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 skills and enhances safety. But other categories and classes of flying machines are also a pathway to build transferable skills and also provide 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 diminishing level of new input in this flight environment (ask any CFI). 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.

Long EZ N26SB Sport Aviation Assignment

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 (and often!)


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Freelance CFI – You’re a “Business!”

Thanks to Dave Wheeler for this article (expanded from a Facebook post) He is an ATP pilot with ASEL, AMEL, and SES. He holds all of the CFI certificates and ratings for airplane, and instrument. He also has the gold seal attached to the CFI certificate and is a four-time Master CFI. Total time is just a bit north of 14,000 hours with just short of 12,000 as CFI. Dave has owned three different flight schools throughout the years, buying the first one in 1978, a Grumman Pilot Center.  As aside, Dave got his ATP just to go through the process, as he never wanted to fly for the airlines.    

When you acquire that precious initial CFI certificate you are not only approved to teach flying, you have become a “business” (allowed to legally collect money for your services) and there are new “privileges and responsibilities” far beyond just flying. Here are a few pointers for the new CFI who is putting out their shingle to offer flight lessons to the public for the first time (as opposed to teaching for an established flight school). This is a new adventure that requires some training and information to succeed (and avoid economic peril)  “Going into business” is a great adventure and a learning experience that demands new skills and responsibilities and involves much more than just being a great CFI.

Among the many surprises and “learning opportunities” is business licensing. Where I teach, you will need a state business license, as the state collects sales tax. To collect the tax, the tracking vehicle is the business license number. So, we must collect the tax from the customer and pass it through to the state. Here it is call Business and Occupation tax, or B&O.   Depending on your business it may be collected monthly or quarterly. The state decides that for you based upon your application, and the dollar amount you specified as anticipated income. Then, depending on where you live there may be county and/or city taxes too. Here (by the way, “here” in my case is Washington State) the state collects both city and county tax and forwards it to the respective agency. Then there are other taxes that you pay to the state for whatever reason.

Once you are licensed, be sure to check with the airport upon which you desire to teach. More and more airports are adopting a Minimum Standards Document that spells out what you need to do to conduct business on their soil. In my case, I started out with one airplane and just me. I was listed as a freelance CFI (and it applies to A&Ps too) and needed to prove airworthiness of the Cherokee 140 I was going to use, and prove that it met their insurance requirements. I was going to be a “Through the fence” operator, so I convinced them that my office would be my motorhome that I would park outside next to my tie-down spot.

As a funny example of what you can learn, I got one of those big green signs from Sporty’s that says “Learn to Fly Here” and hung it out to attract business. Little did I know that there was a separate “Sign Requirements” document with which needed to comply. Sign came down. Once the state and airport are happy, you need to think about a business plan. How are you going to run your business?

Since you are now competing for customers with any inside the fence FBOs (and they are not going to be happy with since you are “poaching” their customers) and other businesses that are going after the customer’s hard earned dollars. If you think about it, you are in competition for recreational dollars with the local golf course, dive shop, and bowling alley, the movie theater, etc. The product you are selling is not so much flying but also “challenge and adventure”. So this is where you may want to look to hire some professionals to assist in your marketing and business plan. Like many unfortunate others, I did not take this route, but learned the hard way through the school of hard knocks. Though a professional, aviation-savvy CPA and attorney may cost some money, you save from the pain and heartache that every misstep costs. Their professional fees (like yours) are worth every penny.  In my case, I was going along fat dumb and happy, selling flight instruction, building my business, paying my taxes, and several years into the business I got a nice letter from the state department of revenue saying they wanted to do a B&O tax audit. I called one of my customers, a CPA and asked his advice and his first sentence was “Do NOT let anyone from that office onto your property!” Wow, OK. Why? He explained that they will not only audit your books, but your premises as well. He said that if they see a magazine lying on your table they will want to see where you paid the tax on the magazine. If you buy something for “resale” meaning you will pay the tax when you sell it, not when you buy it, they will want to see that paper trail.

Just like every other emergency in aviation, where the test comes first and the lesson and learning follow, I got smart quick. I put the CPA on retainer, and took my records to the CPA’s office and they did the audit there. They actually found that I had paid too much sales tax on a computer that I purchased out of state and I ultimately got a refund. Not enough to pay the CPA, but still…worth it and “lesson learned” (hire a professional!) Getting really comprehensive and “CFI specific” insurance from a professional (like SAFE offers) is another essential first step in business. Though you may not have assets to worry about starting out, all your future earnings are also be legally attached so professional CFI insurance is money well spent!

That is enough for today, but in a future issue, I’ll talk about some of the other things you will face as a freelance CFI.


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CFIs Are Not All Equal: CFI-PRO®!

Previously published in the FAA Pilot Examiner Quarterly (shared by permission) Here is a unfortunate story of a “Rusty CFI” (not current teaching though probably very current in his biz jet). DPEs see cases like this too often- where the well-meaning CFI was not up to speed. New CFIs need mentoring, non-current CFIs need refreshing (a FIRC every two years is not enough).

Here is a scenario that happens much more often than you would think…  A commercial pilot is blessed with a great paying flying job with a lot of down time.  (Well maybe not that part) Anyway, the lucky one…we will call him “Stan” has not been an active flight instructor for more than ten years. Nevertheless, he dutifully renews his flight instructor certificate by completing an online Flight Instructor Re-fresher Course (FIRC) every 24 months. He then goes to Sheryl his local DPE and pays her an administrative fee to review his application and FIRC graduation certificate and renew his certificate.

One day our hero Stan is polishing up his Beech Debonair. He is approached by one of his hangar neighbors at the airport who asks if he can train his 16 year old son for his “pilot’s license” in their family Cessna 120.  Stan decides “well… I haven’t used the certificate and some time, maybe I should give back to the aviation community”. He reluctantly takes on the eager new student and agrees to train him free of charge.  Having not been active for a while, Stan is not aware that there have been significant changes since he was a young instructor building time to move to the airlines. Not only that, he has never instructed outside of the confines of a 141 flight school. When he was teaching with the school he had a syllabus and other more senior instructors to check his paperwork; bounce questions off of; and help keep him out of trouble.  Our student…“Junior” reports for his first flying lesson the following morning and Stan sits down with him to chat and make sure that he is ready to begin flight training. Junior is ahead of the game and went to an AME and got a second class medical. Stan looks at the medical and notices that it is on a white piece of paper but it doesn’t say “Student Pilot Certificate”. He remembers from his FIRC that there was a change in the regulation….”Uh… let’s see…. yeah that’s right, the AME no longer issues student pilot certificates and I just have to put the endorsements in his logbook instead of on back of the certificate.” They discuss the first lesson, do a preflight inspection and go out in fly.

Junior is a quick study and Stan decides to solo him after only about 8 hours of dual flight instruction. He makes an endorsement in the “boiler plate” section in the back of Junior’s logbook and sends him on his way around the pattern. After three perfect “three pointers” he congratulates Junior with a ceremonial douse with a bucket of water and cuts his shirt tail for this momentous occasion. –

Soon they are working on the cross-country and night portion of training and Junior’s subsequent solo flights go well. Stan always looks in the back of the logbook and signs the boilerplate endorsement that most applies to the flight that Junior is doing. Soon he has flown off all the solo and dual time required and has completed his Private Pilot Knowledge test and Stan deems him ready for the practical test.

Junior goes into IACRA and registers for an account and begins to fill out an application for a Private Pilot Certificate Single Engine Land. He has no problem with it until he reaches the section “Have you ever held an FAA pilot certificate?” He thinks “Well yes… I have a second-class medical; but where is that certificate number? He asks his instructor. Stan scratches his head, picks up the phone, and calls one of his co-workers who flight instructs regularly. Through the conversation, he finds out that the paper student pilot certificates he once knew are now a plastic card. Stan’s heart leaps into his throat realizing his mistake. He tells Junior to log back into IACRA and start and new application for Student pilot and Stan approves it.  Two weeks later, Junior receives a notice that his temporary student pilot certificate is ready in IACRA. Stan, then has junior finish his application for private pilot and calls Sheryl, the DPE to make an appointment for Junior’s practical test.

Stan prepares Junior for his test and wants to be a good instructor so goes to the appointment with him to make sure that Sheryl has everything she needs to start the exam. They meet at Sheryl’s office early in the morning. She first reviews the aircraft log-books and all appear to be in order. She then looks at Junior’s application and begins to look at his pilot logbooks. She checks his student pilot certificate, which has an issuance date of just a little over two weeks ago.  She also notices that there is not a tailwheel endorsement.

“Stanley, I’m sorry but I cannot accept this application.” Sheryl Says…

“Why not?” Asks Stan.

“This temporary student pilot certificate was issued a 2 weeks ago…and on top of that, Junior doesn’t have a tailwheel endorsement.” Says Sheryl.

“Well, I did all the training. I can put the tailwheel endorsement in there now.” Says Stan.

Sheryl explains. “Stan, that still wouldn’t make the flight time valid. He didn’t have the tailwheel endorsement required to act as pilot in command and he didn’t possess a valid student pilot certificate when he conducted these solo flights. I’m afraid all of his solo time just doesn’t count.” Unfortunately, for Stan and Junior, Sheryl is right. She confirms this when she calls her POI to see if there is any way they can move forward. So…What happens at this point?  Who is responsible? What are the repercussions?

It was an honest mistake but legally, there could be enforcement action against both!

Stan and Junior and probably at least a re-examination ride for Stan. The FAA would also require Junior to re-fly all of his solo flights that were made without a valid student pilot certificate before he would be eligible for a private pilot certificate. Junior also would have to bear the expense.  A student pilot hires a qualified instructor to provide a safe environment for them to learn. Above all, the instructor must be a professional. They must have an understanding of the learning process, a knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching and an ability to communicate effectively with the student pilot. They must also have a thorough knowledge of aeronautics, regulations, and possess a keen attention to detail.

Before soloing a student 61.3 states that “No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person has in their physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate.”

In this case it would be a temporary student pilot certificate issued under §61.17 Most prospective students essentially know little if any about regulation. It is the duty of the flight instructor to educate students about the certificates and documents required when they begin their flight training.

The responsibility falls upon the instructor to make sure that they meet all the regulatory requirements when they are going to operate an aircraft solo. The flight instructor must also administer a pre-solo knowledge exam that includes applicable sections of parts 61 and 91. One of those questions should be… “What documents are required to be in your possession when acting as PIC on a solo flight?”

DPEs see mistakes like this all too frequently. It is SAFE’s mission to elevate the professionalism of aviation educators. We do this through resources, training, and mentoring; Join SAFE and pursue excellence in aviation. If you are in training and have a bad CFI do not hesitate to “Ditch the Duds” or “Fire Your CFI.” Get a CFI-PRO®


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App gives every CFIs the necessary guidance for pilot endorsements and pilot experience requirements right on your smartphone. This app facilitates smooth CFI+DPE teamwork.

Join SAFE for more tools and to resources for greater educational professionalism. Your membership supports 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)!

Stan should have taken the initiative to re-search the regulations a little closer. When he looked at Junior’s Medical certificate, he was unsure but assumed that he knew the answer was that he did not need a student pilot certificate based on a vague recollection of his FIRC training. When you assume anything, you can assume trouble. A review of the regulations or a call to his local DPE or FSDO Aviation Safety Inspector would have cleared this issue up before it became a serious problem.

Congratulations New CFI!

Congratulations and welcome to this new world! I hope you enjoy your profession as an aviation educator. Here is what I can tell you that you may want to ‘file away.’  I started out as you did: an “Independent CFI” in a state clear across the country from where I had done all my training and with absolutely no friends, contacts, ‘network,’ or anything like that to give me a ‘leg up’ in my new ‘Home State.’ Ready for take-off?

1) Don’t Fly Junk! By this I mean that if you find that the Owner/Operator of said aircraft seems to have either a cavalier attitude about maintenance or is reluctant to take your ‘squawks’ on necessary repairs/fixes/equipment troubles/etc. seriously and address them pronto or tends to do maintenance ‘on the cheap’ or appears to be skirting or flouting the regs…walk away. There are other good, honest, flight operations out there.

2) Your time is valuable. Don’t ‘give it away.’ Flight Instruction is worth whatever you charge & ground Instruction is too. Establish that early on. Ergo, if you charge $50/Hr & have a typical 2 Hr block booked & WX precludes you getting ‘air time’ with your Student, have a 2 Hr Ground Session instead & it is not a ‘Loss’ for either of you.

3) Don’t be timid about establishing your PIC authority;  when you say, “I have the Controls!” or “My Aircraft!” your Student’s feet & hands must IMMEDIATELY come off the controls. This needs to be established before you ever set foot in the plane. Accept No ARGUMENTS here‼️ A lot of these students today are well-heeled execs, Business Owners, Doctors, Lawyers, etc. and some have a tendency to regard you as their “inferior” as if you are merely a Doorman, Barista, or Valet. Squelch that Attitude politely but firmly very early on, or it can become a Nightmare for you. Any trouble with a prospect who prefers to take his/her Grandiose Delusions into the air with you…’cut them loose’ to go find someone else to fly with & ‘Don’t let the door hit ‘em’ in the ass on the way out.

4) Always show up early & fully prepared for each lesson. Dress, speak and conduct yourself as a professional. Respect yourself, & treat others with respect. Observe the Golden Rule.

5) DO NOT discuss Politics. Half your Students will be ‘on the other side’ – in some places that will be more like 80 or 90%. Too bad. Not your problem. Just be yourself & don’t get drawn into the ‘Vortex’ where there are No Winners.

6) Your first Student to ‘Solo’ will be ready before you are‼️😅 No problem. It’s pretty much true with all of us… that ‘second-guessing’ & thinking 🤔 💭 ‘Did I cover EVERYTHING?!’ Don’t worry about it. In time & with greater Experience you will know when the Student finally ‘clicks’ & clearly is ready for ‘three times around the patch!’ Just be aware that in the beginning, you will feel pretty anguished standing there on the sidelines watching your fledgling out there on his/her own for the first time. Make sure to ‘Celebrate’ afterward! This is a ‘Big Deal!’ for all concerned‼️

7) Try to have the Student feel good about SOMETHING after the completion of each flight. What do I mean? Example: the student is having trouble with Steep Turns. Okay…break it off and do ‘Turns Around a Point’ or practice ‘Slips!’ Give your student an opportunity to feel ‘Wow! I DID IT‼️’ instead of returning to the field dejected because they ‘failed’ at one particular task.

8) Don’t be too eager to ‘jump on the controls’ with every deviation from ‘perfection.’ You weren’t perfect either when you were starting out. Try to just get them to be aware of things they can do to help themselves, instead, like say releasing that ‘Death Grip’ on the yoke & holding it instead like a Stradivarius violin 🎻 or a beautiful romantic partner. Use some gentle humor in the cockpit to de-stress the Situation.

9) Beware ‘Experienced Pilots’ who need a Flight Review or who are ‘Rusty’ They May surprise you with Totally Mondo Bizarro behaviors that defy any expectation!

10) NEVER become Complacent in the Cockpit! It can kill you.

Also, remember you are just starting…there is a LOT to learn. Join our professional organization (Join SAFE); we provide resources, camaraderie and mentoring.

Your membership also saves you money and helps 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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Better Teaching/Learning: “Make It Stick!”

As aviation educators we tend to put a lot of emphasis on technical content but we often miss the superior learning techniques that make this information stick. Recent educational research reveals that the most effective learning strategies are not intuitive at all, and much of what we have been taught – or picked up from osmosis over years of experience – about how to learn is wrong.

Make it Stick; The Science of Successful Learning” is a very enjoyable and readable book. It was the collaborative process of many writers over years of development. And what’s not to love about a learning text that starts out with an aviation example:

This book debunks some of the common learning strategies that are “time-proven” and “feel good” to the learner. Instead it suggests some more effective techniques to advance your learning – for both you and your students. For instance, instead of highlighting and re-reading material, the authors recommend summarizing material in your own words and testing yourself over a period of time (pop quizzes!). This more effortful  “reflective learning” has proven to be much more effective for retention and future application. And instead of the intensive cram session, break your studying down into “distributed learning sessions” over a longer periods of time mixing several areas together; called “interleaving.” By injecting personal meaning and creatively reformatting material, we help ensure that difficult information will be available when you need it – on that dark and stormy night when the engine is running rough!

Anytime a learning session is more interactive and creatively involves the learner it is going to stick better. Challenging your learner, rather than spoon feeding – even adding “desirable difficulties” – to improve retention. And that is not intuitive at all; weren’t we all taught to make subjects as easy and simple as possible? A summary of this text is here for those pressed for time. A very good (and FREE) Coursera on “Learning How to Learn” is available for the exceptionally motivated. Enjoy and let me know what you think? Fly safely (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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

“Know-Do-Consider” to Build Savvy Pilots!

The heart of the new Airman Certification Standards is risk management. This essential wisdom was added to the limited PTS focus of skill and knowledge in 2016 to form the complete pilot experience of “know, do and consider” – knowledge, skill, judgment. These factors dynamically determine the safety of every flight. This new flight training initiative was driven directly from the aviation accident data. These numbers reveal over 80% of accidents result from human failings – usually bad judgment and flawed decision-making. Refining and improving judgment is a difficult, ongoing and never-ending challenge. It involves the internal battle within every pilot each time we fly; balancing utility with safety – often what we want against what is possible and sensible.

The primary methodology for training and testing risk management is the creative use of scenarios. Since flight training is necessarily conducted in a very limited environment of geography, weather, and equipment, the instructor (and later DPE) must mentally transport their learner into new and challenging imaginary situations to build and improve the decision-making skills that result in safer outcomes. Thought we train in one small area and  climate, we should theoretically experience a broad range of challenges. One additional advantage of this method is the safety benefit of failing in the mental arena rather than a real airplane; no one dies in a table top scenario! The best aviation educators are masters of creative questions and scenarios.

Simulators provide a deeper and more realistic version of scenario training (as well as enabling specific skill/drill procedure training), allowing an imaginative educator to more realistically transport their learner into all kinds of challenging environments. Each new scenario requires a different toolkit of skills, knowledge and judgment to prevail. The additional advantage to simulators is creating these “learning opportunities” without adding the expense and inconvenience inherent in a gas-powered, gravity-challenged devices. When learning occurs in this manner we are all safer!

The use of scenario-based training in general aviation became accepted and popularized though the availability of realistic full-motion simulators for the GA market – largely Redbird. SAFE’s original Executive Director, Doug Stewart, developed the Pilot Proficiency Project with Rich Stowell and created an ingenious catalog of masterfully crafted scenarios deployed on the Redbird Simulator. These original scenarios now number over 30 and are featured every year at Oshkosh in the Pilot Proficiency Center. This SAFE

project was the first nationally recognized use of scenario-based training in aviation, focusing largely on decision-making and risk management. Expanding this further, the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led directly to the  FAA/industry partnership that resulted in the ACS.

We are lucky there are so many wonderful tools now available to foster personal improvement in risk management. This has become the accepted industry standard of aviation safety training. These are also valuable for aviation educators to employ as resources in flight training. The FAA Risk Management Handbook is the official source document from which many other documents flow. This is cited frequently in the ACS. The Aeronautical Decision Making chapter in the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge is also a solid resource for pilots seeking excellence or educators working with learners. The FAA has a dedicated page of CFI scenarios to help jump start your imagination and help you create your own. The EAA Pilot Proficiency website has a comprehensive catalog of scenarios for the Redbird [here]

Thanks for reading and please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment and continue the dialogue. If you feel inspired, please contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there!

And 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)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

FAA “License to Learn!”

There are some critical misunderstandings – and lots of unfounded “tribal knowledge” –  regarding the pilot examination system. CFIs and flight school owners sometimes approach a DPE after a checkride with surprise and ask “you tested [this person], and they passed, so why can’t they land in a crosswind?” Well clearly because this is not on the test!  (Does anyone read this book?) If  the FAA wanted to assure crosswind capability in the ACS, this maneuver would be required to be demonstrated. Instead it says: “If a crosswind condition does not exist, the applicant’s knowledge of crosswind elements must be evaluated through oral testing“.  And just about every applicant finds a nice blue-sky, calm-wind day for their evaluation (didn’t you?)   But I totally agree with the flight school – based on accident data and experience – crosswind capability *should* be part of every pilot’s mandatory tool kit. But clearly, the responsibility to create the total, capable, safe pilot rests with the aviation educator not the DPE

In many other areas also, the FAA’s DPE testing system represents only the “minimum viable product” of pilot performance and competency. The FAA has left the creation of a safe pilot to the CFI, with the DPE only testing the very basic “required elements.” DPEs are strongly counseled not to deploy “a higher personal standard” or an attitude about “what a pilot should really look like” on their evaluations!  These “creative” FAA evaluators are (rightfully) removed from the DPE pool. But I can assure you, every pilot examiner is elated when an applicant exceeds the standards and demonstrates superb skill, knowledge and judgment. The superior pilot applicant is what all of us >should< be trying to create in flight training (this goes beyond the ACS). As far as I can tell, the official FAA evaluation or “check ride” was designed to be a perfunctory and redundant “check”  of the CFIs training of an applicant. The checkride should only be an operational filter, or a second opinion to intercept a potential safety problem.

Understanding the FAA testing process in this manner also clearly argues against the practice of sending a problematic and unqualified pilot applicant to a DPE to “see how it goes.”

Imagine if this poorly prepared applicant happens to pass the FAA checkride; they definitely will not be safe or truly competent.  In such a case, both the CFI and the DPE have failed to assure the ACS standards (and the future safety of this person and their passengers). CFIs and DPEs have to understand this process better and work as a team to create safer pilots. And even for a successful new pilot, we have to honestly embrace the time-honored advice every new certificate or rating is “a license to learn“.

One last point to remember is the DPE usually has less than two total hours in the plane to run through a rigorous  set of maneuvers and evaluate a whole catalog of knowledge and judgment elements. The recommending CFI, by contrast, has 40-50 hours of time with this person and must be the true arbiter of excellence. DPEs are also strictly forbidden from handling the controls to demonstrate or teach from the right seat during an evaluation. The current FAA guidance on this point is very clear and has led to the removal of many DPEs. You will not find any “added value” imparted during a flight test from the senior aviator in the right seat; that is FAA policy!

Your input on this issue is certainly welcomed here in the comments (and by the FAA at this e-mail). I know there are professional aviation educators who think the ACS and some of its requirements are too stringent and restrictive; “we are making aviation too expensive and difficult.” This could be an indicator that we are at a good point of compromise (and everyone is equally unhappy)? The real news here is ultimately, the professional aviation educator is at the heart of aviation safety and assures that every pilot is thoroughly trained and safe. Fly safely (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

New CFI…Congrats! License to Learn!

It was an honor to present during the Redbird Migration this week at AOPA. The message is critical to growing aviation and keeping us all safe: A newly certificated CFI (and all FAA certificates) only demonstrated the “minimum viable product” to earn this rating and needs more growth and seasoning to be truly functional. This is why Canada’s Class Four (new) CFI cannot legally teach without direct supervision and it takes a Class One to teach another CFI. The US is much more permissive.

All certificates granted by the FAA work this way- you now have only the bare minimums; just like “one mile, clear of clouds” or the “91.205 -required flight instruments.” If you just earned that CFI please remember, you have only an airspeed, altimeter and compass, so don’t charge into heavy weather.

Bridging the experience gap is the mission of SAFE, helping a new CFI “grow from good to great”and  building educational excellence. Please  join us, use our resources freely and get a mentor to build your skills. If you are an employer or flight school, use our resources and people. The critical piece is the awareness and agreement to embrace wise limits and stay humble; you start as an apprentice. With a new certificate at any level, embracing humility helps us learn daily in so many ways. And we have amazing resources at SAFE to help you. One of our board members has been a DPE for 41 years -more hours and years than most of us have even flown airplanes!

Wayman and Zoan at Redbird Migration

In a perfect world each new CFI goes to work for an experienced and watchful Chief CFI to bridge this gap and become  a truly effective educator. But we know this does not always happen. Mentoring, either locally or through SAFE, is the only other solution to improving and growing. We heard this same message again and again during Migration but one school owner (who manages 35 CFI-employees) boils this advice down to some simple guidance: “initially, CFIs can be pretty weak, but with a good ‘learning attitude’ and careful mentorship, they improve faster than you can believe.” And that is exactly what SAFE is here for; we help CFIs bridge the gap to become excellent educators. We need to cooperate on this to fix the 80% drop out rate and make stronger, safer pilots.

An important first step is to go beyond the inaccurate name “flight instructor” and embrace “aviation educator.” I know I beat this up in a previous blog, but in truth, we primarily educate people on the ground in a calm environment before and after each flight. (And we also teach in Redbirds or in front of a class of students) In the aircraft, we should be primarily reinforcing what we already presented on the ground where a brain can focus and learn effectively. In flight we allow our pilot in training to try out the new learning, make some mistakes and self-correct. In flight we provide a safe environment and gentle guidance. A good CFI is coaching very carefully not controlling.

I was fortunate to meet an expert in this technique this week at Redbird Migration. Mike McCurdy runs the celebrated IFR6 and Charleston Flight School. At his school, all initial exposures to every maneuver- from taxiing to landing – is introduced in his Redbird. Just as revealed in The Talent Code, guided repetition in the “struggle zone” builds proficiency, precision and good habits before subsequent reinforcement in the aircraft. Only after there is some demonstrated control and mastery does the pilot in training calibrate each maneuver in a real aircraft.

If you aren’t blessed with a Redbird, this same technique works in a plane but requires restraint and very careful pacing. Most CFIs attempt to cover too much too quickly in a misguided effort to be “efficient” and “progress rapidly” (I did this too originally). The result is a mess of half-learned maneuvers and lots of confusion (and ultimately slower progress). It is essential to patiently assure mastery at every basic level before moving on to more complicated maneuvers (oh yeah, wasn’t that somewhere in the FOI?)

And pace is surely very personal. I have completed several private pilots in 35 hours (Part 141) but they were especially gifted (also amazingly dedicated and lucky on weather). I call these clients the “magic bean” (from Jack and the Beanstalk) Plant them in fertile soil of good ground instruction then stand back and watch them grow. These blessed learners only require a little nudge here and there–Just show them once and they have it!

Then there are those that struggle continually and plateau, run out of money, then return after a while and slog onward. These are the ones who really teach you how to be an educator; patient, creative and caring. This is the (more typical) long game, but the rewards of success are greater for both student and educator.

If all this makes sense to you, you probably have already run this race, earned this T-shirt and might even be a Master CFI, DPE or veteran CFI. We need you at SAFE to help mentor (we have a very active program guiding new CFIs) If you think I am totally full of $h#t here (there is always a chance you might be right) *or* you might be in need of some mentoring yourself. My original chief instructor frustrated me to death reminding me “if the student has not learned, the instructor has failed to teach effectively.” Our “Good 2 Great™” program is open to all our members and we have specialists in every area of aviation. We all have worked hard and learned a lot, but aviation is a complicated and endlessly challenging occupation. Join us and help, there is always a new area to learn. Fly safely (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

CFIs Become “Aviation Educators”!

To me, the FAA term “instructor” always seemed too narrowly focused -and limiting- given the depth of the responsibilities we have in transforming people’s lives. “Instructor” sounds more suitable to the steps of a recipe used to bake a cake; do this, this and this and presto-it’s finished! In aviation we are engaging creative and motivated humans at a very high level and transforming lives. Especially now, with the ACS adding the “soft skills” of risk management and judgment into the previously limited PTS “wiggle the stick,” the term “educator” seems much more appropriate for what we do. (and is it any wonder that a “flight instructor” would miss the proven benefits of simulation, briefings and ground instruction?) Hopefully, this more comprehensive title will be chosen for the new FAA ACS for aviation educators due out in June 2019.

The term “instructor” was more harmonious with the ancient FAA book I learned from in the 1980s. We humorously referred to this guidance as “good dog, bad dog” because of it’s narrow vision to “behavioral change” in student pilots. The new FAA manuals are refreshingly modern and comprehensively address the whole human spectrum of learning styles and needs. Thanks in large part to the Pilot Training Reform Symposium and the hard work of many dedicated people, we have evolved and outgrown the limited term “instructor” and become “aviation educators”.

“Education” is a more collaborative process and larger vision, involving the whole human experience where we work together and change entire lives. “Instruction” implies a one-way channel of imparting knowledge in rote steps with an authoritarian structure. As “educators” we embrace as our guidance a much deeper body of professional wisdom involving empathy and compassion. A favorite book of mine that captures this process and inspires excellence in educators is “How People Learn” from the National Academies Press. This book is available FREE as a pdf download or free to read online.  It is so much richer and more comprehensive than our outdated FOI with it’s 100 year old “Laws of Learning.” An additional solid resource is the Harvard Classic “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” By Chris Argyris. We encounter this enigma of highly intelligent, yet difficult learners all the time; crack the code with this book!

As “aviation educators” we are part of a larger and inspiring consortium of professionals. I see too many CFIs limit their professional vision to instructing AOA and a dance card of rote procedures to be copied and mastered. Our ultimate challenge is really connecting with and motivating some endlessly unique learners. We have the difficult mission of inspiring both excellence and lifetime learning in our future pilots. Embrace this challenge and grow from good to great. Fly safe out there (and often).


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

CFI Improvement: Becoming A CFI Professional!

It is amazing our aviation industry has survived at all with the well-documented 60-80% drop-out rate we experience during initial flight training. Imagine how healthy general aviation could immediately be if we could just cut that drop-out rate in half. We could instantly reinvigorate aviation with more excitement, customers, airplane gatherings. How many dreams have we ruined and how many motivated people have we disappointed because we do not teach them well and carefully manage their expectations?

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AOPA Flight Training Study

The common misconception, (that has become a pervasive excuse) claims the primary reason people quit flying is due to excessive cost. This is false. A massive and very scientific study by AOPA clearly reveals that the disappointing “quality of instruction” is actually the most frequently mentioned and persistent issue among dissatisfied aviation consumers. They are not getting expected value for their dollars. We have failed to provide the experience they walked in the door for; organized professional instruction geared toward their needs and schedule. A golf pro, personal trainer, or even your car mechanic all cost much more per hour than a CFI, but people engage these people and continue that relationship because they obtain enduring value…it meets their needs.

The active competition to aviation are mostly all the other ways to have fun. And while most competing recreational activities do not require our level of skill and training (and thus have a lower barrier to entry) don’t forget humans value achievement and  mastery, the essence of successful aviation. People who drop out in aviation desperately want to succeed, we just fail to correctly manage and maintain their motivation and expectations to help them achieve their goals. An organized syllabus with clear communication and defined sub goals is a great starting point. Understanding and valuing the customers needs is also critical.

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Click for wonderful (but dated) Ralph Hood Video

To be more effective and successful, a CFI not only needs the aviation toolkit but must also thoroughly understand human relationships. To provide a quality educational experience we must comprehend and engage our customer on a personal level, motivating them with professional and  honest educational content. I personally think teaching flying is much more about human interaction and psychology and less about molecules of air and Greek letters. A book on relationships (suggested by Nick Frisch in our SAFE Instructor Resource Center) might be the best place to start growing as a CFI. I would personally recommend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. A great majority of human interactions in every sphere involve “selling” in the larger sense: influencing and motivating others to  change and embrace new ideas. Running a successful flight school largely involves aggressively “selling” both fun and safety while simultaneously empowering people to achieve both with aviation tools.

AOPA Flight Training Study
AOPA Flight Training Study

Certainly every new student coming into a flight school or engaging a CFI wants to learn to fly. The AOPA study reveals they also want an organized course of instruction that meets their expectations as a professional. Though they certainly need to learn aerodynamic subjects and skills, they also need to understand and embrace the bigger picture; how they will use aviation in their lives and achieve their goals of challenge and adventure? They must also be inspired to become life-long learners and pursue excellence to be safe (and not merely “wiggle the stick”)

I would encourage every CFI to spend time to learn their student’s specific motivations and fulfill their unique needs. Though studies reveal that 65% of students entering flight training are pursuing aviation for recreational purposes, almost all are taught like they will become airline pilots. Most of our young CFIs are directed toward the airlines but the majority of their students are pursuing recreational flying. We often forget that achievement and enjoyment are essential motivators and the original reason most of our clients pursue aviation. Also, we often neglect social and personal engagement which is an incredible motivator keeping learners involved and training.

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Not all students want to fly for the airlines!

For aviation to be successful our CFIs must also embrace a larger role in our community and understand their job goes far beyond teaching students. As professionals, we are not just “teaching flying” but also necessarily acting as “aviation ambassadors” for our whole community. CFIs are the public face of General Aviation and our role also involves teaching at career days in the local schools, participating in EAA Young Eagle events, and building the larger aviation community (not just hours). CFI professionalism requires personal dedication and perseverance as well as creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. As Bob Wright points out in the SAFE Instructor Resource Center; “Beyond initial FAA certification, there is clearly a gap between the minimum FAA certification standard and what customers and employers want instructors to know and how they want them to perform in the real world. This need clearly calls for some kind of professional accreditation of instructors that would be voluntary but would clearly improve their credibility and employability in many flight instruction venues.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 11.26.42 AMThe AOPA Flight Instructors Field Guide to Flight Training is a wonderful tool to start a journey into this larger world of aviation student needs and motivations with checklists and worksheets. It opens up a new understanding of human relations that is essential to the success of a professional aviation educator.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMThe Master Instructor Program enables and requires exactly this larger professional perspective that leads directly to greater success and higher wages. Accreditation as a Master Instructor requires participation in professional organizations, community events, educating in the community as well as publishing in professional journals and newspapers. Even if you are going on to the airlines this kind of expansive understanding and professional accreditation is exactly what future employers want to see. For those staying in the instructor ranks, master certification is essential resulting in greater professional and financial success. For those of you who run flight schools, SAFE now has an institutional membership (at a lower rate) to get your staff involved and on the road to CFI professionalism. Please pursue excellence as an aviation educator. Both the aviation industry and your students deserve and need this level of professionalism.  Joining SAFE in our mission of building aviation excellence is a great place to start this initiative. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.