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).

 

Minimum Hours = “Budget Parachute;” Sell Safety!

For GA, the FAA is permissive with “regulatory minimums.” Flight in Class G airspace only requires “1 SM, clear of clouds” – way low but “legal.” And for creating pilots, the FAA mandates only 40 hours to obtain a pilot certificate, another potentially scary number. This is only dangerous if it becomes a target for every “budget shopper” looking to be a pilot – and creates unrealistic expectations. If this person manages a 70% on their knowledge test and “lucks out” with a 70% effort on their flight test (mediocre on everything), they will “pass their private,” (and the FAA rules require the DPE to write a temporary). But their future safety is usually seriously in question. (see Dr. Bill Rhodes “Scary Pilot” Slideshare.) They are essentially jumping out of a plane at altitude with the “budget parachute!” They bought the cheapest, crappiest rig off the shelf (with no reserve) and are trusting their life to it. When you frame their choice in this manner, it clearly is not a wise buying decision – if you value your life and also your friends and family.

Obviously on a movie theme today…

Though this “budget shopper” received the same paper temporary as the person who worked much harder (and paid more), our “minimum pilot” is not receiving the same value as a properly prepared pilot. They numerically lack about 1/3 of the FAA recommended skill and knowledge and they are literally gambling with their life. I have been lucky enough to create a few amazing pilots with only 35 total hours in a 141 school. These are exceptionally rare people (3 in 25 years) and all the circumstances of weather and equipment worked out (lucky). The important point is regulatory minimums are not a goal to pursue in flight training, they are a bare regulatory minimum. If you are a pilot seeking training or an educator providing it, quality and safety are the goals to aim at. If a pilot persists in seeking faster/cheaper/easier, they may not be suited for this business of flying?

I was recently at Boca Raton with five corporate jets waiting to go due to the Christmas rush. All were holding for IFR releases into the saturated airspace. A locally-based pilot in a fancy piston twin was approved for a VFR take-off and entering the runway at an intersection behind the jets. He was instructed to “back taxi full length for take-off due to wake turbulence.” This guy needed five increasingly careful instructions to fully understand and execute this clearance. Quite possibly this pilot started out as our 70% pilot and never got any better. And this pilot was not a beginner but probably had been frustrating controllers and embarrassing his fellow pilots for at least 25 years…

There seem to be these two schools of thought throughout all of aviation: a passionate pursuit of excellence and the baser impulse of acquiring all the certificates and ratings as fast as possible for the least money. I know from comments that the readers of this blog are in the quality camp (as is SAFE) but “selling safety” is a huge challenge in our modern culture and we all face this challenge every day. Every FaceBook forum seems to be full of advice encouraging short-term thinking that powers this “race for minimums.” Framing this choice as an “investment in personal safety” (and the safety of your family) makes “selling safety” a lot more comprehensible to most reasonable “budget shoppers.”

Anyway, this leads up to a problem related to this “minimum training mindset” that is encountered increasingly during flight tests. How little can a pilot fly and legally comply with the “long student pilot cross-country” required in 61.109. If you “Google this” (as everyone these days does…) and interpret this regulation verbatim without proper background (the “budget CFI rating ?”) I guarantee you will get it wrong! The reg. from the CFR reads the same.

“Long” X-C for private in 14 CFR 61.109(a)5(ii)

If our student pilot took off and flew 40nm straight north and landed; then 80nm straight south over the starting point (and landed); then finally back home all with 3 full-stop landings  (a neglected detail) would this flight qualify for 14 CFR 61.109(a)5(iii)? And the answer is NO. The hidden problem is in the definition of “cross-country.” For a student pilot, 14 CFR 61.1(b)3 requires a landing >50nm from the starting airport or this flight is *not* a “cross-country” (for a student pilot). As soon as a reg says “cross-country” in the training world, >50nm is required. Read the Keller Letter of Interpretation for a full explanation. This requirement seems to be increasingly fuzzy throughout the industry (three DPEs I called got it wrong). The bottom line though is “why cut corners in training? Pursuing “flight training minimums is a “race to the bottom.”

When I see the absolute minimum time on an application, I want to ask “do you really like to fly?” I might be “pissing into the wind” here but what about making really fully competent pilots, prepared even beyond the minimums on the ACS test – people who can really fly? In an amazing seminar I once attended, Greg Brown (yes that one, the first Master CFI) called this approach “fantasy flight training” but not in a pejorative way. He “sold” this idea as a reasonable approach for some people. For others, some level of “better” is the best sales pitch because these people want to be better and safer! Don’t you think this approach would improve our GA accident rate and the quality of our whole industry? Please share the “budget parachute” analogy with your next “budget shopper” and LMK if that helps? Maybe a large Terminator poster with a big gun advising “buy quality training if you wish to live?” We’ll get back to “Lesson #3” next week and talk about the AOA indicator that *every* plane has. Fly SAFE out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and get great benefits. 1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays for your membership and supports the SAFE 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).

CFI-PRO™ Conquer the “Driving” Habit!

Every subtle movement of a pilot (or missed action), if watched carefully without intervention, tells a huge story to an alert CFI (or DPE). The most revealing is probably the first take-off; game on! Going beyond all the (very important) checklists and line-up prep, watch the initial power application very carefully. Many new pilots, and even some experienced ones, apply yoke and aileron to the right as the plane pulls left with initial power application. Call this out and reduce power immediately – start over and do this correctly. This pilot is still “driving!” This simple action reveals a multitude of sins (mostly deficient flight instruction). And this is “perfectly natural” since we all drive much more than we fly. This mistake is so basic and so wrong that this pilot’s flying in every other area is going to have serious problems. BTW, DPEs on a flight test, do not/cannot intervene here; this is not a violation of standards. (They just watch and take notes; never teach). The CFI is the source of excellence and great flying technique (or not).

Another place where”driving” is obvious is while making a simple level turn at altitude. Hopefully, we all visually clear in the direction of turn (and I teach a verbal “clear left/right” to stay honest). But if your pilot continues to look over their shoulder in the direction of the turn as they add aileron (turning into Walmart?) the nose will usually be swinging one way or the other with too much or too little rudder. It is essential to initiate a turn, with your eyes directly forward over the nose to perfectly cancel the adverse yaw of the aileron application. This is super simple and very basic but requires correcting the “driving habit.” A level turn is even worse when people are “playing soccer” and watching the inclinometer. Try this visual trick immediately if you haven’t and you will see your flying improve immediately. Rod Machado has a great YouTube here to illustrate the correct way to bank with eyes straight out over the nose: https://youtu.be/UV8xcm5xsuo

The beauty of this correct visual cue out front (established on lesson #1) is that every pilot will get perfect turns, in every plane they fly, the first time! This includes gliders, big hairy-chested tailwheels or even jets; it works! And your poor pilot in the left seat never learned this because unfortunately, no one taught them correctly. They are looking in the direction of the turn (where they already cleared) like they are turning into the MacDonald’s drive through. It is certainly fine to take a glance to clear again after the turn is established, but please watch the nose for the roll so coordination is perfect.

Why their CFI did not demonstrate and fix the “driving habit” on lesson one, or detect and fix this problem later is unforgivable. This poor pilot is still laboring under a completely wrong control paradigm. On take-off, not only is this control input not going to move the plane to the right with yoke right, this error is going to introduce multiple adverse effects on the rotation that are going to make the whole job of piloting harder. Many loss of control accidents happen right on the runway for this very simple reason.

A perfect take-off is much harder than most people think (and remember >24% of fatal accidents happen on take-off and initial climb). Watching a take-off from the right seat is a very large “tell.” First, there should be a smooth application of power (tracking perfectly straight with rudder) and all the cross-checks complete (while maintaining control). Then a smooth rotation straight up to a known outside sight picture with no wiggle/waggle and over-control (how many times do you see this go well?) But take-off can be fully taught and mastered by lesson #3 if it is introduced correctly. A fully mastered take-off is a great opportunity to motivate your student by turning this operation completely over to your student; “you got this!” (incremental mastery) Unfortunately in many cases, I see even “experienced pilots” that cannot make this happen consistently. This is a failure of instruction.

Early “drive-in-the-sky” ads didn’t help!

Here are a couple important exercises to break the “driving habit” and make your “aircraft operator” into a pilot. First, ensure the correct seating and fit in the plane to ensure a “perfect picture” as described in last week’s blog.  As you taxi, add and remove the power to make sure your client is correcting right and left with the rudders only (have them sit on their hands the first few times – new pilots often feel “out of control” without their “hands on the wheel”). It is important to speak directly to this “driving problem” immediately to defeat it and make it cognitively obvious to them. Every pilot will have to self-correct in the future. We all will drive to and from the airport; they must be aware so *they* can suppress this urge in the future.

On the runway, ready for take-off (after all the pre-checks and ready for power application), demonstrate the effect of power application: “your plane pulls left every time (physics!)” Also strongly emphasize the need to simultaneously apply right rudder *with* power application. Many pilots *react* with rudder and see-saw their “yaw and correction.” An ideal smooth application of BOTH power and rudder holds the centerline nicely.

As the nose is rotated, MORE rudder is required (and actually a little left aileron to correct proverse roll). Emphasize the control pressures necessary to hold wings level and nose straight (eyes outside initially then perhaps “tuning” with the ball). Pretty soon your client’s take-offs will be smooth and straight; under control every time. There are lots of forces at work here and they should be dissected and explained thoroughly during a ground discussion. This training is ideally presented on lesson one and two and pretty well mastered by three and four. But I have had to perform this “deconstruction” with very experienced pilots to break bad habits (and that takes a lot longer). Fly safe out there (and often)!


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

CFI-PRO: “Perfect Picture” from Lesson One!

Pilot positioning is critical to aircraft control!

When I get into a plane to perform a flight test and I look at the applicant in the other seat, I sometimes see their sightline is significantly lower than mine. From this simple cue, I am almost sure of two things immediately. First, they were not blessed with an experienced flight instructor and second, they are probably still struggling to achieve a consistent, confident landing. They basically can’t see enough to fly well. A “perfect picture” leads to accurate and confident aircraft control. If you can’t see, it is pretty tough to fly and land. All this could have been prevented by getting the pilot initially “fitted” correctly to the airplane, eliminating a huge amount of frustration and wasted money training.  This might seem like a “little problem” but in fact the effects are HUGE – like hand mike to headsets – it effects everything!

Many large aircraft have pilot positioning devices; “perfect picture” every time!

The Air Force faced an overwhelming exposure to exactly this issue in the 1940s and fixed it with extensive human engineering studies and cockpit modifications. Unfortunately, awareness (and equipment) have lagged way behind in GA flying.

“In the late 1940s, the United States air force had a serious problem: its pilots could not keep control of their planes… After multiple inquiries ended with no answers, officials turned their attention to the design of the cockpit itself…the size and shape of the seat, the distance to the pedals and stick, the height of the windshield, even the shape of the flight helmets were all built to conform to the average dimensions of a 1926 pilot.

[After testing] 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one…Once these and other design solutions were put into place, pilot performance soared.”

So the US Air Force spent a huge amount of research and design money to fix the “pilot fitting” problem but through this investment, solved their aircraft control problem. They designed seats to be finely adjustable in every direction. Modern jets also have a parallax sight device to precisely locate the pilot laterally and vertically perfectly in the cockpit. The Air Force realized proper visual cues and cockpit fit are the basis for all aircraft control. It is essential for every pilot you fly with to know what their proper position in the plane should look and feel like (and later also how all the controls and power applications change this outside picture – future blog).

PIlot sightline set with parallax gauge

Experienced instructors usually detect any “fitting problems” immediately, and quite frankly sometimes this makes us seem like magicians. I have had airplane *owners* come to me intensely frustrated that their landings are inconsistent or borderline scary. They are usually embarrassed and in the quiet “confessional” mode. Remarkably, we can often fix their landings in a lesson or two by just adjusting their seat and their view picture (just like the Air Force) Aircraft seating is *that* important. These poor pilots never were taught what cues the *must* see to control their aircraft.

So step one for every new pilot “meeting” a new airplane is “fitting.” You should ensure they know what they should be seeing since they have no idea what is correct. Start with the seat all the way up and lower it gradually so they have a view over the glare shield. Ideally, they should see some of the cowling for pitch reference. Secondarily, make sure they can move the rudders to their stops and still have some flexion in their knees. Otherwise, they are stretching to use the rudders and using the hip muscles rather than the finer control of the calf muscles (also painful and tiring). Sometimes the seats don’t adjust enough and you need cushions. I recommend your pilot buy their own so their fit is exactly the same every time.

This simple, but critical, seating guidance makes all the difference for faster, consistent student progress. Some additional human factors advice for “fitting” a pilot to the controls should also be considered. Have your pilot move all the controls and demonstrate the use of fine muscle usage (wrist and fingers) for operating the controls. Gross motor control from the large muscles of the hip and shoulder makes pilots fly like gorillas (no PC police please).  Demonstrate the trim (a mystery to every new pilot) and emphasize avoiding excessive control pressures with proper trim. How many times do we see even experienced pilots “fighting” with the plane instead of operating it smoothly and instinctively (see this earlier blog). For the throttle in a Cessna, using the palm of the hand, calibrated  with the index finger, allows precise power application.  Again, pilots operating from the shoulder fly poorly with coarse motor control.

One last tip on the fitting and introduction to the cockpit. This is a great opportunity (without the pressure of an engine running) to practice with all the switches – especially getting the feel for how the mag switch works. This will help with their next challenge of performing a run-up. How many times have you had a student turn off *both* mags creating that dreaded backfire? This can be eliminated with some simple “switch practice” while sitting calm and quiet (master off). With no psychological pressure of a running engine (noise and confusion) learning the movement of the key is much easier. It is also a great time to teach thoroughly the danger of a hot mag. Solve these simple problems and save hours of frustration by getting your student correctly situated and comfortable in their new “office.” Fly safely out there (and often).


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

Have a Wonderful Holiday; Grateful and Present!

One thing that has kept me in aviation all these years is hanging out with such an amazing group of talented people. Pilots are less than 1% of our population and as you progressively raise the bar to Commercial, ATP, CFI and master levels, you get into some rarified air of outstanding performance. Pilots are resilient and motivated; definitely hard-chargers – and certainly the “movers and shakers” of the world. But there is also an unfortunate tendency to live for the next achievement and miss out on the glory of everyday life. For the holidays, I wish you all some rest and gratitude during this holiday season. I hope you escape the 24-hour news cycle that makes us all crazy and enjoy some calm family time. Though it has been a challenging year, we all experience wonderful gifts in our lives to be grateful for. Piloting itself is an incredibly rare skill we too often take for granted.

I was particularly struck by the driven nature of pilots watching a video about, Cpt. Lindsey Danilack. What an amazing person. Her ascent to SOAR Mission Commander in five years was nothing less than breathtaking.

She was chosen Cadet First Captain at West Point (in addition to being captain of her track team),  attended Ft. Rucker and successfully bid for Apaches on her first deployment (and served as platoon leader). She then assessed with the 160th S.O.A R and became the first female mission commander in AH-6 “Little Birds.” Talk about full-speed ahead achievement! And though I appreciate her service to country and stand in awe of her drive, it certainly makes me hyperventilate watching her speed through life. As pilots, we all share this genetic make-up. So wishing you all some time to stand down and relax so you enjoy and appreciate this holiday. Fly SAFE (and often!)


Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and Jeppesen plates FREE if you step up to Performance Pro (offer ends 12/25)! This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

 

“Fired” By the FAA!

At a time when we expect our institutions to operate with transparency and act in a just manner when dealing with their stakeholders, we should demand the same accountability from the FAA FSDOs. Although the majority of the Aviation Safety Inspectors are hard-working, honest and dedicated employees, there continue to be egregious examples of unfair DPE terminations, cronyism, and corruption because there is almost no accountability and certainly no unbiased appeal process. Basically, if an FAA Inspector can get concurrence from the Manager, he or she can act with impunity, knowing there is almost nothing to fear from within the Agency. The only actions which hold any possibility of forcing proper behavior are legal proceedings or political pressure. This is simply and fundamentally wrong. 

The Designated Pilot Examiners are the FAA’s direct connection to the General Aviation community. These are the gatekeepers who make sure that aspiring pilots have the essential skills, knowledge, and judgment to operate safely in the National Airspace System. The DPEs also serve as mentors to aviation educators who are training pilots, many of whom go on to become the airline officers and captains of the future. When questions arise, the DPE is usually one of the subject matter experts that the community depends on for advice and answers. They are truly the “face” of the local FAA office. Many DPEs are also active in presenting safety programs for the FAA, appearing at fly-ins, seminars, and events where they are role models for the community. When pilots run afoul of a regulation or have an accident, the FAA often requires remedial training from a trusted DPE. The entire FAA training and testing process rests on a foundation of trust in the professionalism and integrity of the examiner cadre.

The unintended consequences of arbitrary and capricious sanctions and terminations of DPEs have a serious and chilling effect on this outreach. Many DPEs, seeing such firings taking place are increasingly unwilling to risk their appointment by participating in seminars and training activities for fear of inadvertently saying something that upsets their Managing Specialist or another FAA employee. Leaders in the aviation community are reluctant to serve as DPEs for the same reasons. Many DPEs are unwilling to condemn unprofessional conduct or unfair practices by their local FSDO for fear of jeopardizing their ability to make a living.

So, when the local FSDO chooses to sanction or terminate one of these people “for cause,” it should only do so for significant and proper justification, and it should be required to substantiate this decision. There needs to be an independent appeals board, made up by both qualified FAA personnel from outside the local FAA office and by selected senior members of the examiner community who would review the evidence and make a final determination. Establishing such a mechanism is simple, inexpensive, and urgent.

If we hope to restore and maintain trust in the regulators and managers who are charged with the critical responsibilities of promoting and maintaining aviation safety, this should happen now.”

Ken is a charter member of SAFE and served on the board of directors. His integrity and professionalism are highly respected in our industry and beyond question. The reasons cited for his "termination with cause" relate to his participation in a voluntary FAASTeam seminar, and have nothing to do with his DPE service (see the linked YouTube for details). This case clearly illustrates the need for systemic change in the DPE program. 
SAFE, as a CFI professional organization representing almost 3500 members (and 100 DPEs), advocates for a more fair and transparent system for managing perceived DPE infractions or violations to insure a more secure and professional DPE system. (There is no "Bill of Rights" for DPEs, they "serve at the pleasure" and can be summarily terminated). We support Ken's DPE reinstatement and refer this larger issue to the currently empanneled DPE Reforms Working Group for careful consideration in their report.

Safer Pilots; “Instinctive” Flying!

This week's blog is by Ken Wittekiend and previously published in Flight Training Magazine. Ken is a 7X Master CFI, and a DPE with the FAA - until earlier this fall when he was "terminated with cause." (This FAA action is being contested by Ken and supporters around the country).

At the risk of being considered a cranky old instructor, I do believe we have a growing problem with basic airplane control. Too often, I fly with pilots who don’t have an inherent feel for the airplane. They struggle to make coordinated turns, particularly while climbing or during slow flight; have a justifiable fear of crosswinds; and have difficulty making precise and consistent landings. Recently, a student expressed her frustration this way: “I seem to be working way too hard trying to keep up with everything, and there is no time to relax and enjoy the experience.”

As a pilot examiner, I see this manifest in applicants who cannot fly basic maneuvers smoothly, have trouble with coordination, are frightened of slow flight and stalls, and fail to look outside the airplane. Several applicants failed the checkride when I had to intervene to stop an inadvertent spin following a power-on stall.

Some pilots realize this shortcoming. A few enlightened souls seek out additional instruction, often in tailwheel aircraft, helicopters, aerobatics, or sailplanes. Others either attempt to avoid any flight that feels uncomfortable or try to substitute instrument references, assuming that technology will offer a better answer. Visual cues from glass-panel displays don’t really replace the seat-of-the-pants feeling and the audible cues that help us know the energy state of the airplane.

As a tailwheel instructor in a Piper Super Cub, I often hear pilots ask, “Where is the VSI?” (there isn’t one) or “What speed do you use on short final?” (this is no time to be looking at the airspeed indicator). They require a mental gear shift to learn that not only is it possible, but easy, to fly without all the usual instrument references.

Sooner or later, conditions require us to put the airplane right there, on centerline and on speed. A short or soft runway, a stronger-than-expected crosswind, or a bounced landing can put unusual demands on a pilot. Often the result is unsatisfactory. Less dramatic, but more common, is a failure to appreciate the joy of being truly connected to the aircraft.

The solution starts with an increased awareness of the need for instinctive flying skills. Pilots also need access to training providers who can help them succeed. The concepts are not difficult, and the equipment requirements are not exotic. All it takes is an instructor who understands the basics and who can structure the lessons in a way that the student feels secure—and has an opportunity to experience the joy of instinctive flight.

There are many creative ways to help the pilot learn. A favorite of mine involves covering the flight instruments with a small towel, forcing the pilot to look outside. Point out how we can use the bottom of the wing against the horizon to judge angle of attack in cruise flight. Have the student fly several patterns, including takeoff and landing, with the towel in place. The instructor should handle the radio during this training so the client can focus on flying.

Two different cognitive domains; we need BOTH!

The CFI should point out the proper pitch, power, and configurations required. Set the power by sound, trim so the stick or yoke is light in hand, and resist the tendency to pull back in the turns and on short final. Stress the importance of feeling the load on the wing through the controls and the seat. Build the student’s confidence in her ability to know what the airplane is doing through sight, sound, and feel.

Introduce stalls with gentle recoveries by reducing pitch slightly as the airplane stalls. Reinforce the idea that it is this reduction in angle of attack that fixes the problem, not the addition of power. Practice raising the pitch with no rudder input to see the yaw and roll begin, and then practice keeping the nose straight with rudder while slowly increasing pitch until the stall occurs. Teach the concept of “unloading the controls” any time things feel, look, or sound weird.

When practicing landings, ask the student to fly down the runway while holding the airplane just above the surface. At first, the instructor likely will have to control the throttle so there is just enough power to remain in ground effect while the student learns the control inputs needed to stabilize the airplane as the speed decreases. If the airplane is stable, simply reduce the power while encouraging the student to keep the airplane flying. As he or she raises the pitch attitude, the airplane slows, requiring more inputs to remain stabilized.

As the student controls drift, heading, and altitude using the proper inputs, simply reduce the power further and allow the airplane to land. As skill increases, introduce nonstandard patterns, simulated forced landings, and extreme slow flight to help the student set a new personal low-speed record. Make it fun, keep it simple, and let the student learn.

The instructor must be able to demonstrate the skills of instinctive flying. If he or she is not proficient and totally engaged in the process, there is an increase

in risk. The CFI also must be able to manage the scenario, control the student’s workload, direct the student’s focus, and maintain a safe environment. The benefit for the instructor is a happier, safer, more competent pilot who enjoys flying more—simply for the joy that comes from doing something well and making it look easy.


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

“Crash-Proof Piloting” – Always Ready!

All three occupants luckily escaped with minor injuries…

 

To be safe, every pilot needs more frequent and realistic training to cope with engine-out emergencies.  This process of “crash-proofing” assures every pilot has the skills and is psychologically ready, to safely return to earth from any phase of every flight. This seems axiomatic but is amazingly rare. In training, once the initial fear of flight diminishes, we assume the power is going to always be there (or we would be continually terrified). Reawakening a little concern and suspicion is essential for safety; “Where would I land right now?” (Engine failure is the third most common cause of fatal accidents)

The easiest return is from altitude, where time and energy are available. But as you can see from the accident above, many pilots fail this test even when great fields are readily available. The first problem is psychological – overcoming the startle response and lock-up when the “simulation becomes real.” Fear inoculation and actual emergency practice are necessary to handle any emergency. Since you cannot “surprise yourself,” a good CFI with some “shock and awe” training is required to build implicit learning that will be available to the pilot under serious stress – the difference between target shooting and real combat. Getting time in a real glider (or even a rating) is highly recommended for power pilots. Practicing field selection and glide control embeds “implicit learning” – subconscious/automatic – that operates even during emergency situations.

To become “crash-proof”, first find and memorize your power-off glide attitude and trim for control. Get comfortable with this glide “look and feel” and be able to achieve it immediately (from Vy climb you have only about three seconds to get there).  Once there, most pilots fail to trim and squander precious moments chasing a misbehaving aircraft. From 1000 feet you have only 2 minutes and you will be on the ground…hopefully in a big field. This is one chance (no replay) and failure is not an option.

In most piston planes putting the wing cord level with the horizon while looking out at the wing, will give you the best glide within 5 knots. Then practice flying the plane from an abeam position in the pattern to the runway in a glide. Manage the flare and landing power off and remember to aim toward the middle of the field initially. In every emergency, we want to allow a margin for “partial pilot incapacitation” from a shaky, nervous performance. Your plane is not going to roll far on a rough surface and we absolutely do not want to miss the field. Once that landing spot is assured on a stabilized final, optimize the approach with flaps and/or a slip to pick the best touchdown point (only when stabilized on a final). Again practice in a glider getting precise glide control is very valuable.

Once you have this “abeam point to touchdown” portion of the process worked out, work on the “high-key to abeam” glide management. When an engine fails at altitude and a field is selected, go directly to the selected landing field and dissipate altitude directly over the intended landing point. This not only assures success with the glide, but it also allows the pilot ample opportunity to observe potential hazards on the surface and optimize a touchdown point. To survive the off-field landing, you need to dissipate your speed over the greatest distance for survivability.

Once at normal pattern altitude, enter your normal abeam position as practiced. Those large, 2-mile downwind and four-mile final legs to lose altitude, are the primary reason I see for off-field failure.  The familiar/reliable downwind to landing procedure from a pre-practiced abeam position is essential for a pilot hyped up on adrenaline. All those other important items have to be handled parenthetically (seat belts tight, door cracked, emergency call and shut down) because if you miss the field entirely (the usual case) all that other prep is largely wasted.

Once all these basics are in place, it is essential to practice assiduously to build solid implicit (subconscious) patterning so you can perform an emergency landing accurately and comfortably from anywhere in the pattern. This skill is a huge confidence-builder and all these abilities transfer to normal patterns and make any pilot much sharper for the days when emergencies are “canceled for today.”

Good resources are the emergency training video from AOPA: Engine Failure from Trouble to Touchdown. This is an excellent program worth watching several times. A classic non-nonsense book is How To Crash an Airplane (and Survive!) by crash investigator Mick Wilson. Kai Gertsen’s classic “Off Airport Landings” is FREE in the SAFE library (he has 169 successful off-airport landings).  Actual time spent in a glider is also very valuable for all kinds of reasons. Practicing glides all the way from altitude to landing “for real” focuses the mind and embeds airspeed and pattern control. Remember though, glide ratio and flight attitude will be dramatically different in a draggy piston plane. Fly safe out there, and be ready to land safely from any part of every flight!


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

Beyond the “Stupid Pilot” View of Safety!

You have undoubtedly encountered the “stupid pilot” statistic endlessly repeated during safety meetings: human error is responsible for 80% of aviation accidents. This statistic is true if you only study and quantify aviation accidents but this is a very small part of aviation activity. This short-sighted methodology is like “studying divorce to understand marriage.” An obsession with errors and omissions – “never do this” – is a reactive, command and control approach to safety – a “whack a mole” strategy with no end. It ignores the fact that most of the time in aviation, things go right! And undervaluing the positive pilot contribution leads increasingly to engineering the pilot out of the cockpit and losing the largest contributor to flight safety – the pilot. Positive progress in safety requires not just “focusing out harm” but empowering and enabling pilots to be resilient and successful more of the time.  Proactive “Safety 2.0” works with this bigger picture and puts the pilot as the center.

In Focusing [Just] On What Pilots Do Wrong, We May Be Missing Valuable Lessons From What They Quietly Do Right -FORBES

Dr. Jon Holbrook, at NASA, terms this approach “productive safety,” and examines all the ways pilots actively contribute to safety during complex and challenging operations. “For every well-scrutinized accident, there are literally millions of flights in which things go right, and those flights receive very little attention,” said Holbrook. “Safety 2.0” deconstructs the expert performance of “things going right”  and provides a bigger toolbox of safety strategies. Studied in this manner, pilots are the constantly active “fixers,” flexing and changing plans to create greater safety during an ongoing process of monitoring and maintaining margins. When was the last time one of your flights went exactly as planned?

When we analyze “all flight activity,” safety requires constant awareness and the continuous creative modification during preplanned missions. These are most often not herculean interventions but small continuous changes adapting to unforeseen challenges. Safety 2.0 leverages this more positive focus rather than trying to create a beautiful statue by reassembling the broken pieces. Since I first wrote about “Safety 2.0” a year ago there has been tremendous progress in this field (everywhere but in aviation!) See “Doing Safety Differently” for examples of this approach in other industries.

A command and control view of an incident depicts this check airman as a stupid pilot whereas a more productive “Safety 2.0” approach might actually reveal how automation defeated the efforts of a cautious pilot crew that ultimately resolved the confusing situation safely!  This YouTube leverages Safety 2.0 in the medical world.  Fly safely (and often)


“Checkride Ready!™” is on the (newly updated) SAFE App this week. (If you have it installed, just close and reopen for updated app.) This new section is directed toward pilot applicants and shares the common problems DPEs see repeatedly on check rides (pink slip). Download the (free) SAFE App. today!

Thanks to All; SAFE Surveyed #1

SAFE recently celebrated a 10th anniversary and just this spring polled #1 in an FAA national survey as the top resource for pilots and CFIs! At this special time of year, we offer sincere thanks to all the amazing people who have worked so hard throughout these years to enable SAFE’s growth and ultimate success. Though SAFE endured some tough financial times through the years, there were some amazing “home runs” as the organization grew.

The Pilot Reform Symposium in 2011 shook the aviation industry and led directly to the development of the new FAA ACS. Our Pilot Proficiency Project grew into the nationally available EAA 365 initiative. The CFI insurance program SAFE created continues to be the best value in the industry; also gratefully used by the 100+ DPEs in our membership! SAFE has worked very hard to improve aviation safety with industry leaders like Doug Stewart and Rich Stowell testifying on behalf of SAFE in front of the NTSB for aviation flight training. Our participation in FAA national forums has been a constant force for positive industry change. Thank-you to these important individual leaders!

“SAFE members are the movers and shakers of the flight training community!” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at SAFE Symposium 2011

Since its founding in 2009, SAFE has been the “scrappy underdog,” frugal and struggling, supported entirely by member donations and lots of “sweat equity” from generous volunteers and industry sponsors. Great thanks goes to all our generous sponsors who have enabled our growth. Incentives like the 1/3 off Foreflight go a long way toward inspiring membership!

It was a wonderful shock and validation of our efforts when SAFE was finally recognized as the #1 source of aviation proficiency resources this spring. The FAA WINGS program commissioned a comprehensive survey conducted by AOPA to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in their program and also discover what pilots and CFIs needed and valued in the industry. SAFE came out on top! We are so grateful for this honor and thank all our members and sponsors for getting us to this leading position in the aviation industry. In so many ways, this is just the starting gate for many amazing projects ready to grow and bring new value to the industry.

The Toolkit App, introduced in 2015, was only intended as a short-term substitute until our website was remodeled. This tool grew to became our flagship offering that now supports thousands of daily users. This single resource also spawned this SAFE blog and initiatives like SAFE CFI-PRO™. Held initially at KFDK last fall this program is now offered to flight schools and universities.

Most recently the very popular SAFE Checkride Ready!™ was launched on the app and is growing at an exponential rate. Thank you for using and supporting all these programs and contributing your ideas and suggestions. (The “responder” on the app comes directly to my phone!)

SAFE is finally nearing the final integration of our new website as the developer installs recent changes to plugins that will finally allow us to migrate our membership database from Authorize.net over to Stripe around January 2021 (can’t wait!) The courses and resources available on this new site are amazing (but no wine before its time…)!

So thanks again and wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving. Your amazing support through the years has made all this possible.  Please consider an additional gift to support our website transition or help fund our STEM scholarships. Just click on our easy Give2SAFE portal. Additional gifts to SAFE, outside of the usual membership dues, are completely tax-deductible through our educational not-for-profit status. Have a safe holiday and thanks again for your support: #flySAFE


“Checkride Ready!™” is on the (newly updated) SAFE App this week. (If you have it installed, just close and reopen for updated app.) This new section is directed toward pilot applicants and shares the common problems DPEs see repeatedly on check rides (pink slip). Download the (free) SAFE App. today!