Creating Productive Scenarios; “Struggle Zone”


Scenario-based training has acquired a stigma in aviation though misuse. But if done properly, these experiences can be the most powerful tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And scenarios are the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS testing (what your good DPE is going to use during every evaluation). Every CFI must be an astute evaluator to be an effective educator. Proper application of scenarios requires discretion and creativity. Using the right tool at the appropriate time creates the most effective educational experience. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenge and motivation to training and more accurately resemble the real flight experience. Deployed properly, scenarios expand a small geographic area into the whole country (with no added cost!) and build higher level judgment skills making safer pilots.

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes primarily from imposing unimaginative (generic) scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges to the proper level. Many scenarios are applied too soon and exceed the learner’s skill level.  Every flight operation requires some level of fluid skill – often acquired by drill and repetition – before the scenario can be effective (why piano scales are taught before Haydn!) Failure to consider the unique needs of each student wastes valuable time and money. “Learning opportunities” instead become “play time for instructors” building hours. Complex and inappropriate scenarios become an expensive burden for the pilot-in-training; 50 hour solos and 100 hour X-C levels.

The critical skill for the aviation educator is evaluation so the proper level of challenge is achieved. The heart of a successful scenario is customizing each learning experience to achieve optimal challenge (struggle zone). Creative generation and applicatiion of new experiences creates rapid skill acquisition, excitement and judgement (higher level learning). The result is versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency). But in every case the pilot-in-training needs the prerequisite skills to adquately meet the scenario challenge -again – initially learned by rote and embedded through muscle memory, then extrapolated to each creative challenge with a scenario.

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, mostly 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 challenge the pilot and transport your learner 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, encountered 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 unique and surprising location with a mission and set of weather conditions. Active engagement and “buy in” from the learner is essential so adding a personal need to the mission 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 and available for FAA WINGS credit on

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”. Attend our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop and  acquire expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). Fly safely (and often!)


Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop covers the CFI as evaluator. We also cover “client-focused” flight training to address the 80% drop out rate in initial flight training.

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

Extend Your Skills! 60/90 Turns, Triple A Stalls

This blog presents some challenging flight maneuvers that build greater pilot proficiency, confidence and flight safety. It is essential to break out of our daily “comfort zone” or we will react incorrectly  – with the well documented “startle response” – when forced into an unusual attitude by surprise circumstances. Accident statistics reveal that unprepared pilots are vulnerable to the persistent Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I) accident. If you are a CFI this is the CFI-PRO™ toolkit from the savvy veteran instructors that result in superior pilot performance and safety.

Professional aviators are now required to practice “envelope extension maneuvers” by regulation. GA will benefit greatly from a similar commitment to advanced proficiency. This training is not  aerobatic and can be flown in any GA plane at your home field. Similar to “day one” in upset courses,  these maneuvers are extensions of familar flight training (“push the envelope” a little).  If these are presented correctly by a professional educator in a challenging but non-threatening method, pilots enjoy these new maneuvers and thrive on the increased proficiency. These maneuvers are the historical tools of savvy educators and made available again through SAFE CFI-PRO™ This is territory where straight-up “scenario-based training” never ventures.

An earlier blog described effective maneuvers for initial flight training; specifically to build yaw-canceling skills with the rudder. These are a good warm-up to “tune up” and get the feet moving if your skills have atrophied. For the more proficient pilot, this blog will present some more stimulating “envelope extension” maneuvers to build (or restore) advanced skills and expand a pilot’s “comfort zone.”

When I ran a flight school, I often used “steep turn reversals” for pilots who had just completed instrument training and were beginning commercial maneuvers. After 40+ hours of instrument reference and “standard rate/smooth” it was necessary to get the eyes outside and “yank and bank” to restore lost pilot skills. The “Triple A Stalls” prove basic physics to pilots and are useful for building up confidence and control skills. These maneuvers not only build LOC-I protection through “envelope extension,” they are also “aerodynamically educational.” They should only be flown dual with an experienced, PRO-fessional CFI.

“Steep turn reversals” begin with the simple well known private pilot steep turn at 45 degrees of bank maintaining altitude and airspeed with a crisp rollout on a defined outside reference. I encourage pilots to fly this maneuver without trimming so they can feel the load “lifting” their plane through the turn. Once this is proficient,  roll in 60 degrees of bank for 360 degrees of turn and reverse on the starting point into a 720 degree commercial maneuver. Then progressively shorten the turn duration to only 180 degrees and eventually 90 degrees of turn. To make these work, full deflection of the ailerons (and lots of rudder) make a very crisp maneuver. And thought his is entirely non-aerobatic by definition, it is a maneuver many Upset Training Programs utilize on “Day One” with the stated purpose of waking up the feet and restoring aggressive pilot in command control.

Another very useful (and aerodynamically educational) maneuver is alternating, turning power off stalls with “angle of attack recoveries” (“Triple A stalls”). Pilots flying this maneuver will benefit greatly from a “chalk talk” to understand (and trust) that lift in a coordinated turn is equal on the wings. Flying the maneuver demonstrates the applied physics from the chalk talk.

To perform “Triple A stalls”, climb to a safe altitude, bank 30 degrees, and increase AOA into a power off stall . Recover with only AOA reduction (unload pitch – no added power). Continue this through alternating right and left turns, building the muscle memory (and confidence) to unload the wing recovering the turning stalls with just pitch. Once alternating AOA is proficient, try a more aggressive secondary stall on a couple recoveries (it will stall with the nose much lower) and recover just with pitch reduction (very low attitude). All of these should make a true believer out of your client that a plane can stall at any speed or attitude; priceless!

Pilots who embrace these “extended envelope” maneuvers are less likely to be surprised (and become LOC-I statistics) if they are ever forced out of the “7% comfort zone” by weather or turnbulence (no startle/freeze-up). More to come on this next week as we roll out more of the CFI-PRO™ workshop extended maneuver catalog. Fly safely (and often)! Please comment and contribute your favorite maneuvers?

Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop covers the whole extended envelope catalog and application to both initial and recurrent training. We also cover “client-focused” flight training to combat the 80% drop out rate in initial flight training.

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

WANTED: Angle of Attack Managers

This is one in a series of posts by special guest authors about SAFE’s new CFI-PROficiency Initiative™ (aka SAFE CFI-PRO™). The goal of the initiative is to make good aviation educators great!

Aviators, airmen, aviatrices—a few of the other words used to describe pilots. Yet none of these words reflect what we really do. Ultimately, pilots are angle of attack managers. Let’s have another look at AOA.

As David St. George notes in “Invisible Angle of Attack,” AOA is the difference between where the airplane is pointing and where it is going. Wolfgang Langewiesche describes the importance of AOA thus:

“If you had only 2 hours in which to explain the airplane to a student pilot, [AOA] is what you would have to explain. It is almost literally all there is to flight. It explains all about the climb, the glide, and level flight; much about the turn; practically all about the ordinary stall, the power stall, the spin. It takes the puzzlement out of such maneuvers as the nose-high power approach; it is the story of the landing.”

AOA implies two things: wind and an object around which the wind is flowing. Most everyone has played with AOA before. Remember sticking your hand out of the car window when you were a kid? What happened when you tilted your hand into the oncoming wind? “It went up!” is the common response. Reflect more deeply on the experience, however, and you’ll notice that your hand actually moved upward and backward. If we want to get technical about it, we could call the “up” part Lift and the “back” part Drag.

We’ve all seen examples of unusual things being forced to fly, too. For example, tornado-strength winds can cause even the most reluctant Holstein to go airborne.

A high velocity jet of air precisely aimed at a Snap-on screwdriver can cause it to hover (courtesy of SAFE member Shane Vande Voort—please don’t try this at home!).

And though we might describe a wing as having a “top” and a “bottom,” Lift- and Drag-producing AOAs are possible on either side.

AOA is discussed primarily in the context of the airplane’s main wing. But at the correlation level of learning, we see the entire airplane as an assembly of wings all of which are subject to the principles of AOA. The propeller, for instance, is a rotating wing. Main and jury struts are often symmetrical wings streamlined to minimize drag. “Aileron” is French for “little wing.” And our primary flight controls are AOA controls. The elevator controls the AOA of the main wing (aka pitch control).

Ailerons control local AOAs (typically the outboard part of the wings, aka roll control).
Rudder controls the AOA of the fuselage (aka yaw control).

Our job as instructors is to teach our trainees how to manage these AOAs to achieve desired performance outcomes. Although AOA itself may be invisible, changes in AOA can be sensed and its trend interpreted. In the visual flight environment, this means coupling aeronautical knowledge with sight, sound, and feel to manage our controllable AOAs.

Before we climb into the airplane, for example, we know that the combination of a high power setting and a slow airspeed during the takeoff phase will yaw the airplane. But we want coordinated flight during this particular takeoff. That will require a certain amount of rudder to manage the AOA of the fuselage to cancel the yaw. What does yawed flight look like during takeoff? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What does it look and feel like if we try to use aileron to correct for the yaw instead of rudder? All of these questions can be explored in the practice area without staring at the slip/skid ball. The lessons learned can be applied during subsequent takeoffs.

Whether it’s pitch, roll, or yaw, changes in AOA manifest as changes in one or more of the following: attitude, G-load, control pressure, control displacement, and often sound. In the case of elevator inputs, add airspeed to the list of cues.

For fun, test your understanding of AOA with the following thought experiments. Imagine you are at an airshow watching a competent aerobatic pilot fly a capable aerobatic airplane.

1. The airplane makes a knife-edge pass from your right to your left at precisely 90 degrees angle of bank.
a. Where is the nose of the airplane pointing relative to its flightpath, and how is the pilot making that happen?
b. What is the pilot doing with the elevator to make the airplane fly down the runway?
c. What is the AOA of the main wing?
d. What is the pilot feeling?

2. The airplane climbs along a perfect vertical line.
a. In order to remain on the upline before pivoting in a Hammerhead, what is the pilot doing with the elevator?
b. Ultimately, what is the AOA of the main wing during the upline?

Want to learn more ways to push learning to the correlation level? Attend SAFE’s inaugural CFI-PRO™ workshop in Frederick, MD on October 2–3, 2019!

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

New Science: “Overlearning” Locks In Skills!

How many times have you accomplished a new level with your pilot-in-training and heard “got it” on first completion – as if you could immediately lock it up and move on? (Don’t do it; it’s not locked in…) Have you had a new student think they can immediately solo just because they get hit their first good landings? Intuitively, as savvy educators, we know progress is great and motivating but consistency and reinforcement are also necessary. This same situation occurs on a meta-level also when a pilot passes their flight test but stops flying. We intuitively know they must “use it (continually) or lose it.” But there is a brain process that explains all these touch and goes (and IFR practicing) we do as pilots – we finally have an explaination why.

Neuroscience is starting to understand the details of this learning process. It is now proven in studies that unless we immediately reinforce a new skill and put it to use, much is lost right away. Skill mastery requires us to “overtrain” and reinforce every new learning level for retention before we move further. As aviation educators, we need to emphasize repetition, application and elaboration of each skill to be safe as aviators.

Once we have successfully accomplished any new behavioral repertoire, it is neurologically essential to “stabilize” it by continued training well past the point of simple proficiency; “got it and onward” is not enough. Scientists call this technique “overlearning” and have observed it in every field where human skill mastery is critical; from first violin to martial arts. A recent study reveals that “overlearning” reinforces a skill and embeds it in a different part of the brain, installing it chemically in an entirely different way so it will not be overwritten by new learning. Critical piloting skills must be impervious to forgetting (and this is also why the initial imprint must be accurate) and fluidly and immediately available. This new study shows that if you stop training a skill as soon as it is first successful, the brain stays in its “ready-to-learn state” and the new skill is highly perishable. Reinforcement changes your actual brain state and chemistry. The study shows that repetitive training beyond the point of proficiency will “hyperstabilize” the skill and prevents”retrograde interference” from newer inputs.

Similar research from a different angle at MIT studies habits and decision-making behaviors; specifically how we develop and store them (also the secret behind obsessive behaviors and addictions). Dr. Ann Greybeil at MIT is an amazingly prolific and passionate brain researcher (Fortunately she left Florida as a young girl when the only “science” a young woman could study was home economics). She has documented how early skills are reinforced and transformed into habits in an ancient brain area called the basal ganglia/striatum. Once habits and skills are formulated, they are stored, almost like books in a library, in a totally different part of the brain for fluid and rapid recall in action. (This is what we do everyday as pilots) If skills and habits are not fully formed and recoded into the forebrain repertoire, they will be available for fluid recall. The time and effort required for serious practice are the necessary elements for skill retention and future aviation safety. Knowing and enforcing this practice is important for all educators. Fly safely (and practice often).

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

“Flight Service” (Back and Better!)

Leidos operates what used to be the FAA Flight Service and the web browser interface for weather is quite good. When you log in with your customized preferences ( your own format in exactly the predictible order you specify.

  The new mobile format is also quite good and though not yet an app, you can save the url to your desktop and have it immediately available as a mobile browser session. But one of the best new innovations to roll out from Leidos is the text weather. This is quick and needs no software and very little bandwidth  to load (one bar works usually)

Just text message your request to 358-782 (FLT-SVC) and the result pops right back in. No digging through menus or interfaces. Leidos also allows you to open and close VFR flight plans with text (and will send a reminder at your proposed/predicted times if you forget). This is an innovative way to inspire pilots to be safer.

Apple or Android versions.

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


“CFI Seasoning” Beyond the Academy!

A truly professional aviation educator should be progressively getting out of the training aircraft one step at a time from flight lesson #1. To be successful as educators, every CFI must willingly become superfluous in every area of operation by flight test time – totally empowering their pilot to be fully “in command.” Obviously, there will always be more to teach and learn, but ultimately our goal should be set every new pilot totally free – NOT create dependence! This “letting go” (think of successful parenting) is not easy for the human ego because every human wants to be needed and valued. Many CFIs secretly foster dependence in their pilots during training (helicopter parenting). Though this creates a strong business bond that works great for the wallet and building hours, it creates really bad – dependent and unconfident – pilots.

And the strange and unfortunate truth is we actually teach this harmful micromanaging behavior to every aviation educator during their initial  CFI training; we build a fatal defect into every new CFI. The most common method for educating a new CFI is to create a “CFI lesson plan binder” full of rote lesson plans tracking the usual pilot pathway. And as we do this, the future CFI applicant is encourated to talk, talk, talk and fly, fly, fly – patterning each maneuver from the right seat and “simultaneously instructing and flying.” And though this is a necessary step in learning to teach aviation, we never finish the job and progress all the way to real educational excellence through supervision and seasoning (STOP talking and let your student fly). We get them “barely competent” and turn them lose in the aviation system.

The FAA system allows for perfunctory CFI preparation – 10-day courses are pretty standard with an 85% pass rates. And there is no “student teaching” or “seasoning” included to build excellence in the field after certification. Consequently, many new CFIs never learn to personalize their instruction to creatively tailor their presentation to suit each unique pilot in training (burn that binder!). It can take years for new CFIs to become creative and effective without mentoring. It takes time to learn the necessary balance of freedom and control to provide students the space to grow and learn. Unfortunately, most just continue the rote, assembly-line instruction from their CFI binder rather than embracing “client-centered education.” They never relinquish the radio, the flight controls or PIC authority and instead smother their eager learners with overbearing micromanagment and excessive erudition; we have created a monster. To become a successful educator, only mentoring and seasoning will grow the CFI create excellence. It takes more time and guidance to create a truly competent aviation educator.

The Canadian aviation system requires every new aviation educator to teach under supervision and and grow further as a CFI before teaching independently. Only after supervised “student teaching” in the field under a master instructor are Canadian CFIs upgraded to teach independently. But this is not the FAA system. After only a perfunctory 10 day “CFI academy” a new FAA CFI could be in the field with very limited preparation. And this is exactly why SAFE created the mentoring program from day one and is now creating the SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshops. These tools bridge the “CFI gap” between good and great. They also encourage the mentoring and networking that creates the necessary “growth mindset” every educator must embrace. Excellent educators must continue to grow if we want to be successful and effective. Fly safely (and often) and please check out the SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshops. We need your support to fight mediocrity and make this new initiative the new standard of excellence in our industry. As every aviation educator improves, we reach and improve every pilot.

Apple or Android versions.

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

Teaching Accurate Rudder Usage!

Misuse of the rudder while flying – usually too little or none at all – is a sure sign that some aviation educator failed their student during initial training. This sloppy “flat foot flying” or “driving an aircraft” is sometimes a symptom of a burned out CFI who has just “given up” and does not care any more. This CFI is tolerating sloppy flying out of frustration (“whatever!”). But it is also true that some CFIs were themselves taught badly and cannot sense or teach accurate rudder usage. There are easy exercises to teach rudder (standby for that…) but first, every pilot has to appreciate that lack of correct rudder usage is the heart of unsafe flying. Improper yaw control leads directly to loss of control accidents in the pattern (57% of fatals) – we touched on this elsewhere. This article however is “Rudder 101;” providing CFI resources to build appreciation and proper usage of this misunderstood and underutilized control. A pilot without yaw control does not understand the most basic principles of flying; they are still “driving the plane” and it isn’t pretty or safe. As professional aviation educators, we can fix this. (And if you are a pilot reading, there is great benefit here for you also)

To clearly define terms for this discussion, by “driving an airplane” I mean just cranking the yoke or deflecting the stick like an automobile without correcting for adverse yaw with the rudder. And it is obviously much harder to successfully rehabilitate a “numb butt” than to initially teach accurate, correct rudder usage. Step one is creating and illustrating the aerodynamic principles and developing an appreciation for the *need* for correct rudder; some pilots do not detect their slip/skid flying and cannot understand the need (“My plane does not require any rudder…”). Entrenched habits and lack of caring about rudder usage require serious unlearning first to make any progress at all; “no need no sale.” Then, every pilot initially learning, rusty relearning, or continuing proficiency has to overcome their “driving habit” (we all drive much more than we fly). In a normal syllabus, accurate and appropriate rudder usage has to begin during flight lesson #1; “demonstrate that flying is clearly and demonstrably NOT driving!”

So when your new student (or your recovering “flat foot flier”) is up at altitude in the airplane, please demonstrate an extreme “driving turn” with no rudder and make the problem obvious! If you crank the yoke (deflect the ailerons) aggresively in one direction (fast and furious) the nose predictably yaws off in the opposite direction (a prebrief. on adverse yaw obviously helps to create this “step one” understanding). A couple of these gyrations aggressively applied might also induce a bit of nausea (and that might be a “good thing” – uncoordination makes me sick in a plane!) Next, illustrate a well coordinated roll referencing a distant point on the horizon (eyes outside, not on the ball please). Help your pilot in training try a coordinated turn and demonstrate how much smoother and easier on the stomach it is with appropriate rudder applied. Here is a great Rod Machado video to show a student illustrating this technique:

Now pick a point on the distant horizon and roll with correct coordination on a single point and sustain a level turn for a while. Have your pilot in training practice this with eyes entirely outside; roll into a 30 degree banked turn (make sure they release the rudder pressure) and continue  for 90 degrees of stable turning (This is a good time to mention and practice the appropriate amount of back pressure if it is a new learner). Reverse after 90 degrees of turn in the other direction. Turn reversal is initially more of a challenge but perfectly illustrates accurate yaw cancelling. After a few cycles of turning, try rolling into a bank and reversing on a single point without letting the airplane enter the turn (many pilots call this a “Dutch Roll”). This exercise should be part of every initial flight lesson. This exercise tunes up the feet and overcomes our more common “driving impulse.” Every aircraft requires a different amont of rudder pressure so this is something I do on downwind in every airplane (solo, not with the boss in the back). This exercise is very efficient and only takes about as long as this description required; easy and effective!

This introduction can be followed by more advanced illustrations of yaw correction if your pilot immediately “gets it.” When flying level at approach speed, apply and reduce power aggressively (with NO yaw correction) to demonstrate the left-yaw effects and the necessary application of rudder to hold a distant point on the horizon. As power is applied, right rudder is necessary. (I make this a “muscle memory exercise” – as the right hand goes in with more power, the right rudder is applied).

Finally, illustrate that as the nose pitch is aggressively increased, left turning tendencies are created requiring right rudder to cancel yaw to the left. And when you combine these two forces (as in a take-off or simulated go-around) the right rudder force is more obvious. Again, this is lesson #1 and 2; vital understanding of the physics at work.

These are understandings and skills every pilot in training needs to successfully take off and turn; lesson #1 and 2. And as soon as your pilot in training has mastered these skills, turn over the control and responsibility completely to your new pilot (with no educator intervention or correction). This is the incredibly valuable incremental mastery we mentioned in an earlier blog. This empowers and motivates your new pilot and starts them on the road to assuming full control PIC (essential but rare in student training).

Notice that yaw is so much easier to illustrate in its pure form if you remove and practice these exercises in isolation from “the scenario.”  Once you practice this “yaw cancelling” as a distinct and pure exercise with a little drill and repetition it is quickly mastered and available for all future flying. Unfortunately, in most pilot training, appreciation of yaw forces gets lost in the continuing scenario and the CFI just ends up just bleating out “more right rudder” in a meaningless fashion. Most pilots never learn to properly use the rudder.

Once basic rudder understanding and proficiency are completed in isolation, we reassemble this package resuming a “normal flying scenario” and apply it in every maneuver. This is analogous to practicing scales on piano during initial training *before* we attempt Chopin. A few times through these exercises and your new pilot will only require an occasional “right rudder” reminder or tune up. Pilots trained correctly instinctively sense yaw (“something feels wrong here”) and apply appropriate/accurate rudder. We’ll discuss more advanced rudder exercises next week; fly safe (and often)!

Apple or Android versions.

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).

Opportunity To Grow: SAFE CFI-PRO™!

Just a short blog this week, no brain strain or technical discussions. I just want to announce that SAFE has opened up registration for our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop in Frederick, MD. This event will be at the  AOPA “Learn to Fly” facility on October 2nd and 3rd and is filling quickly. We are limited to only 75 people at this first offering, so register here soon.


This is an opportunity for aviation educators at every level to get together with their peers to network, discuss and learn from some very experienced CFIs; e.g. Rich Stowell, Doug Stewart and Hobie Tomlinson. Each one of these people has been an FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year and each one separately has well over 10,000 hours of dual given. Hobie has been a pilot examiner longer than most of us have been flying; 42 years!

The AOPA “Learn to Fly” facility is a beautiful modern building with an auditorium, classrooms and the latest AV equipment right on the KFDK airport. Discount hotel rooms are planned at both Marriott and Hilton (since pilots are all point monsters affiliated with different programs) and we offer a dinner get together at the National Aviation Community Center with the AOPA people.

Ironically, the last national learning opportunity like this might have been 20 years ago at Embry Riddle in April 1999 when Rich Stowell presented his famous “CFI white paper” to the assembled authorities. Rich went on to help create SAFE’s GA Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 that spawned our current FAA ACS. And Rich pretty much invented the term “Loss of Control,” teaching prevention techniques 20 years before the FAA/NTSB identified LOC-I as the primary cause of fatal accidents. Rich was an expert witness at the NTSB LOC-I Roundtable and still has the best “Public Service Announcement” for “Extended Envelope Training” on the internet:

Register now and join the SAFE team in Frederick, MD on October 2 & 3rd for our first SAFE CFI-PRO™ Workshop.

Apple or Android versions.

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 Secret of Pattern Safety!

We all know a majority of accidents occur in the traffic pattern; especially during descent and runway line-up. But the burning question is “why?” Basically, we fear the wrong things. Most pilots don’t understand the basic flight dynamics of descending turns and the real consequences and risks of unstabilized flying. With a little knowledge, practice and a committment to artful flying excellence, we all can do better and fly safer.

But instead pilots try to achieve safety by never banking over 20 degrees, flying huge patterns and becoming increasingly timid.  Others advocate oval patterns to eliminate the steeper corners of the pattern (but fly a constant turn). Why not just “learn to turn” correctly and safely in the first place? I watch in amazement as pilots horse their planes around to final with varying bank angles and wildly changing airspeeds (hold on partner!) exhibiting a lack of stability, ground track control and overall discipline. The physical problems with patterns are obvious but they are driven by a lack of understanding risk and knowledge of the forces at work.  This lack of stability and control continues directly into professional piloting where unstable approaches and overrun accidents are the #1 cause of accidents in corporate jets. As aviation educators (and pilots) we need to do better. Understanding some basic flight dynamics is critical to success.

Safety and a passion for pattern precision starts with an understanding of the invisible angle of attack (AOA) where the real risk hides. Simply presenting and thoroughly explaining  a set of pictures like the ones above  can jump start the conversation and clear up some very common misunderstandings. When asked which aircraft depicted above has the greatest angle of attack (AOA) almost every pilot (and many CFIs) pick the nose-high Cessna. The “a-ha” learning opportunity is that the AOA is the same on both of these aircraft. And that means the airplane in the glide is just as close to a stall as the nose-high plane on the left (now risk becomes clear). If we never demonstrate a stall with the nose *below* the horizon a new pilot in training will never understand AOA and how accidents occur. There is a “natural” (but erroneous) assumption that with the nose low, we are “safe” and “all stalls occur with a nose-high flight attitude” – wrong and reason #1 for pattern accidents! Even if this error is not stated verbally, practicing and demonstrating only nose-high stalls builds this myth and masks the true danger of descending turns.

In our initial flight instruction teaching the basic level turn, we emphasize that when a plane is banked, the lift vector is redirected to the horizontal (to create the turn) and no longer entirely opposes gravity. Consequently, some back-pressure is necessary to maintain altitude in a level turn. And during initial flight training, we build up this rote, muscle memory “bank and add pressure” response through repetition. But when we move on to the descending turns, is essential to emphasize this previously memorized script is incorrect.

A descending turn is completely different and requires “bank and release” because the added load of the bank will add drag and cause a decrease in airspeed (and greater AOA) unless back pressure is relaxed (and trim is a wonderful and underused tool here). Pilots descending tend to lose airpseed on every turn; they are banking and inappropriately adding back pressure (or failing to appropriately release). This is reason #2 of the “why” that explains many pattern accidents. This failure to understand the basic flight dynamics of the turn and AOA (also probably add some initial “ground fear” of being low) causes pilots in training bank to mishandle AOA. And once bad habits are extablished in training, they never go away.

How “eyeball friendly” is your trainer?

Outside visual reference and proper trimming are also vastly undervalued in modern flight training. If the airplane is trimmed properly and the pilot in training knows the proper, predictible flight attitude for a descent in various configurations, the stabilized control of the aircraft is much easier. Unfortunately, many pilots in training are inappropriately focused inside on the panel chasing the airpseed indicator instead of setting a flight attitude with outside references. Personally, unless my pilot in training can fly the whole pattern visually, with eyes outside (and the instrument panel covered) I hesitate to even consider a solo. Fly safely out there (and often).

And of course, more on this and other key educator tools at our Oct. 2/3 SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop at AOPA in Fredrick, MD. The registration form will be live in a week. This will have Hilton and Marriott rooms at a discount and a networking dinner at the National Aviation Community Center!

Apple or Android versions.

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).

Start With Basic Honesty!

As a flight instructor have you been guilty of telling eager beginners that “learning to fly is easy”? Do you personally really believe that often used phrase? If you think back to *your* initial training don’t you remember those dark moments of discouragement and disappointment that are inevitably part of this process? Learning anything complex is not all sunshine and light. Struggle, disappointment and personal growth are all a necessary part of learning to fly. But if you were successful, at some point some caring person helped you through those  dark times of doubt – a mentor or hopefully a compassionate, honest aviation educator? We know from survey data that a caring and compassionate CFI is  the essential magic element responsible for success in flight training. In our enthusiasm to sell flying we might be doing damage by describing learning to fly as “easy.” I think we all would benefit more by being honest; the result would be a better completion rate and more happy pilots in training. This would help to insure the health of our aviation industry and give us many more lifetime clients.

In our eagerness to sell flying we have  failed our future pilots- it all starts with that initial interview. I personally believe this is a major reason we see the 80% rate during initial pilot training; we need to more accurately communicate the challenges and control the expectations here.  Present the honest story, with the future benefits.  Certainly “sell the sizzle” but do not diminish the challenges.

My personal formula for introducing the subject goes something like this; “Learning to fly is a great challenge and provides amazing adventure and fun. This process does require hard work, effort and your time and money. In addition to acquiring the obvious physical skills it also requires personal growth and assuming responsibility; it rewards a ‘take charge’ personality and some courage. Your investment of time, money and effort will be paid back a hundred fold if you stay the course and work through the process; being a pilot opens up so many worlds of fun and adventure. And the learning and discovery can be fun and rewarding; we’ll work through the difficulties together”

The professional aviation educator has to commit to being more than just a technician in this learning process. A great CFI is a coach, motivator and practical psychologist in addition to guiding the skills part (did you know you signed up for this?). If you are a pilot seeking a CFI look beyond the badges, patches and accolades. Look for a true committed professional, a warm-hearted “people person” who cares about your success and has a track record of happy pilots.

50KsoloEvery initial interview between potential pilot and educator is similar to an “engagement letter” that any lawyer would write.  This tool should be part of any professional relationship involving a lot of time and money (and its usually in writing). Unfortunately in flying, honesty is rare, we tend to sell sunshine and light and diminish the struggle. And if we present the FAA “40 hour myth” we are also lying. I have certainly finished some very talented students in 35 hours (141 school), but we all know that is not the “average” and not an expectation I would promote to the general public. Doubling the 40 is a more reasonable target (and I don’t embrace other FAA minimums – like VFR in “one mile clear of clouds” either). Someone for whom completion is not possible (or will take excessive time) should be informed early in training (and gently terminated if the project is not going to work). Again AOPA survey data reveals that the reason people drop out of flying is not the cost, it is the unrealistic expectations presented in the early interview and a lack of value. If you initially told them $12K to be a pilot and we are passing $18K and still in X-C you are going to have problems. This is no different than  remodeling contractor promising your new bathroom for $20K then proceeding to charge $35K (and its still not done).

The critical part in flight training that differs from other professional models is the level of personal commitment and caring required of the effective aviation educator. We are not just technicians who perform a sterile service or twist a few screws to create a performance. We need to be personally involved and coaching our pilots in training to get them through the goal posts. It requires caring and compassion and that is rare in our modern world of aviation instruction. I don’t think they teach empathy or compassion during initial training at our “puppy mill” CFI academies. This is acquired with life experience and comes with time. But it is the essential trait if you want to be a successful aviation educator; you have to care. This is the magic that makes flight training work. Fly safely out there (and often)

Apple or Android versions.

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).