Planning (not “Plans”) – Essential to Safety!

Recent headlines addressed the General Aviation accident rate and compared them to other types of aviation. Relative to the airlines and the military, why is GA so much more prone to accidents? Having been lucky enough to have flown a fairly broad mix of military and part 121 operations I will try to answer that question with one word: Planning!

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
(General/President Eisenhower)

As a CFI conducting a recent flight review, I observed the pilot while dealing with a training diversion. We had talked about this event for a couple of days, he knew it was coming. Yet when I said, “Divert” it was as if I’d suggested we divert to the backside of the moon. He was totally unprepared for it. Down went his head to the iPad. Searching and searching for who knows what. It seemed like the longest time before I suggested that he at least look out the front window for a moment to do some clearing.

It doesn’t matter what your next event is, you already have some fairly broad ideas of what may or may not happen. Private Pilot check ride? Chances of a divert on a scale from zero to 100; any takers? My money is you really need to be prepared to find some frequencies, find some weather, calculate time and fuel, maybe run some form of either normal or emergency checklist, determine runway suitability and perhaps another task or two on the way to your divert airfield (it is in the book!) It really helps if you’ve at least looked at these things beforehand.

Does it have to just be a Flight Review or a Checkride? No, but EVERY flight needs to be adequately planned. Just doing a couple laps around the pattern? No problem, nothing will happen on that flight, right? WRONG, that’s the most likely time to have troubles. Those flights are the perfect time to really dig deep on preparation and planning. You shouldn’t have to spend too much time studying taxiway and runway orientation if it’s your home field. Instead study the weather, winds aloft, go back to the Airplane Flying Handbook and re-read a couple chapters on the traffic patterns and landings. I could easily offer a review of chapters 5, 7 and 8 for your pattern only review. If you’re off to another airport for that $100 hamburger there are more chapters worth going back through.

The word of the day is planning. There are rarely times when you get scrambled on a do or die mission that requires you to launch into whatever is lurking outside the door. When does planning start? I’ve got a flight later this week that I’ve been planning for at least ten days. It’s going to require four legs, every leg is adjustable to some degree which means that I’m looking at several different airports for each leg. I’ll be flying a plane that is new to me, so I intend to be very conservative on every point.

On my four-leg journey, I entered the airport where I’ll pick up the plane and the airport of my final destination. That gives me a long straight line. Based on fuel considerations I decided that I’d do four rather than three legs. A big part of that decision was the location of two Class Bravos that will impact my VFR operation. For each of my interim stops, I’d like them to be as close to the original magenta line as possible.

With the legs roughly designated, now I’m going to start getting a little more specific with each airport. At first glance, I just used the airport date block from the sectional to determine the basics. Next up I’m going into the A/FD to make sure that each airport I plan on stopping at has everything I think I might need. Hopefully, each stop will be nothing more than a “gas and go.” But it is nice to know if maintenance is available before I set down. There are several applications available but I’ve learned to love ForeFlight and all it offers.

With a couple days to go, I’ve got a rough plan. As the day approaches, I’ll start focusing on the weather and NOTAMs. If you’ve failed to plan, you’ve planned to fail. Don’t let that be you. I’ll send some pictures of my upcoming delivery flight. Be SAFE!

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

“Hope, Luck, Appearance” – Dangerous Delusions!

In aviation, we meet people every day that carry certificates and endorsements that should guarantee a certain level of knowledge and performance. Unfortunately, this is often not entirely true. In our modern society, hope, luck and trust in outward appearance are the norm. But beyond the surface facade, facts often reveal that people are really renting that fancy car (or girlfriend) and their amazing house is way behind on payments (or owned by dad). Most people in our modern society are not exactly what they pretend to be (or think they are). Dishonest presentation may be intentional but sometimes people are unaware of their deception and are fooling themselves as well.

Humans are excellent liars. We don’t like to think of ourselves as capable of lying; it hurts us too much to admit. So we lie to ourselves about that, too. …this type of dishonesty is far harder to detect and admit. It is the kind of lying that comes from not being psychologically strong enough to be honest with ourselves about who we are.

As pilots we cannot afford this deception or “magical thinking.” Our lives depend on honest skill and verification of factual data. The primary job of a DPE giving a checkride is verifying (checking) the endorsement by the recommending CFI that the pilot applicant meets the ACS standards. DPEs don’t teach, they just say “yes” or “no.” And this skill in one every CFI (and even pilot) needs to develop and exercise daily for safety.

To be effective as an aviation educator, step one is to interrogate and validate the certificates, experience and talent presented by your learner. This assures an honest baseline level of ability and makes the instructional process much safer and more effective. The “missing elements” are usually well hidden and need to be actively searched out in the first flight together. A worn 50 mission leather jacket does not assure any pilot competence (more likely the opposite). And teaching to an “assumed level” of skill is not only useless and frustrating, it can also become a dangerous experience. If a complex maneuver is not working in flight, deconstruct it and try a more basic version using the same skills. If the patternwork has a problem, deconstruct the elements and practice them individually away from the pattern pressure. Then reassemble the “pattern pieces” on return. It is amazing how effective simple slow flight (at altitude) can be to solve “flare and landing” problems.

I was hiring a new CFI from a large university aviation program who energetically demonstrated an aggressive “skid to landing” when he believed he was slipping. Another super-CFI landed everywhere on the runway (except the centerline) and thought my guidance to “hold the centerline” was the demented dream of a grumpy CFI. Flight tests provide similar surprises in a more calibrated environment. Every day in flight has its surprises. Again, the goal is to discover these oddities and missing elements before they become dangerous.

We are all familiar with the FAA lesson plan form in the FAA Instructor Handbook. I always advocated for an important addition to this boilerplate form. Adding “prerequisites” before the new lesson content assures that foundational requirements are present *before* we attempt new growth and progress. Whether we realize it or not, every flight lesson assumes a level of competence as the point of departure. If the pilot you intend to teach chandelles cannot coordinate a simple climbing left turn out of the traffic pattern, your lesson plan is doomed before you even begin. It is essential to determine and teach to the actual skill/knowledge level of the pilot, not just what their certificates tell you. Courage and self-confidence are necessary piloting traits to a degree, delusion and hubris are just scary. Fly safely out there (and often!)

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

Teaching “Average” Prevents Effective Learning

Good aviation education is not a process of standardizing *people* but *procedures*. It is critical to remember that every person walking in the door to learn to fly is a unique individual and there are many pathways to achieve the necessary skill, knowledge and judgment we need to be safe. Teaching to an “average learner” is a huge mistake, often caused by lack of imagination and laziness (we all get jaded after a couple thousand hours…), but standardization of everything is also how our human brain works. We process our diverse sensory input by stereotyping (predictive perception). But to be an effective educator we need to force ourselves to see and appreciate the unique differences in every learner. This requires effort and imagination every day to succeed. Our build-in impulse to “teach average” is a huge reason for our 80% drop out rate in aviation. This happens in all our educational pursuits. High schools lose 1.2 million people every year (sound familiar?)  Of these high school dropouts, 4% are known to be “intellectually gifted!”

Todd Rose was a high school drop out and eventually went on to be a Harvard professor. His Ted Talk uses the original Air Force human factors adaptability studies of Gilbert Daniels. He rated pilots on 10 dimensions and discover “there is no such thing as an average pilot.” I think every aviation educator should watch this important Ted talk:

Once these and other design solutions were put into place, pilot performance soared, and the U.S. air force became the most dominant air force on the planet.

I hope this inspires a new way to think of your everyday educational challenges. Create excitement and challenge in your daily instructional life! 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 (1/3 off your 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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Where Do We Lose It? The *Real* Threat!

Ask yourself a question: where do most stalls occur? Take a moment. Write down your answer.

Almost everyone probably wrote down “in the base-to-final turn.” The ubiquitous stall scenario is overshooting the turn from base leg to final approach, and (perhaps subconsciously) adding too much rudder to try to slew the airplane’s nose into alignment with the runway centerline in a skidding turn.

The resulting overbanking tendency may incite the pilot to apply aileron opposite the turn. The upward deflected aileron on the wing outside the turn decreases that’s wing’s angle of attack compared to the wing inside the turn. If the pilot also pulls back on the elevator control in this turn—another instinctive response to an overshoot—the inside wing may reach its critical angle of attack. It suddenly stalls while the outside wing is near its maximum coefficient of lift. The airplane snap-rolls toward the inside of the turn with nowhere near enough altitude for the startled pilot to recover.

A base-to-final turn gone bad is a deadly Loss of Control – Inflight (LOC-I) scenario. However, LOC-I in the base-to-final turn is one of the least common stalls in the accident record.  

The truth about stalls was quantified by AOPA’s Air Safety Institute in a 2017 study titled  “Stall and Spin Accidents: Keep the Wings Flying.” This report “analyzes 2,015 stall accidents between 2000 and 2014, and concludes with recommendations for prevention, recognition, and recovery from stalls while offering ideas on a shift in focus for stall awareness, prevention, and recovery.”

AOPA notes: “Perhaps surprisingly, more stalls occur during the departure phases of flight (takeoff, climb, and go-around) than in the arrival phases (approach, pattern, and landing).”

Using the AOPA-ASI data, which in turn derives from NTSB conclusions, I created some images that describe the true nature of traffic pattern stalls.

The first image details real-world stall data on the arrival end of a visual traffic pattern. The commonly cited base-to-final turn, and stalls in the turn from downwind to base leg, together account for only 3.8% of all NTSB-reported stall events. Now these stalls, when they do occur, are quite deadly: 66% of the downwind-to-base stalls are fatal, and 80% of base-to-final turn stalls result in death. That stands to reason; if a stall occurs in one of these places there is little room to recover. Still, these most commonly considered turns are low-probability, high-severity events.

Stalls on the downwind leg or the wings-level portion of the base leg almost never occur, only 0.8% of the reported LOC-I events in the circuit. A little over half of these resulted in death, still a low-probability, high-severity event.

Stalls after completing the turn to final approach are almost twice as common as stalls in the turns. Still, they account for only 6.1% of traffic pattern stalls, 40% of them fatal. This becomes a low probability but moderate severity type of event.

Stalls in the landing flare are much more common than any of the others on the arrival end of the pattern: 21.2% of the pattern stalls total. Close to the ground, these stalls usually do not devolve into spin rotation, and vertical movement stops before the airplane accelerates to a deadly descent. We call these stalls a hard landing—only 8% of stalls in the flare kill people. These are high probability but relatively low severity events.

Put them all together and LOC-I in a visual arrival account for 31.9% of all traffic pattern stalls. Another commonality: these are generally power-off stalls, the type most pilots and their instructors are far more comfortable practicing and tend to practice more often.

This second image plots AOPA-analyzed NTSB data to show stalls during a go-around and during the initial climb. This is the surprising part: takeoff and go-around stalls, power-on stalls, are far more common than power-off stalls during the approach and landing. About 18% of the reported stalls happened during a go-around. Because these LOC-I events are close to the ground, a quarter of these stalls are fatal…but three-quarters of them are not.

Many types of airplanes, when trimmed for final approach speed, have an elevator trim setting that is more nose-high than the takeoff trim setting. Some types are trimmed very nose high on final approach. Meanwhile, in many airplanes adding power causes an upward pitch movement.

So at the beginning of a go-around, many airplanes will pitch up into a high angle of attack. It may take forward pressure on the controls to fly the correct initial attitude and airspeed. Pilots who do not practice go-arounds routinely may not be prepared for the control inputs necessary to avoid a stall.

However, half of all traffic pattern stalls happen during takeoff and initial climb. 40% of these losses of control prove fatal. These are high probability, moderate severity events.

The major commonality here: these are power-on stalls. You know, the ones that are uncomfortable to fly, and may seem unrealistic is flown the way they are prescribed in the Airman Certification Standards. For the stalls that will get you, full power stalls during takeoff or a go-around, are often flown with some flaps and with (in retractable gear airplanes) gear extended.

Such an airplane, combined with nose-up trim, may reach the critical angle of attack at a pitch attitude much lower than is required to fly an ACS-style power-on stall (pg. 43). The “dirty” airplane configuration often results in a more dynamic, more dramatic departure from controlled flight than a clean, ACS-style power-on stall. And full power adds to the rapid departure from controlled flight, compared to the often reduced-power power-on stall taught at altitude—power application can introduce yaw and roll, and countering that movement with aileron (a common response) sets the pilot up for that same skidding-stall scenario we discussed back in the turn from base to final.

My third diagram interpreting AOPA’s report compares where we think we’ll stall to where we actually stall, based on NTSB accident history:

About half of all NTSB-reportable stalls are power-on stalls during takeoff and in a go-around. Almost 90% of all stalls—add the hard landings to the power-on stalls—happen over or beyond the runway. We think if we’re going to stall it will be in the pattern before the final approach. We actually stall over the runway and on the departure end.

We spend a lot of time and effort teaching the power-off stall, avoiding accelerating the stall (pulling back on the controls, which increases G load and therefore angle of attack for a given pitch attitude) and emphasizing rudder coordination to keep both wings at the same angle of attack, avoiding the snap-roll scenario. This emphasis may be why the most commonly cited stall scenario, the base-to-final turn, is in reality one of the least common stalls in the accident report. Don’t stop training, practicing and thinking about these stalls. Training and awareness work.

We need to add training and awareness of stalls that occur over and beyond the runway, and practice realistic simulations of a power-on stall in the landing and takeoff configurations, to guard against the most common stalls. Get as comfortable recognizing and recovering from these stall scenarios as you are with power-off stalls more commonly practiced, to avoid the traffic pattern loss of control threat.

Professional CFIs should take special notice of the *real* pattern threat – high power/high nose – and train these areas more assiduously for pilot proficiency and confidence. Fly SAFE out there (and often)!

Thanks to Tom Turner, a charter (and lifetime) member of SAFE, for sharing this important article here. This was originally published on Tom’s Mastery Of Flight Training website which publishes weekly “Flying Lessons” (subscribe for free). Tom is also the author of many books and articles as well as Executive Director and Chief Pilot of the American Bonanza Society.

  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 facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Ideas for Improvement from Redbird Migration!

There were many great presentations and breakouts at Redbird Migration that will take weeks to digest and present here! The significant AOPA presence almost eclipsed the whole Redbird contribution, especially the new AOPA Flight Training Advantage App now in Beta test (more on this soon). For all pilots, Joe Brown masterfully modeled a pathway to greater safety in flying through discipline and regular proficiency.

Only 4000 Professional CFIs in USA!

SAFE member Eric Crump recorded an excellent breakout digging deep into FAA statistics and revealing that despite the 114K flight instructor certificates, there are surprisingly, only about 12K truly “active flight instructors” (working with pilots toward ratings). Of these, 2/3s or all CFIs are brand new (8K new CFIs last year). And most of these CFIs are hour-builders transitioning to another career. We have only about 4,000 professional CFIs in the US that are continuously active in the aviation industry for more than a year. This means only about 4,000 instructors in the field building their professional skills and carrying institutional knowledge forward from year to year. 2/3 of CFIs on the job are inexperienced. True lifetime educators in the business are increasingly rare! This points out the critical need for SAFE mentoring program and SAFE CFI-PRO™ This also explains the rarity (and value) of Master Instructors! The geographical listing of SAFE members is here.

Error-Based Learning and Constructive Criticism

Another helpful breakout session for educators was the validation of educational practices undertaken by Chris Moser as part of his Master’s Degree at Embry Riddle.

Leveraging and analyzing AOPA’s extensive survey data, Chris scientifically validated the importance of Syllabus Usage, Pre-Lesson Preparation, Error-based Learning and Constructive Criticism. Though the first two (syllabus and prep) are well-accepted aviation tools, both error-based learning and constructive criticism are rare (and were found to be even more important). These two tools are underappreciated by educators and also mentioned in the SAFE breakout.

Error-Based Learning is often missed by new aviation educators since it is not covered in the FAA Instructor’s Manual. And there is a tendency for inexperienced CFIs to overcontrol most flight lessons both on the yoke and the radio preventing any experimentation and wandering by the student. But a well-established necessity in learning skill-based activities is for the learner to explore, and discover their own errors and self-correct. Constructive Criticism (and guided reflection) after a lesson guides the corrections to ideal standards and suggests “opportunities for improvement.”

The SAFE breakout reinforces the point that new CFIs seldom allow “constructive exploration” by the learner. Most aviation experience for new CFIs up to the point of CFI certification mandates precision and accuracy in every flight; additionally, the “pilot personality” is most often competitive and emotionally cold (whereas “compassionate coach” is a better model for success). It is often shocking for new CFIs to be going sideways and frequently off altitude in their new world as a learner explores their abilities and controls! (See the previous blog on “Two Certificates-Two Skill Sets!“) Another recommendation in the SAFE breakout is leveraging “incremental mastery” to motivate and inspire students to increase retention. Fly safe 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 (1/3 off your 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 by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Airlines -vs- GA: Safety Solutions!

Comparing the safety record of “big iron operations” with general aviation is a very common but also inherently unfair contest. The airline “safety sales pitch” goes something like: “airlines have a near-zero accident rate due to some superior skill, secret sauce or magic techniques (buy it here…)” But in fact, the General Aviation piloting job, by its nature, requires more diverse skills and responsibilities in a more demanding safety environment. The airlines have incrementally “engineered out” the risk for efficient transportation – which is indeed the goal of safety. But they have achieved this by limiting the flexibility and opportunities in flight that are the beating heart of GA flying.

Airline operations are not flown by solo pilots, but actively utilize a much larger “safety team.” Part 25 aircraft are piloted by a crew (required by certification) which all by itself conveys an amazing 8X benefit in safety! Additionally, automatic systems carry most of the pilot workload with operations to only 1% of available airports and almost always IFR.

Not only does the GA pilot usually carry all the piloting responsibilities solo, but GA pilots also cover the maintenance, planning, and dispatch while accessing thousands of non-standard airports in often challenging terrain. Airlines, by contrast, employ huge teams for maintenance and an army of licensed dispatchers doing all the planning from start to finish. And the regularly scheduled environment enables a high degree of standardization and predictability. Fortunately, though the safety comparison is dubious, there are many valuable techniques that can increase GA pilot professionalism and add safety to the challenging GA environment.

GA flying is lots more versatile (and fun), but as a result, more accidents do occur. It is not practical – or desirable – to give up the freedom and flexibility of GA flying – hire a copilot and file IFR? But there are many professional techniques and resources GA pilots can adapt to GA to increase the personal flying safety margins.- and many airline pilots flying GA are examples of this strategy. Every pilot should leverage these tools for greater safety. And CFIs reading this can build up clientele and professionalism by raising their game and developing these programs for their clients. Build your own “safety team” and become a personal professional pilot!

1) Objectively rate your flying after every flight and develop personal SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Whatever your piloting level, define it precisely with personal limitations and minimums. In professional flying, every new captain has restrictions until the specified experience is acquired and every operation conforms to SOPs. Matching capabilities to conditions is the key to safe flying. The “reflective review” after every flight ensures you are not “normalizing”  lucky – rather than skill-based outcomes in your flying.

2) Create a personal proficiency plan and upgrade plan for skill and knowledge. One huge safety advantage professional pilots have is the required 6-month recurrent training. To leverage this in personal flying, create a personalized program for maintaining and upgrading skills and knowledge. This probably requires a CFI at certain points for upgrading and objective analysis. (and if you are a CFI, setting up a program for your clients assures regular training opportunities and growth for your skills). For new VFR pilots challenging the busier airspaces like NYC or SoCal enhances skills and confidence. The required additional planning and radio savvy often motivate private pilots toward an instrument rating.

3) Carefully plan and brief every take-off as a potential emergency.  Professional pilots are required to calculate and brief all possible take-off (and landing) contingencies for every operation. This preparation ensures that emergencies are “expected” not “surprising.” A rejected take-off or power failure on the initial climb will lead to an accident unless it is trained then briefed before power application. This training is quite rare at the GA level. Consequently, the  “pilot killers” in aviation (when adjusted for exposure time). 24% of pilot fatalities occur during this phase of flight! For the CFI, it is critical to include a rejected take-off (pull the throttle, pop a window open or release the pilot seat to create surprise). Emphasizing a “prepared mindset” for every runway operation (take-off and landing) will exponentially enhance safety; pro pilot!

4) Utilize ATC services for longer or challenging flights. Every 121 or 135 operation requires continuous “flight monitoring” from the engine start to shut-down (usually IFR). In GA, there is a cultural drive toward “lone eagle bravery” (the “Lindbergh Effect?”) that spurns the use of resources. But the advantage of another set of eyes for traffic, and assistance in the case of an emergency or weather challenge is a huge safety boost for every flight. This also improves radio skills for future ratings (e.g. instrument).

5) Thoroughly brief the weather and specifically plan alternate routes and airports.  Though 91.103 specifies planned alternates for every flight, GA pilots seldom consider and prepare other routing or landing options. (As a CFI on a flight review, NOTAM your client’s primary airport OTS enroute?)As a solo pilot facing challenging weather, call a trusted pilot friend for a second opinion (the “crew advantage”) and set objective standards for each continuation point – “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion!”

6) Build a system for maintaining vigilance enroute,  continually watching for potential landing areas and monitoring trends. “Immediate memory items” – boldface in POH (again, professional pilots go to training every 6 months and beat this up). When the engine has problems or quits, the “pilot pull reaction” seems into the human DNA. Recent training must take over and quickly reduce the flight attitude to the glide picture (your wing cord line level with the horizon). For CFIs, this needs to be repeatedly emphasized in every flight review; “surprise!”

7) Practice take-off and landings in windy conditions: “Where the rubber meets the road” is the major cause of aviation accidents. And surprisingly, there is no requirement to test crosswind landings on any flight test! Windy landings are “voluntary professionalism”  that few pilots attempt or master. Every flight review needs to sharpen this skill set. “Tough love” from the CFI keeps pilots alive. Fly safely out there (and often)!


8) Identify and separate emotions from facts. We are all subject to cognitive bias and many “landmark accidents” clearly illustrate “magical thinking” at work. Another huge advantage of a larger “safety team” with crew-based flying and SOPs is the objective analysis of the risks. As the only planner and pilot in GA, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing what we want to see. Conversely, many pilots miss out on manageable trips because of initial fear. If a trip meets your standards and adds up to objective safety, the flight will be safe. It takes some courage to overcome initial jitters. It is also possible to dial down the challenge with a smaller mission or take a pilot friend for help. The key is to keep flying and growing skills, knowledge, and experience. Fly safely out there (and often)!

There are many more great “tune-up” skill builders in our “SAFE Extended Envelope Syllabus.” What are your favorite “tune-Up” maneuvers?

Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

10 Essential Rules for New CFI!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

9) Beware ‘Experienced Pilots’ who need a Flight Review or who are ‘Rusty’ They will surprise you with Totally Mondo Bizarro behaviors and techniques that defy any expectation! (Pilots get weird with added hours and no dual…)

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

(Send us your list of “10 Rules” you live by as a CFI…we might publish it!)

Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Surprising Gaps in FAA Requirements

It is shocking that the FAA instructor, who might be teaching your child or significant other to fly, is only required to have a total of 200 hours and 5 hours alone in a plane. And how comfortable are you learning from an “instrument instructor” when they might never have done what they are teaching  – flown in a cloud (NOT required)?  A “senior instructor,” is able to train a new CFI with only 200 hours teaching and 2 years experience required (and there is great pressure from the industry to soften these requirements). I see both good and bad versions of this system at work every day in flight schools I visit and work with. But safety demands higher personal standards *not* FAA minimums!

It is an understatement to say the FAA certification system has some “shocking minimums.” Even the flight rules allowing “one mile clear of clouds” clearly put true safety directly in the hands of pilots, trusting their judgment and integrity. Safety also requires professional organizations like SAFE to define, inspire, and build higher professional standards for pilots and educators.  Look at the significant change – ACS – our Pilot Reform Symposium fostered in the FAA training and testing system. We are YOUR organization, and appreciate YOUR support. SAFE achieved 3000 members last month and also the WINGS survey results placing us #1 as your “trusted knowledge provider” (our humble gratitude for such success!) But the votes of support are just the launching pad for much greater programs soon to come.

Both CFI-PRO™ and Checkride Ready! are very new programs that will grow into significant educational platforms as gatherings are again permitted and our industry picks up full speed after COVID. You can help by spreading our SAFE brand to flying friends in your area (that 1/3 off ForeFlight is an attractive incentive) please spread the word. Wear our SAFE branded apparel and share these posts. Get in touch to become a regional SAFE Ambassador. If you are already a member, Step-Up to a supporting level or provide a tax-deductible gift this “giving season” (SAFE is an educational not-for-profit 501-C-3). We also need volunteers for programs and committees as we grow. Stay SAFE and fly often, thanks for your help in growing SAFE.

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Fixing “Slow Motion” Accidents!

We have amazing technology in most of our airplanes these days. We navigate with satellites and have omniscient weather mapping on board. But despite all these tools, pilots continue to fly into terrible weather and kill themselves. These “slow-motion” accidents involve a series of bad decisions over time – starting with the launch – that increasingly restrict options like a funnel to a  (seemingly inevitable) wreck. “VFR into IMC” and IFR into convective or icing accidents are 90% fatal.  “What was the pilot thinking?” Let’s have a look.

The question “How can humans learn efficiently to make decisions in a complex, dynamic, and uncertain environment” is still a very open question.

It is first essential to understand – and confess – our human weakness in the “thinking” part. We crash planes because our human brain is not rational by design. We are “optimizers”  and proceed by “satisficing,” a term coined by AI pioneer Herbert Simon. We achieve “good enough” and push optimistically forward, with resilience and flexibility. This attribute has led to our incredible success in populating every diverse environment on the planet and launching rockets to the moon. As decision-makers, we have adapted to be optimistic and aggressive (92% of drivers think they are “better than average!”) For years economists predicated human behavior based on the Renaissance “Rational Man Model.”  But both Herbert Simon and later Daniel Kahneman won Nobel prizes in “Behavioral Economics” by demonstrating how “predictably irrational” humans are when making decisions.

The smartest people in America were fooled (twice) by “normalizing deviance” and people died as a result.

We do not perceive reality precisely. Every individual senses and assembles a different world through a personal lens of need and intention; “predictive perception.” Then we stereotype that input data into pre-existing categories relying on past experiences (which we recreate like impressionistic painters) to create a personal understanding; “magical thinking.” Decisions are then often colored with our many cognitive biases and emotional needs developing procedures based on “successes” rather than objective standards; “normalizing deviance.” If we thought accurately and decided rationally no person would ever buy another lottery ticket and we would all aggressively leverage compound interest like Warren Buffet. But in a totally rational world, there would be no incredible optimism and energy creating innovation and growth (and probably no art, fashion or culture). Our “magical thinking” motivates human success in many fields but sucks for facts, science and statistics (and sometimes flying).

We have to apply the discipline of P-A-V-E and 3P to be safe in flying. We have to stick to know standards and consult experts when we are unsure of our own judgment. There is no room for rosy optimism or complacency in flying (I personally go hard on people who count on “luck” too) Decision making has to be systematic and conform to reality (gravity never sleeps). To be safe we have to visualize and account for the worst outcomes and surprises; “what if?” And this “evil agent viewpoint” is something every good flight instructor must encourage and *always* be helping their pilot-in-training to understand. (Though not for the first five hours please – that is all “sunshine and light” – building “confidence and comfort”). During X-C planning, I also encourage the 3D rule for X-C planning; “Delay, Divert, Drive” as a simple impediment to “launching with doubt.” Moving the timeline is one of the most successful strategies for flight safety; later or tomorrow? And few people in the GPS (“Going Perfectly Straight”) world realize the huge benefit of “rubber-banding” a planned course even a little to gain better alternate options below (and the time penalty is surprisingly minimal). If there is doubt about the take-off or plan it probably needs “3D” modification and maybe a scrub. “A pilot in motion tends to stay in motion…”

Once en route, the “3R rule of alternates” is a huge benefit to encourage wise options and defeat the “mission mentality” we see so often in the “accident chain.” A good alternate must be psychologically desirable. It should have a good Restaurant, Radar (ATC resources), and Rental Cars. If an alternate is somewhere you *want* to go, there will be less “get there itis”  pushing the flight down that fatal accident funnel. There will be no sense of personal failure in this diversion; you already want to end up there (and the passengers will enjoy it too)! Share the 3Ds and 3Rs with your flight students and people you mentor and see if it doesn’t help keep planes out of the trees? Defeat human “magical thinking” and apply disciplined decision making to your flying. Be safe out there!

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App  has all 61.65 endorsements, experience requirements and the new ACS codes right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag, GA News.

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”on the toolkit app prevents “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Join “Online Safety Stand Down” Today!

LIVE online this morning (Saturday, Sept. 12th) I will be presenting at the Online Safety Stand-Down and I invite you to watch this presentation (maybe better than just a blog?) Go to this link and register:

Here is a summary of the Kahneman book mentioned Thinking Fast and Slow

Look for the SAFEblog to be published tomorrow (Sunday)!