Is “Cross-Controlled” Dangerous?

We discussed the turning stall in the last SAFEblog and revealed the (often surprising) fact that in coordinated flight, with lift equal on both wings, a stall simply falls away from the lift vector and is very benign. There is only a burble and a drop of the nose, but no rolling or sudden departure from controlled flight that many people expect (and fear). This maneuver is in the private pilot ACS and should be comfortable for every aviation educator. This maneuver not only builds skills and confidence, but also creates a powerful opportunity to promote the need for coordinated flight and the value of correct rudder usage. Since there is no spin tendency in a turn when we are coordinated, this has a super safety value to every pilot; it opens their minds and gets their attention. But we then need a method to achieve better intuitive rudder coordination.

There is lots of confusion about the airplane’s rudder and its function in flight.  Remarkably, when Rich Stowell surveyed pilots he found 70% thought the rudder was used to turn the aircraft. This is dramatically wrong and should be a wake-up call to every CFI. Quite simply, the rudder cancels unwanted yaw created by the adverse effect of ailerons, power application, or rapid pitching moments. Most commonly, the downward moving aileron creates yaw, pulling the airplane away from the desired turn direction with “adverse yaw.” This can be *very* pronounced in an older (often tailwheel) aircraft but is largely designed out of modern (control blended) aircraft. That is a nice way of saying modern planes mostly tolerate and disguise “flat-footed flying.” Unfortunately, moving the rudders appropriately and learning coordination is the key to safety and preventing LOC-I.

The critical skill is to anticipate yaw not just reactively cancel it after it has occurred. That’s why the advice “step on the ball” – though correct – is too late and creates more problems than it solves. “Step on the ball” means you already created the yaw problem – slewing the plane – and are subsequently forcing it back into balance with a time-consuming, mechanical input. People who utilize this advice not only have their eyes inside but also fly like bad robots in a jerky and uncomfortable fashion. In addition to being clumsy, we just do not have enough mental bandwidth while flying to be cogitating about “stepping on the ball” (which lags badly anyway). It is essential to tune up our kinesthetic yaw sensing and develop automatic anticipation of adverse forces. This will also makes you an amazingly smooth pilot that your passengers will appreciate.

I recommend all flight instructors (and pilots who want to get sharp) demonstrate (observe) a brisk application of power, aileron, or pitch applied independently at a safe altitude. In each case you will see the nose yaw in reaction to this force applied (physics in action).  With practice you can predict which way this will occur (physics!) and discern how much rudder to apply to maintain coordination. I have my primary students initially move the throttle hand and the right rudder together to develop some “muscle memory” while on the ground sitting in the cockpit (works for “chair flying too). This yaw correction will become automatic pretty quickly with directed focus and practice (but is much easier to teach initially than to correct from a bad habit). There is a lot more to this art of learning/teaching rudder and our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop has many time-honored CFI tricks to tune up rudder usage.

“As the power increases, you’ll simultaneously press on the right rudder pedal knowing that the entire universe (specifically the airplane’s power induced left turning tendencies) is doing everything possible to yaw the airplane’s nose to the left. But you’ll have none of this nonsense because you are in command of your airplane, right? Right! So step on that right rudder pedal.” Stick and Rudder Mutter, by Rod Machado

But let’s get on to this “cross-controlled bogeyman” we started with. If after we demonstrate that turning stall we ask why the plane did not spin (as expected) in the turn the logical follow up question is “what would cause a stalled plane to spin?” And I guarantee the answer will be “if you stall when you are cross-controlled.” So I demonstrate a stable full slip (power off) and bring the plane to a stall. I love this demonstration, because though the plane is balanced and stable, every pilot anticipates a violent spin entry. In fact with a well rigged trainer, nothing at all happens (except the student finally begins breathing again). Another learning opportunity; why no spin? Because the slip configuration is stable (with no power) with the rudder yaw opposing aileron roll force (perform this only with an experienced instructor and know your plane). This illustrates that the obvious bogeyman is not “cross-controlled” but rather the pro-spin inputs of a skidding turn (ironically the force 70% of pilots think turns the plane) The skid is an excess rate of turn. This usually is created with the rudder but can also be uncompensated force from a go-around attempt (well represented in the NTSB files). The skid is the evil form of “cross-control” and often occurs when people fight yawing force inappropriately with aileron (“driving” again). If there is one aerodynamic principle every pilot must understand this is it; understand thoroughly the difference between a slip and a skid and why one is safe and one will kill you . This is the essence of safety in the pattern. More detail is in this Aviation Safety article I wrote.

Three incidents personally persuaded me to demonstrate these maneuvers and promote this understanding to every pilot. First was repeated flight tests where applicants did not want to “slip to land” because it was “cross-controlled and dangerous.” Then I discovered a website by a respected airline pilot (with great popular following and gravitas) that advised (completely incorrectly) to convert the base to final turn into a slip by applying aileron out of the turn as you lined up on final; “you already have the wing down.” This is of course a skid and very dangerous (pro-spin: do not try this!). The final incident was a young CFI applying for a job at our flight school who demonstrated a massive skid (intending to slip) and confessed he thought you “just cross the controls” to create a slip. This level of confusion is obviously killing pilots and needs to be corrected by every conscientious aviation educator. Again, more here.

Next weekend SAFE will be at the AOPA Fly-In at Frederick, MD (and we would love to meet you there). This blog will cover another misunderstood (and potentially dangerous) aerodynamic force; AOA, CG and pitch (“planes don’t stall, but pilots stall planes”) Fly safely (and often).

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Surprising Airplane Control Facts!

Presenting seminars at public events like Sun ‘N Fun is a fascinating opportunity to both meet people and also sample the aerodynamic understanding of our pilot (and CFI) population. Having been a DPE for many years, I often ask a lot of questions while presenting to get a sense of the understanding level of my audience. Reliably, 70% of pilots are usually confused about which control actually turns an airplane. Pilots (and CFIs) are unfamiliar with the actual aerodynamic forces at work on our wings during a basic coordinated turn. And no one seems to know that *every* aircraft has an AOA indicator installed – which every pilot controls. Let’s unpack a few of these ideas; because they are essential to the safety of every pilot and especially essential for every aviation educator to understand completely.

I usually ask audiences about the balance of lift on the wings of an airplane in a stable, level altitude turn:  In a level, coordinated 30-degree turn, is the lift equal on both wings?Please make YOUR choice at this point before going further.

Reliably, more than half of the pilots in every audience will say lift is unequal on the wings in a level coordinated turn. For an educator, this is the classic “learning opportunity” to present a startling follow-up question. If lift is unequal in a stable turn, wouldn’t your plane would still be rolling? Presented that way it seems to make sense to pilots; lift is equal on the wings. Inevitably, someone always posits that the outer wing has “more lift because it is traversing a longer arc” (over banking tendency). But obviously if this was true your plane would still be rolling. I think what confuses pilots is the asymmetric lift used to create the roll initially, and I think also (surprisingly) the flight attitude is still somewhat scary to many pilots since we all spend most of our time straight and level. The fact that 70% of pilots are confused is also an opportunity to improve the understanding of our flight training community (see SAFE CFI-PRO™) We have great tools for teaching this area of flight.

So simply prove this to yourself the next time you go flying. Roll into a 30 degree bank and add enough nose up trim (and a touch of power) to maintain a stable level altitude hands off. Fold your arms and smile; your plane will happily continue to fly in a hands-off stable turn until it runs out of fuel (assuming it is properly rigged). Every CFI needs to  demonstrate this stability and explain the underlying aerodynamics very early in pilot training. This is not an automobile or a boat and ignorance of essential aerodynamics is responsible for many LOC-I accidents.

The natural follow up question is of course, what will happen if we stall in a coordinated turn? This is a very powerful question for every aviation educator to ask (and demonstrate) as soon as a student is comfortable with straight-ahead stalls. Student pilots predictably grab the seat cushion and start to sweat when I first demonstrate a turning stall in an aircraft during training (despite a full ground briefing). >70% of pilots (and CFIs) predict a spin entry as the inevitable result of a turning stall. But if lift is equal on the wings (we are coordinated), a stall in a turn will very simply drop away from the lift vector. Try this with an experienced CFI and you will see that the stall break is even less pronounced than the straight-ahead stall. This is a way of expanding your flight envelope and proving to yourself how the basic aerodynamics of turning an airplane works. A turning stall is a very empowering maneuver for every pilot to experience. And the turning stall is an element in the private pilot ACS for this reason; it is an essential learning experience for safety and understanding.

And for that last mystery question; which control is active in a level turn? The ailerons are neutral in a 30 degree turn – take a look out at your ailerons while turning and try wiggling them. And the rudder is also neutral  – because all it does is “cancel the adverse yaw” as ailerons are added to roll the plane. The active control responsible for the turn is what you added with the trim; your elevator! And over 25% of pilots guess the rudder is turning the plane – and that would be a skid and responsible for pro-spin force – a dangerous assumption. The actual control responsible for turning in level flight is the elevator. A more complete explanation of  the aerodynamics of turning are on Rich Stowell’s “Learn To Turn” course on community aviation. The fact that pilots are confused here is one reason we are providing expanded education for CFIs during our  SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop. A YouTube of Rich Stowell at the NTSB is available here.

The (largely unknown) AOA indicator we all have in an upright airplane is how much chrome is showing on your yoke (how far back you have pulled the yoke or stick). This will reliably show your angle of attack and also is the first thing to reduce in an upset – unload! Next week we will talk about the fact that planes don’t really stall – but in fact pilots are responsible for stalling planes.  Stay tuned – and fly safely out there.

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Calibrating Confidence

More than 100 people die every day on the US roads in their automobiles.  An active co-conspirator in this carnage is the fact that 90% of drivers believe they are “better than average.” As a species humans are notoriously overconfident! And the Dunning-Kruger Effect (a well documented psychological phenomenon) shows that the least skilled are the most over-confident. Though this trait keeps us humans forging ahead and accomplishing amazing things but it sure leads to a lot of fatal accidents in mechanized devices. We need to recognize this hazard in flight training and manage it during every preflight assessment. I-M-S-A-F-E-(C)?

Overconfidence is not specifically recognized as a “hazardous attitude,” by the FAA but lies  somewhere between invulnerability and macho (and is also well represented in our pilot population).  Calibrating our confidence is critical in every pre-flight self-assessment. Pilots do some crazy things in planes and seem to just believe/hope it will work out – hope is never a good planning strategy!  Every aviation educator should be alert for overconfidence in their students, it is a sure killer and seems to be increasingly popular (or is that just YouTube making bad judgment manifest?) The well-documented Dunning-Kruger Effect states that “low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.” We often need an independent analysis to reveal how risky we are being. When you read articles like the accident below,  consider how many endorsements a CFI has to put into this student’s logbook to make this flight remotely legal.

Calibrating confidence is of course a matter of achieving the healthy balance between hubris and doubt. Every pilot must maintain some level of assertiveness and bravery to fly appropriately “in command” because continuous doubt is equally dangerous to safety. Accepting peer review and maintaining objective standards help achieve the proper balance; staying humble and accepting curated advice is essential.

One of my mentors in aviation flew 125 combat missions over Vietnam. And though “you do not walk out to a $16M fighter with your tail between your legs”, his personal flight rules dictate that every mission needs to start by consciously encouraging some fear and doubt.  The “premeditation of evils” sharpens our situational awareness and maintains vigilance. At a minimum, every flight should at least begin in “code yellow.” This is, of course, easier when you are dodging SAMS but not too common in our daily “fun flying.” Complete a full briefing and add some “healthy doubt” to every flight.

Peter Garrison’s “Aftermath” column in Flying Magazine provides a shocking , over-the-top, tale of misplaced optimism. (App direct link HERE) This article starts almost predictably with the classic VFR pilot caught over a solid overcast; hoping to find a hole. However, deeper examination reveals the “pilot” (in a turbo Saratoga) was not even certificated as a pilot, but just a student with slightly over 2 hours of instruction logged. He just bought an airplane and started flying. The fatal result was pretty predictable and definitely preventable. In cases like this it seems incumbent upon the aviation educator to alert authorities before the inevitable occurs. Both of these pilots could be alive today if someone said something and stopped the process. (See Dr. Bill Rhodes on “Pilots Who Should Scare Us“)

Attitudes are notoriously difficult to shape as an educator. Running a busy flight training operation for 25 years, despite our best efforts, we had to “uninvite” a few people who just could not face the reality of managing risk and were a danger to themselves and the rest of the group. Rick Durden wrote a great article on this dilemma in flying clubs; painful but necessary.

Enjoy summer in California and visit SAFE at the AOPA Fly-In at Livermore today (or watch our FaceBook feed The STOL contest is at noon – we are at booth #52. Fly safely (and often)!

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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (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).

SAFE CFI-PRO™ Released @ SnF!

Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ initiative was well received by the press and industry on April 3rd at Sun ‘N Fun and we had an  amazing show here in Florida. See all the industry visitors to our booth on our SAFE Facebook. There are many livestream videos from our booth with manufacturers like Piper, Cirrus, Lightspeed, Bose, Appereo and industry partners like Patty Wagstaff and Richard McSpadden.

We announced the date for our initial CFI-PRO™ workshop on October 2nd and 3rd at AOPA in Frederick, MD. This ambitious program is the ultimate expression of our SAFE mission of elevating aviation educator excellence. The purpose of these workshops is to codify and transmit the knowledge and skills that make a CFI professional truly proficient – far beyond the perfunctory FAA initial training. We are addressing the “CFI Gap” between “good and Great!” The heart of this workshop is our “Envelope Expansion Maneuvers.” We will present these in detail and explain the aerodynamics behind them. We hope to also fly them at the workshop so we can ultimately transmit these to every pilot at every airport (though our  CFI-PRO™ cadre) and expand pilot’s abilities to reduce the incidence of Loss of Control accidents.

There are great learning opportunities at this two-day course for every CFI. For new CFIs we will provide the “missing manual” of skills and techniques to elevate each educator from “good to great” taking you far beyond the FAA minimum standards. For the more experienced CFI we will reveal new and modern concepts of scenario-based training and testing and also focus on client-centered instruction. Everyone will also love the networking opportunities with some of the best educators in the country. A passion for excellence is energizing and a shared mission for improvement is  contagious.

What we mean by “expanding the flight envelope” is getting away from just scenario-based training and exploring flight outside the standard 5% “comfort zone” where we all fly. By definition “scenarios” are pretty tame flying. Envelope expansion maneuvers are non-operational, skill-building techniques and focus on full control authority. As an example, take a normal steep turn at the commercial level and reverse the heading after 180 degrees of turn. After you gain proficiency with this, reverse after only 90 degrees of turn. These 60/90s have been a standard tool of senior CFIs to build proficiency for many years.

As another example, perform a standard power off turning stall and recover in the turn without adding power – just reduce the angle of attack; what a confidence booster for both CFI and pilots. A normal turning stall is a required maneuver on the Private Pilot ACS but seldom taught by CFIs or well known by most students sent to a private pilot test. How about a power off stall in a full slip…what will your plane do? If you don’t know you are a good candidate for SAFE CFI-PRO™. We will cover the aerodynamics of this situation and also teach the maneuver in flight. You will become a more proficient CFI-PRO™. As we travel this program, we will depend on our growing cadre of professionals to spread these SAFE Expanded Envelope Maneuvers to other CFIs and our general aviation pilot population. Moving every pilot out of their complacent “comfort zone” by refocusing on confident “yank and bank” maneuvering is the antidote for LOC-I.

More people die in every sector of aviation due to LOC-I than to any other cause. The NTSB has been excellent at keeping this fact in front of the public until we figure out how to change the way we train pilots.” Realistically, however, Brooks adds, “If we look at how we spend our training time versus the LOC problem, there’s a huge gap, yet we continue training pilots the way we always have.”

The secret of success for SAFE CFI-PRO™ is teaching a syllabus of maneuvers that can be flown in a any standard part 23 training aircraft (no parachutes or exotic aerobatic planes required). This program is scalable to every pilot at every airport in the hands of a skilled CFI-PRO™ and ends up being highly effective at building skills. Pursuing an Upset Prevention and Recovery Course as the next step would be a great addition. Find more information here and please enter your contacts to receive more details as they become available. Registration will be available in about a month; stand by for a great educational experience.

In the meantime, fly safely (and often) and keep in touch. Together we are going amazing places.

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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (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).


Visit SAFE @ Sun ‘N Fun C 53-55

It’s beautiful here in Florida as we count down the days to Sun ‘N Fun 2019 (2K overcast and 1 celcius back home…). The SAFE show booth this year (C building 53-55) will be a triple with the full Gold Seal Studio *and* a Redbird Horizon TD (3 Screens) for CFIs to practice teaching scenarios for the Pilot Proficiency Center. Thanks to collaborators Redbird Flight Simulations and Community Aviation for making this happen. Please stop by and try this fully provisioned simulator (Cloud Ahoy, ForeFlight all operational in a virtual flightscape). Jon Harden who writes the SAFE CFI Insurance Program will be at the booth every day from 1-2PM also.

The big news for SAFE is the release of the CFI PROficiency™ program. This amplifies and expands the core mission of SAFE; elevating the excellence of aviation educators. The release to the press will be at 11am on Wednesday and we will send the SAFE eNews shortly after with full details. If a connection allows we will livestream this event on SAFE FaceBook and YouTube to our channels. Very exciting. If you haven’t read previous issues of this blog click here for a couple of blog summaries. (The specific core websites are not active until our Wednesday release though)

Show specials include a FREE FIRC from Sporty’s for all instructors joining SAFE at the show. All SAFE members get the 1/3 off ForeFlight and CloudAhoy (along with a whole list of promotions and free subscriptions). Gleim publications has been a longtime SAFE sponsor and is again providing a free FAR/AIM to joining members. One of the huge opportunities to SAFE CFIs is FREE membership in Gold Seal Groundschools This not only gives you access to all the training materials, you get to create your own CFI website (with a dedicated url) and can track all your students in training (in detail; progress, quiz scores and wrong answers on quizzes!) Gold Seal was the first online groundschool.Stop by and see SAFE at the show! Fly safely (and often)

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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (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).


“Mind the (CFI) Gap!” Go “Good to GREAT!”

FAA pilot certification is a carefully monitored pass/fail process, but surprisingly, only minimal performance is required to earn a pilot certificate or rating.  The PTS/ACS standards only ensure that all elements are completed successfully and that applicants meet at least the lowest acceptable level of skill, knowledge, and judgment. And by regulation, if the standard is met, the DPE must issue a temporary pilot certificate, despite any personal misgivings. So it is entirely possible to get a 70% in every area of operation – achieve a “minimum viable product” – and achieve certification. Not only does this system permit mediocrity, but that low level could also theoretically persist since the flight review is only designed to restore the same low standard. (See the AOPA Focused Flight Review for better). Excellence in aviation is entirely voluntary and a function of good people trying harder. The old joke about the person at the bottom of their medical school class still being a “doctor” comes to mind.

Thankfully, most pilots do much better than the bare minimum standards on tests thanks to their CFI’s extra preparation and a motivated applicant pursuing a higher personal standard. The important point here is that the impulse and effort to do better is voluntary and must be supplied by a good aviation educator and a culture that promotes excellence. Also notable here is the conspicuous lack of any official testing mechanism that requires “correction to 100%” of weak areas discovered (as occurs with the knowledge test). Since the FAA requires neither real proficiency over time nor personal improvement, aviation safety depends entirely on a pilot’s personal integrity and an urge for excellence. And this is where professional organizations like SAFE are critical; inspiring and enabling this excellence. Our modern cultural obsession with minimal effort (and also minimal time, money, and hours) is directly at odds with our aviation safety system. We also all realize that know most well-intentioned safety seminars and excellence programs end up “preaching to the converted” and often do not reach those in need of improvement.

I have seen disparaging remarks on social media for anyone getting more than a 70% on the FAA knowledge test; “you left a lot of effort on the table dude!”  Anything more than “minimum” requires the inspiration and effort of a good aviation educator and willing client. To create a safe pilot it is essential to embed this personal standard of lifetime learning and continuous improvement; an urge for excellence.

Now let’s consider the new CFI applicant who has just passed their flight evaluation (and perhaps only marginally). They certainly worked hard and attained a minimum level of skill and knowledge, but are they truly equipped to go forth and teach flying without seasoning or supervision? The new CFI certificate is a dramatic example of a “license to learn”.  But surprisingly, it is not regarded this way by the flying public. I am continually amazed by the trust and confidence the public grants every new FAA instructor. Extending the medical analogy, they might be putting their lives in the hands of an intern. But since the FAA says they are “good to go” so we are off to the races.

The Canadian aviation system, by contrast, requires all new CFIs to initially teach under the supervision of a senior CFI (seasoning and supervision). I have a sarcastic helicopter buddy who takes my new CFIs down a notch with his cynical advice; “Now all you need are five new students to mess up as you can learn how to teach.” SAFE CFI-PRO™ is designed to eliminate that kind of “trial by fire” learning. We are providing the tools and resources to address that gap between minimal and excellent. Both our 80% drop out rate and the Loss of Control epidemic are implicated in our current system of minimal education. Thankfully, many thoughtful, diligent new CFIs join professional organizations – like SAFE – (thank-you!) but these are usually the already the superior performers. Our membership roles are a “who’s who” of aviation professionals. Now we intend to more actively leverage this CFI experience and excellence.

As a though experiment, mentally compare a newly certificated CFI to the best veteran aviation educator you know. The huge unaddressed gap between “good and great” is the target of our CFI-PRO™ initiative. (And we have had diligent new CFI members asking for this kind of program-thanks!) Our goal is a more efficient path to the master performer that psychologist Anders Ericsson says takes 10,000 hours to develop. We know, careful training by our senior educators, national instructors and pilot examiners, and deliberate practice can accelerate the new or rusty CFIs’ transition to mastery by providing the “missing manual” of teaching tools, knowledge and maneuvering capabilities. There is no longer a need to flounder seeking resources. Loss of Control in particular requires specific “Envelope Expansion Maneuvers” (in lieu of Upset Training) to build proficiency and confidence. These work in non-aerobatic planes so are scalable to your local field and pilot. Every senior CFI employs some version of these maneuvers but they are often unknown (and not taught) to “modern” CFIs.

In aviation, every educator is the “impingement point” of aviation safety where improvement can be exponentially spread to raise all boats. If we reach out and improve each aviation educator, we also touch most pilots in the process. Safety is a group effort and that is the plan. Support our CFI-PRO™ initiative  (announced in detail at Sun ‘N Fun). Fly often – and safely! And LMK your thoughts?

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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (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).

SAFE CFI-PRO™: Scenarios, Maneuvers, or Both?

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!

Rich Stowell authored many articles in the early 2000s on “The Problem with Flight Instruction” that helped precipitate the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta. That SAFE initiative spawned the current FAA ACS. Now the focus is on raising the level of excellence among aviation educators with the new SAFE CFI-PRO Initiative.

Top instructors and examiners continually debate and lament the state of stick and rudder flying skills. The FAA flight training pendulum has swung from the traditional WWII maneuvers-based training (MBT) to the newer scenario-based training (SBT) standard. And though SBT is a vital part of risk management training and testing, inflight loss of control (LOC-I) continues to top the list of fatal accident categories. The number two occurrence category isn’t even close.

Should we resign ourselves to accepting LOC-I as inevitable? Or maybe the current focus on scenarios is as short-sighted as the focus on maneuvers once was? Perhaps aviation educators need to adopt a more balanced approach.

…what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery. – Wilbur Wright

Flight instructors teach in the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective domains. Maneuvers-based training falls in the psychomotor domain. It’s where pilots learn stick and rudder skills (aka manual flying skills). Scenario-based training overlaps the cognitive and affective domains. It’s where pilots learn aeronautical decision making skills.

Most anyone can learn specific patterns of movement. For instance, a person can follow steps laid out on the floor without ever looking in a mirror, getting a critique from a dance teacher, or listening to a beat. Does that make the person a dancer? Similarly, most anyone can learn how to apply a solution model to a scenario. A baseball fanatic with a grasp of analytics can choose statistically better options without having played the game. Is the fan a baseball player?

What does it take to train pilots capable of integrating body, mind, and emotion so the successful outcome of a flight is never in doubt? Memorizing a series of control movements without context, purpose, or rhythm won’t do that. As cognitive load increases, performance deteriorates and inputs become more spastic. Tackling complex scenarios without a solid foundation of stick and rudder skills won’t do it, either. Preoccupation with the mechanics of flying deflects mental focus from aeronautical decision making.

The psychomotor domain is the bridge to the other domains. We entice potential customers into aviation through the physical act of intro flights. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate is our most repeated mantra, with “fly the airplane” our default rule. The Aviation Instructor’s Handbook puts “Acquiring Skill Knowledge” several sections ahead of “Scenario-Based Training.” If word count is an indication, the skill section has nearly 40 percent more words than the scenario-based one. The handbook says skill acquisition is “the ability to instinctively perform certain maneuvers or tasks that require manual dexterity and precision [allowing] more time to concentrate on other essential duties such as navigation, communications with ATC facilities, and visual scanning for other aircraft.”

Developing competence in manual flying skills breeds confidence; injecting realistic scenarios counters overconfidence and develops better judgment. A path to follow to improve stick and rudder competency includes:

• Building from fundamental movements of the controls to skilled movements;
• Practicing manual skills often and with clear educational intention for growth; and,
• Striving to be able to do complex patterns of actions skillfully and automatically. [More here]

Could more technology be the answer to LOC-I? Is the purpose of technology to help well-trained pilots achieve peak performance with greater precision, or to conceal deficiencies in piloting skills?

Blue Threat author Tony Kern advises: “Error control will never be engineered out of existence with technology.” In fact, manual flying errors have increased because of overreliance on technology. This compelled the FAA to remind pilots to hand fly their aircraft more often in SAFO 13002 and SAFO 17007

Advisory Circulars 120-109A and 120-111 include templates for recovering from stalls and nose high and nose low attitudes. The first action listed in each case? Disengage the automation. The next steps in the procedures require (deeply ingrained) manual flying skills. And only greater proficiency and envelope expansion will give pilots fluid and immediate access to these often counterintuitive skills.

While the above ACs primarily target air carrier operations, they provide sound advice for general aviation pilots, too. When the time comes to prevent or recover from upsets that could lead to LOC-I, our lives, the lives of our trainees, and the lives of others will boil down to what the pilot does with the flight controls.

Stick and rudder skills will be relevant as long as flying involves pilots touching controls. Pilots interact with instructors throughout their flying careers; thus, improving the manual flying skills of instructors—and their ability to pass those skills on to others—is essential to reduce loss of control. This is why instructors are at the heart of the SAFE CFI-PRO Initiative.

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Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (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).

SAFE CFI-PRO™; Good to Great!

At the heart of flight safety is the aviation educator. Our cadre of professional instructors interact and wrestle with flight training and proficiency on a daily basis – we are on the front lines of safety. By elevating the level of skill and professionalism of the aviation educator, we exponentially improve every pilot and reduce loss of control accidents. At SAFE, inspiring and enabling aviation excellence is our core mission. We not only do this on a daily basis with resources,  tools and advocacy, but now have a great new program rolling out to enhance your learning; CFI-PRO (more soon!) What qualities/skills/aptitudes make a truly great aviation educator? And are these skills and secrets currently taught, or is that kind of education even possible – born not made? Let’s look at this together.

Our current FAA system for pilot (and CFI) certification is only designed to guarantee “good enough” (if everything is done correctly in training and testing). We work very hard and often only achieve a “minimum viable product.” Though some applicants are a lot better than the minimum, as DPEs we are counseled to assure each applicant that “perfection is not the standard.” Our FAA system assures that every new pilot achieves the ACS minimum level of safe, smart and skillful. And though I fought with this idea initially to raise the regulatory standards, would we really want a harder, more comprehensive CFI intitial? The process of achieving excellence and exceeding the standards is voluntary. This responsibility for continued improvement falls not only on the pilot but also directly on the educators. It is our responsibility to model excellence and to inspire, motivate and educate our aviators as they continue  to grow from “good to great.” With your FAA 8o60-4 (temporary), the learning has just begun!

So the challenge to every caring pilot and commited, safe educator is to exceed the minimum FAA standard and commit to lifetime learning and continued growth. Our aviation world is changing and growing daily and we need to adapt and grow to stay safe. Our job is also motivating and inspiring continuous improvement in our clients as we simultaneously persue excellence in our own careers. And though the Master Instructor is the obvious target for many CFIs, of the 101,000 FAA-certificated CFIs in the United States, fewer than 800 of them have successfully earned Master CFI accreditation.  For many part-time CFIs, full MCFI accreditation is a daunting challenge. But SAFE membership and commitment to CFI professionalism is worthy path to excellence.

There are two very different domains evaluated to become a flight instructor through the FAA system and each is a worthy target for improvement. The technical flying skill – piloting – is based on physical talent, training and experience. And for initial certification, a basic level is almost assumed here since every applicant has climbed the aviation ladder through at least the commercial level to apply for CFI. The new and challenging domain evaluated on the CFI test is mastering and demonstrating effective communication and teaching ability (on the white board and while simultaneously flying). And the term “flight instructor” is badly flawed because this person is actually an aviation educator, motivator, and coach all rolled into one. A great deal of “flight instruction” is more properly education that happens not just in flight but on the ground, online, in a simulator…etc.

For both newly certificated pilot and aviation educator, growing the flying skills requires pursuing more “exciting” flying – getting out of your “comfort zone” – to expand your personal flight envelope. This also keeps us motivated and charged up as educators combatting “right seat rust.” I personally think every flight instructor should be upside down a bit (because planes can go there). And the one or two spins required for CFI certification are an embarrassing minimum for CFI competence that should be continually refreshed. If you never go to the edge of the envelope you are vulnerable when suddenly tested by an “instructional surprise” (it might happen). I also personally think every pilot should try a tailwheel or a glider to experience the wonders of adverse yaw and the necessity for real rudder control. These opportunities are everywhere (and less expensive than you might think).

For the CFI we have many wonderful maneuvers that are perfectly legal in Part 23 trainers, that will expand your personal skills and be a great challenge for your clients. These include turning stalls (which are in the ACS and available to be tested at the private pilot level) rudder boxing, dutch rolls and steep turn reversals at 180 and 90 degrees of turn. If you don’t know what these are, find a CFI that is proficient and get some practice. Each of these maneuvers is a tool in the experienced instructors palette to enhance the safety of their clients. Surplus proficiency (margin) defeats LOC-I.

Free online as pdf or html

A second area to grow for your CFI abilities is in the human interaction world of communicating and teaching. Consider digging further into learning theory and the many wonderful books available free online. Refresh your perfunctory FAA exposure to learning theory with a good review here. Then dig deeper into the amazing new texts and courses to expand your technique and improve your effectiveness. A large part of aviation education improvement has nothing to do with flying but requires a keener understanding of human psychology and motivation. Working with youth groups like Young Eagles or the Aviation Explorers will expand your abilities and challenge your educator skills. And watch for our CFI-PRO clinic coming up this fall.

A third domain never trained or tested by the FAA but essential to success in aviation education is leveraging your emotional intelligence (a foreign world for many pilots). Though “failure to establish and maintain a strong student/instructor relationship” is repeatedly listed as the primary reason for the loss of instructional effectiveness and failure in training, there is no FAA training for emotional intelligence, compassion or empathy. And these are the qualities most often listed in surveys as the marks of a great flight instructor. But how do you teach passion and caring? The only way to develop and maintain this elusive quality is to invest daily and completely in what you are doing. Being a “people person” does not come naturally to many pilots. You need to truly like your job and socialize be a good CFI in the community. Staying excited about flying keeps you motivated and fresh for teaching – all the repetition requires variety to avoid burn out (again, try to fly other aircraft and missions as much as possible). The ultimate secret is to realize that every lesson is the first time for your unique client. Making that very personal focus your primary awareness helps grow better pilots one individual at a time. Fly safely (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 (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).

Spread Your Wings!

As pilots, we have an amazing diversity of “flying machines” available to us.  Unfortunately, most of us never take the time and money necessary to explore these unique experiences. In other articles here I have advocated for “envelope expansion” in your regualr piston flying. This builds skills and enhances safety. But other categories and classes of flying machines are also a pathway to build transferable skills and also provide new perspectives. To stay safe in aviation, it’s essential to challenge our skills regularly and also reexamine our procedures from time to time with a fresh perspective. In this article I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone a little and explore some new kinds of flying machines. This could be as simple as finally taking up your friend’s offer to experience flight in their Long-Ez – or try a glider ride at the local soaring school.

After a while in the air, everyone gets first ‘proficient’ at what they do regularly, then ‘comfortable’, and the very next stop is often ‘complacency.’ With complacency also comes the boredom of the “same-same round the pattern” flying and a diminishing safety margin if a surprise occurs. Very few of us challenge ourselves on a regular basis to get out of our “comfort zone” and build skills. The original excitement (and even the twinge of fear) from the new adventure soon goes away and we can get stale and rusty if we are not careful.

Not only is complacency damaging for safety, there is a definite trend of pilots dropping out after a bunch of years after they lose the original excitement of flight – the secret to longevity and growth is exploring new aviation adventures! The AOPA is currently partnering with the Recreational Aviation Foundation to encourage back-country flying From Peaks to Pavement: Applying Lessons from the Backcountry”  This is an excellent opportunity to  restore challenge and adventure to your flying while building skills transferable to your everyday environment.

The amazing Ron Bragg when I got my DPE…years ago!

I learned to fly in 1970 and after acquiring all my ratings I ran a 141 flight school for 25 years. By necessity that means a lot of the same kind of repetitive flying. After 5 or 10 thousand hours of dual given, there is diminishing level of new input in this flight environment (ask any CFI). No matter how conscientiously you approach each day as a “fresh learning event” there is limited novelty and the human machine tends to stereotype each repetitive experience. As a pilot and especially as an instructor, you inevitably get stale and start “pattern matching” or stereotyping. This is a natural neurological process called “normalizing” – it’s complacency at work and not only is this bad for the piloting skills, it is also destructive to the instructional environment and safety. How many burned out CFIs have you experienced?  I could feel the excitement diminish hour by hour, day by day and year after year!

Fortunately, I discovered gliders (and then everything else that flies) could provide not only a lift in excitement and motivation, but also a unique set of skills to reinvigorate my daily world of flight. Once you are a proficient glider pilot (or instructor), the way you understand (or teach) a power failure in a piston plane is increadibly richer and more detailed…what a unique perspective to bring to a piston lesson.

Maybe you are a Zen Master and can approach each moment as unique, but I found the easiest path to escape “normalizing” is exploring a variety of new aviation experiences. Humans adapt readily to each new environment and we stereotype internally  without knowing it as part of our predictive perception. After a very short time, the scary edges and unusual procedures neurologically disappear and we get “comfortable” – even in the strangest environments – through normalizing. This process is a huge problem for safety because any pilot can subliminally adopt unsafe procedures through “drift” in everyday operations. Anything we do repeatedly becomes the “new normal.

Long EZ N26SB Sport Aviation Assignment

Exploring other aviation environments  – and especially seeking instructional oversight and guidance with a creative professional – is necessary to gain perspective on our previously comfortable groove. We all need a shot of insight and excitement from time to time. I would encourage you to seek out and try some different flying. This experience will pay you back with new insights and skills that improve our skills and outlook. You will come back with a new perspective and fresh appreciation for your “normal” experience. Fly safely (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 (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).

Situational Awareness: 3 Keys to Safety!

Situational awareness (SA) requires the accurate gathering of data (despite physical and mental obstacles) then filtering and making sense of this buzzing cacophony and finally projecting this all forward in time toward an intended outcome. In the context of a busy and distracting aviation environment, this is a complex undertaking. Understanding and mastering this critical mental process is the heart of aviation safety but  gets little examination or instructional focus; “you’ll figure it out…”. And though in every area of aviation our mental content will vary – be it VFR mountain flying or busy IFR in the Bravo – the mental process and tool kit are the same.

Level One SA is data gathering and being present entirely in the moment.

Given perfect situational awareness (SA) a pilot will perceive an environment completely free of physical or physiological hindrances. But human factors problems complicate this objective; is it too dark, or blinded by the sun, you forgot your glasses? And psychological problems also provide challenges; fatigue, stress or complacency limit our attention/perception. Distraction and “multi-tasking” – ATC calling, pax or pilot interaction – are a fact of life in aviation and they limit our ability to focus and filter signal from noise. And with every distraction to attention “situational awareness recovery” time is required to regain our focus.

According to researchers most errors (76.3%) occur at the Level 1 (perceptual) area – we simply miss the cues, don’t see the signs or we are naturally distracted, bored or blinded in some manner. This is the reason for “sterile cockpit” SOPs in busy environments. A defective mental model also interferes “top down” with perceptual clarity because what we see/hear is driven by what we think is important – we essentially create our own reality. Psychologists call this “attentional blindness” and “perceptual tunneling”  – we miss data that might be critical to safety.

Level two SA is developing a “mental model” and understanding/interpreting the current situation.

What does all this gathered information mean in reference to the current, evolving flight profile? At level two our brain assembles the filtered input data (<10%) and assigns probable meanings; “sensemaking.” This process functions continuously and interactively and is often entirely at the subconscious level. We operate largely “on autopilot” when we interpret our world, especially in a time-critical, high-stakes environment.

Level 2 is where “hours and experience” help a pilot assemble an accurate mental model. “I’ve seen this story before” is often how we comprehend an evolving situation. The human mind is really a “prediction processing machine” that filters and fits data into an existing mental model. “Cleared for the ILS” engenders a whole spectrum of related and relevant skills, experience and expected patterns. Without this largely subconscious “scripting” we could not function efficiently in our busy buzzing world.

But “hours and experience” is also a problem when we stereotype and  “overfit” a  model or assume everything is as it was before; complacency. Every mental model blinds us to unique occurrences in the perceptual field (attentional blindness – we see what we “expect”). These missed data may be critical to safety (NASA’s leaking “O rings”?) In studies of accidents 20.3% were Level 2 errors; comprehending the data and assembling the mental model to assign meanings.

Level 3 SA is projecting the currently evolving situation into the desired future outcome.

You would think imagination would play no role in aviation, but level three is entirely the creative extrapolation of our current situation into a desired or intended outcome; “I will intercept the LOC, couple to the glideslope, break out at 400′ etc.” As with other levels, fatigue, distraction  and lack of time can damage SA, but Level 3 SA is especially the vulnerable to these demons. Briefing expected actions and mentally testing expected outcomes is a critical safety tool that often gets skipped or overlooked when time is short. Level 3 SA is our primary method to “get ahead of the airplane” and direct a flight rather than just reacting. Level 3 SA is also where we need to step up to a higher order thinking “conscious oversight” level and test our mental model with Daniel Kahneman’s” System 2″ critical analysis. We cannot operate totally on “decision autopilot” if we want to be safe.

So how can we improve our situational awareness?

Constant, active vigilance of the level we are operating in (and where we should be) is one important method to increase SA. As much as possible, I recommend constantly shifting the levels of SA (like a telephoto lens) dynamically changing from big picture to detail view (micro/macro) in a conscious scanning manner. This is what psychologists call “metacognition” and requires both time and practice. We often get fixated at level one (fiddling with a frequency or some frustrating detail) when we should be engaging the bigger picture. “SA scanning” like an instrument scan improves with practice. We respond physiologically to shiny bright buzzers or screens and often miss subtle cues unless we consciously push our mental focus.

Another important method to improve SA is by constantly testing our assumptions (mental models) both internally and with others. We all have human limitations and need to accept the fact that our personal perceptions and mental models may be flawed. Whether we are single pilot or have a partner or co-pilot, it’s critical to solicit input and stay curious and humble. No harm in pinging ATC with a verification or talking through the next leg with your co-pilot. A rigid mindset in a dynamic and evolving environment can be dangerous. We must enforce flexibility and constantly test and  adjust as necessary. Committing to  vigilance and continuous data gathering (rather than numb butt) has saved many flights from disaster.

Most “I was there and survived” stories (I love Ernest Gann) involve an “angel on my shoulder” that reveals a sudden awareness of the bigger picture or just a subtle clue (level 3 SA). Building more time into your flight profile if possible permits this metacognitive magic or conscious oversight to function. Many accidents are precipitated by time pressure – the airplane was way ahead of the pilot’s mental models. Let me know if any of that helps? Fly safely (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 (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).