Teaching IFR (and better VFR): “Change/Check!”

As CFIs (and DPEs) we get to see a lot of “imprecise” flying. Some of this is new learners gaining skills, but unfortunately, it often also occurs with experienced pilots who never discovered the secret of precise control. The secret involves where you are looking when you are moving the yoke (or stick). Proper visual reference must be taught in the very first flight lessons to defeat the negative transfer of “driving” (we all do this more than flying). This important instruction is often missed with the “this is so easy” sales pitch. Once a pilot discovers this control secret, the results are dramatic and immediate, it is a magic key to precise control.

It is absolutely critical to have your eyes on the proper attitude reference (continuously) when you pitch or roll an aircraft (either VFR or IFR). New pilots are not used to turning with their feet and people do not sense yaw well. VFR control input requires your eyes to be outside and directly over the nose (until you stop moving the stick). Only when the control input is complete should you “check” your desired quantitative reference (scan).

The same strategy is essential for accurate IFR flying, though the control inputs are more subtle. Proper IFR control requires fixation on the attitude reference whenever the yoke is moving – yes stare, not scan! Only when the control input is complete should the pilot “check” the quantitative or trend instruments. The last step is optimizing and trimming off the pressure – and again this requires eyes on attitude. For VFR, 80% of your time must be outside for accurate control. Similarly, for IFR 80% of “scan time” should be fixated on the attitude reference. These skills are not as different as most pilots believe.

So why is this critical, and what makes this so hard?

Unfortunately, incomplete instruction is the root cause of these problems. Instrument instructors tell new students to “scan,” but never explain how to do this successfully (I just completed a few CFI-I add-on ratings). Secondarily though, humans are predisposed to watch what is moving, so we naturally refer to inappropriate references unless we discipline our scan. A third problem is an urge for immediate perfection; but perfect altitude with lousy heading is not a winning strategy. So first we must get all the darts on the dartboard, and only then move them closer to the center.

One very compelling IFR demonstration involves covering everything except the attitude indicator while your pilot flies a full five minutes. Issue  vectors to headings right and left (and please do this imitating ATC precisely to build your learner’s radio aptitude). When uncovering everything, your learner will be within +/- 20 feet of the starting altitude without ever having a VSI or altimeter reference! Instrument instructors must use this to “prove” this point to the learner and gain “buy in;” it is magic! And as soon as a new IFR student has all the instruments back, they actually fly less accurately. This is very non-intuitive, but when someone simply instructs you to “scan” your eyes are everywhere except where they should be for control. A good CFI-I must discipline the proper scan right from the beginning (just like a new VFR student). For both environments, “change” (stabilize) then “check” (and optimize) is th magic key. Using a glass panel, a couple of post-it notes on the A/S and Alt provide the same scan discipline.

Have you seen how a (historic) Air Force T-38 panel is arranged? The size is in order of priority. The A/I is centered and HUGE! This is necessary to precise flying in all attitudes (even upside down). You had better be flying attitude (with proper trim). The new glass cockpits have a huge attitude reference also, but many pilots fixate on very small (quantitative) indications and miss the bigger (attitude) picture when applying control pressure.

The correct mantra for the CFI-I (and the pilot who wishes to be accurate) is “change” (with eyes on the attitude reference), then “stabilize” (stop moving the yoke) and only then “check” to the most relevant information source to see if the result is working. That final step “optimizing” is the fine-tuning that yields precision.

In VFR flying, you will notice pilots looking over the wing as they roll into a turn This is a natural transfer from driving, and needs to be corrected immediately.  Watching the wing is the primary  cause of poor rudder coordination. With this reference, a pilot never sees the adverse yaw occurring (though the CFI/DPE does continuously). By contrast, if a pilot looks directly over the nose while rolling (in any aircraft) they will immediately discern the correct amount of rudder required to coordinate the turn. (Yes, clearing is essential but watch the nose for the roll). Improvement in coordination is immediate, but it takes quite a while to establish this visual habit.

When rolling out of the turn, it is again necessary to direct the visual reference over the nose (or on the attitude indicator for IFR). You will be amazed at how dramatically your flying improves (immediately)! Embedding this new habit takes time (everyone drives). And experienced pilots with the same problem take even longer to build the habit; but the new precision makes it worth the effort. You really will become a smoother, more efficient pilot almost immediately (your back seat passengers will love you). Fly safely out there (and often)!

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

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

Are We Just Creating “Co-Pilots?”

With the current rush to provide pilots for airline jobs, modern flight training facilities often miss essential piloting skills. Most academy style flight training programs are not creating pilots, they are making “co-pilots” for the airlines. These partial pilots, with minimal skills, are trained specifically to fill the right seat in a two-person crew. That is fine for the airlines, because these  future employers will provide comprehensive training and regulatory support to fill the gaps and make safe two-person crews. Unfortunately, the GA pilot with that same academy-style training is unprepared for the more challenging flight environment they will encounter.

Just being a solo pilot creates a 7x safety penalty. And the GA flight environment offers the much greater safety challenges of flying diverse terrain and equipment without regulatory restraint or system support (where is my dispatcher dude?) GA  flying demands greater personal skill and responsibility without providing any additional training and support personnel. Newly-graduated GA pilots have only their personal sense of caution to keep them safe; it is a largely unregulated system. If most recent academy graduates had to fly VFR solo and find an airport (especially without a GPS and pink line) they would probably need aerial refueling and a new seat cushion.

One primary reason the GA accident rate is so much higher than the airlines is probably because GA allows much greater flexibility, freedom and fun. Airline and corporate flying are designed to be intensely standardized, highly regulated and essentially boring; that is how we create safety (no surprises please!) But consider all the endless possibilities of GA flying and the lack of systemic support. GA pilots are largely on their own to create the plan and master the challenges. The most critical safety failure is managing the freedom; being able to say “no” and park it.  The brief VFR training delivered by most academy programs with limited solo does not prepare a GA pilot for these challenges (though the ACS risk management is a huge step forward). It is not uncommon on pilot applications to see only 5 hours even at the CFI level (the private pilot time under 141). Consequently, most modern pilots have a serious lack of VFR skills and PIC confidence.

This is again an example of the damage done by pursuing absolute minimums in flight training. A CFI-PRO™ solves this deficiency by adding some “real solo” strategically into a flight training course at various points and covering the essential skills not in the ACS. This builds the necessary skills and confidence to create a more complete pilot in command ready for the GA challenge. Injecting some VFR in the middle of IFR training is also a great change-up and provides a psychological break to motivate your learner. (IFR test candidates are often miserable at landing due to their lack of pattern practice). Ironically, even for airline candidates, these extra hours will be required later for their magic 1500 hours anyway. Spending a few more hours before beginning instrument training to reinforce the VFR skills is also a worthwhile investment for any pilot in training. It is amazing in a two-person corporate crew, how many new pilots have no idea (or confidence) to fly VFR (or hand fly) even for small segments even where safety might be *enhanced.* Solo flight time, hand flying and VFR skills are an essential parts of the pilot toolkit. Learn them and keep them sharp. Fly safely out there (and often)!

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

The Best Educators are “Lifelong Learners!”

Our culture promotes the pervasive myth that teaching and learning are natural human activities we are born with. This theory further asserts that very little improvement in these skills is necessary or even possible; that teaching and learning (parenting) are innate or good enough. While the idea of “natural skills” might be sufficient for a few basic human survival-level behaviors, it is certainly a harmful exaggeration given our huge brains and the amount of cultural and high-level technical knowledge humans must assimilate to survive and flourish in the modern world. Why are college professors not taught how to teach or are students taught how to learn efficiently? We certainly can do better.

Humans Are “Learners!”

The DNA package we are born with only supplies about 750MB of hard-coded information, inherited from millions of years of evolution. This “thumb drive” only supplies the basic construction and survival instructions for a human body and a brain that can store about 100TB. Unlike most animals, humans are born full of possibility, but fairly helpless at birth. Watch an African Wildebeast go from birth to running and feeding in less than two minutes to see how hopeless humans are by comparison. Humans are learners, full of possibility, but with little behavioral coding. This is why early childhood education is so critical (and why humans can be so weird?) There is a short window of opportunity in the early years as the initial learning prunes away possibilities with intense learning and adaptation. In many cases, this short period of possibility is squandered since good parenting is also a learned skill we regard as “natural.” Every new individual must master their environment and appropriate behaviors to be successful in life. And most of this world is of our own making. We do not live in caves anymore and flying skills were not part of that original thumb drive.

Great Educators are “Learners” First!

lifelong learn[ing] plays an important role in the educational process. It helps educators incorporate new tools and strategies into the learning process to boost their students’ learning development. EWU

As with all skills, some people have an aptitude for teaching or learning, but no one is a “natural.” We all gain successful strategies as we grow and adapt (learn). To be a great educator, you first have to be a great learner; that is how you acquire (and improve) these educator skills. The best aviation educators become “lifetime learners” and pass on their excitement and curiosity to their learners. Great aviation educators also instill a desire for mastery in their future pilots. For aviation educators, the basic FAA “Fundamentals of Instruction” (FOI) is definitely only the starter kit. There is a wonderful world of advanced learning to help improve every aviation educator for life.

Since every pilot was once a student, you’ve experienced some wonderful educators and a few that did more harm than good. What is the major difference? Certainly, an empathetic, compassionate educator is going to be much more successful in any field. But transferring knowledge in aviation has its own unique challenges and strategies, especially in the initially scary environment where we operate. In our SAFE CFI-PRO™ curriculum, we constantly emphasize the important difference between the pilot and the educator role. Each has a separate FAA certificate and set of skills. Did you ever watch an untrained master pilot try to convey information? That is a frustrating and often painful experience – “what don’t you understand here?!” Talented pilots, are often not so good in the role of “educator.”

We should focus on the greatest source of variance that can make the difference – the teacher. We need to ensure that this greatest influence is optimized to have powerful and sensationally positive effects on the learner. Excellence in teaching is the single most powerful influence on achievement. Dr. John Hattie

No FAA CFI Improvement: SAFE CFI-PRO™!

The FAA has no curriculum for CFI improvement. They issue your CFI temporary and send you into the cruel world of “life experience” which supplies all future learning and “on-the-job training.” In our modern aviation culture, most historic mentoring opportunities are mostly gone (See SAFE Mentoring). New CFIs are often in a mosh pit of newbies all equally new. This is why SAFE developed the SAFE CFI-PRO™ program. The best CFIs continue to be passionate learners; curious and motivated. After years of growing and sharing techniques, these master educators have developed great tools and techniques that turbocharge new CFIs eager to learn. SAFE CFI-PRO™ supplies the “missing manual” between “good and great,” with tools from DPEs and master instructors.

Master Instructor Program: 25 Years!

All the resources below are wonderful portals into this world of master-level aviation education. If you are a veteran educator, please access the continuing education from the Master Instructor Program. JoAnn and Sandy Hill created our Master Instructor Program 25 years ago, to motivate continual learning and improvement among CFIs (give it a try HERE). Every other worthy profession requires “Continuing Education Units” (CEUs) to maintain certification and motivate continuous improvement. With no FAA help, this entirely voluntary program inspires professionalism in aviation education (The FAA used to count an MCFI as a renewal and Sporty’s paid its instructors $10K for acquiring this honor).

Continual learning and challenge keep professional practitioners current and motivated. The MCFI program awards credits for new certificates and ratings as well as education. (Sample qualifying activities) There is an awful lot of useful information for the professional educator beyond the basic FOI required to acquire the initial CFI certificate. Challenge yourself and try some of the resources below and see if they don’t spark your interest and curiosity.

Tools for Every Educator





Fly safely out there (and often)!

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


“Full Control Maneuvering” for Safety!

Our current pilot training process provides very little serious flight maneuvering. Most pilots never achieve an adequate level of maneuvering skill or aerodynamic understanding to be truly safe outside their “comfort zone.” The minimal amount of training provided and tested at the private level never solidifies with the rush into IFR training. Many new pilots jump into 40+ hours of level flight and standard rate turns (often on autopilot) before they get good at VFR. This is the end of any VFR flying and maneuvering for many pilots. If a pilot pursues a career path, the new commercial – “Private Pilot 2.0” – is often flown with a CFI on board and adds little skill or confidence. Progressing further in the current flight training system, a new CFI often has only 5 hours of solo, and very limited experience. In the professional airline and corporate world, almost everything is IFR and 97% autopilot. So it is no wonder that the #1 cause of pilot fatalities is “Loss of Control-Inflight” (LOC-I) when the aircraft departs the “comfort zone?”

The “sales pitch” for an earlier instrument rating is “greater safety.” Insurance companies incentivize IFR training with reduced premiums but accident data does not support this formula. The #1 killer, LOC-I, is most often low and slow while maneuvering. The FAA has addressed this lack of maneuvering experience in the airline industry with CFR 121.423, requiring “Envelope Extension Training.” Though this training is minimal, many experienced captains have mentioned the value of this regular exposure (but more is necessary).


GA Flying Requires More Skill/Flexibility!

GA flying actually requires more skill and flexibility than professional flying. There are lots more challenges and risks  here but unfortunately less maneuvering and risk-management training. Recreational flying is almost all single pilot (by itself 7X more dangerous). And GA flying is carried out in much more diverse environments (at 5000+ airports vs <100 for the airlines on everything from grass, to skis, to floats) with no support and greater challenges. As a result, it is much more likely for a GA pilot to end up “out of the comfort zone” (and the accident statistics reflect this). More maneuvering training for skill and confidence is the required “safety inoculation” for every serious GA pilot.

CFR 121.423 (b) Extended envelope training must include the following maneuvers and procedures:
(1) Manually controlled slow flight;
(2) Manually controlled loss of reliable airspeed;
(3) Manually controlled instrument departure and arrival;
(4) Upset recovery maneuvers; and
(5) Recovery from bounced landing.
(c) Extended envelope training must include instructor-guided hands on experience of recovery from full stall and stick pusher activation, if equipped.   SAFE has much more for GA

“Yank and Bank” for Greater Skill and Confidence!

While managing a 141 flight school for 25 years, I developed a specialized syllabus for pilots beginning their commercial training. This “yank and bank” course took private and commercial maneuvers a step further and eased timid pilots into the edges of the flight envelope, challenging pilots to develop (or rediscover) their visual flying and maneuvering skills. A few 60-degree bank turns reversed every 90 degrees require some outside attention and coordination. These are not aerobatic maneuvers and use standard normal category aircraft, but require full and aggressive control usage. This syllabus evolved into the SAFE Extended Envelope Training (EET). After 40+ hours of “eyes on the gauges,” standard-rate flying most pilots needed this “wake up call” to master commercial-level maneuvering. After instrument training, they were hesitant to use the controls assertively and their eyes were (not surprisingly) glued to the gauges.

YOur “Comfort Zone” can become the “Danger Zone!”

Training out of the “comfort zone” is also valuable for GA pilots who have only flown trips and truncated flight reviews for years. For many diligent pilots, aware of their deficiencies, aerobatics or upset training is often the sought-after solution to rebuild skills and confidence. But training at this level (in an exotic high-performance tailwheel at an exotic location) is often a “bridge to far” for these pilots. I took this route after private training, enrolling in the CAP 10 “French Connection Course” when it was at KPOU. For many pilots, this ends up being expensive and not transferable to their daily flying. What most pilots need first is “full control maneuvering” to build their confidence in a GA plane. They get this confidence and control from the SAFE EET course designed to build confidence and skills in the edges of the flight envelope. This training can be performed at your local airport in a standard GA aircraft (with an experienced CFI)  and can be a stepping stone to real aerobatic and upset training (you will be more prepared and get more from the course).  Fly safely out there (and often)!

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

Motivate With “Incremental Mastery!”

Most new CFIs, with all good intentions, try to help too much. They consequently micromanage and monopolize the flight experience, eliminating most “learning opportunities” for their students. The greatest gift an educator can provide after presenting a lesson outline is allowing a safe place for their learner to independently make and correct their small errors; “flub it up and fix it.” This creates the critical “learning opportunity” essential to building confidence and proficiency. For the new CFI, this sloppy flying can be excruciating since every pilot wants perfection. But humans learn by doing, trying, and experimenting.

This “experimentation” obviously needs to be guided carefully, but the savvy CFI carefully avoids helping too much once the learner has achieved a level of basic competence. The ultimate goal in flight training is to get out of the plane. The CFI is there to coach and assist; guiding the learning situation with a velvet glove.

From the AOPA FIRC

A striving for perfection is built into good pilots, and new CFIs can easily fall into the micro-management habit. It takes conscious effort and commitment to overcome this tendency and allow space for errors. The new and scared CFIs most commonly exhibit “over-control” and never release the yoke (or the mic) for this “experimentation.” They can create an oppressive environment and also never stop talking long enough for a learner to process and assemble information. The end result of micromanaging is a pathetically nervous and dependent pilot with no “command authority” or true skills – a “mouse in a maze.”

Instead, I personally advocate putting training pilots “in charge” as early as confidence and proficiency allow. A major part of aviation safety is assuming responsibility (rare in modern society). I call the building process “incremental mastery,” and the reward for every student is a “half solo”  as soon as a learner is in command of the basics. This challenge is carefully briefed and designed to be fun and diagnostic – for both parties involved. The lesson allows a new pilot to handle *everything* all the way out to the practice area (pre-flight, taxi, run-up, radio, etc) with no assistance from the CFI (arms folded, mouth shut). This experience validates the training and immensely empowers the student. If the CFI is a micro-manager they squirm and suffer in the right seat but often discover some new personal strengths also – trust takes time.

Rod Machado’s archive of “Bad CFI” stories

By 3-5 hours in the air, most eager learners can accomplish this “half solo” with no problem.  Briefing and accomplishing this “half solo” is amazingly empowering and educational for the learner. They immediately see the result of their time, money and effort. Encourage them to debrief their own performance after the flight – you will be surprised!  This debrief also builds the essential safety habit of “after flight assessment” that every pilot should perform.Your learner is then ready (and confident) for experiencing slow flight stalls and emergencies.

This process of “incremental mastery” should continue right up until the check ride. Every time your learner exhibits competence in a maneuver or area of flight, they “own it” and command the process from that time forward – e.g. “show me your stall series.” Of course, polish and correction can be added to tighten accuracy and enhance understanding all the way through training. But it is vital to allow your learner to fly  “in command” as early as feasible.

By the time a pilot in training departs the nest, fully alone for real “solo,” they are more confident, skilled, and safer. They already know they can climb, turn, and descend accurately because they have continuously demonstrated this component of the flight. Full “solo landing” is just another incremental challenge in the full continuum of becoming a pilot in command. And for confident, empowered flight applicants, the FAA checkride is much less intimidating and they generally excel. By contrast, evaluating a cosseted candidate attempting true control is painful on so many levels. This is made worse by the realization that the CFI who recommended this person actually created these problems rather than solved them.

More ideas and techniques for flight instructor excellence are part of our  SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshops now offered all over the country (call us). Fly safely (and often)!

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

“New” FAA Weather Handbook?!

We are so grateful to have Dr. Scott Dennstaedt provide his thoughts here on the new FAA Weather Handbook. Scott is a former NWS research meteorologist, a CFI, "double I" and also a PhD in Infrastructures and Environmental Systems. Check out his amazing weather app and writing at  EZWXbrief(.com)

It has been years since the FAA embarked on a mission to release a single handbook for aviation weather. Well, the wait is finally over. On December 22, 2022 the FAA published FAA-H-8083-28 Aviation Weather Handbook. It is now available for download from the FAA’s website.

It has been the FAA’s goal to consolidate the weather information from many advisory circulars (AC) into a one-stop shopping experience. This new handbook now incorporates most (if not all) of the technical guidance found in the following ACs:

• AC 00-6, Aviation Weather.
• AC 00-24, Thunderstorms.
• AC 00-30, Clear Air Turbulence Avoidance.
• AC 00-45, Aviation Weather Services.
• AC 00-54, Pilot Wind Shear Guide.
• AC 00-57, Hazardous Mountain Winds.

All the latest versions of these ACs will continue to remain in effect as non-regulatory FAA guidance, but the expectation is that all of them will eventually fall victim to cancellation sometime within this decade. This will mean that the FAA knowledge tests and certification standards for new certificates or ratings will point to this new handbook sometime in the future under the required areas of knowledge as references to these legacy ACs are eventually phased out. But, I’m placing my bet that won’t happen anytime soon.

Now that the new FAA handbook is out, is there anything new to chew on? For all intents and purposes, not really. As someone who has authored two weather books, I’ll be extremely reticent about my own personal feelings. Let’s see how well I do. The FAA clearly took the Aviation Weather Services AC (00-45H, Change 2) and the Aviation Weather AC (00-06B) last updated in 2016 and mashed them together and backfilled with a couple of the other ACs mentioned above. Well, it was more like they very loosely shuffled two decks of cards together to produce the new handbook. Of course, if you haven’t read these ACs in the last 10 years, then you might find some new material in this handbook.

The thing that is most obvious is that the FAA didn’t take the time to make any significant updates to the ACs; they were surgically merged together. For example, Graphical AIRMETs or more simply G-AIRMETs have been the operational product issued by forecasters at the Aviation Weather Center (AWC) when they officially replaced the existing traditional or “legacy” textual AIRMET on March 16, 2010 as I discuss in this FLYING magazine article. This is very important since the legacy AIRMET is being retired in early 2023 as I discussed in this other FLYING magazine article.

The new handbook never mentions the term “G-AIRMET” in the text. Clearly, the handbook attempts to describe the G-AIRMET concept in the text but doesn’t update the terminology that has been in use for over a decade. In fact, you can see in one of the figures in the new handbook shown below, the caption clearly states that this is an AIRMET, but you can see in the upper left, the product itself from aviationweather.gov is labeled as “G-AIRMET.”

This may seem like a minor technicality or nit-picky detail, but while the legacy AIRMET and G-AIRMET are related products (the legacy AIRMET and its outlook are automatically generated from the five G-AIRMET snapshots) they must be interpreted differently. The G-AIRMET is based on five snapshots valid at specific times (coverage of that adverse weather element) and the legacy AIRMET text is a time-smeared forecast valid over six hours with a six hour time-smeared outlook. There are other critical differences as well that are simply overlooked that I cover in the two FLYING magazine articles linked above. It’s as if you were hanging a picture and ask someone to “hand you a hammer” and they handed you a sledge hammer instead of the ball-peen hammer. The correct terminology is important or you end up with a major hole in your wall.

Given that weather is likely the single biggest physical factor affecting your flying activity and is listed as the primary cause of 35% of general aviation accidents, the new handbook is simply too rigid and lacks depth from a practical standpoint. Like many ACs and handbooks, it reads more like a user’s manual rather than a text to learn more about the weather. If you are using it for a reference (e.g., How often are TAFs issued each day?), it’s a great resource for those “trivial” types of knowledge. Certainly, the update of AC 00-6B in 2016 was a significant improvement to its earlier predecessor which was originally issued back in 1977. In that light, this new handbook represents a good resource for CFIs and their students as a study guide to pass the FAA knowledge and practical tests, but you’ll likely need to seek out additional training to learn the practical components of preflight planning as well as inflight strategies that are not typically taught during a pilot’s primary training.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly. Also check out The Daily EZ Weather Brief which is live on the EZWxBrief YouTube channel Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 a.m. eastern where I present a 10-15 overview of the weather challenges across the U.S. and southern Canada.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy! Your membership also supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education (we are an educational not-for-profit).

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 protection in the business).

Test Failures and “Shopping for a Santa Claus!”

The private pilot failure rate is approaching 50% and many important people in the aviation industry are confused and alarmed about why this is happening. But there can only be one reason since it is the same FAA test and the same FAA evaluators: applicants who fail are not adequately prepared! And that outcome means one of two things; either the CFI recommending the applicant is not aware of their applicant’s actual level of proficiency, or they simply don’t care. Either way, it is a failure of the CFI to adquately prepare the applicant and a result of our “hour-building” pilot system. It’s a tragedy in our industry leading to many unhappy applicants, and a shortage of DPE opportunities (testing everyone twice).

Every honest DPE hates to issue a disapproval notice for an applicant at any level. But this “tough love” is the necessary “safety correction” for unqualified learners. When the 8710 is submitted to the FAA in IACRA, the understanding (and briefing) is; “you are now a private pilot, unless you prove otherwise. You start with 100% on every FAA evaluation!” If the system works correctly, with the CFI and DPE working to the same standard, an unsatisfactory outcome should be rare. An “unsat.” crushes the applicant’s dreams and it’s very hard to put a positive spin on this otherwise negative experience. But try this one; “we saved you from dying from a serious deficiency of skill in a certain area.” Of course, these exact words are not appropriate in a postflight briefing, but that is the harsh reality. Aviation is very unforgiving of errors or deficiencies. My mentor DPE, still testing with 44 years in the business, offered this advice to me when I started 25 years ago; “You never fail anyone, they fail themselves!”

A successful flight test requires every CFI to discover  – and improve – the applicant’s knowledge and skill level above ACS standards before recommending an applicant for a practical test. This greater care would also help relieve the current shortage of DPE testing slots. Watch endorsements and experience too –1/5th never qualify to even test.

The idea that a CFI or applicant would go “shopping for a Santa Claus” DPE – who is cutting corners and “issuing paper” – is totally contrary to aviation safety (and your personal well-being). By seeking out a notoriously “easy examiner” you are ultimately jeopardizing your own safety. Every honest pilot should want to discover their weak areas (thank you!) and fix them before something bad happens. This honesty should also be at the heart of every CFI’s flight review. We need to discover and improve weak knowledge and skills before they hurt us.  And the pilot looking for an “easy flight review” is as guilty as the applicant “shopping for a Santa Claus.”

Fortunately, these notices are rare and seem to be issued about once a year all around the country. But their effect on the training industry is very damaging and can last for years. Cinncinati FSDO is still experiencing a “DPE deficit” and re-flying check rides from  Michael A. Puehler. Unfortunately, many pilots in the area already know this dishonest testing is occurring. No one should be surprised (or mad) when this sketchy activity is shut down by the FAA:

I know someone that did their CFI with him. They passed and he asked if they wanted to do their CFII with him THAT DAY… the applicant hadn’t done any CFII training, wasn’t IFR current, the plane they were flying didn’t have a GPS and wasn’t IFR certified yet XXXX passed them and gave them their CFII. I thought it was sus and the owner of the flight school was pretty pissed about it since he knew the applicant wasn’t ready and the plane wasn’t even legal to do it. Reddit Thread

The Problem of New, Inexperienced CFIs

As regards pilot failures on flight tests, the finger is clearly pointing to the recommending CFIs. Our crazy “hour-building culture” of the FAA system is certainly a large part of the problem. Only in the USA do new aviation educators, just approved and with no real experience, enter the workforce to start teaching immediately. In Canada, a new CFI cannot legally teach one-on-one. They are required to be supervised by an experienced CFI (Class one or two). But in the USA, 2/3rds of “active CFIs” (the 8-10K doing the majority of the teaching) are on the job for less than one year before they move to more lucrative piloting jobs. Most new CFIs do not have adequate mentorship and they seldom have enough time on the job to get good at teaching. But these beginners are educating most of our new pilot applicants. We should not be surprised by a 50% failure rate.

SAFE CFI-PRO™ and SAFE Mentoring Program

The target audience for this program is newly minted CFIs. SAFE has experienced CFIs and DPEs traveling to flight schools (and teaching online) to bring up the professionalism of these new educators. And fortunately, most of these new CFIs are eager for more information and want to improve their skills. But the flight schools and academies also need to buy in to promote this initiative more widely. Please get in touch if you want to access these services. Individuals can join and sign up for mentoring . This effort pays you back with improved test results and safer pilots – everyone is happier. Fly safely out there (and often); have a great holiday!

If you buy your holiday gifts from Amazon, please login to Amazon Smile. Jeff Bezos will contribute 0.5% to SAFE if you set it up and this donation costs you nothing!

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy! Your membership also supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education (we are an educational not-for-profit).

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 protection in the business).

Quick IFR Knowledge Update!

For safe instrument flight, skills are obviously an essential requirement. But the knowledge component is critical – and often underappreciated. Here are some common weak areas from recent checkrides and IPCs as well as resources to keep you sharp.

If you are still treating GPS as a new navigational system, get over it. The first FAA-approved IFR GPS navigator went into service on February 16, 1994; it’s OLD! The regulations are now written “backwards,” defining only the times when you cannot (legally) use GPS (all other times go for it).  Some pilots still err on the side of caution chasing wobbly VOR needles for conventional approaches. Life is a lot simpler (and safer) with the steady guidance of GPS and a vertical path indicator. There is a reason they called all those older approaches “non-precision!” Click HERE for a fact sheet on newer RNP approaches. (More FAA Fact sheets HERE.)

The basic legal guidance for GPS usage is in AIM Chapter One, Section Two. The ICAO term for this class of navigational magic is “Performance Based Navigation” (PBN). Instead of referencing the sensor systems, PBN only specifies the required accuracy for the system. Use whatever you like so long as it provides the “accuracy, integrity, continuity, availability, and functionality needed for the proposed operation in the context of a particular airspace concept.” (And of course it must be FAA-Approved) The guidance is straight forward for enroute operations, but gets a little muddier starting downhill.

AIM 1-2-3(C) Uses of Suitable RNAV Systems. Subject to the operating requirements, operators may use a suitable RNAV system in the following ways.
1. Determine aircraft position relative to, or distance from a VOR (see NOTE 6 below), TACAN, NDB, compass locator, DME fix; or a named fix defined by a VOR radial, TACAN course, NDB bearing, or compass locator bearing intersecting a VOR or localizer course.
2. Navigate to or from a VOR, TACAN, NDB, or compass locator.
3. Hold over a VOR, TACAN, NDB, compass locator, or DME fix.
4. Fly an arc based upon DME.

Search the footnotes in section 2, for more detail and you will do great with hangar flying discussions – or checkride questions – regarding what is legal to fly with your panel-mounted WAAS unit. Obviously “legal” also requires careful verification of databases, manuals, updates, and satellite NOTAMs. This makes preflight and programming a little longer, but the safety and precision make it worthwhile.

So yes, your G-1000 or WAAS GPS can navigate conventional (ground-based) VOR approaches even if “GPS/RNAV” is not mentioned in the approach title. The FAA still requires the navaid to be operational and you must actively monitor it. Your PFD can be GPS/magenta, just keep a VOR source operational/visible. You can even legally navigate all the legs on an ILS right up until just before the final approach fix before switching to “green needles.” In fact, some newer PBN ILS approaches *require* GPS for transitions to final. This is certainly a critical item to ascertain in the pre-brief phase of your flight.

Dig deeper into AC90-108  “Use of Suitable RNAV Systems on Conventional Routes and Procedures” for trickier questions and deeper knowledge.  And even better, consult AC 90-119 (still in draft form) for future developments. This AC collects RNAV rules from numerous scattered sources. The YouTube below from Bruce Williams on conventional approaches summarizes all the requirements nicely. This site is a reliable source of IFR wisdom HERE.

With all this focus on the detailed rules regarding GPS, it is important to remember that the GPS constellation can go out of service. Consider your situation if it is suddenly unavailable. (BTW, any jamming is expressly prohibited by the FCC – the people who brought you 5G). GPS has become our “invisible utility” that runs modern society. Cell phones, energy companies and even the stock market depend on GPS (time stamps and system synchronization). So what would happen if we were up in the clouds and GPS went out?

FAA Navigational Redundancy: MON

The FAA has a plan for this and has extended the service volumes of many VORs to create a system called Minimum Operating Network (MON) using only ground-based navaids. If you noticed some jacked-up high-power VORs around, you are looking at it!

the FAA is retaining a limited network of VORs, called the VOR MON, to provide a basic conventional navigation service for operators to use if GNSS becomes unavailable. During a GNSS disruption, the MON will enable aircraft to navigate through the affected area or to a safe landing at a MON airport without reliance on GNSS. Navigation using the MON will not be as efficient as the new PBN route structure, but use of the MON will provide nearly continuous VOR signal coverage at 5,000 feet AGL across the NAS, outside of the Western U.S. Mountainous Area (WUSMA). AIM 1-1-1

Keep Learning! New Gold Seal IFR Ground School (Free to CFIs)

Aviation requires us to stay up to date with the continuous changes in knowledge and technology. But nowhere is this more important than with instrument flight (as illustrated above).  Every detail counts. Why did they put those two asterisks next to the minimums on that ILS mins? What does that snowflake above mean (Santa)? Preparing for an instrument flight  (or preparing for an IFR oral) you have to be totally tuned up and curious to be safe.

SAFE MCFI Russ Still has been working diligently last year researching and building a totally new instrument ground school course. And all his courses are free to CFIs! Every CFI (and any committed pilot) should watch this new course – I guarantee you will learn something new. His fresh animations and content are visually captivating and very worthwhile (and CFIs can track their student’s progress on the Gold Seal portal). Russ is a talented and committed educator. He really dug into the details and kept a lot of DPEs busy with his detailed questions. The Gold Seal team created an amazing course;  try it here (FREE to CFIs). And for everyone else, the free Gold Seal Know It All” pdf is an excellent review. Fly safe out there (and often)!

If you buy your holiday gifts from Amazon, please login to Amazon Smile. Jeff Bezos will contribute 0.5% to SAFE if you set it up and this donation costs you nothing!

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy! Your membership also supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education (we are an educational not-for-profit).

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 protection in the business).

PSI is Quietly Killing Your Local Test Center

A recent letter to all PSI testing centers announced a drastic reduction in the amount paid to private FAA Testing Centers from $65 per test to only $22 per test (and potentially less if the candidate does not use the full allotted time). Our local testing center has already decided it cannot afford to stay open with this rate change. (And this test center provided income that helped support a local flying club). With this new lopsided PSI contract, only larger academies will be able to afford to maintain an FAA testing center; the others will wither away.

The FAA awarded PSI monopoly control of all FAA knowledge testing in June 2018.  Their new contract with independent testing centers at local airports, effective Jan. 1, 2023, will essentially kill many of these approximately 800 local testing centers. There are huge costs to local businesses providing PSI tests: a quiet, dedicated room for testing, four computers (one required for monitoring), security systems (required), and live proctors present to qualify and monitor pilot applicants.  There are also the associated business expenses of rent, insurance, heat, etc. In this contract, PSI only supplies the electronic test. By paying themselves $45 more dollars on 207,000 tests (2022) PSI is giving themselves quite a raise!

The current FAA testing revenue partially supports our local aviation infrastructure at small airports across America. These facilities not only provide testing, they also provide local flight training and a place for pilots to gather and socialize. Applicants for an FAA Knowledge Test will have to drive hours to test, while local clubs and schools will be scrambling for lost income. This avoidable “ wreck scenario” guts the local GA community. I encourage every reader of this blog to write immediately to the ACTS email “AirmanKnowledgeTesting[a]faa.gov” and object to this change. Join the list below to provide the strength of numbers.

I wrote to the FAA address pointing out all of the above issues, and signed onto the AOPA appeal (on behalf of all the “alphabets”). The FAA response to SAFE,  basically said “we assigned a contractual monopoly to PSI with no control of how they should carry out their mission.” It seems the only specification was not raising the price to the testing candidate: very bad contract!

How the testing vendor decides to compensate testing centers, proctors, call center personnel, software engineers, administrative personnel, test content staff, or any other key position associated with carrying out the requirements in the SOW is at the complete discretion of the testing vendor and outside the scope of the FAA’s authority. FAA Reply

I’m not a lawyer, but assigning a monopoly contract with no protections for the end-user pilots seems like a pretty poor arrangement. GA will again suffer, just when the industry is finally experiencing a steady growth cycle. Get your local testing location on board by having them write the above address and also please join the list below. There is strength in numbers and we need to win this fight.


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If you buy your holiday gifts from Amazon, please login to Amazon Smile. Amazon will contribute 0.5% to SAFE if you set it up and this donation costs you nothing!

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy! Your membership also supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education (we are an educational not-for-profit).

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 protection in the business).

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