Providing Productive Challenges in Flight

 

Scenario-based training (like FITS before it) has acquired a stigma in the aviation training world though overuse– but please stay with me here 🙂 Because done properly, scenarios are the most important tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And they are now the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS evaluations. But unfortunately, scenarios have been overused (and abused) until many educators practically gag at the mention of the word. But please remember, the  mind-numbing “practice area experience” is equally misused and probably responsible for more student drop-outs than scenarios. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenges to training that more accurately resemble the real flight experience. They expand a small geographic area to the whole country (with no added cost!)

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes from inappropriately imposing the same generic scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges.  Given the unique needs of each student this process is doomed to failure by definition (Not unlike those stock “CFI lesson plans”). Anticipated “learning opportunities” often instead become “play time” for instructors logging hours and an expensive burden for the training pilot. They turn flight training into Disney with no added educational value. The heart of a successful scenarios is a motivated and imaginative aviation educator customizing and curating the learning experience. Creative scenario generation and applicatiion creates motivating experiences proven to rapidly build skills, knowledge and judgement and result in a versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency).

The Necessity…

The proven necessity of scenarios is simple. Your new pilot, or “rusty recurrent pilot”,  has the FAA privilege to fly day or night, anywhere in the country, for the rest of their life.  And this is despite being only trained in a small geographic area on good weather days, in daylight.  To safely meet the challenge of real life flying, a student and educator must engage together in some “active imagining.” If done correctly, scenarios transport your pilot to all the places and challenges they may encounter as a pilot.  Working together, you must mentally extrapolate from the local area to the challenges of the whole country, in different terrain and weather, over the span of a lifetime.

Scenarios Done Properly…

If properly constructed and executed, a scenario puts your student into the “struggle zone” or what educational psychologists call the “zone of proximal development”.  An effective scenario presents the optimal level of personal challenge for an individual learner and enables an educator to both teach and evaluate at the highest correlation level of learning.  Done poorly, scenarios merely run up the flight training bill and become an excuse for extraneous trips to exciting lunch destinations on the client’s dime. Buying specialized scenario books or apps to deploy cumbersome generic scenarios usually fail; to be successful, each scenario must be personal and challenge each unique leaner. To present an effective scenario, it is essential to your student well so you can craft realistic challenges appropriate to their level of skill and realm of experience. Remember, a solid relationship of trust is the #1 ingredient to success in any learning situation.  Let’s unpack the “why” and “how to” of SBT  and also provide a sales pitch for this creative way to turbo-charge your teaching.

How to…Let’s get started!

Scenario training can be as simple as scrolling on Skyvector ( or ForeFlight) to a far off state and “mentally relocating” your student to a certain altitude with a mission and set of weather conditions. Active engagement and “buy in” is essential from the learner also so adding a personal mission or application is essential; make it personal! “You’re transporting your sick dog to the clinic and need to know what airspace we are in? And what viz and cloud clearance (radio/nav equipment) are required? Who do I talk to here and how will the plane perform at this altitude?” The more personally relevant and realistic each scenario is, the more actively your student will engage and the more effective their learning. (A previous blog revealed the learning benefits of practicing in the “struggle zone”) And all this can also happen effectively (and economically) on a bad weather day when flying might not be productive at your student’s level. If you have a simulator you obviously have an even better tool and the scenarios created for the EAA-PPC are available now on-line (more on this in a future article)

So  if I am dealing with a Cornell aerospace student, a plausible scenario might start with “You are back at the Mohave Spaceport for Cornell and suddenly have an opportunity to do some personal flying in Mohave…how would you unpack the challenges of mountains and high density altitudes, unique “traffic”?” Or present the “Oshkosh Fly-In Challenge” with the Fisk arrival (this and others are in the EAA-PPC list) And remember these are also exactly the kind of challenges a good DPE is going to present during a practical test. Scenarios build a flexible, thoughful pilot that can unpack challenges and manage risks with skill, knowledge and imagination.

Creating mountains…

And how do you create those mountains? Perhaps after some low level ground reference maneuvering, impose a hypothetical “service ceiling” on your plane in MSL (2000 over the terrain but below the hilltops) Then limit the airplane power to 2100rpm (density altitude) and now transit the “mountains”. “Can we safely transition through the hills to our home airport?  Should we divert instead>”  Similarly you can impose a solid cloud ceiling and  leave the weather decision to the student. Then accept the client’s decision -good or bad- if conditions are within your minimums and you can keep the flight safe and legal. Once  you are flying with too much wind or too low clouds, the client experiences the consequences of their folly (and perhaps log some actual or get some good crosswinds) within a safe environment (watchful eye of the educator). Share your favorite scnarios in the comments below.

The essential element in all scenarios is allowing your client to make mistakes (while carefully maintaining a margin for safety) and supplying only minimal guidance.  Allowing this famous “learning opportunity” to unfold is critical and easily ruined by too much “helping” from the CFI. As errors add up, their struggle will clearly demonstrate the consequences of bad decisions and the “accident chain”  without the safety risk.

Motivating for students and educators!

Scenarios are exciting for both the pilot and the educator adding fun and variety to the training experience; this is how Master Instructors are built. Good scenarios beat “going to the practice area for some steep turns” hands down for learning efficiency and motivation. And there is a real difference between “one hour 2000 times” and “2000 unique hours of real teaching experience”. A future blog will deal more with acquiring expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). Fly safely (and often!)


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Command Your Technology For Safety!

Our amazing modern technology provides all kinds of enigmatic choices and challenges for directing our lives. “Smartphones” and “digital assistants” increasingly suggest or determine our every action unless we consciously intervene and take charge. Especially for pilots, taking charge and commanding our relationship with technology is essential if we want to fly safety. A little history here provides some important lessons.

Click for detailed FAA Report on TAA Safety

Do you remember all the promises that “technically advanced airplanes”  would dramatically reduce our GA accident rate? This was like a “magic bullet” in the 1990s when the first “glass panel” aircraft were coming onto the market. The promise everywhere in the news was that we would be “saved by technology.” This seemed logical given the incredible precision and quantity of information suddenly available to pilots previously depending on some pretty sketchy analog devices. With digital accuracy and data, we would be able to better see and avoid weather and supposedly never run out of fuel. But our tricky human interface largely defeated many of the benefits provided by the new technology and the same accidents are still occuring with depressing regularly.

The paradox of technology is that precisely because we have more accurate data,  pilots can reduce their planning margins and cut it even closer to the edge. In the case of fuel, we can plan tighter on time and with live weather depiction in the panel,  we often navigate even closer between storm cells. The root problem is a lack of pilot judgment. By training or by nature, pilots are mission driven and often aggressively “optimize” and thereby decrease their safety. Give us humans a sharper tool and they will shave the safety margin ever closer. The difference between what we are able to do and what we should do for safety still escapes many pilots. Clearly the challenge for aviation educators is teaching wisdom, not wi-fi.

The ACS focus on judgment and robust risk management has made a huge and important difference in the flight training and testing world. I see this as a CFI and DPE and hope we see an impact soon in the safety statistics. But because this initiative is still so new to general aviation, the benefits are still only slowly making their impact upward into the aviation charter world. I actually clearly remember the very first time I had a young co-pilot initiate his own risk management plan before a challenging flight. I thought I would fall over in gratitude. He had clearly laid out the challenges and his risk mitigation planning just like a student on a flight test- – funny how that initial training works. Modern technology in the panel provides amazing tools; perfect location mapping, real-time weather, fuel status down to the last drop. But all this will only yield increased safety if we have a “thinking monkey” operating it with a clear vision of the larger safety concerns.

A student logbook from a flight test; so good to see “personal minimums” recorded.

Another challenge provided by our amazing new technology pertains to legacy operators; pilots with years in the air, importing this technology into their flying. There is far too much reliance on autopilots and GPS with operator skills deteriorating rapidly and dramatically. Many formerly wonderful old-time pilots have become unapologetic “technology managers” driving planes in a mindless fashion. As we become “programmers”, the hand flying skills we once all depended on to be safe are no longer available as a back-up.

In the 135 charter world proficiency is enforced every 6 months in FAA-required training. In the GA world the proficiency mandate falls to the aviation educator. I highly recommend the new AOPA “Focused Flight Review” as a tool for educators. The dedicated team at AOPA, in collaboration with SAFE and other incustry players, has assembled a wonderful resource library for inspiring pilot proficiency. And this is useful for training at any level, not just the flight review. Teaching this syllabus injects risk management and judgment into the world of legacy operators who often never encountered risk management in their initital training. Too much technology magic can defeat a once proficient pilot quite rapidly. Expand your flight envelope with hands on flight training, fly safe (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Reflect and Redirect; “Double Loop” Learning!

Pilots are a “different breed of cat” as you well know. As a personality type we are confident, higher than average in intelligence, tend toward dominance and are almost never wrong about anything! (ask my wife…) “Never wrong” is “sort of” a joke but you know our tribe; pretty self-assured and assertive, with perfectionist tendencies. And though it takes confidence to pilot effectively, pilots also hate to admit to errors (as do most professionals in all fields). This very feature makes pilots and other high-performance professionals remarkably bad at learning. And as experience and hours pile up this problem gets worse not better; success becomes an impediment to further learning. This is a well-known problem in the “C-suite” of business too. Read Teaching Smart People How to Learn by Chris Argyris (a Harvard Business Review Classic) for a great analysis of this problem. Experts and professionals are remarkably good at problem solving but amazingly bad at learning.

Double loop learning is part of action science — the study of how we act in difficult situations. Individuals and organizations need to learn if they want to succeed (or even survive). But few of us pay much attention to exactly how we learn and how we can optimize the process.

Even smart, well-educated people can struggle to learn from experience. We all know someone who’s been at the office for 20 years and claims to have 20 years of experience, but they really have one year repeated 20 times.

Finding and trapping errors is only the first basic feedback loop where we analyze, correct and revise our plans or techniques. This “problem-solving” level is characteristically directed outward, largely analytical, and psychologically painless. Creating and following SOPs or regulations is part of this process. Compensating for changing conditions and  “re-trimming” our activies back to the desired flow is all part of a normal day.

Real progress and improvement (learning and not just problem-solving) occurs at a higher level and involves tweaking the mental models and preventing the error in the first place. This requires time to reflect critically on our own behavior and failings, solving deeper thinking/scripting problems. Level two or “double loop” learning freely admits to errors and fixes our inner OS that is usually the root cause. Every error should be viewed as a “double loop opportunity” to dig deeper and reflect on our assumptions and test the validity of our hypotheses. Only though “reflective learning” can we access and correct our normally invisible implicit level of learning.

For professionals, inward directed reflection can be initially psychologically painful. Professionals and expert performers are used to being “competent and correct” but “double loop learning” requires we admit, accept and correct personal failings. In addition, this is often only the first step. Accepting instruction, taking wise counsel humbly (and happily) is the key to real and rapid improvement. So we need to soften that pilot wall of confidence a bit and admit to personal failure to achieve growth. Learning happens at the “double loop” reflective level. A sure sign of this is when a good pilot say “thank-you” when an error is pointed out, and in the debrief not only makes a “note to self” to correct the obvious goof going forward but also resolves the deeper assumption/hypothesis that was the root cause.

     Highly skilled professionals are frequently very good at single loop learning. After all, they have spent much of their lives acquiring academic credentials, mastering one or a number of intellectual disciplines, and applying those disciplines to solve real-world problems. But ironically, this very fact helps explain why professionals are often so bad at double-loop learning.
     Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.

As humans, evolving over millions of years, we are internally hardwired with all kinds of implicit reactions and biases that serve us amazingly well in survival against primordial threats and historical environmental challenges. Unfortunately, this deep imprinted learning is subconscious and only becomes visible in action. We need to reflect, accept, adapt and rewire these internal systems with double loop learning if we want to function accurately under pressure in each specific aviation environment.

As aviation educators, it is also essential to develop these”double loop” corrective abilities in our clients. Once they are competent and approaching independent flight, it’s necessary (and initially excrutiating) to allow our these pilots the time and opportunity to discover (struggle) and correct their own errors! The #1 beginner CFI mistake is to immediately intervene and correct every mistake and not allow a “learning opportunity” (genius in the right seat). Your pilot will never develp the metacognitive capacity to self-correct and improve ; they will need a CFI forever. Our educational goal should be to create confident, independent, lifetime learners in every pilot.

And as educational professionals, we all need to continually learn and improve. Challenge yourself and add a Master Instructor Certification to your “do list” this year. Pursue personal improvement and excellence in your flying (and teaching), we have your back! See you at AOPA-Santa Fe (get a free Sporty’s FIRC with sign-up) and enjoy 1/3 off Foreflight (member benefit) which more than pays your annual dues.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Honoring the “Head Masters”

Please join us in honoring JoAnn and Sandy Hill, the “Head Masters” and creators of the Master Instructor Program at AirVenture (Oshkosh) this year. This amazing husband and wife team has done more to enhance aviation professionalism than any two people, from the development of the Master Instructor program in 1995 to the revitalization of the GA Awards Program and development of SAFE. You are welcome to participate in this reunion and share your stories and memories (RSVP). The event starts at 4PM in the Oshkosh Terminal Building on Thursday, July 26th. If you cannot attend, please log into this form and share your thoughts here for a memory book for the Hills.

The Master Instructor Program was built on the widely accepted educational axiom “a good pilot is always learning”. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Built on other professional models of accumulating “Continuing Educational Units” the Hills realized unless we are actively and eagerly pursuing excellence on every flight we usually are developing “right seat rust” and complacency. As pilots, we are only as good as our last landing; there is no “safety inoculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)! The Master CFI program

Though as CFIs  we preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! And there is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay every other pilot and professional experiences. Continually embracing the “challenge of excellence” is the necessary antidote to maintain a sharp edge and continue to grow as a pilot and educator. “Right seat rust” is a sad reality in flying and it is occurs both in flying skills *and* educational methods.

After developing the Master Instructor Program, it was a natural step for the Hills to revitalize and improve the FAA’s National GA Awards. This program recognizes the best flight instructor, maintenance technician, and FAA Safety Team Representative in the country at Oshkosh.  Under the guidance of Sandy and JoAnn this program got a new level of organization, respect and recognition nationally. Not surprisingly, many of the award recipients are previously recognized Masters.

Please join us at the Oshkosh Terminal Building 4PM on Thursday the 26th of July and honor Sandy and JoAnn Hill for all they have done in aviation. Log into this Google Form to RSVP or leave your memories for them.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Pilot “Flight Envelope Expansion”!

For most long-time CFIs and proficient pilots, “training stalls” often become fairly comfortable, even pedestrian. And for committed aviators, the addition of some upset and aerobatic training further expands understanding and comfort in unusual attitude recoveries. The reasoning behind this approach is to expand the “personal flight envelope” and build “all attitude” control in the aircraft. Rich Stowell’s “Train to Avoid Loss of Control” is a perfect sales pitch for this approach to aviation safety; train to create a surplus of skill in all areas. Embedding stalls in realistic scenarios is especially useful and effective. Please watch this short program:

Unfortunately, this safety formula is not at all common in the general pilot population. The average GA pilot only flies in 5% of the possible flight envelope. The unfortunate consequence of this “avoidance strategy”  is that if these pilots are displaced from their “comfort zone” by weather, mechanical or distraction, they are unprepared for the experience which might cause the familiar startle, panic, and freeze-up. Loss of control (usually leading to a stall/spin) is our #1 fatal accident causal factor.

The FAA  has recently moved to define anything slower that 1.3 as “abnormal” and stalls  are defined as an “emergency”. Though both FAA and ICAO have implemented “expanded envelope training” ( for the airlines) this training also avoids any edge of envelope maneuvering. As discussed recently in Flying Magazine, and also in Aviation Safety,  the new definition of stalls as “emergencies” seems to discourage practice in this area. The already truncated private pilot flight envelope is getting even smaller through avoidance. On flight tests DPEs no longer examine MCA (minimum controlable airspeed) and even the term MCA has entirely disappeared from the Flight Training Handbook. We only transit this (too scary?) flight regime briefly on the way to the full stall (emergency!) and immediate recovery.  I can personally attest that pilot skills in this area are already deteriorating as a result of these recent changes. Is the solution to LOC-I to run away from the edges of the flight envelope and perhaps equip every aircraft with a ballistic parachute recovery system?

The drving force behind this change seems to be be the The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Though advocating for “expanded envelope training”, the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) report, counsels against developing “negative transfer with comfort in the stall regime of flight” by practicing at the edge of the envelope. But many aviation experts disagree, and there seems to be a growing group of experts advocating for all attitude maneuvering and practice as an antidote to the LOC-I problem.

Dr. Ed Wischmeyer, an MIT PhD and ATP pilot (and also a long time CFI) has submitted just such a LOC-I solution for this year’s EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize. Ed has created and cataloged a series of maneuvers designed to expand the pilot’s flight envelope. These go beyond the usual MCA and stalls to include the spiral stalls and “Sixty Nineties” (60 degree banked turns with full aileron reversal every 90 degrees of turn). The beauty of these maneuvers is the ability to perform them in a normal part 23 aircraft (Cessna/Cherokee) without exceeding performance limitations (obviously dual with a competent CFI). I personally use these and other CFI favorites like the “falling leaf” stalls and “rudder boxing” maneuvers to prepare pilots for commercial pilot training. These pilots are often just out of  instrument training with 40 hours of “standard rate” gentle IFR control so their maneuver envelope has shunk even smaller.

The objective of these “envelope expansion” maneuvers is to build greater willingness to “yank and bank” which supplies personal confidence and control of the aircraft. A larger personal flight envelope (also with diverse A/C experience) is a stronger basis for safety than FAA ICAO avoidance– your thoughts?


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Your New Friends in the FAA!

There has been a watershed of helpful FAA regulatory changes supporting and improving General Aviation in the last year. This is part of a whole new attitude and relationship that every pilot should recognize and celebrate. We need to move beyond the traditional dark humor  regarding the FAA; “we’re not happy until you’re not happy” and embrace this new attitude of cooperation. If an old cynic like me can do this, you can too!

Where I first saw this change was the unique and shocking “compliance philosophy” (they trust us!) and this change has expanded to a series of very positive regulatory reforms. Essentially the overview of all these changes is an attitude of working together toward a common goal of aviation safety and growth.  And though we all know it takes a while to turn a huge bureaucratic agency the whole relationship is evolving (rapidly) for the better. There is trust and cooperation where once there was hostility. Let me  count the ways:

Compliance Philosophy:  This amazing cultural change at the FAA recognizes the occurrence of “honest mistakes” (what a concept?) and eliminates the previously punitive approach to correcting errors. Applying Sidney Dekkers idea of “just culture” it attempts to understand how errors happen with an honest and open attitude that leads to greater understanding and safer aviation operations. Resolution is attempted with education rather than enforcement. Think of it as a global “NASA form” This is building throughout the FAA system of rules.

Basic Med: Since this regulatory relief, over 25,000 pilots have utilized this streamlined medical approval. There is no telling how many qualified pilots (many with years of valuable experience) have returned to flying as a direct result of this rule change. I personally know five flight instructors who were able to medically certify with this new rule where they were previously found “medically unfit.” This is a huge boost for general aviation.

Part 23 rewrite for easier aircraft certification and modification: Who would have though that you could legally install a new (previously “experimental only”) glass panel avionic suite in your Skyhawk or Cherokee? Quite a savings in cost. Hopefully, reduced regulatory confusion and cost will result in new planes coming to market soon. (All 550 pages here)

“Complex Aircraft” Revisited: When we (SAFE) sat down with Brad Palmer (head of AFS800) at Sun ‘N Fun it was clear that something was imminent. Though it takes years to change a regulation legally, with a stroke of the pen, AFS 800 eliminated the need for a “complex aircraft” for the commercial and CFI tests. This was an  immediate benefit for GA and largely a reaction to an unsafe situation highlighted by the tragic death of a student and DPE in Florida.

Recent Rule Change 6-27-18: Now you can finally keep yourself current on an approved ATD without the necessity for a CFII (very similar to logging approaches in flight). This will expand the usage of these very helpful devices and finally leverage modern technology for safety. The “Technically Advanced Aircraft” is also now qualified as a “complex” for logging the required time for the commercial certificate. Logging of SIC hours for 135 pilots is streamlined to help pilots building hours toward their ATP and advanced ratings.

Again, it is too easy to be cynical and evil-minded when dealing with the FAA- and everyone has a few things they do not like about any change-  but these are all amazing and positive changes that can help General Aviation. Celebrate this new attitude and focus on the benefits here moving forward. And please go out and promote aviation to your friends and family, fly Young Eagles and build a local flying club. We need more pilots and soon; get busy and see you at AirVenture!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Build Better Flight Educators; New CFI-ACS!

New CFIs are safe if they are aware of their limitations…But are they effective and efficient?

Please stand back and take a fresh  look at our flight training industry. Why do we have the least experienced aviators (brand new CFIs) in charge of creating our next generation of pilots? Does this enhance safety? Should those “one year olds” really be teaching our new aviators? There is even a push in our industry now to roll back the long-standing requirement for 200 /2  to sign off initial CFI applicants as the “puppy mills” crank out “educators” even faster. Have we gone totally mad?

Certainly, part of why we do this is cultural inertia; “that’s the way we’ve always done it” (and it “sort of” worked due to mentoring and slow hiring). But the primary motivator has always been economics; “they want/need essential hours and we can pay them less!” But now that the pilot crunch is on, no one is left to teach our new students, and there is no mentorship to assure continuity and “seasoning”.  With the aviation student drop out rate already at 80% our industry is at a tipping point. First, we need more senior CFIs back in the field (ideas on this in a future blog) but we also need a dedicated cadre of better new CFIs. SAFE’s primary mission is to raise the professionalism (and pay) of our educators and hence raise all aviation excellence. With the creation of a new ACS for CFI (now out in beta form), SAFE is taking a close look at this educational process. What an amazing opportunity to raise the level of CFI skill, knowledge and judgment and make a difference! We were all there as the “new CFI” what would you change?

Our industry has finally come to realize that basic aircraft control is at the root of our aviation safety issues; “Loss of Control” is the leading cause of aviation fatalities. There is a failure in the basic instructional understanding of aircraft control; this is transmitted down through our whole training system. We’ve become fascinated with technology and lost our focus on the basics of pitch and power. Our new CFIs must have a better understanding of aerodynamics and focus on primary attitude awareness for aircraft control. We need to get back to basics of attitude plus power to achieve control and performance rather than teaching whizz bang technology. CFIs have to know this to teach it or all is lost. We want your input and ideas (and energy) This letter was written by a former DPE and current G$$ driver and countersigned by many senior DPEs at SAFE. Let us know your ideas please:

“This letter is in response to the recent FAA webinar explaining ACS changes as well as offering a ‘sneak preview’ of the ATP and CFI ACS. It is crafted by a former DPE (15 years and 2400 tests, now a current G4 pilot) and then edited and counter-signed by several DPEs at SAFE. The opinions here also represent a widespread opinion among experienced CFIs and DPEs throughout our aviation industry.

We feel the new Flight Instructor Airplane ACS should have multiple task elements that require a deeper understanding of aerodynamics and a serious requirement to teach each maneuver using aircraft attitude as the primary control reference. We also need to develop more knowledgeable and professional instructors, dedicated to aviation education as a career rather than temporary “hour-builders.” These changes are essential to addressing the continuing GA accident rate and 80% new student dropout rate which are ruining our industry. With the aging pilot population and precipitous drop in student pilot starts, recreational flying is in danger of disappearing entirely in the US. The new CFI ACS is an excellent opportunity to finally move the needle on these vital issues.

Focusing on attitude control as primary control reference will revitalize the understanding of correct basic aircraft control among our students, our flight instructors, and dare we say, our evaluators. Here we have a chance to make a quantum difference in training efficacy, and ultimately, the safety of the flying public; pilot and passenger alike. 

Current and former pilot examiners have witnessed a marked and progressive decline in the understanding of correct aircraft control paradigms among both pilots and flight instructors. As the last of our “greatest generation” of senior aviators “goes west” we are in danger of losing the “true wisdom” of aircraft operation. Control of the aircraft is always achieved through attitude control combined with a proper power setting. This simple and effective concept is well documented in all versions of the airplane flying handbook, yet in interactions with the CFI population, we find it largely unknown, or unclear – what we might call fuzzy knowledge. This needs to be documented and tested in the new FAA CFI ACS.

The fact is that giving a new student a firm grasp of this basic concept, as well as effective instruction in its application from the first lesson, are the most important aspects of the entire training process. We all have witnessed pilots who did not receive good attitude based instruction from the first lesson. They are prone to slow progress, unexplained, unsafe, and arbitrary control inputs, fear of basic maneuvers such as stalls and slow flight, and higher levels of frustration and delayed progress with the landing phase. But due to the vagaries of the training and testing process, a pilot without a good conceptual foundation in attitude flying will eventually pass his or her check ride. 

One of the bizarre aspects of this general decline in knowledge about how we actually control an airplane in flight is a quite universal agreement among highly experienced instructors and evaluators that it is indeed widespread. Networking with highly experienced CFI’s and DPE’s, we find universal agreement that this lack of understanding is present at every level of the pilot population, and is an issue for both safety and training efficacy. Yet most seem apathetic about trying to change this pernicious trend, having tried over the years to move the needle of understanding in a positive direction. In most cases, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

Without a concept of attitude control at the base of one’s knowledge pyramid, hearing this message later has little impact on how a pilot flies or how a CFI teaches. Basic aerodynamic knowledge informs the (attitude flying) concept, which enables the learning of proper techniques and procedures. What most often happens in current training programs is this; background knowledge – informing no fundamental concept – then techniques and procedures drawn directly from the laws of physics. This does not work well. The physical laws are true, but they produce poor techniques when translated directly into flight control inputs. Attitude control as aircraft control must be introduced early (as it is in the Airplane Flying Handbook) and often, as the fundamental concept which enables precise and accurate aircraft control techniques. The CFI ACS is the place where a renewed emphasis on the teaching of attitude flying concepts and techniques can spark an industry-wide increase in understanding and application of correct control paradigms.

Evidence of the erosion of authentic knowledge about attitude aircraft control was highly visible in the recent NTSB roundtable on the Loss of Control pandemic. While a few participants did try to move the discussion towards attitude flying – Patty Wagstaff, Doug Stewart, Charlie Precourt, and Sean Elliot all tried – it seemed the discussion kept moving back to technology solutions and airspeed, airspeed, airspeed. The nifty device invented by the young EAA innovators is a wearable display of airspeed and factored stall speed; very cool. But this also points to a questionable paradigm. Airspeed is not the control reference, it is a result of aircraft attitude combined with energy state. The fellow who kicked off the roundtable actually described a scenario ending in tragedy when the pilot “took his eye off the airspeed indicator for one split second”.  I would say he actually lost situational awareness of his attitude and his energy state which caused a decrease in airspeed at a critical moment. We don’t want our students flying by looking at the airspeed indicator – we want them flying by outside attitude reference and reading the results on the flight instruments or the PFD, right? 

SAFE and allied professionals are poised to help advance this initiative in basic flying skills and instructor professionalism. I don’t believe you will find much dissent among those of us who are most experienced and knowledgeable about flight training and testing. It is our humble opinion that the most prevalent contributor to loss of control accidents is the loss of attitude awareness due to a lack of the solid foundation in attitude control concepts and techniques. Yet we seem to be slipping further and further from the truth of what we actually do with those flight controls. Please consider this suggestion carefully and feel free to contact us for additional aspects of this problem and its remedy. The CFI ACS is the place to change this trend.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Educator Professionalism Creates Excellence in Aviation

It takes a Pro to make a Pro…

The tenets of professionalism apply to flight instructors regardless of whom we teach or the aircraft type. Instructor professionalism is the foundation for excellence and success. We read about it, and we talk about it. But what exactly is it, and how do we embody that crucial characteristic?

Characteristics of Professionalism

A business definition of professionalism is “meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one’s dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above the commercial considerations and legal requirements” (www.businessdictionary.com).

Professionalism is typically achieved only after extended training and preparation. This training usually requires significant self-study and practice and is typically accomplished with formal education. It brings to mind the seemingly endless hours of education, training, and practice one undergoes on the path to becoming a doctor. The path to becoming a flight instructor has similar requirements – not just in terms of formal academic study and training, but also in terms of what we might call “the unwritten requirements”. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Skilled pilot

The aviation instructor must be an expert pilot, one who is knowledgeable, proficient, skillful, and safe. You should be very proficient on the equipment you use, especially avionics. Be alert for ways to improve your qualifications, your effectiveness, and the services you offer. Stay abreast of changes in regulations, practices, and procedures. Make a habit of referring to the current Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), Sectional Charts, Handbooks, Manuals, and Practical Test Standards (PTS). You should also read aviation periodicals, browse the Internet, and attend meetings and seminars. And, of course we recommend that you have (and use) an account on www.FAASafety.gov.

Strong teacher

A flight instructor must have strong skills and abilities in two major areas. First, he or she must be a competent and qualified teacher, with all of the “soft skills” we attribute to teachers. These include communication skills, people skills, and patience. In order to understand the progress your students are making, you must understand the four levels of learning – Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation. To simplify my own comprehension of these principles, I reduced the concepts to concise, understandable definitions.

Practical psychologist

You need to understand anxiety and how to address it with a student. You must know that reactions to stress can be normal or abnormal, and be ready to act appropriately. You soon learn that obstacles to learning can be different for each student. You learn how to address impatience, worry, lack of interest, apathy, anxiety, discomfort, illness, and fatigue. You must work within your student’s other interests or enthusiasms. You must discover how to help the student with a multitude of troubles; you may even have to show your student how to handle fear. Also important is your understanding of the laws of learning. Your student’s progress will be enhanced if you remember that a student learns because of Readiness and Effect, but remembers because of Primacy, Exercise, Intensity, and Recency.

Capable Coach

The best flight instructors use a syllabus, set achievable goals for their students, and use a well-designed lesson plan. You should personally prepare for each lesson, whether ground or flight, and personally prepare for each individual student. Not having an organized plan is, in fact, a plan…for failure. No two students are the same; they must be treated as individuals. You are the key to their success.

Positive role model

Consistently using a checklist is another mark of a professional. We all get excited or rushed at times and and the use of a checklist is the only way to ensure we don’t forget something. Students will follow the behavior you model, so do it right. A flight instructor must also have high standards of personal appearance, which means that you must be neat, clean, and dressed in a manner appropriate to the situation. Your personal habits must be acceptable. As a chief flight instructor, I once had a student request a different instructor because his instructor had an overwhelming body odor. I discovered that the instructor worked at a physically demanding job before reporting to the flight school. Moving his first lesson by an hour solved that problem. In addition to personal hygiene, you cannot be rude, thoughtless, or inattentive, and you cannot be profane or obscene.

Sincere

Professionals are true to themselves and to those they serve. Your sincerity of effort must be such that inadequacies are admitted, not hidden, and are corrected for the future. A Code of Ethics is a good reminder of the need for honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity.

Inquisitive

True performance as a professional is based on study and research, and professionals are always searching for the “why.” Perhaps you can imagine the hard work required to produce a doctoral thesis. Becoming a flight instructor requires that same dedication to learning. Let’s look at an example from a private pilot syllabus for flight training. Let’s assume you are going to teach a student to perform turns-around-a-point. We all know this lesson begins in the classroom. To test understanding, you ask your student to place an “X” at the point on the circle where the bank angle is the greatest during the maneuver and then tell you why he chose that point. Assume the wind as shown and left-hand turns. Before you read on, place the “X” on the circle yourself. Many instructors place an “X” at the bottom of the circle; some place it half-way between the bottom and the direct left side point. Why are these not the correct answer? Remember, we are searching for the “why.” The key is to understand that the aircraft’s ground speed is the greatest at only one point. It is at this point that the wind will be pushing the aircraft away from the desired track at the greatest velocity.

Creative

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to be a pilot or a flight instructor. While a flight test pilot and an aeronautical engineer may need higher math skills, the typical pilot, and flight instructor, gets by quite easily with the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills one learns in grade school. However, a professional flight instructor must have other qualities that could be defined as intellectual skills. These include the ability to reason logically and accurately, as well as the ability to make good decisions. Even though aviation has standard practices for normal and abnormal situations, we must also appreciate that some situations may require thinking outside the box.

You Touch the Future!

As Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe famously proclaimed, “I touch the future – I teach!” Whatever your eventual goals in aviation might be, never forget that being a flight instructor is a real job that has real – and lasting – impact. Make it count!

A wonderful article by Bryan Neville first published in FAA Safety Briefing. Click here for original pdf version.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

“Broadband Speed” For Your Brain!

When you witness an amazingly skillful performance, whether it is an Olympic gymnast, a violin concerto or world-class aerobatic flying, the real process at work is the human brain functioning at its peak. The secret to acquiring and sustaining this level of technical perfection is revealed in a fascinating book; The Talent Code. Author Daniel Coyle is a very engaging writer and repeatedly demonstrates the essence of masterful instruction and performance across a spectrum of diverse pursuits–from Brazilian soccer to world-class musicians. (As a treat for pilots, Coyle also pays homage to the value of the original Link Aviation Flight Simulator).

In one ramshackle little gymnasium outside Moscow, The Spartak Tennis Club, talented coaches have created more world-class tennis stars in the last 20 years than in the whole USA. In a similar spartan Adirondack music camp, master instructors taught Yo-Yo Ma,  Pinchas Zuckerman and a host of other world-class musicians. Using these examples and many others, Coyle distills the essence of how amazing education really works, and how to turbocharge your learning. It’s also great news for every aspiring aviator that “talent” is more “how you learn” than genetic destiny. I highly recommend this short and exciting book to every flight educator.

In summary, as mentioned in a previous blog article about “Peak” , Anders Ericsson’s study of master performers, high motivation and a special deep practice are always necessary (no magic bullet here). But most interesting, it is the kind of practice necessary to create faster and better performance. To learn (or teach) rapid skill acquisition at a master level, it is essential to practice outside your comfort zone. Practicing in this “struggle zone” and working relentlessly toward a well defined goal builds skills six times faster than usual techniques. Simple repetition of what you already know is wasted time. Many other techniques Coyle reveals, like chunking and reframing, are also involved also in this fast-track skill development.

A key point of the Talent Code is that specialized practice techniques, in a wide variety of fields, lead to the formation in the brain of an insulating neurological substance called myelin. Much like insulation on an electrical wire, myelin wraps the carefully created skill pathways and creates “mental broadband.”  Master performances using these amazing myelinated pathways that are 3,000 times faster than the usual brain circuits. Deliberate, correct practice, outside your comfort zone creates greater technical mastery in a shorter time with better retention–the true secret to exceptional learning and performance.

Struggle is not optional—it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practicing—in order to [build and] keep myelin functioning properly

As far as the educators inspiring to provide this “turbo learning,” Coyle calls them “talent whisperers.” Usually  quiet and offering minimal and very precise direction, there are many useful tips in Coyle’s book for educators about creating technical mastery.

Please join us this Thursday. SAFE will be presenting a follow up “Drill Down on LOC-I” with Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell on-line to further define skills and techniques to combat Loss of Control. The previous seminar is available as a YouTube (complete the Quiz also if you want FAA Master Wings Credit). Please sign up on-line at FAAsafety.gov and see you Thursday, Dec 14th at 8 EDT.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Addressing the “Loss of Control” Dilemma!

Loss of control in flight (LOC-I) is the “catch-all causal factor” for the NTSB, topping the list of fatal accident causes and the “Most Wanted List” for every year in recent memory. We are excited to have Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell for our live ScreenCast on November 16th unpacking this dilemma. NTSB Member Earl Weener has called LOC-I a “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge.” Please join us and you can even collect Master Wings Credit from the FAA!

Loss of Control Inflight is a many headed monster. People lose control after icing up in the clouds or after encountering turbulence from wake or weather. But they also inexplicably lose control and crash on sunny days turning base to final in their home traffic pattern. In almost all cases these encounters end up fatal; they mostly occur down low with no room for recovery. Spoiler alert but it seems all these accidents come back to the same cause of insufficient flying skill and knowledge in a challenging situation. We must also include judgment in the causal chain because pilots usually get into a desperate situation and lose aircraft command before they lose aircraft control. They wander into dangerous, often avoidable situations. The end result is pilots are put to an extreme test requiring our greatest piloting skills and unfortunately run out of talent. As a DPE, I always advise successful new pilots, “This flight test was not the *real* test; flying  in life is the ‘real test’; stay current and sharp out there!” Apparently, we are not doing too well passing the “real test” in aviation.

What I *do* know from examining pilots for over 20 years is that many have only the most basic grasp of the real aerodynamics of maneuvering flight. And unfortunately many do not continue to train and improve after passing their evaluation (FAA Wings is a good incentive program to keep pilots training regularly). Our FAA testing standards are specifically designed to require the basic minimums of skill, knowledge and judgment. Even so, many applicants cringe when I tell them we are going to perform our stalls in the test while turning (as the ACS allows) And I frequently hear “my instructor never trained that.” (But this is usually how LOC-I actually happens in real life.) During the oral, few applicants can unpack the real forces, risks and dangers of maneuvering flight without some prompting. And in every flight review I give, I assign AOPA’s “Essential Aerodynamics” course as part of the ground training. This wonderful ASI production has no Greek letters and nicely explains the “mysteries of flight” (which I guarantee are beyond most pilots’ understanding) Please dig in here if you honestly feel challenged (for your safety) and please get some dual if your skills are rusty.

We absolutely must acquire and retain critical, non-intuitive, “ready for action” flying skills and knowledge if we want to stay safe in the air. We have to understand aerodynamic stalls and also the effect of load on this poorly stated “stall speed”! As much as I love flying, it is certainly not all “fun and games!” (What you don’t know *will* hurt you in aviation.) But aviation *is* honestly rewards effort and what you invest in good training will be paid back in confidence and safety. This YouTube from Rich Stowell (who will be in the SAFE screencast) demonstrates amazing piloting control and situational awareness and Patty takes this even further with her amazing airshow performances. If we all could fly at this level of skill, LOC-I would disappear from the accident list and we all would be safer in the air.

Tune in on Thursday, November 16th and we will try to shed more light on why Loss of Control is so challenging. The free SAFE Resource Center has lots of good materials for pilots and CFIs. You can send your questions in the “comments” below and to #askgoldseal on Twitter or Facebook the night of the show.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!