Providing Productive Challenges in Flight

 

Scenario-based training (like FITS before it) has acquired a stigma in the aviation training world though overuse– but please stay with me here 🙂 Because done properly, scenarios are the most important tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And they are now the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS evaluations. But unfortunately, scenarios have been overused (and abused) until many educators practically gag at the mention of the word. But please remember, the  mind-numbing “practice area experience” is equally misused and probably responsible for more student drop-outs than scenarios. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenges to training that more accurately resemble the real flight experience. They expand a small geographic area to the whole country (with no added cost!)

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes from inappropriately imposing the same generic scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges.  Given the unique needs of each student this process is doomed to failure by definition (Not unlike those stock “CFI lesson plans”). Anticipated “learning opportunities” often instead become “play time” for instructors logging hours and an expensive burden for the training pilot. They turn flight training into Disney with no added educational value. The heart of a successful scenarios is a motivated and imaginative aviation educator customizing and curating the learning experience. Creative scenario generation and applicatiion creates motivating experiences proven to rapidly build skills, knowledge and judgement and result in a versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency).

The Necessity…

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

Scenarios Done Properly…

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

How to…Let’s get started!

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

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

Creating mountains…

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

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

Motivating for students and educators!

Scenarios are exciting for both the pilot and the educator adding fun and variety to the training experience; this is how Master Instructors are built. Good scenarios beat “going to the practice area for some steep turns” hands down for learning efficiency and motivation. And there is a real difference between “one hour 2000 times” and “2000 unique hours of real teaching experience”. A future blog will deal more with acquiring expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). 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!

Command Your Technology For Safety!

Our amazing modern technology provides all kinds of enigmatic choices and challenges for directing our lives. “Smartphones” and “digital assistants” increasingly suggest or determine our every action unless we consciously intervene and take charge. Especially for pilots, taking charge and commanding our relationship with technology is essential if we want to fly safety. A little history here provides some important lessons.

Click for detailed FAA Report on TAA Safety

Do you remember all the promises that “technically advanced airplanes”  would dramatically reduce our GA accident rate? This was like a “magic bullet” in the 1990s when the first “glass panel” aircraft were coming onto the market. The promise everywhere in the news was that we would be “saved by technology.” This seemed logical given the incredible precision and quantity of information suddenly available to pilots previously depending on some pretty sketchy analog devices. With digital accuracy and data, we would be able to better see and avoid weather and supposedly never run out of fuel. But our tricky human interface largely defeated many of the benefits provided by the new technology and the same accidents are still occuring with depressing regularly.

The paradox of technology is that precisely because we have more accurate data,  pilots can reduce their planning margins and cut it even closer to the edge. In the case of fuel, we can plan tighter on time and with live weather depiction in the panel,  we often navigate even closer between storm cells. The root problem is a lack of pilot judgment. By training or by nature, pilots are mission driven and often aggressively “optimize” and thereby decrease their safety. Give us humans a sharper tool and they will shave the safety margin ever closer. The difference between what we are able to do and what we should do for safety still escapes many pilots. Clearly the challenge for aviation educators is teaching wisdom, not wi-fi.

The ACS focus on judgment and robust risk management has made a huge and important difference in the flight training and testing world. I see this as a CFI and DPE and hope we see an impact soon in the safety statistics. But because this initiative is still so new to general aviation, the benefits are still only slowly making their impact upward into the aviation charter world. I actually clearly remember the very first time I had a young co-pilot initiate his own risk management plan before a challenging flight. I thought I would fall over in gratitude. He had clearly laid out the challenges and his risk mitigation planning just like a student on a flight test- – funny how that initial training works. Modern technology in the panel provides amazing tools; perfect location mapping, real-time weather, fuel status down to the last drop. But all this will only yield increased safety if we have a “thinking monkey” operating it with a clear vision of the larger safety concerns.

A student logbook from a flight test; so good to see “personal minimums” recorded.

Another challenge provided by our amazing new technology pertains to legacy operators; pilots with years in the air, importing this technology into their flying. There is far too much reliance on autopilots and GPS with operator skills deteriorating rapidly and dramatically. Many formerly wonderful old-time pilots have become unapologetic “technology managers” driving planes in a mindless fashion. As we become “programmers”, the hand flying skills we once all depended on to be safe are no longer available as a back-up.

In the 135 charter world proficiency is enforced every 6 months in FAA-required training. In the GA world the proficiency mandate falls to the aviation educator. I highly recommend the new AOPA “Focused Flight Review” as a tool for educators. The dedicated team at AOPA, in collaboration with SAFE and other incustry players, has assembled a wonderful resource library for inspiring pilot proficiency. And this is useful for training at any level, not just the flight review. Teaching this syllabus injects risk management and judgment into the world of legacy operators who often never encountered risk management in their initital training. Too much technology magic can defeat a once proficient pilot quite rapidly. Expand your flight envelope with hands on flight training, fly safe (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!

Honoring the “Head Masters”

Please join us in honoring JoAnn and Sandy Hill, the “Head Masters” and creators of the Master Instructor Program at AirVenture (Oshkosh) this year. This amazing husband and wife team has done more to enhance aviation professionalism than any two people, from the development of the Master Instructor program in 1995 to the revitalization of the GA Awards Program and development of SAFE. You are welcome to participate in this reunion and share your stories and memories (RSVP). The event starts at 4PM in the Oshkosh Terminal Building on Thursday, July 26th. If you cannot attend, please log into this form and share your thoughts here for a memory book for the Hills.

The Master Instructor Program was built on the widely accepted educational axiom “a good pilot is always learning”. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Built on other professional models of accumulating “Continuing Educational Units” the Hills realized unless we are actively and eagerly pursuing excellence on every flight we usually are developing “right seat rust” and complacency. As pilots, we are only as good as our last landing; there is no “safety inoculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)! The Master CFI program

Though as CFIs  we preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! And there is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay every other pilot and professional experiences. Continually embracing the “challenge of excellence” is the necessary antidote to maintain a sharp edge and continue to grow as a pilot and educator. “Right seat rust” is a sad reality in flying and it is occurs both in flying skills *and* educational methods.

After developing the Master Instructor Program, it was a natural step for the Hills to revitalize and improve the FAA’s National GA Awards. This program recognizes the best flight instructor, maintenance technician, and FAA Safety Team Representative in the country at Oshkosh.  Under the guidance of Sandy and JoAnn this program got a new level of organization, respect and recognition nationally. Not surprisingly, many of the award recipients are previously recognized Masters.

Please join us at the Oshkosh Terminal Building 4PM on Thursday the 26th of July and honor Sandy and JoAnn Hill for all they have done in aviation. Log into this Google Form to RSVP or leave your memories for them.


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!

Pilot “Flight Envelope Expansion”!

For most long-time CFIs and proficient pilots, “training stalls” often become fairly comfortable, even pedestrian. And for committed aviators, the addition of some upset and aerobatic training further expands understanding and comfort in unusual attitude recoveries. The reasoning behind this approach is to expand the “personal flight envelope” and build “all attitude” control in the aircraft. Rich Stowell’s “Train to Avoid Loss of Control” is a perfect sales pitch for this approach to aviation safety; train to create a surplus of skill in all areas. Embedding stalls in realistic scenarios is especially useful and effective. Please watch this short program:

Unfortunately, this safety formula is not at all common in the general pilot population. The average GA pilot only flies in 5% of the possible flight envelope. The unfortunate consequence of this “avoidance strategy”  is that if these pilots are displaced from their “comfort zone” by weather, mechanical or distraction, they are unprepared for the experience which might cause the familiar startle, panic, and freeze-up. Loss of control (usually leading to a stall/spin) is our #1 fatal accident causal factor.

The FAA  has recently moved to define anything slower that 1.3 as “abnormal” and stalls  are defined as an “emergency”. Though both FAA and ICAO have implemented “expanded envelope training” ( for the airlines) this training also avoids any edge of envelope maneuvering. As discussed recently in Flying Magazine, and also in Aviation Safety,  the new definition of stalls as “emergencies” seems to discourage practice in this area. The already truncated private pilot flight envelope is getting even smaller through avoidance. On flight tests DPEs no longer examine MCA (minimum controlable airspeed) and even the term MCA has entirely disappeared from the Flight Training Handbook. We only transit this (too scary?) flight regime briefly on the way to the full stall (emergency!) and immediate recovery.  I can personally attest that pilot skills in this area are already deteriorating as a result of these recent changes. Is the solution to LOC-I to run away from the edges of the flight envelope and perhaps equip every aircraft with a ballistic parachute recovery system?

The drving force behind this change seems to be be the The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Though advocating for “expanded envelope training”, the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) report, counsels against developing “negative transfer with comfort in the stall regime of flight” by practicing at the edge of the envelope. But many aviation experts disagree, and there seems to be a growing group of experts advocating for all attitude maneuvering and practice as an antidote to the LOC-I problem.

Dr. Ed Wischmeyer, an MIT PhD and ATP pilot (and also a long time CFI) has submitted just such a LOC-I solution for this year’s EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize. Ed has created and cataloged a series of maneuvers designed to expand the pilot’s flight envelope. These go beyond the usual MCA and stalls to include the spiral stalls and “Sixty Nineties” (60 degree banked turns with full aileron reversal every 90 degrees of turn). The beauty of these maneuvers is the ability to perform them in a normal part 23 aircraft (Cessna/Cherokee) without exceeding performance limitations (obviously dual with a competent CFI). I personally use these and other CFI favorites like the “falling leaf” stalls and “rudder boxing” maneuvers to prepare pilots for commercial pilot training. These pilots are often just out of  instrument training with 40 hours of “standard rate” gentle IFR control so their maneuver envelope has shunk even smaller.

The objective of these “envelope expansion” maneuvers is to build greater willingness to “yank and bank” which supplies personal confidence and control of the aircraft. A larger personal flight envelope (also with diverse A/C experience) is a stronger basis for safety than FAA ICAO avoidance– your thoughts?


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!

NTSB Loss of Control; April 24th

Loss of control in-flight is the #1 causal factor of general aviation fatalities. Though largely a catch-all grouping encompassing many diverse sources, the majority of these accidents implicate insufficient pilot situational awareness and maneuvering skills during critical phases of flight. For this reason, deeper analysis of this phenomenon is of particular interest to flight educators. Should pilot training and testing standards be higher or skill levels more stringent? Our SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led to embedding judgment and risk management into flight training with the new FAA ACS standards. Did this initiative go far enough? What can we do as educators to reduce these all-to-common fatal accidents?

Doug Stewart; Community Aviation (.com)

This Tuesday, April 24th, the NTSB is assembling a roundtable meeting of subject matter experts in the field of flight training. Veteran pilot and master educator Doug Stewart, one of the founding members of SAFE and former Executive Director, will represent the flight training community in this important gathering. Doug has over 12K hours dual given, is a FAA DPE, 10 time Master CFI, and also FAA CFI of The Year in 2004. This gathering will be covered live on the NTSB channel. (You can earn FAA Wings for watching)

Loss of control inflight has been on the NTSB “Most Wanted List” for many years. We believe that a deeper investigation of these accidents and greater understanding of root causes can help prevent these occurances. But the key lies in more vigilant and aware pilots with increased skills in maneuvering and upset recovery. As educators, we must sharpen our educational focus and build these pilot skills. SAFE has been integrally involved in these discussions with both educational articles and national seminars to inspire and motivate pilots to improve skills.  But the solution also requires every educator to commit to increased abilities both in initial certification and in recurrent training; especially in areas of basic control and maneuvering flight. Focusing on greater professionalsim and excellence to create safer pilots is a key SAFE mission mandate.

As a long-time flight instructor, I also encourage every pilot to access the excellent training materials from the Air Safety Institute. Their Essential Aerodynamics course is an comprehensive (and fun) tutorial that will benefit every pilot, both student and veteran (no Greek letters). Every pilot absolutely must understand the fundamental forces for our flying to be safe in the air.

Our many hours of straight and level cruising simply do not prepare us adequately for the surprise emergency events that cause accidents. We all must commit to study and train more often at the edges of the flight envelope to stay safe in aviation. The EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at Airventure is free and open to all, presenting surpises that test and train your skills and thought processes. (and we need proficient CFIs at all levels to staff this initiative) Please follow this blog for future updates and commentary.


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

 

 

Educator Professionalism Creates Excellence in Aviation

It takes a Pro to make a Pro…

The tenets of professionalism apply to flight instructors regardless of whom we teach or the aircraft type. Instructor professionalism is the foundation for excellence and success. We read about it, and we talk about it. But what exactly is it, and how do we embody that crucial characteristic?

Characteristics of Professionalism

A business definition of professionalism is “meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one’s dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above the commercial considerations and legal requirements” (www.businessdictionary.com).

Professionalism is typically achieved only after extended training and preparation. This training usually requires significant self-study and practice and is typically accomplished with formal education. It brings to mind the seemingly endless hours of education, training, and practice one undergoes on the path to becoming a doctor. The path to becoming a flight instructor has similar requirements – not just in terms of formal academic study and training, but also in terms of what we might call “the unwritten requirements”. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Skilled pilot

The aviation instructor must be an expert pilot, one who is knowledgeable, proficient, skillful, and safe. You should be very proficient on the equipment you use, especially avionics. Be alert for ways to improve your qualifications, your effectiveness, and the services you offer. Stay abreast of changes in regulations, practices, and procedures. Make a habit of referring to the current Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), Sectional Charts, Handbooks, Manuals, and Practical Test Standards (PTS). You should also read aviation periodicals, browse the Internet, and attend meetings and seminars. And, of course we recommend that you have (and use) an account on www.FAASafety.gov.

Strong teacher

A flight instructor must have strong skills and abilities in two major areas. First, he or she must be a competent and qualified teacher, with all of the “soft skills” we attribute to teachers. These include communication skills, people skills, and patience. In order to understand the progress your students are making, you must understand the four levels of learning – Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation. To simplify my own comprehension of these principles, I reduced the concepts to concise, understandable definitions.

Practical psychologist

You need to understand anxiety and how to address it with a student. You must know that reactions to stress can be normal or abnormal, and be ready to act appropriately. You soon learn that obstacles to learning can be different for each student. You learn how to address impatience, worry, lack of interest, apathy, anxiety, discomfort, illness, and fatigue. You must work within your student’s other interests or enthusiasms. You must discover how to help the student with a multitude of troubles; you may even have to show your student how to handle fear. Also important is your understanding of the laws of learning. Your student’s progress will be enhanced if you remember that a student learns because of Readiness and Effect, but remembers because of Primacy, Exercise, Intensity, and Recency.

Capable Coach

The best flight instructors use a syllabus, set achievable goals for their students, and use a well-designed lesson plan. You should personally prepare for each lesson, whether ground or flight, and personally prepare for each individual student. Not having an organized plan is, in fact, a plan…for failure. No two students are the same; they must be treated as individuals. You are the key to their success.

Positive role model

Consistently using a checklist is another mark of a professional. We all get excited or rushed at times and and the use of a checklist is the only way to ensure we don’t forget something. Students will follow the behavior you model, so do it right. A flight instructor must also have high standards of personal appearance, which means that you must be neat, clean, and dressed in a manner appropriate to the situation. Your personal habits must be acceptable. As a chief flight instructor, I once had a student request a different instructor because his instructor had an overwhelming body odor. I discovered that the instructor worked at a physically demanding job before reporting to the flight school. Moving his first lesson by an hour solved that problem. In addition to personal hygiene, you cannot be rude, thoughtless, or inattentive, and you cannot be profane or obscene.

Sincere

Professionals are true to themselves and to those they serve. Your sincerity of effort must be such that inadequacies are admitted, not hidden, and are corrected for the future. A Code of Ethics is a good reminder of the need for honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity.

Inquisitive

True performance as a professional is based on study and research, and professionals are always searching for the “why.” Perhaps you can imagine the hard work required to produce a doctoral thesis. Becoming a flight instructor requires that same dedication to learning. Let’s look at an example from a private pilot syllabus for flight training. Let’s assume you are going to teach a student to perform turns-around-a-point. We all know this lesson begins in the classroom. To test understanding, you ask your student to place an “X” at the point on the circle where the bank angle is the greatest during the maneuver and then tell you why he chose that point. Assume the wind as shown and left-hand turns. Before you read on, place the “X” on the circle yourself. Many instructors place an “X” at the bottom of the circle; some place it half-way between the bottom and the direct left side point. Why are these not the correct answer? Remember, we are searching for the “why.” The key is to understand that the aircraft’s ground speed is the greatest at only one point. It is at this point that the wind will be pushing the aircraft away from the desired track at the greatest velocity.

Creative

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to be a pilot or a flight instructor. While a flight test pilot and an aeronautical engineer may need higher math skills, the typical pilot, and flight instructor, gets by quite easily with the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills one learns in grade school. However, a professional flight instructor must have other qualities that could be defined as intellectual skills. These include the ability to reason logically and accurately, as well as the ability to make good decisions. Even though aviation has standard practices for normal and abnormal situations, we must also appreciate that some situations may require thinking outside the box.

You Touch the Future!

As Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe famously proclaimed, “I touch the future – I teach!” Whatever your eventual goals in aviation might be, never forget that being a flight instructor is a real job that has real – and lasting – impact. Make it count!

A wonderful article by Bryan Neville first published in FAA Safety Briefing. Click here for original pdf version.

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

 

Stall Spin on Final; Are CFIs (Partly) to Blame?

Sorry, but yes we are. Read on to see why and how we can fix this.

We all know that stall/spin “upset” incidents on final (some of which become accidents) – close to the ground – are a major hazard and a killer of pilots and, unfortunately, also passengers. We know that the onset of this situation seems to be a complex one with many implications for aircraft control, but really it is a simple one. The pilot yawed and stalled the airplane. Also, when this type of upset occurs, even the very best pilot will initially have a period of “startle” while trying to understand what is happening and what is needed to correct it, this despite the fact that they created the situation. So, there would seem to be a disconnect between what the pilot wanted the airplane to do and what they “told” it to do by their control inputs. The problem is, of course, that this often occurs close enough to the ground that the time needed for that analysis and reaction takes more time than is available – or should we say more altitude than is available. While we train in power off turning stalls (formerly called approach to landing stalls) at altitude, that is a planned exercise and the student/pilot is prepared for them. On short final, or turning to final – not so much! It is also surprising how many pilots have never done a turning stall – only the wings level variety!

A key question needs to be asked here. Why do pilots find themselves in this position in the first place? There are numerous answers – the pilot got slow, the pilot got slow and cross controlled, the pilot overbanked, and the list goes on. While these are all valid points, and there are many others, it still doesn’t get to one of the real “causal” factors that got them there. HOW did the pilot get low, slow, cross controlled, and overbanked in the first place?

I know that there are probably many potential primary causal factors that could be listed, but I would like to suggest that there is one fairly prominent one – and we instructors are partially to blame for its occurrence. I know that sounds like a strong statement, but I hope to provide, in the information that follows, two things – a rationale for that statement and a potential solution for it as well.

Again, there are many ways that a student/pilot can get into the situation, but if we instructors think about the times that we have seen the potential, many of those are the result of a common incident – flying through the final approach course during the turn to final. Distractions undoubtedly played a role in a number of those. I have seen it many times with students, and also with pilots on flight reviews and proficiency flights, and after we got on the ground I asked a question. “Why did you do that steep, pulling bank on your final turn?” And, almost universally they will say, “Because my instructor told me I (had to/needed to) roll out on final lined up with the runway.” And when they didn’t? Their instructor further stressed the importance of doing so.

We must remember that while lining up with the runway is the “end game”, we also do a disservice to students/pilots when we imply that lining up means “NEVER” going beyond the extended centerline. There is not a wall there (though there are issues if there are parallel runways). Overshooting the centerline may, in some cases, have some worth, such as initiating an s-turn process to bleed off excess altitude rather than skidding or slipping (cross control).

Put yourself in the place of the pilot or student that slightly misjudges the wind or the turn (or is distracted) and winds up going slightly through the runway centerline as they are turning – or even more than slightly, which increases the problem. More often than not, what is their response? Steepen the bank and pull, which increases the g-loading and angle of attack, to try and “get back over to the centerline”. And, here comes the stall/spin on final.

Sometimes I don’t think that we instructors, myself included in the past, have realized the impact of some of the things we say, like – “You really should roll out lined up with the runway.” Granted that IS the desired result, and our training should be to teach them how to do that – judging the wind effect, etc. so that they can safely compensate and roll out on final lined up. But, I am reminded of some cartoons I have seen, notably Charles Schultz in Peanuts, where an owner is talking to their pet to try and train them and what they hear is – “/// ////// Line up with the runway /// ///// /////”. You get the drift (pun intended). They hear only part of the message and it is strongly heard and remembered. The Law of Primacy applies here, and it will stick with them, with the strong emphasis, as we know from our study of the Fundamentals of Instruction!

I certainly agree that what we should teach is the analysis that gets the student to see in advance what the air mass movement is doing to them so that they can anticipate what is needed in the turn to final. But, I also know that even the best “air gods” will occasionally misjudge the flow and either undershoot or overshoot the centerline. Undershoot is NOT a problem and much easier to resolve – but overshoot IS a problem as our stall/spin statistics will tell us – and they don’t really go down. It is a problem because of the way we instructors treat it – as a big deal, instead of a teachable moment.

While it will not eliminate the stall/spin situation on final, I would suggest that we need to spend quite a bit more time teaching how to recover/fly out of the overshoot with our students to significantly reduce the problem. They need to understand that it is not an “offense” to fly through, and that the solution is to either continue the normally banked turn to fly back to the centerline or, if they are way off, to go around and do it again. In most cases, the former is the ideal solution – just continue the NORMAL turn to a heading that is a good re-intercept angle to the final course, then make a normal turn back to the final approach course at the intercept. At that point, make a decision as to whether a normal approach to landing is possible. If so, continue, and if not, go around.

WE, as instructors, must understand the import given to what we say to our students and the weight that it carries, whether intentional or not. The next time you are with a student or pilot, listen to what you say and consider modifying it to start teaching this way to resolve it. It is a lot harder to “unteach” something than it is to teach it right in the first place. We need to work on the initial teaching part with students, and spend a LOT of time working on the unteach/reteach part with our fellow pilots.

Will this eliminate the stall/spin on final? No, but it can go a long way to preventing some future ones that might otherwise occur! In fact, it might even be a good idea to practice some intentional overshoots with the corrections so that the students/pilots understand and get comfortable with them.

(with grateful acknowledgement to Rich Stowell for review and input! This article is part of the extensive SAFE on-line Resource Center one of the benefits of SAFE membership)


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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 Good to Great; Learn From Your Students!

“Good pilots are always learning” but this commitment is also vital for good flight instructors. To improve at anything, we must be continually curious, seeking new knowledge or inevitably cynicism and a glassy-eyed complacency set in. You know this look, 70% of  US workers on the job are “disengaged”. A commitment to growth as a flight instructor does not only mean pursuing new ratings (and hopefully a Master Instructor Certification), but also learning on a daily basis from our students. Like every other certificate, a new CFI is a “license to learn.” Look at the Canadian system (four levels) to see how perfunctory our FAA preparation can be! Maintaining a “beginners mind” makes the difference between “a thousand unique hours of experience and one hour a thousand times.”

 

 

 

 

According to psychologist Dr. Anders Ericsson in his fascinating book Peak, the secret to mastery in any field is “deliberate practice” and continually seeking excellence. For example, a physician with 20 years experience that is happy with “acceptable performance” and “performs on autopilot” is less effective (and less safe) than a doctor with only 5 years of deliberate practice. Quality over quantity is the rule for mastery. In education, one huge opportunity for educators to grow and make every hour count is learning from our students.

On the most basic level this means discovering how each unique individual learns efficiently and effectively. Our challenge is to creatively adapt our presentation to a variety of people and help them learn. Notice I did not say “teach them” -we are not pouring skill and knowledge into their heads! Our job is to present appropriately challenging experiences so they can assemble and code these experiences into increasing usable knowledge and skills. Careful observation and skillful questioning will reveal if we are succeeding; when to step in and when to back off and let learning occur. That blank stare, frustration or lack of progress area critical clues. Gaining emotional intelligence and compassion is not easy for technically minded people like pilots, but it will make your teaching much better and your whole life a richer experience.

Active listening, with a continuous feedback loop, is essential to calibrate and improve our performance. The art of providing an optimal challenge without being either boring or overly challenging is critical and only attainable with continuous feedback. Those deadly “one size fits all” lesson plans really work for no one; get creative. In the learning environment, less talking from the CFI and more listening and questioning are usually a sign of progress in education. Similarly, fewer CFI demonstrations and more student flying (with encouragement and coaching) creates an exciting and fun opportunity for real learning. Obviously we have to keep the learning environment safe, but allowing our students room to grow is critical. For learning to happen, we must allow mistakes to happen (hopefully increasingly self-corrected).

A savvy flight educator must know the boundaries of safety and always subtly guide the flight experience. This requires knowing and trusting your clients capabilities, but also maintaining an alert watch. Sometimes this is presenting a question about a forgotten critical item, or directing perception so your student acquires an insight they might otherwise miss. An expert is a person with a rich mental representation of their environment that easily recognizes patterns and meanings that would escape the naive viewer. We need to convey those meanings. A savvy flight educator knows about a developing difficulty miles before their student. Our awareness keeps this situation safe but we also must be careful not to spoil their learning opportunities. Letting a missed item persist until a student discovers it can be excruciating!

One of the most important understandings for an experienced flight educator is what the “FAA finished pilot” looks like at each level of certification. When is a person a suitably proficient to be a sport, recreational, private or commercial grade pilot? Though it is frustrating that we cannot make every person into an astronaut, we have to know when our applicant meets the FAA standards and is ready to test for their certificate or rating (and also be a safe future aviator). Just like personal minimums in piloting, in test preparation there should be a  “margin of safety” and extra capacity in every applicant to insure success (despite the inevitable stress).

Knowing the required skill, knowledge and judgment required for each test and the performance psychology of your applicant takes years to get right. This is one reason DPEs are required to have so much experience teaching to be designated as examiners. Getting feedback from your DPE is the most valuable (and under-appreciated) sources of learning for the flight educator. Search out a DPE that is willing to give you an honest, detailed debrief on every applicant and you will become a training team creating safer and more comprehensive pilots…more to come!


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

Free Tech Tools for CFIs (and Students)!

Turbocharge your teaching (or learning) with these free online demonstrations.

Perhaps the greatest source of humor around our flight school is watching CFIs attempt to convey aeronautical concepts on the white board. “This is a plane” is usually where the laughing begins. We aren’t paid (or trained) to be artists. And though your acquiescent student usually plays along, they often derive nothing from these time consuming efforts. Great news though: Bold Method has some wonderful animated CFI tools that work for either the student or for the CFI (and they are FREE online). Access these tools and turbocharge your teaching (or learning)!

These play nicely on your phone or your tablet device and immediately provide usable, transferable learning to your student. No time is wasted explaining “what you meant” with your white board artistry, and the concept can be put to work in the plane and debriefed again later. For students, these tools can be replayed for complete comprehension.

Thank-you Bold Method. The whole collection with links is posted on the SAFE homepage and free for everyone to use; let’s all work together to build better, safer pilots!

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

Pseudo Teaching; Excitement but No Learning!

Modern technology is fueling a lot of great learning tools but also “pseudoteachers”

Bad teaching is usually easy to spot with the obvious lack of learner engagement, no improvement and performance problems. But pseudoteaching is increasingly a problem in academia (and aviation) because it is exciting and fun for the student (and looks great in reviews) but unfortunately fails to accomplish any real learning goals for the students.

Pseudoteaching is a growing problem due to whizbang technological presentations and the “ratemyprofessor” celebration of simple popularity as a metric of pedagogical success. In aviation this same problem is fostered by valuing simple social media popularity as a substitute for credibility, honest content, and actionable learner results. And unfortunately, though a failure to “get it” in math will cause a simple failure of the test, in aviation this could have a serious safety implication for you!

We all live in an accelerating world of media and technology. Much of this is unfortunately only “intellectual fast food” with lots of bulk and not much real content. Much of what becomes popular and masquerades as “true learning” is unfortunately mere showmanship or even false hopes conveyed by less-than-honest “pseudoeducators.” Those YouTubes of amazing performances are often created with clever desktop video assembly after infinite failures (don’t try these things on your own). In aviation, the test comes down to simple consistent learner performance since aviation is a ruthlessly honest activity; you either have it or you don’t. Our asymptotic safety record demonstrates the price of doing aviation poorly.

My former Chief Pilot used to continually frustrate me, as a new CFI, with his (very honest) recitation “If the student has not learned it, their instructor has not taught it well enough.” Credentials like Master Instructors and the General Aviation Awards are very useful tools to sort out the real educators from the imposters. Adhering to an industry accepted vision and mission statement is also a great tool to insure honest instructional credibility. Despite many technological advances and amazing on-line tools, achievement in aviation still is somewhat medieval in it’s requirement for hard work and time spent working though difficulties to achieve hard-won success. Find and trust an honest and compassionate coach willing to work through your difficulties and celebrate your successes. Anyone that is selling a “quick magic solution” to success in aviation is hawking you snake oil in a modern YouTube container…buyer beware!


BTW: I *do* love YouTube and as an iOS Developer thrive on modern technology; misuse is my bête noire.

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!