continuously and require different levels of skill throughout each flight. Some of the highest workload requirements occur just when fatigue is diminishing our skill and knowledge capabilities; narrowing the safety margin.

To accurately analyze “the safety margin” and maintain a comfortable “gap” of residual capability, every pilot should assume the worst level of weather; the highest challenge. Assuming minimal pilot capability is also wise since self-assessments are usually optimistic. In short, don’t try to be a hero and over-commit to a flight at the limits of your perceived capability; these walls are permeable. Flight planning with past successes (which may be only luck) can put any pilot in an unworkable “coffin corner.”

There are four essential elements to human learning: attention, engagement, error correction, and consolidation. Error correction only comes from an honest reflection of our flight in an accurate “after-action review” (was my success due to skill or just luck?) If we fail to catch our “lucky survival” and squash our errors, the next “wake-up call” might be an accident or incident (too late)!

External forces like time pressure and perhaps “having too much fun” are the most pernicious external pressures that push us all toward failure. Analyzed in the “perfect worldview,” the “flight risk assessment tool” can, unfortunately, be an Ouiji board more than a guarantee unless we are diligently honest; we expect “results” but we get “consequences.” There are really no EZ-PZ flights. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Enjoy the new courses available to members on the new safe website. And please download and use the (free) SAFE Toolkit App. This contains all the references a working CFI needs plus provides continuously new safety content.

SAFE developed an insurance program just for CFIs! When you are an independent CFI, you are a business (and have legal exposure). This program is the most reasonable but also comprehensive insurance plan you can have (and every agent is a pilot!)

Commercial Flight Maneuvers for Everyone!

Commercial-level pilot maneuvers provide a wonderful fresh challenge for every pilot seeking to improve. These are fun and teach correct rudder usage when flown properly. Many pilots at the private level do not understand or apply correct rudder inputs. “Rudder deficit” is a primary reason for LOC-I. Search out a qualified instructor and take your flying to a higher level of proficiency with some commercial maneuvers. Learning new skills and extending your flight envelope creates greater flight safety and is also great fun! These maneuvers are a gateway to an upset recovery course and aerobatics – but these should be mastered first to get full value from this kind of advanced training.

Mastering commercial maneuvers requires an eyes-out aggressive flying style at the edge of the flight envelope. This begins with a thorough aerodynamic knowledge of the forces at work. The heart of all the commercial maneuvers is a concept called “cross-coordinated.” When you are climbing in a chandelle or navigating your way through a lazy eight you are often applying “crossed controls” to create coordinated flight. The control inputs and forces at work are not initially intuitive. Mastery requires study and practice to internalize a solid “feel” for the airplane during this more aggressive commercial-level maneuvering. And though all these maneuvers are “non-operational,” but you will be rewarded with much more precise (and safer) flying skills as well as a greater sense of confidence and control.

Step one in discovering commercial maneuvers is getting the eyes outside and rediscovering aggressive VFR flying; “yank and bank.” Most pilots in a normal flight training progression just completed an instrument rating (smooth standard rate turns with reference to their trusted instruments). Commercial training can come as a shock, requiring outside visual references and a “tuned up butt” to properly sense and correct yaw. Try some private pilot steep turns at 45 degrees and work up to 60 degrees. Then reverse at 180 degrees of turn and work up to “60/90s” (reversing a 60-degree banked steep turn after 90 degrees of turn). This is “old school” flying – find a good instructor to help you. This will get a little sweat going as well as demonstrate the need for an outside sight reference and positive control usage.

Step two is serpentine climbing 30 degree turns right and left with full power and a Vx attitude. This will quickly demonstrate the need for right rudder while climbing in a left turn and left aileron while climbing in a right turn. Initially, this feels “unnatural” for many private pilots, but this is the beginning of understanding “cross-coordination” and will progress into chandelles. Your pattern crosswind turns will be immediately safer with your newly-mastered “cross-coordination.”

A series of  climbing and descending (coordinated) wingovers – working toward a lazy eight – will demonstrate the need for quick and accurate rudder usage as the wing loads and unloads. Suddenly pilots are “flying again” after 40 hours of instrument standard rate turns (or years of rope-a-doping around the pattern); fun! These climbs and descents also illustrate the changing yoke forces necessary to maintain specific flight attitudes as the speed of the aircraft changes the effectiveness of the flight controls.

The last step in this introduction to commercial flight maneuvers is some slow flight and stalls first straight ahead, then turning. Flight training is an opportunity to fly at minimum control speed with the horn blaring (just don’t do it on a flight test – the FAA is sensitive about this). Bank 30 degrees right and left aggressively at the edge of a stall. Coordination is essential and LOTS of rudder is required to pivot left and right on the edge of a stall. Then demonstrate an old-style power off stall recovery letting the nose fall through the horizon with the yoke all the way back (stay stalled till the nose is down). As an instructor, when your pilot-in-training sees this dramatic nose-down attitude (while still feeling the stall) some understanding of angle of attack will be immediately built. (The angle of attack indicator in every plane is how much chrome is showing on the control yoke shaft).

Turning stalls recovered without power (just releasing AOA) are the last maneuver in this sortie as you descend turning right and left while stalling and recovering. This again shows the need for coordination and the power of AOA for recovery. Turning stalls are part of the Private Pilot ACS and often missed during initial training. Engage a qualified instructor and master some commercial maneuvers. SAFE has a catalog of “Extended Envelope Maneuvers” free to all. Soon you will add finesse, safety (and FUN) to your regular flying. Fly safe out there (and often)!

Enjoy the new courses available to members on the new safe website. And please download and use the (free) SAFE Toolkit App. This contains all the references a working CFI needs plus provides continuously new safety content.

See you at Sun ‘N Fun 2023 at “Charlie Hangar” Booths #19/20. SAFE spnsors and members please join us at Sunset Cafe for a free SAFE breakfast Thursday (March 30th), 8am. (Get your free ticket here)

SAFE developed an insurance program just for CFIs! When you are an independent CFI, you are a business (and have legal exposure). This program is the most reasonable but also comprehensive insurance plan you can have (and every agent is a pilot!)




Proficiency, Precision, and Mastery!

Some time ago I wrote an article that recounted my experience as a pilot in training, even though I had years of experience as both a pilot and instructor, which shared my experience of receiving my Seaplane Rating and transitioning to the experimental Epic LT turboprop, within months of each other, and how these experiences made me a better flight instructor.  It made me a better pilot because I was learning new skills and a better teacher because I was reminded that learning is about growing in a myriad of ways. Most importantly it taught me to be more patient with myself and the pilots I am privileged to work with as their instructor, coach, and facilitator in the learning process.

Almost seven years later as an Epic Aircraft Factory Trained Instructor, I conduct transition and recurrent training in the Epic LT and provide Mentor Pilot training in the certified E-1000. I recently facilitated a program created by Peter King, Flight Training Program Manager at Epic Aircraft, which was designed to assess and improve the skills of pilot’s upgrading, to an Epic aircraft. This program is called the Epic Challenge and its’ purpose was to have pilots arrive for factory training with their skills sharp enough to meet the rigors and time constraints of the upgrade to a higher performance aircraft.

As I prepared to conduct this training and reflected on my own training, over the years, I was struck by the thought that this program would be an excellent challenge for all pilots regardless of whether they are moving up to a new airplane, a higher performance aircraft or motivated to refine and improve their pilot skill set. The challenge for the instructor is to effectively conduct the pilot assessment element of this program and then, in concert with the pilot training, to creatively choreograph and structure the training scenarios.

The Epic Challenge, as noted above, was designed to assess, and improve the skills of pilots preparing for transition training into an Epic aircraft. The program is not complicated:

For the pilot training, it requires a commitment to training, an honest assessment of piloting skills and a willingness to do whatever it takes to be the best you can be.

For the instructor, it requires a commitment as a professional educator and a training portfolio that can meet all the requirements necessary to facilitate the goals of the challenge.

The concept of a challenge for improvement is not new. We are reminded regularly that recurrent training is a very necessary part for building and retaining our skills as a pilot and an instructor. Many of the “Type specific” organizations encourage their members to train regularly and offer levels of recognition for this training. The American Bonanza Society is a great example of this through the ABS Aviator Program. AOPA encourages pilots and instructors to improve through Focused Flight Review profiles. These and many more examples remind us that we should never stop learning and growing as pilots and flight educators.

The Epic Challenge should be considered as more than a program designed to prepare pilots for their transition training to a new aircraft. I believe strongly that it can be used for recurrent training and skills enhancement for both pilots and instructors. The focus of the program is a “holy trinity” of aviation, PROFICIENCY, PRECISION, MASTERY. By meeting or exceeding the standards of each scenario we are growing as aviators and having fun in the process.

As an example: there are eight scenario’s and there are twenty-four months between each required Flight Review. Chose a different scenario every three months. At the end of the twenty-four months, you have completed the requirements for your Flight Review and then some.  This is only one example of how the Challenge can be applied. The pilot, the airplane, and the desired outcome are the only limiting factors. Let your imagination run wild.


The Skills Development program is implemented in two phases:

  1. Skills Assessment in the form of a no-jeopardy assessment flight is the cornerstone for the success of this training. An assessment form was developed which outlines the skills to be evaluated and graded from needs work to meets or exceeds standards.
  2. Skills Improvement and assessment in the form of a series of fun flight-training challenges collectively called The Epic Challenge.

The challenges are intended to inspire pilots to elevate their skills by pursuing ever-increasing standards of proficiency, pushing pilots beyond their comfort zones while focusing on skills that will increase their enjoyment of and success during Epic flight training. The skills development program provides a complete roadmap for conducting this training but for brevity the program will not be fully outlined at this time. The following are the eight challenges that comprise the Epic Challenge:

  1. The Perfect Pattern
  2. Two Hours, Four Airports, Eight Landings
  3. Zero Tolerance
  4. Minimal Control (airmanship skills)
  5. Green Needles Only
  6. Big Iron Conga Line
  7. Classic Air Derby
  8. Garmin Geek-Out (Simulator or airplane)

The skills assessment should be conducted in an airplane with the following characteristics:

  • G1000Nxi
  • High-performance
  • Complex
  • G1000 Flight Deck or digital avionics suite with an integrated autopilot (if possible)
  • Aircraft that would be well suited to skills development are:
  • Bonanza G36
  • Columbia 350/400 with G1000
  • Cessna TTx  G2000
  • Piper M350, Meridian M500/600 with G1000
  • Lancair Evolution
  • Epic LT or E1000

The above-listed aircraft were chosen given the genesis of the Challenge. The challenges can be done in any airplane and each challenge can be developed to suit the goals of the pilot training and the specific airplane being flown. This will provide both the pilot and the instructor with an opportunity to think about the goals, the airplane, and how the challenges could be developed to elevate the skills of the pilot training and the creativity of the flight instructor (think outside the box). In the case of the Garmin Geek-Out scenario, a Redbird MCX with a G1000 interface was used.

Finding an Instructor

An important element to the success and credibility of any training is the Flight Instructor. When looking for a “qualified” CFI if you are planning on moving up to any advanced aircraft, not just a turboprop, it is strongly recommended that you find a seasoned educator with the following qualifications:

  1. Turbine aircraft experience (if required)
  2. Professional operations experience, if required (airline, charter, military)
  3. G1000 and advanced avionics experience
  4. Factory or type-club standardized training
  5. American Bonanza Society BPPP, BPT
  6. Cirrus CSIP
  7. Cessna Advanced Aircraft Recurrent Training (CAART)
  8. Piper M-Type MMOPA,
  9. LOBO
  10. TBM

Most of what I have shared has been focused on an upgrading pilot. If you are a Flight Instructor, wanting to enhance your skills, you should consider this program as a way to improve. To find a qualified instructor may take some time and patience.  In addition to your personal contacts try professional aviation educator organizations.

My Experience

At first glance, the challenges, developed by Epic, seemed straightforward. However, when the pilot training and I sat down to plan each scenario, we discovered an opportunity to mix and match the scenarios in such a way that we were able to complete six of the scenarios over the first weekend and the remaining two in the equivalent of one day (1/2 Friday afternoon, 1/2 Saturday morning).

The day before our first weekend we spent several hours discussing our plan, being clear as to the standards for performance (which are outlined in the guidelines for the program) and how we would integrate each of the scenarios into the flight.

In the case, of this pilot, I had conducted his transition to the TTx as well as his instrument training and have mentored him over the past four years. I was very aware of his strengths and weaknesses which made the need for a skills assessment flight unnecessary.  I share this piece of information because the skills assessment component of the Challenge is critical to developing a baseline for the successful measurement of improvement during the training.

It made a big difference that the pilot training was very motivated as he was stepping up to an E1000, from a Cessna TTx, and was scheduled to begin his training two weeks after our last flight.  Attacking the scenarios as we did add an element of consciously managing our energy and allowing for some rest between the flights which made a big difference.

The Challenge Coins as Incentive

As an added incentive to the skills enhancement component of the training, Epic created Challenge Coins for each one of the Challenges completed and endorsed by his/her instructor. They are very cool and well worth adding to your aviation memorabilia collection. As it turned out the pilot training was the first pilot to have earned all eight challenge coins and successfully completed his initial factory training and is happily learning all about his new airplane. As his instructor, it was a total blast facilitating this process and watching him meet the challenge of each scenario and grow as a pilot.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (like 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 SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Keep it Simple; Angle of Attack!

In recent blogs, we emphasized a “perfect picture” for each new student and also how and why it is critical to break the driving habit immediately. A good educator is eliminating obstacles and building solid habits while embedding actionable mental concepts. And now it is finally time to go flying.

Though the physics of lift thankfully works, it is unsettling for pilots at all levels that the best minds in science are still arguing about what actually makes it work. Most books present 2-3 conflicting theories with associated passion – and mathematical smoke and mirrors. It can all feel like childhood church stories – and even has the same Greek letters. We create even more confusion by over-emphasizing terms like “stall speed.” This concept is in all the books and even painted on the airspeed indicator. Imagine the confusion when we subsequently reveal “a wing can stall at any speed!” It is no wonder that pilots at all levels very quickly demonstrate this mental muddle on checkrides if you start to press this issue. Pilots need basic, actionable information when discussing what enables wing lift or even creates a basic turn.

To this end, I think the best starting point for discussing lift is “angle of attack” (AOA). The basics are deceptively simple; AOA is the angle of the chord line to the “relative wind.”  If you take the complicated lift equation (with the Greek letters) and remove all the constants, what you have left is the relationship between the speed and AOA. And as we know, we control AOA with elevator inputs.

Purists may chafe at this simplification but if flying requires calculus to be safe, we have bigger problems. Every airplane with a yoke (or stick) has a pretty good angle of attack indicator already installed – you don’t have to spend extra money or stare inside at LEDs. The more chrome you see showing on the yoke, the higher the angle of attack. If the yoke (or stick) is held all the way to the backstop, your plane is either stalled or at the highest (positive) angle of attack the manufacturer allowed by design.

“The position of the stick merely fixes the Angle of Attack and the airspeed at which the airplane flies as it descends.” Wolfgang Langewiesche Stick and Rudder , An Explanation of the Art of Flying.

“Relative wind” and AOA are invisible to the pilot, so a major misconception that must be actively purged and continuously discouraged is equating flight attitude with the angle of attack. This misconception seems almost intuitive in our minds and is subconsciously reinforced by diagrams like the one above. As educators and pilots, we must continuously emphasize (and remember) that a higher nose is not necessarily a higher angle of attack, and the nose does not have to be up high to stall a wing. One creative way to demonstrate this on the ground with diagrams is to present the same angle of attack in different flight attitudes:

That is exactly what the classic Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators does in a less colorful diagram. And though pictures have great value on a cognitive level, it is essential to fly to the edges of the flight envelope and experience these configurations. These do not have to be terrifying and are easily accomplished in a standard trainer.

In early training CFIs emphasize a concept called “stall speed.” This number is in all the POHs and even marked on the airspeed indicator. Then in the next breath, we explain a wing can stall at “any speed and any flight attitude.” If we do not carefully and fully explain all this, it is no wonder most pilots are confused (as are the instructors). Questions on a flight-test, at any level regarding stalls or AOA can quickly go sideways with poor preparation and understanding. It can help to play a few revealing YouTubes (I call this one the “perfect stall.” How did an F-16 stall while pointed down at the earth?

Carefully chosen YouTubes (I call this one “the perfect stall”) can be very helpful in creating a better understanding for your pilot-in-training. First comes “cognitive dissonance: “How is it possible to stall an F-16 while pointed straight down at the earth?” Then comes understanding (hopefully). Damn physics!

Another way to empower understanding is by demonstrating different pitch attitudes with the same AOA, and then different AOA with the same pitch attitude. This kind of practice disconnects these two concepts and creates more complete understanding. Both airplanes depicted below are at the SAME AOA (and same yoke position) but very different flight attitudes and configurations.  This nose-high flight attitude (scary for many pilots) and also the nose-low (incorrectly assume  “safe/comfortable”) have the same AOA. Safety is achieved by understanding that both are just as close to a stall – which could occur with any more pull/backpressure/AOA in either case.

“A wing is an odd thing, strangely behaved, hard to understand, tricky to handle. In many important respects, a wing’s behavior is exactly contrary to common sense.”  Wolfgang Langewiesche Stick and Rudder , An Explanation of the Art of Flying.

Once your training with different pitch attitudes progresses into stall demonstration and practice, students will assume that to stall the nose has to be UP and that the wing has to be flying slow (both serious errors). During initial training, we create benign 1G stalls and this reinforces the dangerous misconception that the nose has to be high to stall and that stalls only happen when the wing gets slow. We need to fix this huge (mostly intuitive) misunderstanding, to get to increase aviation safety.

The best method to teach stalls is to select a “too high” nose attitude (hopefully with a cloud reference). At this point, your pilot-in-training should know the Vy/Vx pitch references, so have them set and maintain a “too high” pitch attitude precisely and maintain this as the airplane deaccelerates. This maneuver will demonstrate the yoke continually moving aft (increasing AOA) to maintain the picture and more usefully achieve a stall. This is much more effective than the usual (and less helpful) “pull to the sky technique.” (BTW, an airplane that has leveled off in ground effect for landing is elegantly transiting this exact same range of AOA – except while “low and level.” Notice the yoke continuously moving backward while “flaring” creating this same ever-increasing AOA for a soft touchdown).

As students become more comfortable with stalls and recovery, demonstrate a full stall and maintain the excessive AOA while the nose drops though the horizon. Throughout this maneuver, the yoke is held all the way back (same AOA/wing stalled) as the nose falls and the flight attitude changes. Recover only when the nose has fallen through the horizon. Secondary stalls are also a great way to kinesthetically reinforce the larger flight envelope and demonstrate the danger of “nose low” stalls (and possibly experience stalls at some higher G load). After these demonstrations, AOA will become more apparent. These essential demonstrations are not part of the normal flight training syllabus or required in any FAA ACS, but they are critical to creating a safe and confident pilot.

It takes some time and a caring relationship to introduce stalls correctly and not scare a pilot-in-training. If your student has not yet mastered coordinated flight (especially during climbs) it is too early to introduce stalls. The result will be predictable (and your fully scared student will probably drop out). A much better use of early flight time is demonstrating stability in the aircraft due to the clever aerodynamic design. Trim for an airspeed and raise the nose demonstrating how the plane will return to the trimmed speed/AOA. Trim a speed and add/reduce power demonstrating how the plane will seek that same speed/AOA. At least half of private pilot applicants are not aware the tail “lifts down” (and some CFIs do not know this either) providing dynamic stability for an aircraft in flight. Once pilots understand the nose is the “heavy end” and that recovery will take care of itself they have a greater sense of confidence and understanding of the physics involved. Planes don’t stall capriciously, *pilots* stall planes! Just because a plane *can* stall in any flight attitude does not mean that it *will.*

All of these concepts are a huge load to assimilate during early flight training, so patience and meaningful repetition is essential to successfully navigate this rush of information and new experiences. I would guess of the 80% of pilots who drop out during flight training, more than half would identify being scared of stalls (introduced inappropriately and too early) as the primary cause. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Join SAFE and immediately get great benefits. 1/3 off ForeFlight. This savings more than pays for your membership and simultaneously supports our SAFE mission of increasing aviation safety.  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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