Please Be An “Aviation Ambassador!”

Screen Shot 2020-07-18 at 8.37.44 AMAs aviation educators, we are not only the front-line troops that mold all future pilots. We are also the most visible ambassadors for any growth in the aviation community. Some new person is going to show up at your local airport and they will be directed to the flight instructor. And that meeting and experience is our key opportunity to either grow (or squash) someone’s dreams and the future in aviation. Your enthusiasm and opinion matter greatly to how the public views aviation. Pilots are an incredibly small part of our population -less than 1%! The CFI is often the critical influencer and  “point of contact” that opens the door to a world of adventure. Aviation needs more participants to remain a viable industry.

With COVID, the huge regional aviation events like Sun ‘N Fun and Airventure/Oshkosh have been canceled and being delivered virtually. Please spread the word (and this link) to all your friends and contacts and make this next week a widely distributed, exciting event. Please use every social media channel at your disposal to get this event to as big an audience as possible; aviation needs your help! Please do it now – share these links to your FB/Instagram and Twitter accounts.

The training and safety initiative will have a special channel that will be of spcial interest pilots and educators. The Pilot Proficiency Center will be virtualized and delivering training via remote tech talks and training. You can participate online and earn FAA WINGS. You can also fly with a “virtual instructor” on your local simulator with a remote hookup! Please spread this link to your local pilot community:

Another exciting future opportunity for aviation is the impending release of the newest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Thousands of pilots owe their first exposure to aviation through the first release of the first primitive program. The newest, highly acclaimed, version promises intense terrain and force modeling and should bring a whole new generation of eager learners to aviation ready to experience the real thing. Get ready for growth!


Fly safely out there (and often).

Get the FREE SAFE Toolkit App  (FREE). This also has all the new ACS codes plus required pilot endorsements and required experience right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag.

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM


Remote CFI – New Opportunities In Aviation

I know what you are thinking. “Will these remote CFI hours count toward my 1500 for the airlines? Not likely, but this new technology provides great opportunities for “remote learners.” The challenge will be balancing the acquisition of basic piloting skills with scenario-based judgment to create an effective learning experiences. And all this is a perfect extension of the original Pilot Proficiency model.

Mainstream GA was introduced to scenarios in 2010 with the Pilot Proficiency Project. This initiative, launched over 10 years ago with the then-brand-new Redbird simulator, built a new awareness and excitement in the aviation industry (and FAA literature – esp. the FAA Aviation News) for a new way of teaching.  At that time, mainstream aviation education had not changed much since the WWII pilot training; based largely on rote repetition and a behavioral model of learning (good dog/bad dog). Suddenly general aviation had TAA aircraft with glass panels displays, GPS  point to point navigation and full-motion simulators; a whole new world.

At the same time as all this new technology arrived,  aviation education was also discovering cognitive psychology and there was a crazy over-emphasis on scenario training and “learner-centered experiential flight training.” Aviation became in some places “fantasy flight training” with every lesson a fun Disney-like adventure; no struggle or work necessary! Training courses and books made *everything* from lesson one into a fun/discovery scenario. Educators were introducing repeated cross-country dual experiences from lesson #1 with the mistaken idea that flight students would acquire fundamental skills through some kind of osmosis. This method failed. Not only did this method often double the cost of a pilot certificate, but savvy educators also discovered a serious lack of fundamental skills in pilots trained with these methods. The Loss of Control-InFlight epidemic is probably partly a result.

Let’s remember what history says about our noble endeavors to deemphasize the basics in hopes of accelerating a student’s development. The Whole Language vs. Phonics reading debacle is a good example. At one time, educators tried to accelerate reading development in young people by forgoing sounding out phonemes, the basic parts of a word (phonics). Instead, they had them decode whole words and phrases (whole language) as they were encountered in the meaningful context of a text. While the intentions were noble, millions of young people failed to learn how to read properly. We can’t expect students to learn efficiently if we fail to emphasize the basic skills first.

Rod Machado

Though scenarios have a very important role to play in later flight training and especially testing, (ACS in 2016) fundamentals still need to be taught with effective drill and repetition to build the basic skills and understanding (see “why Johnny can’t turn“). Just like all motor-skill activities from learning piano to motorcycle racing, a learner has to work on and develop some basic fundamentals through drill and repetition before the more elaborate and complex scenarios have value – learning scales and building implicit knowledge before attempting Mozart. Incremental mastery can blend scenarios with repetitive skill-building to create the most powerful progress.

Technology has amazingly useful applications when deployed by talented, creative educators. Mike McCurdy at CHS Flight School has revisioned the Redbird for use in drill and repetition training for super-efficient early learning. In his primary flight training method, you do not get near an airplane (wasting time and $$) until you have achieved a basic level of proficiency on every maneuver first in a Redbird. His program is the perfect expression of The Talent Code. The Redbird GIFT (Guided Independent Flight Training) program is a similar focus but delivering high-quality remote training directly to the learner in a Redbird. Cloud Ahoy’s “CFI Assistant” provides a creative flight tool that recognizes and rates your live aircraft performance from GPS tracking data. This program will even assign a grade to your maneuvers (if you want it). You can even get an insurance discount through our SAFE insurance program with Starr Insurance (see new StarrGate App) for proficiency.

We are at another crossroads now with COVID quarantine and the widespread use of remote conferencing technologies. There is a huge push to effectively leverage these technological tools for valid remote educational experiences. With the new Redbird Connect, every pilot can now log on with a remote educator and fly a flight lesson in an advanced simulator (and even receive FAA WINGS credit). Billy Winburn is at the center of this initiative with Community Aviation and EAA Proficiency 365. He presented a demonstration of these tools at our SAFE CFI-PRO™ in KFDK last fall. Remote instruction provides a personalized educational experience utilizing the same scenarios (and more) developed in the original Pilot Proficiency Project. This is now EAA Proficiency 365. Remote one-on-one training has great potential to provide access to training and safety. As in all personalized instruction, the effectiveness depends on the skill and creativity of the presenter.

For better or worse, aviation is very honest and unforgiving when it comes to deciding who is truly capable and skilled. It weeds out the weak pilots in a merciless fashion. Since flying charter, I have come to respect and appreciate good simulator training and all the valuable experiences technology makes available for less money and with less danger. Whether remote technologies will achieve this level of excellence and true learning will be the challenge of the next few years. Fly safe out there (and often)- safety favors the conscientious and current pilot!

Get the FREE SAFE Toolkit App  (FREE). This also has all the new ACS codes plus required pilot endorsements and required experience right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) Flying Mag.

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM


“Pink Slip” Problems (IFR)

This blog examines common IFR knowledge deficiencies that lead to “pink slips” on check rides – insufficient understanding. Every pilot can benefit from improving their full comprehension of these weak areas. Last week we looked at VFR pink slips, but the knowledge component for IFR is even more critical since accidents in this environment are usually not “fender benders” but fatal. Also, most DPEs are less “forgiving” at this more professional level since an IFR rating will transfer directly to the commercial pilot certificate and into the professional world with passengers in the back. The IFR test is a tough evaluation and the details are perishable; always worth a solid review.

Understand The Approach Charts: Applying chart information to a specific flight operation (what does this mean?) and “connecting the dots” between the IFR enroute chart and the approach plate are the most common deficiencies for IFR applicants. “If we are approaching KBGM from the south to fly the ILS  16 can we transition into the approach from the Binghamton VOR on the R-041 radial?” Radar goes away 5PM due to COVID (early tower closing list) and NY Center runs this approach (sort of..) Explain how I would legally transition if I were cleared to CFB at 5,ooo ft (#2 on the chart) then “cleared for the approach.” How would this differ from being similarly cleared to ITH VOR (#1) and cleared for the approach? Can I descend on the transition if “cleared for the approach” to ITH at 5,000?

If an applicant does not understand that R-041 is a “formulation radial” and not for navigation, they are unprepared to go (safely) flying in the clouds. This radial is only a method for identifying AUREY (if no RNAV or marker). R-041 is definitely not a legal route to fly. Execute CFR 91.3 and say “no” to NYC if they offer this (“vectors to final would be fine…”) Notice the absence of any altitude or distance guidance – and notice the arrow on the chart is thinner. Many applicants invent an acceptable altitude by invoking the MSA and flying “GPS direct” in the terminal area. But these pilots are essentially creating their own instrument approach with no testing. MSA is only for emergency terrain avoidance (escape altitude), not for navigation. (The other lesson embedded here; controllers can be in error also. And every pilot – esp. IFR – must be “PIC” and fully in charge of their flight! Examiners are looking for “command authority.” The meek may “inherit the earth” but they do not make safe instrument pilots – don’t be a “sheep!”)

ITH is an IAF (initial approach fix) for this approach and where the approach may begin (darker arrow and altitude/distance defined). A great resource to understand this level of detail is the Aeronautical Chart Users’ Guide for Terminal Procedures. (and this is so basic I cannot understand why CFIIs send applicants for an IFR test without this essential knowledge.)

Understanding RNAV/RAIM/RNP: Let’s go “modern” (PBN?) – there are lots of technical requirements here (every new plate as a potential “minefield” hiding some essential problem) e.g. “what is the ‘Z’ in the title?” ” Is the “Y” plate better?” What kind of equipment is necessary to fly this (installation, inspections, database, required manual onboard, potential RAIM warnings).  What is RNP .03? Do I have the capability on board the plane today? These are all questions an examiner might ask but usually in a scenario format.

But more basically, if I am transitioning from the north, can I be vectored to TIFZY and transition into this approach legally starting from the IF? See AIM section 5-4-7, it previously had very specific guidance, the “rules” here seem to change frequently…careful!

“Radar vectors” are increasingly the superglue of the IFR system (along with “GPS direct”- “Going Perfectly Straight”) It is critical in IFR to know what is legal and what is unsafe and stupid (OROCA?)If not sure of procedure or clearance, always ASK for clarification. Especially if you want a straight-in approach when aligned from the enroute system, just solicit “cleared for a straight-in approach.”

Understanding Approach and Minimums: This is a big fail and it seems that many applicants for IFR flight tests have never read CFR 91.175 or AIM 2-4-5 carefully (The AIM is very readable and essential for IFR). Ignorance here s is often “game over” for IFR flight tests (because it will lead directly to an accident).  Can we take-off (or shoot an approach) if the ATIS is saying we have 1/8 mile visibility? If “yes” for a take-off, how does that sync with our risk management plan P-A-V-E (ACS IR.I.C.R1-7)? So yes, a part 91 operation can fly a departure or shoot an approach “zero/zero” legally (but remember legal vs safe from last week?) and we still need “Minimum visibility” to land (ceilings are not limiting). “How do I proceed if I get to decision altitude and I only see the sequenced flashing lead-in lights? “(no looking this one up in the regs) Hopefully, an applicant has internalized CFR 91.175 – “you can continue to 100 feet above the touchdown zone” But then if I see the green terminating lights, how do I know if I have the required 1/2 mile required visibility?

Ever notice the light bars on most approach lighting systems are 2400-3000 feet long? This is not a coincidence. If we are at the end of light bars with green runway end lights in sight, we have 1/2 mile viz. (if you see to the VASI you have 3/4sm) Can an applicant find their chart legend and discover this on their iPad? And do I now fully satisfy CFR 91.175 for a landing? What else is required?

Non-precision approaches with no vertical guidance are increasingly rare (and that is a great safety aid for IFR safety; no “chop and drop” anymore). Depending on what equipment is on board my clapped-out Piper product, how do I fly this approach? Can I legally fly it with what I have in the plane (and identify step downs)? Can I use ForeFlight (or other EFB) to identify these fixes? For extra credit “what in the heck does ‘fly visual 238degrees’ mean on the plate below?” I thought at minimums I either see the “runway environment” and land and go missed? Why is the FAA telling me to “scud run” to the airport? (BTW, this FAA procedure does not meet the CFR 91.175 reg, and a waiver had to be issued).

Know your enroute chart details too: This is an excerpt from the FAA Aeronautical Chart User’s Guide for Low Altitude Charts: There should be no big mysteries here since these charts tell us where and how to fly IFR (there will be questions…)

Understand STARS: Most pilots in training have never actually flown a STAR  but need to know what they are and how to select, activate and fly one. If you are cleared for the NOBBI FIVE headed into KHPN can we descend to the depicted altitudes along the route on the chart? (NOPE!) This is kind of an “ambush” because it looks just like an approach plate and “cleared” sounds “good to go.” Just remember they “cleared” you for an *arrival route* but *NOT* the altitudes. These are only advisory until cleared by the controller to “descend via.” This mistake probably represents about half of the ASRS Reports filed every month and is commonly misunderstood by pilots at all levels (even in jets).

Incidentally, I have heard the argument that “I will never fly a STAR” or “I am a piston, low altitude pilot” or “I would never fly to minimums” But I have had successful pilots immediately buy a TBM or get hired and be flying jets within a few months of their flight test. All the privileges being conferred must be tested (Instrument ACS)

Weather knowledge applied to Approach and Alternates: This area is HUGE, but one essential question I never miss is “how far can we stretch a TAF.” (it is critical to know the resolution and legal limits of every weather product – what does it mean to me?) “If I file IFR to KFRG on Long Island, can I use the KISP TAF (it comes up automagically in ForeFlight) to determine if I need an alternate?” “Can I file IFR to a grass runway?” What are the implications for alternates?” “Once I file an alternate do I have to go there if I miss?” BTW, remember the 1-2-3 rule as “it has to be “pretty good VFR” or I need an alternate. I have heard 1= 1000 ft ceiling, 2 miles viz (we all get confused under stress).

Required Equipment for IFR Flight: Last week’s blog covered some VFR equipment questions (91.205 and 91.213) This same reg. covers IFR the equipment necessary for IFR operations. But this will be contextual (based on your individual situation) and possible failures can occur (can we stil file and fly IFR?). A RAIM failure would be a possible question, as would the required navigational performance (RNP) for various approaches (see Chart Guide)

Known Icing: This was covered in detail in a previous blog (and is usually not what applicants think it is). There is a surprisingly big focus on this in the current Instrument ACS: IR.II.A.K.1 (IFR Area of Operation 2Knowledge) and IR.II.A.R1&2 (Risk 1 and 2). Icing is a very real hazard that every IFR pilot must understand, respect and mitigate. The ACS codes you see are now in the SAFE Toolkit App for easy reference (every CFI has to sign off training on these – CFR 61.39). Fly safe out there (and often)!

The FREE SAFE Toolkit App This also has all the new ACS codes plus required pilot endorsements and required experience right on your smartphone. Join SAFE and receive other get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) free Flying Mag. etc.

Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). Bind online or call/visit AIR-PROS.COM

VFR “Pink Slip” Problems!

Many critical pilot deficiencies uncovered during FAA “oral evaluations” are also weak knowledge areas for ALL pilots.  Every pilot needs to thoroughly understand these problem areas for greater safety. So here is a radical idea; the FAA ACS can be a wonderful tool for improvement even for certificated pilots. Maybe you “passed” your pilot test years ago (and missed some sections- or used the older PTS)? Here is a crib sheet for pilot improvement based on the Airman Certification Standard (ACS). It is also perfect for CFIs conducting flight reviews or preparing candidates for a test!

The items below are “pink slip items” – critical knowledge – from DPE evaluations of VFR candidates.  Dig into these areas and test your own understanding for future flight safety. And please add your own personal “aviation pain points” below in the comments.

Risk management is a central structural component of the ACS (and aviation safety). Evaluating pilot judgment was the major change transitioning from the PTS to ACS. The core understanding here is that FAA minimums in every area are *not* “flight recommendations” but regulatory boundaries. The classic bare-bones “one statute mile visibility and clear of clouds” in Class G airspace is a perfect example. This minimum condition might be utilized safely in rare cases by a very experienced pilot but it is certainly inappropriate for a newly certificated pilot. Proper risk management requires “personal minimums” at a much higher (safer) level – creating a “margin of safety!” Risk management is also systematic, objectively separating what might be barely “legal” from a “safe and smart” operation! This same logic carries all through the FAA regulations and operations: e.g. night flight requires only control guidance from a compass, airspeed and altimeter (no AI required). As another example, a pilot can *legally* fly solo day/night for 23 months and 29 days after a flight test or flight review with no subsequent training or experience; just don’t take innocent passengers – get three TO/L first. This is technically “legal” but we can all agree it sucks for safety!

Pilot Qualifications; This is the first Area of Operation and often where your flight test will start; be sharp here for good first impressions! You need to know pilot privileges and limitations – what can you legally fly (or not)? The permissiveness of the FAA here frames the rest of the oral discussion. You did all your training in a C-152, can you (legally) walk out after the flight test, start up a Cherokee 180 and go flying? Is this a good idea? Does risk management come into play with determining reasonable pilot actions?

Know all the limitations in 61.31 (high performance, complex, tailwheel, high altitude) and how you acquire those privileges. Do you add a seaplane privilege the same way? Also remember the 90 day requirement for passengers (and can they pay you?) as well as the flight review (61.56) requirement.

Airspace limitations – required equipment and pilot actions: All pilots seem to be weak on airspace – and this even includes proficient IFR fliers for whom most airspace disappears! The confusion is especially obvious decoding Class E and G airspace boundaries and limitations.  Just yesterday, I had a PPL applicant claim a magenta airport with a dotted magenta dashed line around it was a “Class Delta (towered?)” airport – nope! The magenta dashed line is where controlled (Echo) airspace extends down to the surface, and the higher viz of 3 sm is required with additional separation from clouds. Most pilots do not understand this provides a safety margin for IFR inbound traffic. A “surface Echo” is often an indication that the non-towered field has lots of IFR flights or an ILS approach. (Interestingly, the FAA has not kept up with LPV approaches to the surface by protecting the airspace in a similar fashion). If a Delta airport goes IFR, can we fly VFR in the surrounding Class E surface area (much larger than the Delta)? It is not uncommon for pilot applicants with over 100 hours at their home field to not even know what airspace they are flying in during all their flight training.

System knowledge and required instruments: What instruments are required to be installed and work for legal VFR flight? Many applicants happily quote the “A TOMATO FLAMES” acronym but then cannot remember or apply this rote formula to  real conditions! When asked what the three required flight instruments for VFR flight are (91.205) very few applicants can come up with the altimeter, airspeed and compass. Many will insist an attitude indicator is required for day (or night) VFR or that a leaking and inoperative compass is not a problem for their flight. My advice to my students to build a lasting and useful mental model is to “visualize the most simple plane like a J-3 or Champ” and think of what is in this plane. I call those very few required instruments the “sacred seven.” Just add required instruments and indicators as the plane becomes more complex.

Inoperative equipment: If something is broken in the plane, can we legally fly (91.213)? IF it is legal is it “safe” and does it meet the requirements of a specific “kind of operation.” What actions are necessary to make this plane legal to fly? The FAA guidance is that every airworthy plane has to meet the requirements of the original type certificate data sheet (TCDS) – as new. If *anything* is inoperative, the plane is immediately unairworthy until a pilot analysis is made to determine if the inop. equip. is legally necessary and/or essential for safety.  Can a pilot “properly alter” the plane so it is legal for flight (91.213)? Is a mechanic required? Is a maintenance sign-off necessary? e.g. every pilot (and most CFIs) will tell you if your ELT is inoperative (scenario: the ELT antenna has snapped off) the plane has to be grounded (check 91.207 carefully…)

Failure to calculate the required data: Despite pre-test discussion and recommendations, few pilots effectively analyze the weather or calculate their performance (W&B, take-off landing distances). It is not uncommon for a pilot to not have a taxi diagram or even know the length of their home field runway where they have done hundreds of take-offs and landings.  91.103  – “all available information” is often criticized as too broad, but also names specific calculated data on the five primary causal factors of fatal accidents: “the killers.” How long is the runway and what is the aircraft performance today? Do I have enough fuel and is the weather checked and satisfactory (see personal minimums above)? Have I investigated and planned alternates and looked at delays (NOTAMS)?

Human Factors: I am feeling headachy and nauseous in flight, what is the probable cause and pilot action? WIll O2 provide immediate improvement?  When does a pilot need o2? Does everyone get hypoxic at 12,500 after 30 minutes? A growing number of pilots involved in fatal accidents have illegal drugs in their bloodstream (28%) My passenger is suddenly looking excessively nervous – pasty white and incoherent. What might they be suffering from?

Preventative Maintenance: There is a common joke that one of the most dangerous hazards in aviation is an airplane owner with a toolbox. What can a pilot legally accomplish as “preventative maintenance” and how do we do this? Can a pilot replace a wing nav bulb? Are logbook entries required? Is a maintenance manual (or previous training) required?

Privileges and limitations: Can a newly certificated pilot who has only flown a Cessna 150 legally rent and fly a Grumman Tiger? Again the FAA is pretty permissive, but personal cautions should be in place to keep a pilot safe. In all aviation operations, what is legal and what is safe or smart are often quite different and distinct standards. What logbook inspections must a pilot know and verify to assure an airplane is “airworthy?”

Risk mitigation plan: While planning a cross-country flight, what are the major risk factor areas the FAA recommends a pilot investigate and mitigate (P-A V-E) The ACS requires a risk management plan that specifically addresses these items. “Being cautions” is always good but having an actual defined plan with objective standards is essential. All the other scenario questions from maintenance to equipment and airspace hinge on risk management. How can a private pilot applicant show up at a test and have not heard about P-A-V-E? Some flight instructor badly failed this person.

Systems knowledge is a weak area for most pilots at all levels. Almost any question about “pieces and parts” or technical information seems to often be deadly on check rides. Scenario: “I am flying along on that assigned cross-country and the red ‘low voltage’ light comes on (or other ‘non-charge’ indication). What are the pilot’s immediate actions? How long do I have and what will fail? How will a pilot bring this flight to a safe conclusion?” Answers to questions like these often reveal limited knowledge and a lack of both command authority and the use of resources. If it wasn’t so sad, some of the explanations on how planes work would be very funny. My personal favorite is how the fan belt drives the propeller for thrust.

Preparation for safe piloting requires a lot of imaginative “what if” thinking (and then research of questions discovered). Applying knowledge and creating a plan is essential for safe execution. The ACS-focused knowledge areas where pilots often struggle during flight tests are great review topics for every pilot. Be creative in your imaginative “problem creation” because mother nature sure can be. Fly safe out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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)

Effective Educator = Learning/Growing!

Student progress and learning are primarily determined by the quality of the educator. Though 50% of the variance in educational effectiveness is the “raw material” that students bring to the table, fully 30% of variance is determined by the skills and attitude of the educator. Environment and equipment figure in at less than 10%

But unfortunately, lack of student progress is often dismissed with all kinds of incriminating accusations pointed at the learner when too often the real cause is the skill and motivation of the teacher. As my mentor would say “if the student has not learned, the CFI has not taught.”  And the best way to improve and keep the motivation going for an educator is to continue to grow and learn; experiencing humility in the face of a new challenge. Most CFIs embrace the role of “expert” readily but this can unfortunately easily segue into the pompous and annoying “know-it-all.”

The critical difference is that an expert retains a “growth mindset.” This worldview leaves open the door to continue growing and learning. Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella transformed their viciously competitive workplace into a collaborative team dramatically increasing their effectiveness and profitability – he calls in a “learn-it-all.” The change is all about “Growth Mindset” (Carol Dweck). Remaining an eager learner with open possibilities requires a degree of curiosity and humility that fosters a better relationship with the student; “partners on the road to greater excellence.”

Humility seems especially rare in aviation. If the standard 70% of drivers claim to be “above average,” (Lake Wobegon effect) probably 95% of pilots think they are “better than average” (and in charge). Though it takes a lot of confidence and strong personal belief to pilot successfully, it is essential to dial this back to be effective as an educator (two very different roles in aviation). We close the door on learning when we are so self-sure! Arrogance and impatience are toxic to a learning relationship. Educators need to willingly accept student experimentation, fumbling, and self-correction by staying in touch with their own personal learning adventures. Fly safe out there (and often).

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).



Human Factors: Maintaining Control!

This week’s blog is by Hobie Tomlinson (see bio below). With 40K hours and 9 type ratings, Hobie developed much of what we now call CRM when he was a 747 captain at TWA. Here is an excerpt from our SAFE resource library (free to members )…enjoy!

Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) are the abilitis of the crew (or pilot) to manage all available resources effectively in order to ensure that the outcome of the flight is successful.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) is most often used in general aviation and it is focused on single-pilot operation. SRM recognizes the need for pilots to seek adequate information from many available sources in order to make valid choices. Pilots must continue seeking this knowledge until they have obtained the proper information to make the best possible decisions under the existing circumstances.  Once a pilot has gathered all pertinent information and made the required decisions, the pilot must then continually assess the actions taken in order to ensure that they continually yield the desired outcomes.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) integrates the following disciplines:

Situational Awareness (SA) is the accurate perception of operational and environmental factors that affect the flight. It is a logical analysis based upon the aircraft, available external support, the operational environment, and the pilot. In plain language, it simply means ~ “knowing what is going on.”

Proper Situational Awareness is not simply just having a mental picture of the aircraft’s location; but rather, it is the continual mental maintenance of an overall assessment of all the elements which comprise the current flight environment and how each affects the flight. A pilot who maintains good situational awareness is knowledgeable of all aspects of the flight and consequently is able to be proactive in his decision-making process.

Conversely, a pilot who has poor situational awareness is typically missing several important pieces of information and is thus forced to regress into a reactive style of decision-making. A pilot with poor situational awareness lacks a vision of potential future events and is thus forced into making decisions quickly when unexpected events occur, often with very limited options. An example of poor situational awareness and reactive decision-making would be a pilot who does not adequately keep track of his flight’s progress (or the destination weather) and suddenly finds himself faced with destination weather which is below landing weather minimums and inadequate fuel to reach his filed destination alternate! (This accident actually happened to a Cessna Citation crew in Wilmington, NC.)

During a Typical IFR Flight, a pilot usually operates at several levels of situational awareness. For example, a pilot may be in cruise toward his destination with a high level of situational awareness when air traffic control (ATC) issues a revised routing consisting of an unexpected Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR) due to traffic volume. Because the pilot was not expecting that particular STAR and is not familiar with it, situational awareness is temporarily reduced. However, after becoming familiar with the STAR and resuming normal navigation on the new routing, the pilot again returns to a high level of situational awareness.

Factors which Reduce SA include the following:

        • Distractions
        • Unusual or Unexpected events
        • Complacency
        • High Workload
        • Unfamiliar Situations
        • Inoperative Equipment
        • Fatigue

Lack of Situational Awareness (SA) is almost always a precursor to an aircraft accident. The lack of situational awareness can be identified by the occurrence of one or more of the following events:

        • Failure to Stay Ahead of the operation by anticipating upcoming events.
        • Ambiguity ~ when two or more independent sources of information do not agree.
        • Fixation or Preoccupation ~ when the focus of attention is only one item at the exclusion of all others.
        • Confusion ~ the feeling of uncertainly, anxiety, or puzzlement about
        • No One Overseeing the task
        • Uncertainty about the current state of the task
        • Use of Undocumented Procedures (i.e. Shortcuts)
        • Departure from Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) ~ either intentional or unintentional.
        • Violating Task Limitations (or Standards)
        • Failure to Meet Task Targets (or Goals)
        • Unresolved Discrepancy
        • Incomplete Communication

In some situations, loss of situational awareness may be beyond the pilot’s control. As an example, a vacuum pump failure (or Primary Flight Display – PFD- screen failure for you technically advanced aircraft – TAA – types out there) and the associated initial loss of the heading and attitude indicators could cause a pilot to suddenly find his aircraft in an unusual attitude. If this situation occurs, established and trained procedures must be immediately used to reestablish aircraft control and restore situational awareness.

Pilots should be aware of the loss (or reduction) in situational awareness anytime they find themselves in a reactive mindset. To regain situational awareness, immediately reassess your flight situation by seeking additional information from other sources such as your flight and navigation instruments, air traffic control, uplinked weather data or flight service.

Flight Deck Resource Management (CRM or SRM) is the effective use of all available resources which include the following:

        • Human
        • Equipment
        • Information

Flight Deck Resource Management focuses on communication skills, teamwork, task allocation, and decision-making. While Crew Resource Management (CRM) usually concentrates on pilots who operate in crew environments, the elements and concepts also apply to pilots who operate in single-pilot environments (Single-Pilot Resource Management ~ SRM).

Human Resources include all personnel routinely working with the pilot(s) to ensure the safety of the flight. These people include, but are not limited to, the following: dispatchers, schedulers, weather briefers, flight line personnel, fuelers, maintenance and/or avionics technicians, pilots and other crew members, and air traffic control personnel. Pilots need to effectively communicate with all of these people. This communication is best accomplished by using the three key components of the communication process. These three key components are as follows:

        • Inquiry
        • Advocacy
        • Assertion

Pilots must recognize the need to seek enough information from the above resources to make valid decisions. Once the necessary information has been acquired, the resultant decisions of the pilot must be passed on to the individuals who are affected by those decisions. These individuals may include air traffic controllers, passengers, other crew members, fixed base operators and/or people awaiting the arrival of the flight. The pilot may need to request assistance from others in implementing these decisions and in some situations, this may even require assertiveness for all issues to be safely resolved.

Equipment Resources in many of today’s Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) include automated flight and navigations systems. While these automated systems provide relief from many of the routine flight deck tasks, they present another set of problems for pilots. The extensive programming required by automated systems tends to increase pilot workload during the least “structured” (and often rushed) preflight phase of the flight operation. It is imperative that pilots allow adequate time to correctly program their autoflight systems before beginning to taxi the aircraft and avoid any “heads down” time while taxiing. This is one of the most important steps for preventing runway incursions and/or other taxi deviations.

While Flying Enroute the automation, which is intended to reduce pilot workload, essentially removes the pilot from the task of managing the aircraft, thereby reducing the pilot’s situational awareness and promoting complacency. It is important for pilots to continually monitor the information provided by the flight, navigation and weather displays of Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) in order to assure that they maintain proper situational awareness. Pilots must be thoroughly familiar with the operation of; information presented by, and correct management of, all systems used (automated or otherwise). It is essential that pilots remain fully aware of both their equipment’s full capabilities and all its limitations in order to manage these systems effectively and safely.

Information Workload and automated systems (such as autopilots) need proper management to ensure the safety of the flight. A pilot flying in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) is often faced with multiple, simultaneous tasks, each with a different level of importance in ensuring a safe outcome to the flight operation. A high workload example of this occurs during the initial stages of an instrument approach to an airport. The pilot must be able to obtain the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) or Automatic Weather Observing System (AWOS) weather, review the applicable approach plate, properly plan his descent in order to be able to slow and reconfigure the aircraft by the Final Approach Fix, correctly program the communication and navigation radios – including all required automation systems – communicate with Air Traffic Control and complete all the required checklists.

The Pilot who is able to effectively manage his workload will be able to complete as many of these tasks as early as feasible in order to eliminate the possibility of task saturation (becoming overloaded) caused by last-minute ATC changes and communication priorities during a later and more critical stage of the approach.

Figure 1-11 (above) shows that the margins of safety are at their lowest point during this stage of the flight operation. This is where the majority of accidents occur. A large part of the reason for the high accident rate during this portion of the flight is that when a pilot delays (or forgets) routine tasks until the last minute, there is a large possibility of the pilot becoming task saturated and stressed. This task saturated condition will result in a large erosion of the pilot’s performance capabilities and probably even produce a negative safety margin!

Proper Task Management is a requirement for performing safe flight operations. Because humans have a finite (i.e. limited) capacity to absorb information, once the data stream exceeds the pilot’s ability to mentally absorb and process all the required information, task saturation results. When this data stream (information flow) exceeds a pilot’s ability to mentally process the information, any additional information will become unattended and/or displace other tasks and information already being processed. Once a pilot’s task saturation (officially called “channel capacity”) level is reached only the following two alternatives exist:

        • Shed the unimportant tasks
        • Perform all tasks at a less than optimal level

Automatic Task Shedding is a natural event during which the brain rejects incoming data in order to reduce its processing load. This prevents the brain from “locking up” as a computer will do when its processing capacity is exceeded. Because the brain is trying to reduce incoming data during “automatic task shedding,” it will always reject (dump) the most complex task first. The problem with allowing automatic task shedding to occur is that the most complex task which the brain automatically deletes will also be the most important task! This is why a pilot experiencing automatic task shedding will start “majoring in minors.” This is evidenced by the pilot performing some totally irrelevant minor task while a critically important, major task is being completely ignored.

New Flight Instructors are taught to identify task saturation in situations such as when observing a task saturated student concentrating on a minor task (such as resorting their approach plates) while a major event (such as the aircraft rapidly departing controlled flight and entering the very unusual attitude phase) goes completely unnoticed. (Another sure sign is the “glazed over” eyes.) A task-saturated pilot will also be relatively unresponsive to instructional input until his task load is significantly reduced. Just as in an overloaded electrical circuit, either the (information) consumption must be reduced or a circuit failure (automatic task shedding) will be experienced. During flight instructor training, they are taught to remember that a student-in-training is like a violin string ~ “They can only produce good music when they are kept under the proper tension!”

Circuit Failure (Automatic Task Shedding) is prevented by learning to always prioritize tasks (from most important to least important) and to recognize the signs of impending task saturation (an apparent sense of “time compression” accompanied by elevated stress levels). When these signs of impending “task saturation” appear, the pilot needs to implement “manual task shedding” to prevent automatic task shedding from occurring.

This is done by working the prioritized task list from the top down (most important to least important) while simultaneously discarding tasks from the bottom up (least important to most important). This process is continued until the task list is completed or the available time expires. Sometimes it is possible to increase the available time (i.e. requesting a delaying vector from ATC) when vital tasks (such as abnormal or emergency checklists) require additional time to complete before attempting a landing.

The pilot who is able to effectively manage his tasks and properly prioritize them will have a successful flight. (For example, do not become distracted and fixate on some minor problem – such as an irrelevant system malfunction.) This unnecessary focus is a sign of impending task saturation and any irrelevant focus further displaces a pilot’s capability, thus preventing his ability to undertake tasks of greater importance. By planning ahead and properly managing cockpit workload, pilots can effectively reduce their workload during the critical phases of flight.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).

Misinformation is Human! (in Flying Too!)

Among all the great lessons of the last few weeks, one should be abundantly clear; we humans eagerly embrace and hold passionately to half-truths and misinformation, and we love to be “right.” And as a species, we tend toward self-surety and obstinate, over-confidence – the dreaded “know it all!” This is a genetic, evolutionary adaptation that makes us fast to react and adapt – but humans are consequently weak on self-doubt, nuance, and verification. This tendency to act assertively on partial information and heuristics has allowed us as a species to conquer the globe, adapting and living from the arctic to the equator. But we have seen this tendency in politics, fueled by social media, can also make us all passionate enemies and cause great harm.

Unfortunately, in flying if we do not curb half-truths and haste and carefully verify our information, it can make us dead (Darwin award?) Hope and intuition do not work well with the aerodynamic of control, this game requires science. Gravity works all day, all night, all year long.

Misinformation (and associated mishandling of the controls) is a leading cause of Loss of Control-Inflight. It is essential for pilots and educators to foster and retain a flexible, self-questioning attitude. We must always be ready to check and refine our closely held theories and techniques, continually improving and learning. Misinformation can come from the “internet buffet of YouTube misinformation” but many errors and misconceptions are even deeper than that – built into our human operating system – 200K years of walking not flying.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

As educators, it is our critical professional responsibility to study, verify and transmit only true facts regarding aerodynamics and control. We must dig deep into our learner’s understanding (questions/discussion/performance) and root out deeply embedded misinformation; we all drive cars and have embedded two-dimensional habits.  Our human “naive rendition” of what makes planes fly and turn IS WRONG! Daily driving habits need to be identified and isolated from our flying skills. Safe flying requires different skills and continuous educationnot intuition.

Many SAFE presenters have repeatedly reported from public presentations seeing the pervasive misunderstanding of turning flight among pilots and even CFIs. Usually, of attendees polled, >70% believe the rudder or ailerons create and sustain a turn. And like all humans, they are passionately committed to their misinformation. I was tracking a FaceBook post on this subject, where the poster was very gently trying to convince misguided pilots and CFIs that the elevator really controls the turn. Many pilots have never transitioned fully from the 2-dimensional world of driving and misunderstand the basic turn; the aileron application supplies the desired bank angle and rudder cancels the yaw the elevator is supplying the force that creates the turn.

A great tool to illustrate the forces in a turn is the Bold Method CFI java tool you can load and run on your tablet. This simple demonstration should precede the first introduction to turning flight (or we are reinforcing an error!) Rich Stowell’s excellent presentation on “Learn To Turn” is FREE in the SAFE public resource center and covers this topic thoroughly.

Educators have to irradicate misinformation and help a new learner grasp the true forces at work in flight if we are to make safer pilots. Regarding long-time pilots laboring under misconceptions, good luck with changing those entrenched minds, we all know that is harder than building skyscrapers in our current climate of  “I’m right/your wrong (and stupid)” Fly safe out there (and I recommend some self-doubt and humility in everything!) Have fun.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).


New FAA Instructor’s Handbook!

The new FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook is finally available this week. A quick first pass reveals reorganization and updating with a laudable new focus on risk management (first chapter and a new chapter 10). Unfortunately, some ancient ideas from the 1970s persist – “Myth of Learning Styles” has long been discarded by educational researchers. And how “self-help guru” Ricki Linksman and her “Superlinks” got into a serious government textbook is a good question to ask – the power of internet fame and fortune?

But here it is, please take a look and see what you think. “Student” becomes “learner” and the “cockpit” becomes “flightdeck.” I suggested a change to “aviation educator” several times but this went nowhere. Is the rest eyewash or valuable? Please post your comments. Certainly some new terms and concepts for all new prospective CFIs studying for the FOI this fall (not on tests until September).

New FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook

A few times through this will make you want to get free and FLY! I have been busy helping with a few annuals on some old Champion products (hopefully both flying again soon!) Stay safe, have fun.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).

Better Flight Reviews; Get Focused!

The blog last week provided methods to instill an urge for excellence in your pilots, creating lifetime learners during initial flight training. This internal motivation is easier with a new pilot-in-training since there is time and opportunity to build a relationship and establish expectations. The toughest place to conduct quality flight training and get beyond the FAA minimum requirements is during a flight review. Any hope of conducting serious training is often trampled under the cultural expectations of FAA minimums and the “lunch date flight review.”

But let’s be clear, the FAA gives the CFI total control to decide the flight review content and required duration; everything is on the table. The FAA required-minimum of an hour flight and an hour of ground study on part 91 is just as suspect as the 3SM day viz; a bare minimum. (And the multi-engine ATP who flies a flight review in a Champ is legal for 24 months in everything else!) Ultimately, we need to appeal to every pilot’s better angels here and inspire a personal desire for greater proficiency and safety we cannot legislate this. Clearly, bending planes and bleeding out really sucks. An hour flight may scrape off some of the serious rust and discover and correct some bad habits, but we can’t assure consistency and actual skill in an hour. And we never get beyond basics to what I call “the killers” (important safety items) in an hour. So let’s default to three hours and work plus or minus from that more realistic baseline.

AC 61.98D: the FAA reminds flight instructors that a flight review may require more than 1 hour of ground training and 1 hour of flight training. Since satisfactory completion of a flight review is based on pilot proficiency, it is up to the instructional service provider to determine what type of instruction is required and how much additional training time, if any, is required to ensure that the pilot has the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct safe flight operations… it is the flight instructor that ultimately determines the total training time required for a flight review.

As this excellent FAA document on flight reviews suggests, controlling the expectations starting with the initial interview. It is critical for the CFI to “sell” the safety advantages of greater proficiency so we can get to the real “pilot killer” phases of flight. The FAA WINGS program was originally developed around this focus on these specific “pilot risk factors.”  And participants in FAA WINGS are statistically correlated with safer flying. But unfortunately in most safety seminars we are “preaching to the choir” how do we reach further?

To this end, SAFE contributed extensively to the development of the Focused Flight Review with AOPA. This excellent toolkit was created to provide the resources for a more extensive (hopefully annual) review and this works hand in glove with FAA WINGS. This program is diverse and focuses attention on the areas of true risk for every pilot (“the killers”). e.g. It is almost incomprehensible that 24% of fatal accidents occur during take-off and initial climb. We are not teaching people to adequately manage risk during this phase of flight (every pilot should be Code Yellow on take-off).

Every flight is different … but GA accidents follow well-worn patterns. Whether heedless, hapless, or simply clueless, pilots keep falling into the same traps that have snared others before them. It happens every year all across the country.

The learner involvement and imaginative scenarios of the Focused Flight Review provide a great advantage for the aviation educator. It is otherwise too easy for all of us to fall back into the “initial training rut” and just review airwork – thereby missing the important “added value” items that should be included in a good flight review. The opportunity of a more extensive – exceed the minimums – review allows a good CFI to go beyond basic proficiency and cover “the killers” that are often never trained. Complacency is a huge contributing factor in aviation accidents; we all mask risk because of familiarity. Try surprising your client by popping open a window during initial take-off (inspire an abort). Way too many pilots regard the take-off as the simplest phase of flight when in reality, it is the most toxic. A good briefing is essential before the power is applied on every take-off. Actively involving your pilot in the challenges and construction a personal flight review also inspires a sense of mastery. Have fun and fly safely.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).

“Metacognitive” Teaching; Mastery and Expertise

Achieving expertise in piloting requires so many diverse skills and aptitudes it almost defies explanation. In aviation, we point to experts like Sully or Al Haynes (pick your favorite) to model expertise, but we are often frustrated trying to recreate these remarkable attributes in our students. Dr. Gary Kline, an amazing learning psychologist, has patiently deconstructed expert performance with “Cognitive Task Analysis.” Unfortunately, even having a “box of parts” only gives us hints and does not tell you how to reliably recreate pilot mastery and expertise.

The core question (and responsibility) for educators is not the expert end product as much as providing the pathway and inspiration – “How do we embed an urge for excellence in our pilots during training?” Viewed negatively, how do we prevent the “happy D- student” that inevitably also becomes a pilot for life and infects our aviation system (perhaps flying a personal jet over your house as you read this?) This endless enigma is the primary source of frustration for educators and safety researchers. This often leads to disillusionment and burn-out as history repeats itself. There is however a very clear solution to this problem and a toolkit for pilot success.

As I have written before, the FAA standards never describe (or require) “mastery” or “expertise.” They only tell us when “mediocre” becomes “unacceptable” and more training is required (to achieve the minimum piloting level). Unless there is an internal “urge for excellence” within every pilot,  there is no necessary upward skill trajectory after a “pathetic certification.” Nothing prevents (or improves) “the happy D-” performer in our current aviation system. I know many good pilots who are surprised (and frustrated) to discover the same low-performers they met during initial flight school sitting next to them when they finally get into jets; the “happy D-” often never improves.

The real secret to inspiring excellence in pilots starts by creating a “self-aware learner” beginning with the very first flight lesson. Until a person is aware of what they do NOT know, there is no pathway or motivation for improvement and the personal pursuit of excellence. It is incumbent upon every educator to share the bigger picture regularly and create this pathway toward success.  Critical habits like self-questioning and self-efficacy build the “urge for excellence” that always strives for better and builds a margin of skill and safety. A desire for mastery also creates personal responsibility for being better (no more excuses) and ultimately leads to “command authority” (a rare attribute in modern culture).

The global term for all this self-awareness/efficacy is “metacognition.” Literally “thinking about thinking,” metacognition represents a whole arsenal of higher-order thinking tools for self-control and regulation. Some researchers have described it as the “view from the balcony” or the “angel on your shoulder” because it allows escape from the immediate demands of a task and provides a bigger picture. Metacognition creates both more effective learning and the drive for excellence that yields lifetime learners. It is also a critical part of situational awareness and the beating heart of mastery and expertise.

The specific pathway to “expert pilot” starts with incremental mastery. This technique requires recognizing every small learning achievement immediately; “you got that, you did a great job, and now you are in charge of that!” The instructor hands over of responsibility to the student a step at a time, creating a sense of mastery from day one. This sustains student motivation and builds that essential urge for excellence.

As CFIs we are all guilty of “helping too much.” We all know a good CFI should mostly be asking questions, not answering them. The CFI that takes total control from the right seat quickly spoils any sense of student accomplishment and mastery. And this rigid learning environment also prevents any student errors and self-correction (both critical to learning and self-mastery). Ultimately, too much control by a CFI ruins motivation and learning. This student could easily become part of the 80% drop-out rate in aviation (for good reason). It’s critical to remember the ultimate CFI goal is to safely get out! Once a student sees the bigger picture and feels empowered, they are on the road to becoming an inspired lifetime learner and PIC. This all starts on day one (but requires time and great patience from the CFI).

Some students are obviously quicker to embrace personal responsibility than others. Transferring PIC authority can take more time for some; so it helps to be patient and keep the learning fun. Eventually, every successful pilot must achieve “self-efficacy” and “command authority” or they will never be a successful PIC. This essential core skill (at every pilot level) also involves the metacognitive skill of knowing personal limitations and accepting the need to continually improve. Expert pilots have a core of humility and a burning inner need to learn more and improve. The problem with the “happy D-” pilots is the mistaken illusion they are “good to go.” They are writing checks on an empty bank account. This ignorance coupled with larger ego and narcissistic tendencies is the definition of the well-known Dunning-Kreuger Effect.

As a pilot progresses with expertise, procedural knowledge becomes deeply embedded and constantly available in the “tacit dimension” of the brain for immediate and fluid recall. Beyond this “subconscious hard-drive” of reflexive skill response, a true expert is operating on the reflective level with metacognitive accuity. The spare RAM freed by total proficiency allows an expert to see meaning and detail in every activity often inaccessible to a novice. Dr. Gary Klein has been studying and teaching expert flight performance since first working with Air Force fighter pilots in the 1970s.

Novices see only what is there; experts see what is not there. With experience, a person gains the ability to visualize how a situation developed and to imagine how it is going to turn out…Our emphasis is not on rules, or strategies, or the size of knowledge base per se, but the perceptual and cognitive qualities of experience – experts do not seem to perceive the same world that other people do…Only with experience can you notice when the expectancies are violated, when something that was supposed to happen did not. And only with experience can you acquire the perceptual skills to make fine discriminations.

Unlike what most people believe, everyday perception is not a camera of the “outside world.” What we perceive and mentally organize into our “reality” is guided largely by our personal past experiences, memory, and emotions. What we see/hear/feel in every experience is what psychologists call “predictive perception,” a blend of what we know, expect and filtered input from our senses. It is very true that we “see what we want to see.” And this leads to “motivated reasoning” which is behind the very true phrase “to a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

Since we construct our world based on personal past experiences, every instructor must understand and accommodate this fact during every flight lesson (this is a personal relationship with CFI as a “compassionate coach”). Until your pilot-in-training has any relevant experience, context and frame of reference, they will not even see what you are seeing– the humorous phrase “dog watching television” is true here. The primary function of a CFI, beyond assuring safety, is to pre-load and guide perceptions creating insights and meaning. Until context and meaning are available, what you see as a CFI does not even exist for your student (and if you scare them at all their processing shuts down). This is how an experienced CFI knows a mile from pattern entry that the student will overshoot the landing; the cues are there, but a pilot-in-training is missing them all. Pointed questions can illuminate these important cues to create the important metacognitive questioning; “am I high or low, fast or slow?”

Perceptual overload happens at all levels of flight instruction and in every new context. The first time taking off in a jet, the experience is so new and fast, that every new pilot is literally a mile behind the machine missing every cue. The tow first time in a glider is similarly overwhelming. The more carefully the educator guides the perceptions and builds a meaningful frame of reference, the faster learning and proficiency will develop. The”startle response” has the two-fold effect of diminishing the cognitive abilities with fear while simultaneously presenting an unfamiliar perceptual problem to decode. Only having a preloaded (automatic) UPRT response to upset will save the day.

Lifetime learning in aviation is a continuum of acquiring, building, and refining the necessary mental library of experience and procedural skills. This process leads first to competence, then mastery and finally expertise. Once you have achieved a level of expertise, there is an additional empyrean 5th level of “reflective competence” or “artful flying” where the total function is fluid and almost magical.  I highly recommend the book Artful Flying by Cpt. Michael Maya Charles. Unfortunately, an alternate path is also possible at the fifth level of “knowing it all” which leads to directly to complacency and an ironic diminishing of skills with more hours (the “been there, done that” EZ-PZ attitude). Let’s not go there! Keep it fun and artful.

Future articles will offer tips and tools for accelerating learning and achieving expertise. There are well-documented tools available, but unfortunately not common in our aviation world. Fly safe out there and have fun.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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).