Surviving Startle; More Training!

Jet upset (startle!)

In everyday flying, most pilots value a  predictable, controlled flight (we are not talking about thrill-seeking “flying cowboy” stuff here). When you put the chocks on the wheels and there have been no “surprises” we usually succeeded in our mission. One flight last fall was notably different though, involving a wake turbulence encounter at 16K deadheading into Chicago Executive.

This unannounced, surprise encounter rolled our jet 70 degrees to the left and put us 20 degrees nose down (with a view of just Lake Michigan) in only a second or two with all the lights and alarms. The negative G force totally trashed the cabin (if there had been unbelted pax in back they would have been severely injured). The 20lb pilot handbook on my left even became airborne and bruised my legs when it ended up in my lap. Fortunately, automatic training took over and standard “power to idle, roll wings level” restored normal flight (we lost 1200 feet and were going rapidly to over-speed – sorry to ATC!)

This incident gave me an “up close and personal” experience with the “startle response” and how these events can happen anywhere/anytime to even the most careful and prepared pilots. Startle can originate from any sudden upset (weather, wake, mechanical) when the pilot experiences sudden G force (especially negative) or loss of normal horizon orientation. It can hit any pilot unexpectedly during any day of “normal flying.” These disabling experiences are often implicated in Loss of Control-Inflight accidents (the number one causal factor in pilot fatalities). Unfortunately, a casual reading by the fireside cannot do justice to – or prepare us for – this extreme visceral experience. A sudden startle can disable our ordinary operating system in a second. The critical question for safety is “how can we assure an antidote or inoculation to startle?”

SAFE has developed the “Envelope Extension Training” syllabus for CFIs, and we know there is great value in “fear inoculation” and experiencing extended envelope flight attitudes regularly. Part 121 regulations now require airline pilots to practice “envelope extension” regularly. And though I have flown all these maneuvers often and even some aerobatics in the past, I wanted to go beyond what a normal category airplane could supply. I headed down to Patty Wagstaff’s aerobatic school in St. Augustine a week ago to extend my envelope even further with an Upset Prevention and Recovery course (UPRT). What a fun and amazingly useful experience this was!

Allan Moore, the chief instructor at Patty’s school is an amazing educator with years of aerobatic and upset teaching experience. We spent an hour exploring their understanding of startle/upset and the prevention techniques they have developed (and teach) for “desensitizing” pilots. After a couple of hours in the Super Decathalon with Alan, I can attest to the value of their recovery formula: “Look-Unload-Roll-Recover.” Upset Prevention and Recovery really works. (See more in SAFE Resources)

One continuing enigma in aviation safety is the fact that though all part 23 and 25 aircraft are, by regulation, designed “nose heavy” to recover stability by pitching down in response to an excessive AOA (stall or loss of lift), humans predictably overpower this safety design by pulling back when encountering a stall creating most of the problems.

The answer is simple, we are all Human! As humans we have walked around on earth for a long time at 1 G. None of us like to fall down, when we do fall, we always clutch or brace ourselves, falling induces a sensation of less than 1 G. Take an infant moments old, subjected to a slight down motion causes them to startle and cry. This is called the moro reflex, and while its called “startle factor” or “clutch reflex” in an adult, the reflex remains with us our entire life. By the way, there is no crying in stunt flying! With proper de-sensitivity training to the 1/2 G experienced during a stall I believe we could almost eliminate the occurrence of spin accidents.
It is the startle factor (clutch reflex) that is responsible for taking an airplane that has been initially upset and turning it into a spin. The involuntary clutch reflex on the yoke as the airplane is pitching down stalls the wing even more. Additionally, if there is any roll motion the pilot will involuntarily deflect the ailerons to raise the low wing, inducing adverse yaw and drag and stalling the wing deeper on the aileron that is deflected down.”    Allan Moore

Though startle is covered in a recent GAJSC startle handout, and there are many articles written on the subject, reading alone will not create inoculation. You must fly and experience and actual negative G force and resulting disorientation. It is essential to feel your body’s ancient, visceral reaction to this experience to understand it fully. “Startle effect” can render any pilot helpless and incapable of effective action without some previous and recent experience (see a comprehensive analysis here). This surprise bodily reaction and loss of cognitive bandwidth from the fear and adrenaline is shocking.

I recommend every pilot prepare for “startle” by finding an experienced instructor and “extending their envelope” with some “old school” maneuvers found in our “SAFE Envelope Extension” course (covered more fully in the upcoming CFI-PRO™  Workshop at Sporty’s). I also highly recommend every pilot also continue this learning with a UPRT course at a high-quality school like Patty’s or the well-known APS courses. (Patty also has a new video course on aerobatic training just out at Sporty’s Pilot shop) Extended Envelope and UPRT will open your eyes and make you safer when an unexpected “startle” slams you during an “ordinary day in the cockpit!” Fly safe out there (and often!)

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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


“Technedure” and Spin Recoveries

I am in Florida presenting SAFE CFI-PRO™ to a flight academy here. Please read (and comment on) this very interesting give and take on spin recovery and the general topic of “technedure” – when a personal technique becomes an accepted – and passed on – procedure. (and a bit about aircraft manuals)

First read Natalie Bingham Hoover, AOPA Pilot, March 2020

And here is a reply from SAFE Founding and lifetime member

Rich Stowell

Master Instructor Emeritus
34,700 spin entries/recoveries in 240 single-engine airplanes representing 44 types.  AOPA Member since 1984

While the article by Instructor Hoover raises several interesting points, her use of the PARE acronym as an example of issues with so-called “technedures” highlights persistent misunderstandings among pilots about spin recovery.

The PARE acronym evolved as part of the Stall/Spin Awareness module taught in our Emergency Maneuver Training program. The acronym has been around for 30-odd years now, and its use in primary flight training has become widespread. The acronym and associated recovery checklist merely restate tried-and-true NASA Standard spin recovery actions—actions that were first identified 84 years ago by NACA (the forerunner to NASA). NASA confirmed the veracity of these actions between 1977 and 1989, during the most comprehensive research program ever undertaken regarding spins in light, single-engine airplanes.

As detailed in my book, “The Light Airplane Pilot’s Guide to Stall/Spin Awareness,” use of PARE comes with clearly defined caveats. Among other requirements, the acronym and associated checklist must be:

  • Applied in the context of typical, light, single-engine airplanes (which make up three-quarters of the general aviation fleet);
  • Applied only in conjunction with tried-and-true NASA Standard spin recovery actions; and,
  • Used for educational purposes by ground and flight instructors as part of civilian stall/spin awareness training.

That some in general aviation would suggest that PARE could be applicable to military aircraft not only misrepresents the acronym, but also illustrates operational human errors and omissions that are being committed during flight training.

If procedure is the “what,” technique is the “how and when.” Thus the recommendation “power off” is procedure. Techniques include closing the throttle, pulling the mixture to idle cutoff, or turning the mags off. Each satisfies the procedure. With all things equal, the question becomes, “which technique is superior?” Further, as soon as recovery actions are embellished with words such as “before,” “simultaneously,” or “after,” or arranged in a numbered list, procedure has been infused with technique— the very definition of technedure. Published spin recovery information—including PARE—is technedure. So the question remains: Which spin recovery techniques are superior?

Instructor Hoover compares the manufacturer-supplied spin recovery technedures for the Piper Tomahawk and the Cessna 152. Both manufacturers adhere to “power off.” The technedure in the Tomahawk manual places this action as Step (d) with the wording, “close the throttle.” In contrast, Cessna technedures for the 152 range from listing the power action in:

  • Step 2 with “retard the throttle to idle position” in the airplane manual; but,
  • Step 1 with “verify ailerons are neutral and throttle is closed” on the cockpit placard; but,
  • Step (a) with “verify that ailerons are neutral and throttle is in idle position” in the pamphlet, “Spin Characteristics of Cessna Models 150, A150, 152, A152,172, R172 & 177.”

Some manufacturers don’t even mention power. Examples include the Robin R 2100, Grob G 115C, de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, and Great Lakes 2T-1A-2. Are the manufacturers implying that power setting is irrelevant during spin recovery in those airplanes? Or are the manufacturers assuming that power is already off? Are you willing to gamble that spin recovery won’t be delayed or thwarted altogether because the power was left on? Power is known to aggravate spin behavior; thus, taking the power off and doing it earlier rather than later in the recovery process is a superior recovery technique, whether or not the manufacturer includes it in its published technedure.

A deep dive into certification spin testing also reveals the following:

  • The 1989 and 1993 versions of the “Flight Test Guide for Certification of Part 23 Airplanes” recommend the use of NASA Standard spin recovery, i.e., “Recoveries should consist of throttle reduced to idle, ailerons neutralized, full opposite rudder, followed by forward elevator control…unless the manufacturer determines the need for another procedure.”
    • Ninety-four percent of spin test pilots believe the actions listed above are the most effective for spin recovery in typical, light, single-engine airplanes.
    • The wording “unless the manufacturer determines the need for another procedure” was deleted in the 2003 revision of the “Flight Test Guide.” This wording does not appear in the 2011 revision, either.
  • Sixty-three percent of spin test pilots said it is not normal practice to try to find the optimum sequencing of spin recovery actions for a given airplane during spin testing for certification.
  • Fewer than half of spin test pilots believe that flight manuals adequately present spin recovery information.
  • Little to no guidance is provided regarding how spin recovery information should be presented to pilots. The typical Beechcraft spin recovery technedure, for example, is not listed chronologically even though a sequence of events is unmistakable: “Ailerons should be neutral and throttle closed at all times during recovery [emphasis mine]” appears after the pilot “execute[s] a smooth pullout” once rotation stops.

Should we continually question what we think we know? Absolutely! Do instructors need to do a better job of pointing out technique to their students, including providing some justification as to why they prefer a particular technique? Yes! And while it can be difficult to separate good information from bad, instructors need to remain vigilant against spreading inaccurate or incomplete information.

The most effective technedures for spin recovery in typical, light, single-engine airplanes have been known for a long time. Do some exceptions to the NASA Standard exist even among single-engine airplanes? Of course. But does that justify perpetuating the status quo, where manufacturers and instructors alike deliver critical spin information without regard to spin dynamics, consistency, or human factors?

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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

Successful CFI (Different Challenges!)

If you are an approved FAA educator, you carry two very different pieces of FAA plastic on board every flight. Each certificate requires a very different approach and a unique set of skills to be successful.  With the pilot certificate, you are driving the plane and seeking precise control and efficiency. The pilot certificate requires assertiveness and confidence – fast action and intolerance of error; these are airplane challenges.

The aviation educator role requires a different skill set patience and compassion.  A good CFI is not doing the flying – the learner should be handling the controls and the radio. A CFI-PRO™ allows their pilot-in-training to explore and self-correct – and their flying is quite honestly often pretty sloppy at first!

For any precise pilot, teaching flying can initially be quite painful. It’s sloppy. It just feels wrong to have your plane wallow around the sky as your learner discovers new skills. As a result, impatient (and often new) CFIs tend to micro-manage the controls and radio trying to regain the precision they are familiar with. But this is not a successful strategy for education! Let’s unpack the challenges of a successful aviation educator; these are human challenges and require “emotional intelligence!” (not always a “pilot skill”)

On the piloting side, we are a rare and unique breed; part of the 1% of our population that has achieved the unique skills required for safe flight. There is some earned pride here but as pilots, especially at the higher levels, there can be a  humorous “pilot personality” which may occasionally involve fancy watches and expensive sunglasses. The Airline Pilots Association lists 24 unique characteristics of pilots that may cause disdain or laughter depending on how closely you resemble this published psychological profile (ask your significant other).

Physically and mentally healthy ⊗ Reality-based ⊗ Self-sufficient ⊗ Difficulty trusting anyone to do a job as well as themselves ⊗ Suspicious ⊗ Intelligent but not intellectual ⊗ They like “toys” ⊗ Good at taking things apart and putting them back together ⊗ Concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical. ⊗ More analytical than emotional ⊗ Reality-oriented ⊗ Goal-oriented ⊗ Short term goal orientation and not long-term goal-driven ⊗ Bimodal (black/white, on/off, good/bad, safe/unsafe) ⊗ Tend to modify environment instead of their behavior ⊗ Hunger for excitement ⊗ Competitive ⊗ Do not handle failure well ⊗ Low tolerance for personal imperfection ⊗ Long memories of perceived injustices ⊗ Draw conclusions about people at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversation ⊗ Avoid introspection ⊗ Have difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognizing feelings ⊗ When experiencing unwanted feelings, a tendency to mask them with humor or anger.

I do not know if this list resonates with you but I certainly confess to some of these less-than-complimentary traits (AvWeb). Some of these attributes are necessary for the job, some are baggage and even harmful. I was more guilty of this “type” (emotionally cold, driven, self-reliant, etc) before becoming a parent and then teaching flying for many years.  An effective educator must acquire patience, tolerance, compassion, and trust; the toolkit of emotional intelligence. Having “ice water in your veins” might be valuable when piloting a century series fighter through incoming flak, but it is a huge impediment to successful aviation education. A caring relationship is essential to successful education. If you are not a “compassionate coach” the project will be painful for both the student and CFI, because the process takes time and the path is never straight.

Rod Machado “Bad CFI”

We have all seen the draconian CFI meme, with the instructor swatting a hapless student on the head with a sectional while screaming incomprehensible instructions. Or worse, terrorizing unprepared students with early stalls or spins to “weed out the weak and unqualified.” Obviously, this classic CFI ogre has no place in modern education. But humor aside, we all can miss the mark if we do not work very hard to be patient and empathetic when teaching. Being an effective educator requires patience and understanding never required in the pilot personality profile. One reason we selected the term “educator” in our organizational name “SAFE” was to distance our mission from the more narrowly defined historic term “instructor.” An “educator” engages the whole person as a unique individual, whereas an “instructor” is usually thought of as someone just conveying mere physical skills (good dog, bad dog). In any case, effective education requires emotional intelligence skills not often found just in piloting – a warm heart.

Emotional intelligence is universally recognized as the required meta-skill for modern business success as well as educational effectiveness. Harvard Business Review published a whole series of books on the subject and it is now integral in all business school curriculums. And I guess the best news is these emotional skills can even be improved by those of us born male and also in the age of dinosaurs. Whenever I ask an audience about their best educational experience, it usually involves a caring professional patiently guiding a student. SAFE has resources to help with this…we need more professional educators. Fly safe out there, and often!

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

Kobe Crash – A Safety Wake-Up Call

We all were shocked and saddened this week by the tragic helicopter crash in California that claimed the lives of 9 people including charismatic basketball star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter. There are the usual crazy conspiracy theories all over the internet, but here are a few cogent thoughts from aviators.

These sad events are always a wake-up call for all pilots to sharpen our risk management skills and keep our instrument skills sharp in case they are suddenly needed. Fortunately, if you examine the whole of aviation, it is remarkably safe.  As aviation educators, we must maintain high standards of excellence and rigorously train these important skills to keep all our aviators safe. No one wants to rush to judgment but here are a few ideas and comments:


Click for Plane and Pilot commentary
Click for Flying Magazine commentary

…and from Richard McSpadden at the Aviation Safety Institute (posted on FaceBook and reprinted here with permission): 

The tragic helicopter crash claiming the lives of Kobe Bryant and 8 others reinforces some sober learning for all pilots, regardless of the NTSB’s findings. 1) Flying vfr into imc conditions is dangerous, regardless of your experience and ratings. A third of these accidents happen to experienced, ifr-rated pilots. 2) The nether land between kind-of flying on instruments and kind-of flying via visual reference is far more challenging than just flying on instruments. This hybrid arena lends itself to visual illusions and spatial disorientation. The consequences of which are exacerbated by proximity to the ground and reduced time-to-impact. 3) Reduced visibility in hilly terrain is especially treacherous. Lights from cars, houses, other sources have a subliminal disorienting effect that creates false horizons, difficult to recognize until its too late. 4) Fog, and in particular coastal fog is highly unpredictable and can move in dense waves. 5) Flights, conditions and decisions must be assessed differently when you operate single-pilot. This flight, under these conditions, was extraordinarily demanding for a single pilot.
Fortunately, most pilots are aware of these issues, I’m sure this pilot was. By all accounts, he was an exceptional pilot. But it only takes one lapse in judgment, on one flight. It’s possible the NTSB findings will reveal a completely different cause for the accident…but its also unlikely they will. The crash is an unfathomable tragedy for the families involved. It also damages the credibility of general aviation and helicopters. These operations have a phenomenal safety record, but we don’t hear about the millions of flights a year that operate safely. We only hear about the tragic ones.

Click for FORBES article on Kobe crash…

The NTSB has already started their comprehensive investigation (as with the Hudson River Liberty crash last year) and will have more details in a year or so. In the meantime, extract what lessons we all can learn. Fly safely out there…and often!

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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

“Habit Stacking” For Aviation Efficiency and Safety

We all like to imagine that we run our lives as bold free agents, consciously determining every action. But if we are aware and honest, we realize that the majority of our daily activities are determined powerful subconscious influences; DNA scripts and culturally instilled habits. Depressing for a “PIC” to admit, but we are more passengers than pilots. The more we curate and control our habit-formation the more  efficient and effective our lives; and the safer our flying! A recent short book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, can be very helpful in this quest.

Carefully-replicated psychological studies reveal that non-conscious influences actually determine between 50-90% of our daily behavior. Our habits and culture are who we are!  What we can determine on a smaller scale, is our personal environment (where we hang out and our friends) and some of the habits we inhabit. If we seize conscious control of these drivers of behavior and apply thoughtful, methodical discipline, we can change our lives and outcomes through new habit formation.

Clearly, there is not a lot of awareness or focus on habit formation in our larger culture. Maintaining good habits and applying discipline almost seem to be evil words. But in high-performance activities like business productivity and aviation, discipline, habits and culture charge have become very hot topics. Books like Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Atomic Habits by James Clear have all become rapid bestsellers.

You may not have thought of aviation in exactly this manner, but flight training and safe flying are largely learning and adhering to a series of context-dependent safe habits. The formation and execution of our checklists, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and repeated techniques mold behavior through habits, giving us a script to follow. Learned skills and techniques execute these actions on predetermined cues with smoothness, determining exact force and adjusts to precise conditions. Situational awareness, the critical 3 levels of perception and insight, determines which script or habit to execute in a given context; e.g. “this is a short field with a crosswind.” And once you are beyond your initial training, YOU are the curator of your personal improvement and pursuit of excellence. Carefully determined and operating habits free mental space to enjoy the beauty and other pleasures of flight.

Habit stacking” is a conscious way of creating new adaptive behaviors that improve your flying (and life). This involves inserting new scripts into already existing (well-established) habit patterns. For instance, we know every flight will involve a take-off, cruise and arrival/landing (on a good day). Within that predictable existing structure are endless sub-texts we can improve with reflection and discipline. If we want to improve our flying, we need to analyze and consciously improve our “habit stack.” For example, “when I line up on the runway, I will also verify the heading indicator and runway, start the clock, etc” (most pilots have some form of “line-up check” but is it really working for your?) If we overload this system with too many details it will fail. Or if we disregard it entirely or do not value this discipline (culture) we also will also fail. For safety, a pilot must carefully curate and modify their personal “habit stack” to work for their personal situation and demands of the mission. This process takes constant discipline, reflection, and refinement.

A wonderful new book that will improve your flying (and your life) is “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. “Atomic” here does not mean radioactive but rather many tiny habits reassembled into a consciously-determined adaptive whole. This author has devoted his life to organizing his habits and conveys the mechanics of this process beautifully. Fly safely out there (and often!)

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership 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).


“YouTube Roulette” – Verifying Your Information!

Red you win! Black = “Game Over!”

As a thought experiment, imagine you are at a food buffet with a wide variety of options freely available to you. The only problem is half are nourishing and good for you and the other half will make you sick and might even kill you. And the most attractive might be the most poisonous. Welcome to the world of YouTube (and the internet) as “aviation education!” The internet is a great tool to disseminate valuable information but we have to continuously remind ourselves it is also very good at propagating myths and fallacies. And as humans we are often too willing to believe and reinforce our own personal biases – just look at our current political climate?

On a check ride a while back, a CFI applicant terrified me with a monster skid turning base to final and described it as a “slip to landing” – Game over, no replay! (Can you imagine him spreading this error to 20 new people a month?) His source was a 30K airline pilot online who very clearly described this erroneous maneuver as “an easy way to slip to final” – “just add bottom rudder and hold aileron out of the turn.” (Please don’t try this!)  The source seemed valid with credentials and lots of other useful information. But this totally wrong and dangerous information was a “poison pill” mixed in with useful hints. The result was a very unhappy (and unsuccessful) applicant.

In another case, I recently watched a well-credentialed online CFI from a bigger school (with a pretty well-produced series of training videos) teach and simultaneously perform a chandelle (presumably to help commercial applicants). This maneuver was so far from correct it was embarrassing. It really could have been a perfect demonstration of “common student errors” instead. And guaranteed some unfortunate student is going to believe this video and show up for a flight test and fly this procedure as a model (it happens). Game over!

Your pilot knowledge and skills should be a protected vault of trusted learning and techniques that has to be verified and correct. It should never be a public thoroughfare of opinions, but firewalled from everyday casual inputs. It is essential to suspiciously examine and test every opinion or recommendation you take in against known valid sources before importing it into your operating system. Bad information is like malicious computer code in a system -it can fire off an inappropriate or dangerous action at the worst time. And once you acquire and reinforce a bad habit it is very difficult to eradicate.

As a CFI and examiner, I see bad techniques and erroneous ideas way too often – this is both online and elsewhere given as advice or “education.” Personal online sources are just the easiest “vector for the virus” – clicks are dollars and truth is rare! Everyone with a GoPro is an “expert.” Unfortunately, being able to tell good from bad in “aviation truth” almost presupposes a certain advanced level of skill and knowledge – coupled with a discerning bull$hit detector. So step one is carefully verifying every source and “fact.” Choose your reliable, trusted providers and verify the information against known industry “references.” For aviators, these are the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook or Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. All the FAA manuals and handbooks are available FREE and you can take that knowledge to the bank. Peer review and careful screening ensure good content.

In addition to the FAA source material, the quality of “trusted providers” in the industry for years are also solid and online learning here is wonderfully convenient and useful offering a variety of perspective.  Information from Sporty’s, King Schools, Bold Method, GoldSeal, Gleim, Pilot Workshops, etc is almost universally helpful. These large “trusted providers” all have extensive product development and review systems to filter out errors.

The danger of questionable safety culture and errors is largely found in the Vlog “home movie” crowd trying to be exceptional and stand out with some unique perspective or exciting angle. Remember, homebrew YouTubers create content to be sensational and attract attention solely for fame and profit; “pimp my channel.” They are not necessarily intended as good guides for safe procedures or standard acceptable practices. (Hold my beer and watch this…)

Similarly, finding a good CFI with trusted advice, effective techniques and a compatible demeanor can be challenging.  The first person a school “assigns” might be the wrong person for you. As the “consumer” (paying the bill?) you are entitled to select your own professional and to a certain degree decide your training. Especially in aviation, I would never say “the customer is always right,” but in matters of compatibility, you are the boss. Execute your due diligence and check their credentials. Remember, you will “become this person” in your future flying behavior.  The reason they call an FAA evaluation a “check-ride” is that the DPE is “checking” the work of a CFI that did the training (and of course the final demonstration of skill, knowledge, and judgment). The CFI creates the pilot over 40-50 hours together, molding techniques, knowledge and to a certain degree attitude. The DPE is very simply just the “gatekeeper” with an hour or two to decide “yes or no” based on an objective standard the FAA enforces. Many times on flight tests, it is abundantly clear that the reason for an applicant failing was (unfortunately) the “source”- their CFI’s errors and omissions. It is worth shopping carefully for the best CFI to do your aviation education. And as you persist beyond your initial training, YOU are now the arbiter of your “aviation truth” so shop wisely. Fly safely (and often!).


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


New Proficiency365 Scenarios from SAFE

Redbird Simulator wizards Stasi Poulos and Billy Winburn of Mindstar Aviation collaborated with SAFE at our CFI-PRO™ at Fredrick in October. This involved “tuning up” the AOPA Redbird FMX for accurate VFR maneuvering and developing a LOC-I specific scenario designed to build pilot maneuvering skills.  We demonstrated this to CFIs in the audience through a livestream presentation. This is part a continuing SAFE emphasis on building pilot maneuvering skills and part of SAFE’s Extended Envelope Training. This new scenario is now part of EAA Proficiency365 and called the “Low Country Approach.

This new scenario will be available for your preview at our SAFE Meet-Up Monday, Jan 13th at Pilot Proficiency International on the KFRG airport. SWA Captain Dan Weiss will be on hand to demonstrate the Redbird and various scenarios. EAA Proficiency365 is an initiative to make these scenarios available at your local airport for pilot proficiency all year long on a Redbird simulator.

When SAFE originally developed the Pilot Proficiency Project in 2011, the focus was primarily on risk management and decision-making scenarios. SAFE leadership through the GA Pilot Training Reform Symposium led to the addition of scenarios and pilot judgment as central in the FAA ACS. The continuing focus at SAFE is building fundamental piloting skills and preventing Loss of Control Inflight. Our new series of scenarios take the innovative Redbird GIFT (private pilot level training) a step further and challenge pilots to increase their maneuvering proficiency to the edges of their flight envelope.

The new VFR scenarios are designed to build actual pilot handling skills and help pilots become comfortable and competent at the edges of the VFR flight envelope. This training builds confidence to lessen the startle response in emergency situations. These maneuvers are first presented in a simulator as scenarios, then practiced in flight with a SAFE CFI-PRO™ instructor. Our next SAFE CFI-PRO™ is at Sporty’s Pilot Shops in Ohio on June 10/11th.

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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

Managing the “Known Icing” Boogeyman

Forecast last Sunday2/14 KTEB

Most of what the average pilot thinks they understand about “known icing” is either confused or wrong – there is no prohibitive reg. under part 91 ( icing is an airframe limitation). Many misconceptions are implanted by well-meaning educators who are also mistaken or confused – sorry but let’s fix this now. I discover this ignorance continuously on flight tests, where applicants are supposed to understand this information (for good reason). I also witness confusion when discussing winter flights in the clouds with other pilots. It is not uncommon to see fear, misunderstanding and also incriminating accusations. Many well-meaning pilots condemn any flight in a “cold cloud” between September and June. A good place to start is with this Chief Council Opinion .

Flight into known ice is not directly referenced in part 91 and known icing conditions are only referenced in subpart F, which applies to large and turbine-powered multiengine airplanes and fractional ownership program aircraft. However, there are provisions in other subparts within part 91 that require a pilot to consider the consequences of flying in such conditions.

This is also an excellent “fire starter” for an exciting hangar discussion. Certainly, one sure way to create safety in aviation is always to just stay on the ground.  But unfortunately, we have created a “boogeyman” that protects the innocents but also might keep every other pilot without a FIKI (flight into known icing) airplane from flying IFR (or even VFR) all winter long. This “cold cloud avoidance club” also points an accusing finger at any pilot who goes flying in the winter weather implying they are crazy and unsafe. This is an unfortunate situation that creates more heat than light so let’s dig in and find some middle ground.

WeatherAccidentCausalFactorsObviously, caution is a good thing, and I would be the first to admit there are definite, definable risks in winter IFR (as there are everywhere). But ignorance, denial, fear, and finger-pointing are not good strategies for successful aviation. As in any risk-management situation, we need to acquire definite skills, knowledge and training to fly safely in the winter weather. There are clouds that are safe and strategies to mitigate the icing risk. Please stay with me here and let’s poke the bear a little.

The legal prohibition – “operating limitation”  – is in your POH or AFM, and you might have to do a little digging to find it. In addition to “approved” and “prohibited” operations for Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI), there are several levels of “semi-FIKI” aircraft, so the plot thickens. (Read your data carefully, you are legally bound to these restrictions). The FAA’s legal “gotcha” is actually CFR 91.13 prohibiting “careless and reckless operation”  – which is included in every pilot violation or sanction. As always, you are PIC and you choose your conditions and tools to conduct aviation as you see fit; just do it legally and safely.

The definition of “known icing” has been changed numerous times by the FAA over the years. To find a solid legal definition you need to consult several good sources:  Chief Counsel Letter of Interpretation,  the Federal Register,  the Advisory Circular and the AIM. Reading and understanding all of these in detail is the first step in flying safely in potentially icing weather; know the rules and cautions. (Also a good idea for flight tests)

“If the composite information indicates to a reasonable and prudent pilot that he or she will encounter visible moisture at freezing or near-freezing temperatures and that ice will adhere to the aircraft along the proposed route and altitude of flight, then known icing conditions likely exist.

Most recently – and what I hear often on most flight tests is – “known icing” is indicated (and flight prohibited) by “a current PIREP reporting icing.” For years this was regarded as the sure arbiter of “known icing,” and it certainly might be a time not to fly. Recently, the FAA, in the AIM, seems to even be backing off from this criterion as a definition or legal justification for pilot violation:

“Because of the variability in space and time of atmospheric conditions, the existence of a report of observed icing does not assure the presence or intensity of icing conditions at a later time, nor can a report of no icing assure the absence of icing conditions at a later time.”

The definition of “known icing” migrated from overly permissive to excessively restrictive in the late 1990s, limiting flight in any visible moisture below freezing. This draconian interpretation got the “cold cloud avoidance” started. As such, “known icing” became the boogeyman everywhere and always in winter clouds and the only legal IFR solution for non-FIKI pilots was “park it till June.” (Sorry for friends south of the equator). BTW, the ancient history of the “known icing” legal debate can be found here in AvWeb.

The current interpretation, issued in 2009, allows for pilot discretion in evaluating and choosing a “reasonable and prudent” course of action in most conditions: CFR 91.3 rules: (PIC). And if you examine most “textbook” icing accidents, you will see some really terrible conditions pilots failed to avoid and usually bad decisions made with partial information or “emotional planning tools.” In giving pilots discretion, the FAA is also providing enough rope to hang themselves. But “legal” does NOT mean “safe” and as in all aviation decisions, be comprehensive in your planning and cautious in your decisions.

Nearly one-quarter of all accidents due to airframe icing are caused by ice or frost that accumulated on the ground and wasn’t removed before takeoff, and carburetor or induction icing brings down three times as many airplanes as ice adhering to the skin. However, two-thirds of all fatal icing accidents are due to ice build-ups on the airframe in flight.

how does a safe pilot mitigate risk and fly IFR safely in the winter?

Parking the plane until June in the North is super safe, but totally ruins any utility and efficiency in aviation (cold cloud club). Launching without care or preparation to “get ‘r done” is a really bad expedient. Between these two polar forces of excessive caution vs. efficiency is where we negotiate safety in aviation. Flying on the east side of the Great Lakes for 40 years, I have seen pilots on both sides of this caution equation. I think the best answer is to prepare more carefully, fly with more caution (acknowledging the known hazards) and allow a greater margin of safety for escape in the event of surprises. Guidance for known ice approved operations is here in FAA AC 91.74B

So first, safety in potentially icing conditions requires a more comprehensive and careful preflight analysis, and there are amazing new tools especially from the NWS Forecast Icing Potential, FIP and Current Icing PotentialCIP CFR 91.103 (all available information). Knowing weather theory is also essential since this process is in motion. (Scott Dennsteadt’s excellent weather book is a great start for pilot education)

Second, obtain (and issue) PIREPS for any and all changes (especially for tops and temps.)  PIREPS are the best real-time peer-to-peer information sharing system we currently have. During dynamic winter conditions where a few degrees of temperature make all the difference, information sharing is essential.

Lastly, always assure a safe escape route if you suddenly encounter icing, since it is impossible to forecast ice precisely and the consequences of unforecast icing are both terrifying and dangerous. Clear air below (but above the MEA) is best, but lateral diversions and big-picture awareness are essential for safety.

The FAA’s newest icing AC 91-74B is well written with lots of good information. And the NASA Glenn Research Website has a very good online training for pilots I highly recommend – knowledge, information and caution. Finding a savvy CFI with lots of experience in winter weather is your best educational resource (as always) since you need a mentor to explore any potentially-hazardous phenomenon safely. Stay warm and fly often!

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

CFI Simulator Scenarios Build Safety!

The ADS-B requirement for flight in certain busy areas is now official FAA regulation. If you are flying a non-equipped aircraft, the old “Mode-C transponder restrictions ” pretty much apply (see details here). That same ADS-B channel provides continuous updating of weather and airspace information while airborne via data-link. What an amazing safety tool! Our once stale data we departed with can now be updated continuously keeping us up to date in the air.

Despite these amazing enroute-planning tools, accident statistics clearly point to a lack of fundamental skills and mental preparedness as the #1 risk factor for aviators. Loss of control inflight (LOC-I), losing control of a perfectly good aircraft (most cases), is the threat we must deal with directly to be safer in the New Year. SAFE has been focusing on and providing resources to extend the aviator flight envelope with maneuvers and scenarios in flight. But technology provides some solutions for pilot skill acquisition on the ground also with simulators.

Crawl into a tuned up, full-motion simulator and prepare for a surprise. Full motion aviation simulators are great tools to provide aviation challenges. Both hands and minds need to be prepared for surprise events in aviation. For safety, we need to approach every flight with “eyes wide open;” psychologically ready to deal with challenges beyond the ordinary. The well-documented “startle response” often leads to the LOC-I. Savvy instructors in simulators can provide great training for this with a level of safety unavailable in flight. SAFE started the Pilot Proficiency Project™ back in 2011 with a Redbird and a series of pre-written scenarios that surprise and challenge pilots building new skills and psychological preparedness. This program evolved into the EAA  Proficiency365™

The scenarios you may have experienced at the EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at Oshkosh are now available all around the country on properly equipped full-motion simulators. The critical take-away for all this training to be effective is it requires properly trained aviation educators and suitably equipped simulators. Fidelity and realism are essential for these training sessions to be effective.

As an educator,  you can experience this CFI training and toolkit – see the process in action –  by joining SAFE at a regional meet-up Jan 13th in NYC that will demonstrate these scenarios in action. We will be meeting at “Pilot Proficiency International” on the Farmingdale Airport (KFRG). Owner (and SWA check airman) Danny Weiss (22K hours) will be showing off his Redbird and the tools available for CFIs to expand the pilot envelope and prepare pilots for surprises (this sim can be rented by CFIs in NYC area). We are collaborating with the NYC MCFI club to offer this event (RSVP David Dempsey). Food and video feed from the sim. will be available. You can also find a qualified simulator near you on Community Aviation. Watch for future SAFE Meet-Ups near you. Fly safely (and often) Happy (SAFE) New Year!

SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?)

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

Teaching Dynamic Risk Management

Managing risk in a changing environment is a critical skill to teach all pilots-in-training. Read our SAFEblog for techniques.

The risk equation of for a flight is not fixed before departure with a single analysis. It is continuously changing due to the duration and dynamics of each unique mission. Every flight seems to have a few “surprises” that are not part of the original plan even on the best days. This uncertainty keeps flying exciting and requires flexibility and resilience on the part of the pilot to successfully manage the changing risk profiles. It is essential we build these skills into our pilots-in-training for future safety.

An initial risk analysis like P-A-V-E should be an integral part of every flight – it is required in the current FAA ACS – but it’s often neglected on an average  GA flight. As educators, we know our students will model our behavior, so it’s incumbent upon us to embrace a higher level of professionalism and make this a prominent part of every training flight. These cognitive risk management skills have historically been under-emphasized and show up often as weak areas on flight tests. In addition to the preflight analysis, every pilot-in-training should work through a real “risk management model” in a dynamic flight environment (created by the CFI). This is not only for their flight test but as a working tool for their future safety.

Due to short lessons, limited geography, and a focus on “efficiency” ($$) “real” experience in flight training is obviously rare. We just can’t go enough places and build enough time to realistically “gain unique experiences.”. So CFIs must use their “creative license” and generate scenarios to present these challenges. Here are some  CFI-PRO™ techniques to improve your effectiveness (and your client’s future safety). Scenarios add variety and challenge (without cost) if used appropriately. (Your comments and additions are encouraged below!)

Visualize the P-A-V-E elements and specific common challenges like sliders on a mixing board. Each variable is constantly in motion anyway, but a creative CFI can intervene and change the balance at will. Be subtle and creative, using realistic experiences from your personal experience to challenge your students. As a CFI you can dial up the challenge by suddenly creating too low fuel (the cap must have been off) or a pop-up TSM along the route. Try taking away the NAV source and see how their pilotage is working. The secret to success as an educator here is creating realistic challenges appropriate to the level of your pilot. Scenarios need to be manageable to create teachable challenges. Your end result should be some struggle but ultimate success leading to learning, mastery and a boost to confidence.

Have your pilot-in-training share their “mental model” as they work through their challenges and solutions to each problem your present. In debrief point out the various mental models available to maintain situational awareness while applying and testing a solution to the current problem. Make sure you clients understand that ADM involves achieving the best solution given the hand we are dealt; “satisficing.” A “perfect outcome” is often not possible, this is an optimizing game. Decision-making under pressure is the heart of aviation safety, and certainly something they will see on their flight test from a competent DPE. Scenarios and ADM are the heart of the current ACS.

Every professional aviation educator should be working to create fully-qualified, capable aviators that exceed the FAA minimum standards.  Too often DPEs see questionable “test takers” some CFI sent just hoping they will successfully scape by. A “70% pass” might be an “outcome” but should never be a “goal” in flight training. When the FAA issues a new pilot certificate, it is not limited to the small geographical area your pilot trained in or just good flight days you previously specified. Your new pilot can fly the whole USA for the rest of their lives on any day they like. I did have one (airplane owner) pilot take off the day after his test and circumnavigate the USA!

Next week we will discuss using simulator scenarios for this same purpose of building skills and flexibility. What a tool to create some struggle! Fly safely (and often), have a great New Year.

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