Avoid DPE “Hard Stops” on Check-Rides!

The SAFE App was created to facilitate CFI/DPE collaboration and ensure a smoother, less stressful check ride experience (and ultimately smarter, safer pilots). Better communication among all parties involved prevents unfortunate surprises on check-ride day where an applicant encounters a "hard stop"  due to errors or misunderstanding - missing endorsements, insufficient experience, or inadequate skill/knowlege). Here are a couple common problem areas (some recently clarified by the FAA).

The “long” student cross country can be confusing due to the incomplete description  in 61.109. This regulation does not “stand-alone” but depends upon 61.1 (definitions) which requires a “landing at a distance greater than 50nm” to count as cross-country when training. The “push toward minimums” encouraged by many schools, can leave pilot applicants unqualified for their certificate on test day (a bad surprise)! Another subtlety in 61.109 is the requirement for “full-stop landings” in the regulation which also creates problems for unhappy applicants. Repeating expensive training due to a technical error is  frustrating. CFIs and flight schools need to know these regulations and their subtlties.

It is not just students and CFIs who are confused by this regulation, there are DPEs who have been accepting the stand-alone description in the reg (with an insufficient cross country) as legal. That is why this subject is covered in the national DPE training for 2021.

Another recent check-ride “hard stop” involves confusion over logging the required instrument time for the commercial pilot certificate. DPEs have been advised to not simply accept an instrument rating as evidence of accomplishing the instrument training required in 61.129. Careful reading reveals unique flight elements and a different emphasis for commercial aircraft control vs original instrument flight training. CFIs should make sure the more comprehensive commercial training is correctly completed. Another legal problem is the CFI conducting the required instrument training in 61.129 (commercial) must possess a CFII. If completed by an airplane instructor it is invalic. At the end of this process, add the 61.129 endorsement to the original instrument training endorsement or add the additionally logged hours to satisfy the tegulation. The original guidance in the Hartzell Letter of Interpretation has been clarified in a more recent 2018 Letter of Interpretation to the AOPA.

The lack of a 61.39 “meta-endorsement” is another problem that will stop a flight test before it gets started. This required endorsement verifies that that the recommending flight instructor has flown the required time in preparation for the checkride (usually 3 hours in the last 2 calendar months). Also in 61.39 is the (required) assurance that the CFI corrected the items found to be deficient on the knowledge test.

§ 61.125 Aeronautical knowledge.

(a) General. A person who applies for a commercial pilot certificate must receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor, or complete a home-study course, on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought.

Failure to log required ground training is often a “hard stop” that will prevent a checkride from proceeding. All ratings and certificates specify some ground and flight training. This should logged and available for the examiner on test day. There is no specified number of hours in part 61 training, but the areas to be covered are listed and some recorded ground instruction (varies with the DPE) needs to be part of the application package. A ground school graduation is a perfect example, but part 61 training is often conducted one-on one. PDF formatted tables for logging ground time are available on the SAFE Toolkit App.

All these “gotchas” are also essentials for every CFI preparing for their initial check-ride. Aviation educators are supposed to know all these nuances (and much more) so they correctly prepare their applicants for flight tests.

In addition to the above cautions, SAFE has created a stand-alone (more comprehensive) product to clear up check-ride confusion called “Checkride Ready!™”available on the SAFE App. This material was also published in the blog for VFR and IFR (more on the way!) Fly safely out there (and often)!


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Commercial Flight Maneuvers for Everyone!

Commercial-level pilot maneuvers provide a wonderful challenge and new skills for every pilot. These are not only fun but teach correct rudder usage when flown properly. Many pilots at the private level do not understand or apply correct rudder inputs. “Rudder deficit” is a primary reason for LOC-I. Search out a qualified instructor and take your flying to a higher level of proficiency with some commercial maneuvers. Learning new skills and extending your flight envelope creates greater flight safety and is also great fun! These maneuvers are a gateway to an upset recovery course and aerobatics – but these should be mastered first to get full value from this kind of advanced training.

Mastering commercial maneuvers requires an eyes-out aggressive flying style at the edge of the flight envelope. This begins with a thorough aerodynamic knowledge of the forces at work. The heart of all the commercial maneuvers is a concept called “cross-coordinated.” When you are climbing in a chandelle or navigating your way through a lazy eight you are often applying “crossed controls” to create coordinated flight. The control inputs and forces at work are not initially intuitive. Mastery requires study and practice to internalize a solid “feel” for the airplane during this more aggressive commercial-level maneuvering. And though all these maneuvers are “non-operational,” but you will be rewarded with much more precise (and safer) flying skills as well as a greater sense of confidence and control.

Step one in discovering commercial maneuvers is getting the eyes outside and rediscovering aggressive VFR flying; “yank and bank.” Most pilots in a normal flight training progression just completed an instrument rating (smooth standard rate turns with reference to their trusted instruments). Commercial training can come as a shock, requiring outside visual references and a “tuned up butt” to properly sense and correct yaw. Try some private pilot steep turns at 45 degrees and work up to 60 degrees. Then reverse at 180 degrees of turn and work up to “60/90s” (reversing a 60-degree banked steep turn after 90 degrees of turn). This is “old school” flying – find a good instructor to help you. This will get a little sweat going as well as demonstrate the need for an outside sight reference and positive control usage.

Step two is serpentine climbing 30 degree turns right and left with full power and a Vx attitude. This will quickly demonstrate the need for right rudder while climbing in a left turn and left aileron while climbing in a right turn. Initially, this feels “unnatural” for many private pilots, but this is the beginning of understanding “cross-coordination” and will progress into chandelles. Your pattern crosswind turns will be immediately safer with your newly-mastered “cross-coordination.”

A series of  climbing and descending (coordinated) wingovers – working toward a lazy eight – will demonstrate the need for quick and accurate rudder usage as the wing loads and unloads. Suddenly pilots are “flying again” after 40 hours of instrument standard rate turns (or years of rope-a-doping around the pattern); fun! These climbs and descents also illustrate the changing yoke forces necessary to maintain specific flight attitudes as the speed of the aircraft changes the effectiveness of the flight controls.

The last step in this introduction to commercial flight maneuvers is some slow flight and stalls first straight ahead, then turning. Flight training is an opportunity to fly at minimum control speed with the horn blaring (just don’t do it on a flight test – the FAA is sensitive about this). Bank 30 degrees right and left aggressively at the edge of a stall. Coordination is essential and LOTS of rudder is required to pivot left and right on the edge of a stall. Then demonstrate an old-style power off stall recovery letting the nose fall through the horizon with the yoke all the way back (stay stalled till the nose is down). As an instructor, when your pilot-in-training sees this dramatic nose-down attitude (while still feeling the stall) some understanding of angle of attack will be immediately built. (The angle of attack indicator in every plane is how much chrome is showing on the control yoke shaft).

Turning stalls recovered without power (just releasing AOA) are the last maneuver in this sortie as you descend turning right and left while stalling and recovering. This again shows the need for coordination and the power of AOA for recovery. Turning stalls are part of the Private Pilot ACS and often missed during initial training. Engage a qualified instructor and master some commercial maneuvers. Soon you will add finesse, safety (and FUN) to your regular flying. Fly safe out there (and often)!


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

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

 

Opportunity Knocking – Learn Rudder!

In early childhood development, there are surprising “windows of opportunity” where languages can be learned rapidly and perfectly in a manner that is forever lost to adults. This “opportunity lost” is a result of sensory striatum deprivation. A cat will remain forever blind if kept in the dark during the first months of life even with perfectly functioning eyes –  use it or lose it! Rudder usage follows this same pattern in pilots. If it is not learned and mastered very early, it seems to be forever a mystery (see early maneuvering blog). This deficit creates a pilot that will always be struggling to achieve positive control in the aircraft.

Fortunately, there is an easy (and fun) solution to “rudder deficit” for pilots. The rudder can be mastered in a new environment if approached with an open attitude of exploration and excitement. Tailwheel flying is exactly this opportunity for pilots. This fun training corrects “rudder deficit” while putting a smile on your face. This “awakening” is as exciting as flying aerobatics for the first time – suddenly the world becomes fully three-dimensional. We are no longer in Kansas and the world immediately turns from black and white to color; worth it! Rudder aptitude is critical in all phases of flying, right up into professional multi-engine operations. (Watch new jet pilots struggle with V1 cuts in Level D simulators)

If you have not taken some dual in a tailwheel aircraft, you really have not experienced flying as it could be. This experience will truly open your eyes to full aircraft control in three dimensions. Many pilots are still regrettably two dimensional and are frankly missing a lot of fun (and “rudder deficit” is also “control deficit”).

If you haven’t flown tailwheel (yet) there is a whole world of exciting flying ahead of you – opportunity found. Most low-power tailwheel airplanes are very affordable on an hourly basis, the real difficulty is finding a good instructor. Check out the SAFE directory for a tailwheel specialist in your area. (and CFIs, make sure your data in this directory is current). After that, the next step is full 3-axis maneuvering. Fly safe out there (and often!)


Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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).

Twin Training Mysteries! LIVE at Noon…

Here is the briefing and the pdf slide deck (and for the committed: full audio!)

The multi-engine rating is the pathway to a professional piloting career. Unfortunately, by the time most pilots get to this point they are either broke or cynical about the whole aviation training business and opt for the “fastest/cheapest” training option they can find. The working theory seems to be “I will learn this all later” – but they usually never do!

I have seen this story from the testing side as a DPE with some truly scary applicants.  The DPE job is to get in a strange plane with a complete beginner and start failing engines – want a new job? I have also flown with light twin pilots who have flown their whole life with only that original 4-5 hour s of training. After 40 years they still don’t understand multi-engine aerodynamics or proper emergency procedures. It really pays to get this right, and there has been a rash of ugly accidents recently in multi-engine planes!

I would encourage all interested and rated pilots (and especially CFIs) to spend some time reviewing the basics of multi-engine aerodynamics with this WINGS Course pdf summary. Then review this “Power Hour” by Hobie Tomlinson. Hobie is a former TWA 747 captain with 40K hours flying and 15K teaching. The full briefing from this CFI Bootcamp show is here. In addition to Hobie’s presentation, I encourage every pilot to take the full course on FAA WINGS, the pilot briefing sheets and extra references are excellent study resources and future teaching tools.  Fly SAFE and watch for the SAFEblog tomorrow!


Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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).

How “Masterful” is Your CFI? (Do *You* Qualify?)

GA pilots tend to regard *all* CFIs with godlike respect – which is gratifying (as a CFI) but often undeserved – and sometimes can even be dangerous. When the Corey Lidel accident happened in the East River Corridor, many people were incredulous this accident was even possible “with a CFI on board” ( misplaced trust?) The FAA has no standard for CFI excellence, just minimum standards for initial certification and a 16-hour online course every two years!Gold Seal” is certainly busy, but no high bar. There has been some discussion of CFI standards and oversight by the NTSB after the recent horrific accident in Hawaii.

A brand new CFI may only have only 5 hours of total real solo time under their belt (not “ride-along”) and may never have even fueled an airplane (or been in a cloud or on a grass strip). Other blogs have enumerated the consequences of FAA minimum training. New CFIs (in the US) also have no required mentoring or supervision when they start teaching. They are essentially “student teaching” on the job (often with the newest students). Other flight instructors may have been teaching for years and unfortunately never improved past this entry-level of skill and knowledge (except getting grumpier?) A Gold Seal is a good one-time “busy CFI” honor (only specifying an 80% pass rate – the industry average) and is certainly a great sign for a student shopping for a pro. But it is also “one and done” renewing with your CFI forever. True professionalism in aviation is only achieved through continuous personal commitment and defined by voluntary industry accreditation standards;  Master Instructor Certification. Instructor professionalism was one of the critical necessary safety pillars emphasized for aviation improvement in the SAFE Pilot Reform report– professional CFIs “raise all boats” – planes!

It is not uncommon for new academy CFI graduates to lack even the most basic “real life” skills like aircraft fueling or tie-down knots – it is not in the “shake and bake” syllabus. Some new CFIs have been pilots for less than a year; no seasoning or cultural acquisition here. Think of what else they might not know. Current FAA statistics reveal that 2/3 of active FAA CFIs have taught less than a year. And this is a steady-state condition in our aviation industry as new CFIs continually build hours and move on to professional careers.

It is a bigger mistake to assume that some age or gray hair is an indicator of quality since many people now retire young and get all their ratings “while senior” (gray-haired and brand new!) Some of these senior retired CFIs are the scariest I have seen since they bring an “implied aviation gravitas” from their mastery in another profession. Surprisingly, there are only an estimated 2,500 professional, continuously full-time, CFIs in the US. How does a flight student or pilot seeking an excellent instructor determine the “masters” of flight education?

One way to find a veteran aviation educator and access that valuable wealth of experience is to select a “Master Instructor.”  The original Master Instructor Program was created by Sandy and JoAnn Hill of Colorado in 1997. Both lifelong professional educators and CFIs, they saw the need for a voluntary industry accreditation program to raise the professional standards for aviation educators. The flight instructor’s Model Code of Conduct lays out the aspirational goals for every flight instructor seeking to become better. This AeroNews podcast interviews the Hills in 2011 and explains in detail the CFI industry problems and solutions.

Now celebrating 24 years and thousands of designations, the Master Instructors accreditation program represents what former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey called “the best the right seat has to offer” in aviation. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt called the assembled Master Instructors at the GAS “the movers and shakers of the flight training community.” The Master Instructor Continuing Education ProgramTM (MICEP) is now part of SAFE with a new website and simpler online accreditation form created and maintained by Submittable (going live on Monday).

Most experienced instructors probably already qualify for a Master designation! The major challenge is organizing their vast experience into the five required categories and digging up documentation for volunteer reviewers (worksheet). Less than half of 1% of all educators earn this honor. But not surprisingly, this illustrious group is overrepresented in professional activities and in earning FAA honors – 43% of National GA Award Winners are Master Instructors. Though voluntary industry improvement is the heart of this program, the vast majority of Master educators acknowledge that the program not only improved them by challenging them to become better educators, it dramatically increased their earnings from surveyed 10-40%. Several reported more than a 100% hike in their sustainable hourly rates. Additionally, several flight schools provide incentive packages to their Masters worth more than $8,000 annually. Some premier training facilities like Aviation Performance Solutions, require all their instructors to earn Master qualifications.MasterInstructorLogo

We are very pleased to now have the original Master Instructor Program as part of SAFE. The core values are entirely consistent with our SAFE mission of professionalism. Fly SAFE out there (and often) and get started on that Master certification!

You Probably Qualify Already! - Get Started!

For those with many years of teaching experience, you are probably already qualified for Master certification! Your major challenge is finding and submitting documentation of all your experiences and activities. You build an application online (through our Submitable portal) which organizes the validating evidence for the volunteer reviewers. There are five categories of experience: Educator (applicant as teacher), Service (applicant helping others in aviation activities), Creator of Media, Continuing Education (applicant as learner), and Participant.(examples here)

Once you are through the process the first time, you learn to save all activity items and create a dedicated file (like taxes) that organize all the certificates and letters and makes the process much easier. 

For newer educators (flight, ground, helicopter, aerobatic) knowing the categories allows you to direct your efforts into these areas and work toward a worthy goal, saving the documentation for each activity. For the aviation industry, Master Certification sets a known high bar of solid professionalism which truly inspires and rewards your achievement. The increased income from this recognition as well as savings on insurance easily pay for the application fee.

Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  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 Maneuvering – The Hardest Job in Aviation!

Why are newest, inexperienced CFIs usually tasked with teaching the most vital lessons on basic aircraft control? Loss of Control is the leading fatal accident causal factor - maybe we should rethink this? The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable!

Tradition seems to dictate that the first couple of flight lessons are relegated to the newest, least experienced flight instructors. This mistake probably comes from the theory that these are the “safest lessons” (?) where nothing can go too far wrong. In reality, this first exposure to flight is the most difficult and complex educational experience to manage properly. Early lessons require endless patience and an astute ability to read and react to different problems and personalities. Most CFIs with more than 500 hours have become too frustrated and have lost their ability to cope with the glacial pace of initial learning. Ironically, this original exposure to flight control is the most vital learning experience. These lessons require the most experienced and careful educator to succeed. Older CFIs who are parents are often the best people for these first lessons (emotional intelligence). The missing elements they supply are patience and empathy. The “type A” go-go pilot personality is actually poison to successful pilot education.

If this initial instruction goes wrong, your new flight student will either quit (common) or they will learn incorrectly and forever be uncoordinated and unsafe. As a result, many pilots fly with incomplete understanding and control, sometimes contributing to our LOC-I statistics. These early flight lessons are where an educator has the greatest opportunity to make a difference and move the needle on safety, but it is also the hardest job in aviation.

A brand-new person learning to fly is in a completely alien and frightening environment. As adult learners, they are competent in other pursuits but are suddenly an awkward beginner in a potentially dangerous new world; exciting and scary all at once. The educator must understand this and commiserate with this new pilot-in-training to create a bond of trust. This process needs to go slowly; exploring and adjusting expectations to this new (and potentially frightening) world of flight. Adult students will seldom admit to their fear, but instead carefully mask their emotions. Every person taking flight training has some expectations of what this experience will be like, but just about every person also needs to recalibrate, and psychologically adjust as they assume control of the airplane and assimilate these new experiences. Every new student also has the burden of negative transfer from driving and “naive rendition” (established false beliefs) to unlearn and overcome.

There is nothing intuitive about aircraft control. The only paradigm most pilots-in-training have from life is their driving experience and this is a totally negative transfer. Not only do we not control or “point” the airplane with the “steering wheel” but a driver is numb to the force of yaw from sliding in a car seat for years. A pilot has to learn to sense and cancel yaw from lesson one. It is vital for any careful and caring flight educator to explain and eliminate any similarity with driving, right from the beginning.

The first required task in flying, a straight-ahead climb away from the runway, is like starting a course in mathematics at calculus – one of the most difficult maneuvers to understand and master is first. A straight climb requires a lot of explanation to understand the required canceling of yaw and maintaining wings level.  Though most educators do a passable job of explaining the “why” of the left-turning tendencies, very few explain that rudder application also creates roll just as aileron application creates yaw. Pilots need to understand this interrelationship right from the start. Most pilots with incomplete understanding and training, climb out (occasionally) coordinated but seldom with wings level. It takes aileron against the rudder (cross-coordinated) to climb level. This effect is largely masked in low-wing trainers, especially the “marshmallow” PA-28 series. For this reason, the ideal platform for teaching pilots coordination is a high wing or tailwheel aircraft. If you have ever taught power transition to a  glider pilot who has mastered cross-coordination spiraling in thermals, you will understand how valuable this skill is to a new pilot-in-training.

When level at altitude, the first essential lesson is stability and trim. Nervous new pilots strangle the yoke (or stick) in their nervousness and need to learn to relax and learn to trust the airplane. Demonstrate straight and level, all trimmed up and then also a 30 degree banked turn all trimmed hands-off (arms folded). A good trainer will happily maintain a constant bank, hands off, until the plane runs out of fuel. This demonstration is a real relief for most new pilots.

Next up is the “ugly turn.” Demonstrating a turn with no rudders (driving) results in the nauseous swinging of the nose opposite from the intended direction due to adverse yaw (eyes outside directly over the nose). We all see this mistake even in rated pilots flying high-performance planes – they never learned coordination! Most pilots bring the driving habit with them and are at first looking in the direction of the turn and never see (or feel) the adverse yaw caused by aileron. Make sure your pilot is looking straight ahead when initiating any turn. Rolling back and forth on a point with eyes straight ahead, outside, is a great practice to develop a sense of rudder and aileron harmony.

Also essential in these early demonstrations is ensuring your pilot-in-training has their back against the seat and is sitting straight up, not leaning to compensate for yaw. A critical takeaway from these early lessons is “sensing yaw.” It is amazing how accepting we can be of yaw from driving and sliding sideways in the car seat.  We cannot “accept yaw” in controlled flight – we need to cancel it for efficiency and safety.

Next, demonstrate how sudden power application or firm pitch up both cause a force to the left. Your new pilot will now begin to understand the challenge of the initial climb off the runway. You should combine these in a straight climb with enough rudder to cancel the yaw force and also some opposite aileron to fly wings level (cross-coordinated). “Patterns at altitude” are essential to master all the basics of control away from stress of a busy runway pattern. This drill and repetition will take several hours to achieve a reliable imprint. Usually, for the first lesson, straight, coordinated climbs and descents is enough. The turning climb would usually be added and refined in the second lesson.

It is an unfortunate fact that just about every pilot skids around the left-hand traffic pattern. Few pilots understand that right rudder is essential to achieve a stabilized left climbing turn – many pilots never realize this until they attempt the more aggressive chandelles. In your second lesson, you need to fly lots of climbing turns emphasizing this counter-intuitive requirement for right rudder. It is perfectly OK to just keep turning in a spiral to give your pilot-in-training time to achieve and feel the benefit of coordination (evident in performance as well).

It is also surprising to new pilots that a stabilized climbing turn to the right (with right rudder) will overbank and require aileron to the left (again the integrated effect of the ailerons and rudders). Pilots will naturally assume that the same control pressures that work turning left can be applied to the right – NOT! At the heart of all the confusion is the inter-related control effects, the fact that the P-factor and spiraling slipstream always pull left. In a stabilized turn in either direction, lift is equal on the wings and the left pulling force is at work creating yaw. A non-symmetrical pilot action is required and “cross-coordinated” is seldom explained fully.

To a flight instructor, all this early control practice can seem tedious and boring, but it is absolutely essential that pilots achieve full understanding and coordination or they will forever be a dangerous pilot. Actively empathizing with the challenge helps keep these early lessons exciting. Celebrate each step toward mastery and true control, but do not accept incorrect procedures or a rushed syllabus. If you proceed too quickly into stalls – before coordination is natural – the result will be some ugly and scary experiences for your pilot-in-training (where most people quit!). Get enough sleep and breathe slowly; early lessons are absolutely the hardest – for both CFI andpilot-in-training. Good “parental patience” – with a dose of compassion – makes this work. 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).

 

Pilot/CFI/DPEs Replaced By Technology?

Tech tools in all forms have transformed our lives – but especially for pilots! Well-written applications, appropriately applied, save hours of drudge work sourcing and integrating data. They also add a level of safety by freeing up brain cycles en route – allowing intelligent oversight of the larger picture.  Dependable technological assistants are undistractable and vigilant when monitoring and maintaining precise control.

But technology is a two-edged sword. Safety requires a vital level of suspicious monitoring of automation to assure safety and command authority. The burden of all technology is knowing when to step down a level or disengage if the system becomes too complicated or untrustworthy – red button! And it is always difficult to maintain proficiency in the original manual skills since technology can be so effortless and dependable. Have you panicked after forgetting or dropping your phone? You have experienced an advanced form of “automation dependency.”

Humorous accounts of people following their phone mappers into the ocean while looking for a bar have a more serious side when lives are lost through blind dependency; we have all read those accident reports! Rule one with all tech is staying proficient in the basics and then understanding and managing the complicated systems we use.  It is essential to always maintain PIC awareness and never be driven by the technology.

Achieving that proper balance and defining and maintaining limits for technology is a difficult, contextual, and also a somewhat personalized problem. The most ardent cave-dweller must confess the utility, convenience and potential safety benefit of a modern mobile phone. But even the most eager tech adopters might hesitate to upload a flight plan into a fully autonomous airplane to send their family for a X-C trip?

The realization of the necessity and value of human monitoring and intervention resulted in the the “Safety 2 Paradigm” in aviation- human oversight is often essential to the safety with complicated technological systems. This has been widely under-appreciated.

So how far do we trust and enable these “intelligent assistants?” This applies both to pilots flying and also to CFIs and DPEs in training. US Airlines still require a minimum crew of two. Most 121/135 flights cannot be dispatched without a fully functioning autopilot. It is very plausible that in 5 years commercial flight will be prohibited without a similarly functioning autoland system. Pilots might soon be bragging about logging a few “manual landings.” Autoland might soon become a “required tool” with a few lives saved and industry acceptance. Insurance companies (and your significant other) might demand this greater level of technological redundancy.

On the CFI side, Cloud Ahoy “flight instructor assistant” (widely used by the USAF) records and grades every flight with amazing detail and flags problem areas. Redbird GIFT provides mentored maneuvers for students with access to a Redbird simulator (theoretically for review and proficiency only). But could these tools assume the role of “instructor in a box?” Not likely soon. These programs save money and time and are available when a CFI might not but do not replace the CFI. If anything, these tools force CFIs to be better versions of themselves; “compassionate coaches” rather than grumpy irascible “pattern-matchers.” The technology is always available, cost-effective, and emotionally neutral. CFIs must increasingly step up their game and provide the added value of human connection and coaching. Understanding and properly deploying these tech tools can create greater efficiency – not a”replacement pressure.”

And what about DPEs? Would a CloudAhoy data file be adequate to fully evaluate a flight test candidate for a pilot certificate – a “DPE replacement?” Already,  Starr Insurance accepts a CloudAhoy graded flight (on their integrated App) for insurance discounts. This almost seems like the “instant replay review” used by umpires and referees on the field. Hard to catch everything in the heat of battle? Will the FAA soon require a digital file for verification?

 Community Aviation is cleverly leveraging remote technology to connect  Master CFIs with clients all over the world. SAFE Master Instructors Doug Stewart and Rich Stowell are now available to pilots all over the world for IFR and VFR instruction. This robust service also powers the EAA Pilot Proficiency Program (now EAA Proficiency 365).

Lastly, the FAA seems to have tacitly approved the use of video monitoring as a legal substitute for an FAA inspector on board. Both DPE “required annual review” and required 135 check rides are now are being flown with GoPros on board instead of an FAA inspector (driven largely by the COVID necessity). Suddenly I feel the need to go fly my 7AC Champ; life was simpler in 1946. But technology is not going away; find your balance. Fly safely out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and support our advocacy for CFI excellence, DPE reform, and fixing the FAA medical mess. There are many other great benefits.  (We are currently also offering two free CFI-PRO™ flip books; “Landing Magic and “Rediscover Rudder.”)

Our most popular incentive is 1/3 off ForeFlight. 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).

The FAA Medical Mess

We have all seen pilot friends suffer through denials and endless expensive testing to retain or regain their flying privileges. Others have avoided doctors at their personal peril to maintain their flying status. On the other hand, some have just "passed" their FAA medical only to die suddenly from a heart attack.
Many pilots avoid medical procedures, therapy or necessary counseling just to maintain a "clean medical history" and suffer daily. Our FAA medical system needs a full re-examination and overhaul. This article was written by a long-time FAA insider who has personally suffered through these issues and wishes to remain annonymous.

The stated goal of the FAA’s medical certification system is to support safety by ensuring that those operating in the NAS are physically and mentally capable of performing their duties as pilots or controllers. However, the aeromedical system presently operates in a way that does not support this goal. On the contrary, it undermines safety because it strongly incentivizes “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior among airmen.

In the words of one long-time aviator, pilots quickly learn never to conflate managing their FAA medical certificate with managing their actual health. The FAA medical system is widely perceived as capricious and punitive. Suggesting the existence of a medical condition to an AME or, worse, revealing anything requiring referral to Oklahoma City practically guarantees a deferral of unknown duration. Engagement with the FAA medical bureaucracy generally leads to a series of “because-we-said-so” demands for tests and procedures that are often expensive and almost never covered by insurance. In some cases, these tests are deemed irrelevant, unnecessary, or even harmful by the physician or specialist who knows most about both the condition and the airman.

The FAA justifies these demands in terms of “aerospace medicine.” These assertions are the subject of eye-rolling ridicule in the aviation community. Pilots at every level (private to ATP) and in every city can easily name at least one “go-to” AME for the expeditious handling of FAA medical certification paperwork. The flying public would be shocked to learn that five-minute FAA medical “exams” are the norm, whether for private pilots, active air carrier pilots with first-class medical certificates, and even special issuance.

As the safety record demonstrates, though, cases of pilot incapacitation at the controls are exceedingly rare. Those unfamiliar with the reality described above might attribute this result to the “effectiveness” of the FAA’s medical certification system. The truth is that those who cannot use BasicMed – an alternative Congress mandated because of the known vagaries in the FAA system – engage in some form of “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior. In the best cases, pilots work with a trusted personal physician to treat conditions they dare not reveal to the FAA. In the worst cases, pilots fearful of entangling with the agency’s medical bureaucracy simply avoid treating health conditions that could indeed lead to an accident or incident.

In terms of both process and the outcome, the FAA’s traditional medical certification system is clearly inconsistent with the agency’s Compliance Program, its focus on the use of Safety Management Systems (SMS), and its initiative for risk-based decision making (RBDM).

The Compliance Program seeks to find problems and use the most effective means to fix them before they cause an accident or incident. It recognizes that in order to find and fix safety problems, there has to be an open and transparent exchange of information and data between the FAA and those who operate in the system. It recognizes that safety is not served by a system that incentivizes hiding problems to avoid punishment. In the case of medical certification, pilots currently have no incentive to do otherwise because they fear the punishment of costly and seemingly endless entanglement with a broken bureaucracy.

Open and transparent exchange of information, which is essential to achieving real safety, requires mutual cooperation and trust and “just culture” – a system in which self-disclosure is not punished.

Such trust is notably absent in the case of FAA medical certification, which is viewed as a punitive “gotcha” culture. The FAA medical staff, along with designated Aviation Medical Examiners who stand to lose substantial income, despise and openly disparage the BasicMed option as “unsafe.” In fact, however, the non-jeopardy nature of the BasicMed certification process is consistent with both the Compliance Program’s “find and fix” approach as well as with the concept of a just culture. As one BasicMed pilot puts it, “Now I can have an honest conversation with my doctor without worrying how the FAA will punish me.”

The operation of the FAA’s medical certification system is also inconsistent with the agency’s much-touted “risk-based decision making” strategic initiative (RBDM). RBDM holds that in order to truly improve safety, the agency needs to make smarter, system-level decisions that are based on data and risk analysis. The FAA medical certification system, by contrast, uses a one-size-fits-all approach. It seems to regard virtually any medical condition at any certificate level as a risk that requires significant time, energy, and resources by both the agency and the airman who has been foolish enough to report it. Meanwhile, actual risk increases because airmen whose work requires something beyond BasicMed patronize the five-minute “go-to” AMEs and/or practice some form of the “don’t tell/don’t treat” behavior described above.

As it currently operates, the FAA’s medical certification system also creates a substantial barrier to entry into the aviation workforce. For those considering an aviation career, a substantial investment of time and money is required to accumulate the 1,500 hours of flight time and the ATP certification level needed for employment in the industry. Those pondering whether to make such investments quickly become aware that even if they can qualify for issuance of an initial first- or second-class FAA medical certificate, they risk losing that certificate – along with the time and money already invested in training and logging flight time – every six months.

Medicine as a whole is currently "under the microscope" for it's pervasive profit motive. New procedures are marketed directly to consumers: "Ask your doctor..." Critics advocate for Gentle Medicine

"spurious disease categories are being invented, and existing disease categories expanded, for the aim of profit...the benefits of most new drugs are minimal and typically exaggerated by clinical research, and the harms of these drugs are extensive and typically underestimated by clinical research."

Join SAFE and support our advocacy for CFI-PROfessionalism, DPE reform, and fixing the FAA medical mess. You also get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and new CFI-Flipbooks for primary training. 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).

Suppress “Urgent,” Focus on “Important!”

One of the major causes of cockpit chaos, and ultimately accidents, is simply a failure of time management. We often create our own problems as pilots by attempting too much – to the point of system failure. The essence of pilot-in-command is the process of continuously defining and accomplishing the most important tasks – e.g. aircraft control and immediate flight path – while shutting out other “urgent” requests of all kinds that interfere with this mission. (“Mere Urgency Effect“) The essence of command authority is “psychological triage,” filtering, defining, and accomplishing what is critical and saying “no” to the rest. Learning this skill in aviation starts in VFR, but is even more critical in the less flexible IFR environment. Savvy time management makes smooth, safer pilots and allows the mind to function in the reflective rather than reactive mode.

The urge to accomplish everything and do it well gets some energy from the pilot ego; “I can hack it!” Managing workload is what we do. Unfortunately, we often bite off too much and fail to set limits. It is hard to recognize and admit to our incrementally degraded margin of safety as we load up our plate. Another pressure on the pilot is the negative connotation of “saying no” or slowing down because saving time is the essence of “aviation magic.” It is critical to remember that time pressure is usually the “grim reaper” present at every accident wreck.

To put a more positive spin on “psychological triage” consider the positive time-management philosophy which is “essentialism.” This viewpoint argues that high-quality professionalism comes from very intentional filtering and focus to prevent confusion and chaos.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.” Greg McKeown “Essentialism

If a request from ATC, your dispatch, or an important potentate in the back interferes with the primary mission of aircraft safety and control, the correct (but psychologically difficult) answer from the pilot must be “no” or “stand-by.” Shedding load or negotiating more time (physically and psychologically) creates focus and eliminates chaos. Too often the person in charge of the mission, the PIC, is hijacked by workload and driven to distraction by too many tasks and requests. Remember, it really is impossible to “multitask,” we only “timeshare” important tasks (and usually do them badly). So the first essential task is deciding what is truly important, triaging the rest and accomplishing the essential in the proper order; eliminate the chaos. The word “triage” (to sort) came from war-time medical emergencies. Trying to save *every* life led to a greater total loss of life. On the battlefield, some cases just have to be written off as “not going to happen” for the greater good of all. Similarly, in flight, saying “no” to urgent but unnecessary tasks keeps the plane on track and at the proper altitude (and the pilot calmer).

Triage in various forms is obviously good advice in life too. The primary difference in flying is the airplane continuously in motion and the clock does not stop. Additionally, aviation is primarily sold as a “time saver” so there is pressure on every pilot to get there faster and more efficiently. The critical switch to throw is mental though: say “too much” and start to ‘load shed” just like a good computer program. Too many processes trying to run at once will cause even the best machine to fail.

So slow down the process using your command authority to prioritize and triage tasks. If necessary, ask for a reroute to create more time. Ignore and offload the “urgent” and accomplish what is truly “important;” aircraft control and direction. The sage advice, often repeated, comes to the rescue here; aviate first – fly the plane accurately, legally, and safely. Get on the correct course at the proper altitude (navigate) and then take care of the requests from ATC (communicate). It is so easy to lose touch with this time-honored order of priorities. Read this month’s NASA Callback and you will see how even the most experienced pilots fall prey to “the urgent” and lose touch with the truly “important;” fly the plane and be SAFE out there!


Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and new CFI-Flipbooks for primary training. 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).