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!

For Your Best Learning: “Own” Your Errors!

If you are an educator in any field, you know the “excuse-makers”. How often do we hear “it was the wind”, “I didn’t get enough sleep”, or “the plane is acting funny” (et cetera ad nauseam)? But you probably also noticed the people who “own” their errors and admit to struggling, actually learn faster. Excuses provide an external “not me” pardon for failures while attempting to preserve our sense of self as competent and capable. But that is not who we are when we are learning; we are initially bad at most new tasks- by definition. It is essential to admit and learn from our mistakes.

And if we can be truly honest here, we all make excuses to some degree when we attempt something new. Excuse making seems to be a hard-wired human defense mechanism to save face and prevent appearing inept, stupid, or disappointing to others in social situations. What’s ironic is that struggle, exploration and incompetence are really the essence of all skill-based learning. If we are only practicing what we are good at (staying in our comfort zone) we are not learning at all! We need to understand and acknowledge this fact when we enter a learning situation and agree to actively embrace the struggle  with the positive mindset of improving (game on!) Savvy educators can help here by understanding and encouraging this embrace of challenges. Belittling or minimizing struggle will only impede student progress.

A smokescreen of excuses seldom really fools anyone else, but in many cases it confuses our own brain at a deeper level and impedes our learning.  It also “forgives failure” and detaches us from achieving our goals. “Personal dishonesty” slows our ability to efficiently code the correct behaviors into our brain as we are struggling and learning. At a deep level, learning physical activities requires coding a successful script or schema: “this action is right and works, this attempt was wrong and harmful“. With excuses we are hypnotizing ourselves with creative illusions.

My best personal defense against this human tendency in new learning situations is just to clearly state “I suck at this but I will get better!” (and a little humor seems to help too). I remember trying to hover a helicopter for the first time; I very clearly sucked (and it also was not “the wind”). The whole reason for skills education is embracing the suck (often uncomfortable) then living and working in the “struggle zone” with a positive attitude toward improvement. By definition, we start from a position of  helplessness and ineptitude and proceed incrementally to mastery. Shortening this path by “owning our errors” helps us achieve efficiency.  Honesty and compassion (both to yourself and from your educator) are vital tools for success. Humility is the path to mastery.

In the very worst situations, your chosen educator might be a co-conspirator in dishonesty and illusion. We have all met rated “pilots” who never (fill in the blank) filed a flight plan, used the rudder, or can’t land in a crosswind (or all of the above)? Whatever their deficiencies are, these pilots never acquired the skills and in many cases may be unaware of their deficiencies. Some flight schools and CFIs enable pilot illusions (so long as they get paid). This collusion convinces pilots they are safe and competent despite their clear lack of necessary skill, knowledge and judgment. Read these Yelp reviews of a recently shuttered flight school; clients loved him! A good training relationship has  to be based on honesty and trust but also reference to an objective performance standard (ACS/PTS). There might be some necessary “tough love” here also. Agreeing to struggle earnestly and be initially spastic is also helpful.

So at any level, if you want to accelerate your learning, gain efficiency and make the most of your training dollars, one of the best techniques is to actually “own” your errors and deficiencies.  Embrace brutal honesty and seek out your “struggle zone”. I agree this can be emotionally painful at first (but also funny if you approach it humbly). Seek out an understanding professional – a compassionate educator as your coach.

As you gain comfort with this personal honesty, both as an educator and as a student, you will notice a more rapid improvement in every learning situation. With honest appraisal, we are now accurately “coding” the correct performance parameters into the brain more rapidly for reinforcement and myelination. See Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code” for more on this fascinating process (it’s a “broadband connection” for your neurons).  The way we learn is deep practice just out of our comfort zone, struggling a bit but not so far out that we are flailing. Savvy educators succeed by finding this “sweet spot” of optimal challenge for their students. Being honest with ourselves and “owning our errors” is also essential!


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!

Building a “Mindset of Professionalism”

It is difficult to define “professionalism” simply and comprehensively. This essential pilot attribute certainly requires personal integrity and commitment; to doing your best job, in the best way, every time (and even when no one is watching). But it’s not limited to a complex airframe or environment as is commonly asserted. You can be a super professional in your J-3 on a grass field or an embarrassing clown in an Airbus. Professionalism mostly resides in our attitude, discipline and mindset. Unfortunately, professionalism most often becomes obvious to us in its absence; when we suffer from bad service or observe inferior, disappointing performance. In daily operations, true professionalism often goes unappreciated until an emergency suddenly yanks us out of “the ordinary” and puts us too the test.

The recent Southwest engine explosion with Tammie Jo Shults at the controls or the historic Sullenberger and Skiles piloting of US Air 1549 are wonderful examples of professional performance in action. Unfortunately, in the media these exemplars most often get described as “miraculous.” Our non-flying friends have no idea how frequently professional pilots practice and prepare for unlikely incidents like these to make this magic happen. Training for and expecting emergencies is a large part of our jobs as pilots. These calm and professional performances are neither unique, easy, nor miraculous. They require constant training, hard work and commitment to excellence. And afterwards, each of these pilots commented honestly: “we all feel we were simply doing our jobs.” Professionalism is not optional, it is a required part of our job. Their calm professionalism exercised daily paid them back when the crisis struck. This something every pilot should aspire to emulate (and pass on). Safety in aviation requires that discipline to do everything to the best of our ability, on every single day. How can we better embrace this “mindset of professionalism”? And for educators, how can we build this essential capability in our students and clients?

“Mindset” is an increasingly common term in psychology, popularized inCarol Dweck’s book by the same name. According to Dweck, our pervasive mindset largely determines our success or failure in everything we do– much more than our IQ, innate abilities, or socio-economic status. Whether we continuously embrace a fatalistic, depressive approach to life: as a “victim”, or adopt a resilient, optimistic view of life, as an “agent,” determines our  success and happiness all through life. People with two unique mindsets encountering the same life challenges see them entirely different. A closed-minded fatalist will say “impossible” while the person with a “growth mindset” will say “game on!” and embrace the challenge.  In aviation the mindset we adopt is similarly critical to our future success and safety.

This “professionalism mindset” requires not only a “can do” attitude of agency and constant vigilance, it also needs integrity, curiosity and discipline to stay focused and sharp. As pilots, we must also have a ready toolkit of technical knowledge and flight proficiency. All pilots must be continuously ready and able to maintain aircraft control in both normal and emergency situations. The “startle response” is the classic fail preceding  loss of control; our most fatal causal factor in accidents. The reserve capacity to handle emergencies requires dual instruction  on a regular basis (its hard to surprise yourself!) Professionalism requires continuously learning and growing in skill and knowledge.

As educators, its essential first build, then model professionalism for our students. Committing to a positive example of continual learning and growth, such as new ratings or a Master CFI Accreditation, is a great way to stay excited and sharp in your daily job. It’s so very easy to get dull, bored and cynical as a CFI with frequent similar lessons around the pattern. Pretty soon we become egotistical and toxic. Reference to an established Code of Ethics like the SAFE Standard or the excellent Model Code of Conduct is a good tonic for both guidance and inspiration (and they are available at every level of certification). And training in something new and challenging always keeps a pilot humble.

For this reason also, many newer definitions of professionalism include references to  emotional intelligence and “relational skills” like humility, honesty, selflessness, and trustworthiness. These skills are certainly essential for a successful teaching environment but also valuable in a future crew environment. Most pilots first develop professionalism and good communication skills during their time as a CFI. (If you haven’t tested your patience, try teaching flying for a few thousand hours…) These instructional hours  are an essential crucible where interpersonal skills and good CRM are built. Other essential abilities are also developed here like maintaining calm during crisis, working cooperatively, and accepting errors graciously. These are all essential if/when you graduate to bigger/faster crewed aircraft.

A recent review of the NTSB report of the May 2017 Lear 35 accident circling at KTEB precipitated this blog article. At the time of this accident I was flying in and out of KTEB almost daily. Reading about the depressing level of training and lack of professionalism in this crew was demoralizing. This was a very preventable accident and a fear with the diminishing hiring standards we may be in for more. The Beach Aviation example currently in the news demonstrates how flagrantly some pilots ignore any attempt at integrity and professionalism.

 

In summary, though there are currently unprecedented opportunities for new pilots in our industry, my personal opinion is that every aspiring professional pilot should first become a CFI. Teaching for a while and doing the best job possible is an opportunity to develop professionalism and gain critical interpersonal skills. This growth is essential to future success in any flying career. And of course, join SAFE and support our mission. (You will save lots of $$ on the aviation products you already buy 🙂


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!

Easier is NOT Necessarily Better, BUT…

The FAA has made a bold move and dropped the requirement for a complex aircraft for the single-engine commercial and CFI tests. Dr. Donna Wilt, a professor at FIT in aviation and our SAFE representative on the ACS working group, alerted me to this change as it was being written earlier this week. We had heard hints of this when we met Brad Palmer at Sun ‘N Fun a few weeks ago. His team at AFS 800 was very concerned about the safety of our aging fleet of complex planes. To be clear the requirement in 61.129(3)ii for 10 hours of experience still is in place (only an NPRM process can change a regulation, and this has been pending for over a year). With a stroke of the pen however, the complex requirement in testing is gone.

So what does this mean for flight training and safety? For flight students there was a collective sigh of relief for reduced requirements and cheaper acquisition of their certificates. For older pilots there was a lot of justifiable grumbling about “lowering standards” and future safety implications. Obviously there is always a compromise between safety and proficiency in all our training standards but I think the recent Piper Arrow accident in Florida tipped the scales on this decision.

SAFE clearly stated our position on the proposed NPRM  changing comples standards in August 2016; lowering the training requirements is not commensurate with greater safety. But given grave concerns about the Piper Arrow wing spar issues, many flight schools are already operating under an FAA Waiver that eliminates the complex requirement. Why should Part 61 candidates not have this same relief from this regulation for a complex A/C on tests?

Pilots in training will inevitably seek the easiest and cheapest pathway to their certification. But those pilots who truly value safety and proficiency will go  further and seek out tail wheel, glider and other categories to build additional skills and proficiency. (Witness the recommendations from senior aviators at the NTSB LOC Roundtable yesterday.) Our job at SAFE is to inspire, encourage and enable the latter pathway; toward the voluntary pursuit greater proficiency and aviation excellence. We continuously work with the FAA to achieve reasonable solutions. We have all seen pilots that despite regulations, cut every corner and take the “low road” satisfying every requirement. Join and support SAFE to inspire and enable aviation excellence and professionalism. 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! 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!

Sun ‘N Fun Challenge: Grow, Learn, Share!

For many pilots all over the country, Sun ‘N Fun is the welcome launch of warmer weather and the “fun flying season.” It has been an endless winter for those of us in the north.  Sure, you can shovel your plane out of a snowbank  all bundled up–or even fly on skis–but this April show in Florida is the historic delineation for pilots to end “winter fun.” Sun ‘N Fun is also a great opportunity to grow, learn and share.

S.A.F.E. will be there for you, with a double booth and a complete live studio to present celebrities and record a promotional video for your school or business. We welcome everyone to visit and participate! Just fill out this form to get on the schedule and walk away with a professional video of your business on a flash drive!

Sun ‘N Fun is a great opportunity to join together as a community, network and build your business and partners. The team at Gold Seal Ground Schools (who brought their amazing DC3 to Oshkosh) is providing the technical wizardry to make this opportunity happen at Sun N’ Fun. Success in aviation can be a tough road and promotion and affiliation are necessary to succeed. Come join S.A.F.E. at Hangar C, booths 54 & 55 and watch for updates on our Facebook if you cannot attend.

In addition to our aggressive show presence (and affiliation with Gold Seal Ground Schools), S.A.F.E. is finally launching our new website. Thanks to Eric Hake at The Modern Pilot, we now have a beautiful new user-friendly appearance. This is still in Beta (notice the ww2 adress) needing a few minor changes, but we will be developing this portal for all educators and members to share and learn aviation excellence. This site will also accelerate our growth into live shows and training tools for members  to build their aviation skills and professionalism. Watch for new courses available on the site and regular video segments. Members joining or renewing at the show get a FREE FIRC!

The S.A.F.E. toolkit app has also been updated for the Sun ‘N Fun show and we will post and push messages about exciting events and opportunities throughout the festivities. We are building out the interview calendar here. Aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff will grace our booth for an interview April 12th at 10am. Update on your your toolkit app by simply closing and reopening it on your mobile (if you don’t the toolkit yet, download it here; all the tools for the CFI!)

For those at the show, please join me and other S.A.F.E. members every morning 8-9AM at the Sunset Grill for breafast under the S.A.F.E. banner. Lots of “pilot talk,” some airshow camaraderie and share your airshow and piloting experiences.


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!

 

“Always Learning”: Master Instructor!

The widely accepted mission statement “a good pilot is always learning” is essential for continued safety in aviation. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Accident analysis clearly implicates this corrosive attitude (and others) are common causal factors in many preventable accidents.  Dr. Bill Rhodes, a former Air Force Academy Instructor  provides scientific research and statistics on the critical role of “pilot attitude” in safety. Once we stop pursuing excellence, we lose our edge and start to diminish. The accumulation of hours and experience is often regarded as the sole criterion of honor and excellence in aviation. But unfortunately, piling up hours can easily result in  increased complacency thus diminishing safety. 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 inocculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)!

But as much as we CFIs preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! There is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay. Entropy, the degeneration of complex systems into disorder, is the second law of thermodynamics in our universe and always at work. 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. We must seek to continually improve and grow; it is too easy to stop pushing and accept the status quo once you have climbed the hill of aviation proficiency.

For me, the Master Instructor Program was essential to retaining motivatation and growth and also ultimately acquiring my Designated Pilot Examiner privilege.  The famous business coach Stephen R. Covey calls this “sharpening the saw.” After I had my original CFI, then “double I” and Gold Seal, I started with Joanne and Sandy Hill and became an early Master Instructor. Though I had no professional need (at the time), I acquired an MEI and also a multi-engine ATP. Over the years I have earned every fixed wing rating and CFI level. This not only keeps your flying sharp and builds new skills, it puts you in the student role again and helps prevent “right seat arrogance” so common in aviation. (my latest foray into 135 flying is a whole different story). We often hear from flight instructors in dialogue with students a version of “why can’t you get this?” It is way too easy to forget the anguish and struggle of learning. Compassion and empathy are essential tools for an effective instructor. It is way too easy to lose touch with the psychological anguish and struggle we all endured climbing the aviation ladder; get back to learning!

The Master Instructor Program is carefully constructed by professional educators to encourage growth. Though half of the required credits are an accounting of “what you have accomplished”, 1/4 of the required credits are “what I learned these last two years” and the last 1/4 is “aviation philanthropy” or giving back to aviation.  Amazingly of the estimated 106 thousand flight instructors, fewer than 800 aviation educators worldwide have achieved any level of master instructor accreditation. Maintaining and growing that “attitude of excellence” is essential to safety and Master Instructor accreditation will increase your earning and professional standing in the community. Pursue new learning and increased aviation excellence with a Master Instructor accreditation.


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!

How and Why We Fail (Understanding Dumb Mistakes)!

http://aviationweek.com/bca/lessons-bedford-gulfstream-accident-part-2
N121JM wreckage, aerial photograph, from NTSB Accident Docket ERA14MA271

How many times have you mentally kicked yourself for doing something incredibly stupid? And upon reflection, you can’t even figure out *why* you performed this way?  This “all too human” process is fascinating and built into our human operating system. Examining and understanding the little daily goofs and lapses can improve your life, but more importantly, improve your aviation safety so the big, bad stuff can (hopefully) be avoided.

To unpack the psychological process at play here, we first need to understand that most of our activities in life are only semi-consciously decided and most often automatically enabled. Our human operating system copes with the daily overload of sensory data, decisions and actions by utilizing a series of scripts or schema largely out of sight and called “implicit.” This is how we can famously drive to our destination in a car and not remember anything about the trip (or that we intended to stop at the store). We can also type 180 words per minute but are usually unable to label the qwerty keys without tapping them out on a table. This “implicit knowledge” and associated “scripts and schema” are internal and and invisible. They also are not even filtered or examined by conscious oversight; operating in the shadows. (This “dual-process” brain theory was popularized in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow“). We continuously process and act in an automatic mode unless we have time and motivation to engage in effortful reflection. This natural optimizing has great survival value from efficiency, but in complex activities it fails to manage risk and can occasionally wreck airplanes.

Let’s examine a typically bad decision to drive home, despite being pretty buzzed, after a party. Imagine we arrive home just fine despite our incapacitation. Achieving this “success”, we experience a feeling of relief and accomplishment. Now consider the opposite example of having a totally sober designated driver taking us home but getting T-boned and injured. We have in the first case a bad decision resulted in a good outcome, but in the second case a good decision resulted in a bad outcome. And though decisions and outcomes actually stand alone, that is not how our human brain interprets these situations. The first decision is reinforced due to “success” and the second one discounted as “bad luck”. Letting this “implicit learning” into our subconscious as a standard of operation can have serious consequences for our future safety. Let’s see how our brains subconsciously “code” these experiences.

In the case where our decision was bad but the outcome positive, our “success” psychologically reinforces our decision with relief and a feeling of accomplishment; e.g. “that turned out OK.” Though defective, this decision and validating success delivers a warm buzz of dopamine that neurologically encodes in our brains as “acceptable”. Unless we consciously reflect later on this action, to critique and correct this mental coding, a habit can easily develop and become an implicitly learned bad procedure. Clearly luck was the primary operative factor in both cases, not skill. As humans, however, our “fast processor” tends to evaluate all decisions solely on the basis of the outcome rather than applying an objective standard or evaluating the quality of the decision. And once imported, an implicitly accepted standard of “only one drink” can easily slide to “only two drinks” in the same manner; and you see where this is ends up going. A more thoughtful approach, guided by objective reflection, (carefully decided) is the antidote to this implicit learning and the basis for “Standard Operating Procedures” in charter and airline flying. Implicit procedures are self-optimizing and haphazard and slide to the lowest level of acceptability based on luck. And we all, unfortunately, know pilots that fly in this manner.

An aviation example of this process at work might start with a successful outcome despite marginal weather; perhaps arriving into a Delta airspace safely under a 1200 ft ceiling (even though our personal minimums were “1500 for VFR in Delta”).  Unless we later reflect and critique this dubious “success” we now have an implicitly accepted “new normal”. Our optimizing human brain codes “that worked out OK” and this new standard becomes part of our pilot operating system, out of sight and never adjudicated by our “better pilot self”. Pretty soon we find ourselves with new and sketchy standards and we might not even know why or how this standard was established. These implicitly learned, automatic schema are imported “under the radar” and are accepted as operational–just like bad code embedded in computer program. And similarly, they may operate fine for a while until they fail suddenly and surprisingly. This neurological process is responsible for “normalizing deviance” that led to NASA’s safety issues with the Space Shuttle. On a “group think” level these same implicit procedures were working so we “go with it” (the only standard was “success”). Many of these errors are not big and obvious, but insidiously erode standards on every flight. And this is also how thousands of hours and increased experience can work against us by building complacency rather than excellence.

To successfully combat the implicit learning of questionable procedures, an “after flight critique and reflection” is essential for safety. Otherwise, our optimizing human brain is always at work creating implicit shortcuts–efficiency over safety. It is vital for future safety to always schedule a sacred time for personal analysis after every flight ; do it when you log the flight? This reflection process is essential to analyze what went right and wrong–and most importantly “why?” This is also the reason why written personal minimums (or professional SOPs) are necessary to keep a pilot honest and safe. Sliding standards, often implicitly learned, seem to always precede the crunch of aluminum.


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!

Giving Pilots “Sharp Tools”?

S.A.F.E. is presenting “The Improbable Turn” this Thursday at 8PM with Rod Machado and Russ Still. Please sign-up here; we even have a Lightspeed Zulu 3 headset to give away to FAA registered pilots (WINGS)! At the heart of the issue is the poor unfortunate pilot in a suddenly quiet plane in the air on takeoff (and his CFI responsible for providing guidance and solutions). So if this turns out to be you, what’s the “best” answer; and if you are a CFI, do we convey the simplest, safest advice or potentially risk more danger with the “sharper tool” of a turn back maneuver requiring greater judgement and skill?

This title comes from my childhood experience growing up in a family of feral brothers and friends always playing in the extensive woods around our home. My father was criticized by a neighborhood “helicopter mom” for letting his young son have a pocket knife (this was hunting and fishing, not “in the hood”). My mother’s defense was “if his father gave it to him, he also taught him how to use it safely” As CFIs, do we teach pilots the “least common denominator solution”? or can we risk “sharp tools” and teach judgment with the inevitable danger of misuse? I think every pilot (and CFI) has to decide this question for themselves, but we certainly want to carefully examine all available options.

So let’s freeze our airplane and pilot at that “point of decision” when our engine coughs and goes silent on takeoff; CRAP, THIS IS BAD! Imagine yourself in this situation. These failures are usually powerplant (89%) and statistically catastrophic, though often avoidable (fuel mismanagement 38.8%).  So step one is more careful preparation before advancing the throttle on takeoff to eliminate ever having to choose a solution in the air. Step two is being contantly vigilant on every takeoff so we are ready if we have to suddently “do that pilot stuff”.

Once in this “awkward agl,” power failure situation, only one thing is certain; we will be on the ground in about a minute-either as a falling object or in a successful outcome. Comparing straight ahead with turning back is statistically difficult since successful turn-backs are seldom recorded. What we *do* know is that only 4.8% of emergency off-field landings are fatal and in 83% there are “little or no injuries.” (from the excellent Rod Machado emergency programs). Straight ahead at best glide with slight turns is a remarkably good solution. It is also important to remember at this point of decision “the insurance company owns the plane” and your primary goal is to save yourself, your passengers and minimize any threat to people on the ground. Another solid fact is that if you attempt a turn-back and screw it up, this loss of control will almost certainly be a fatal stall/spin ending.

But pilots *do* regularly complete this tricky emergency maneuver and turn back successfully; that is what we will discuss this Thursday. Glider pilots are required to perform this maneuver on every checkride. My previous 135 training in the PC-12 required a turn around to be demonstrated ever 6 months our regular ATP checkride. What would I personally do at this “point of decision” and what should I teach this as a CFI? (my personal score is currently 2 and 2 in 48 years of flying) The successful execution entirely depends on altitude, preparation, proficiency and the context of wind and geometry for each unique runway situation. If you have *not* carefully evaluated and prebriefed this maneuver and also practiced it at altitude, absolutely land straight ahead with slight turns to a hopeful landing. In the 135 flying world, standard operating procedures requires that before every takeoff  we precisely brief all our options; straight ahead and turnback altitude. This includes who will fly, when and which way to turn back; also who works the radios and where to land. (At most urban airfields there are also few open areas.)

Join us Thursday, there is lots more to discuss, but on every takeoff please do your homework and make your decision *before* takeoff. Also always exercise extreme vigilance as you advance that throttle for takeoff. We know this is a statistically a very dangerous time (24% of fatal accidents). Though flying is fun we also have the huge responsibility of managing risks.


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!

 

I Wish All Emergencies Ended This Well!

This is the ninth anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson”.  And though this was an amazing demonstration of cool decision-making and piloting skill, the pilots, Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles were completely overwhelmed by the national media attention and their sudden fame. They repeatedly emphasized they were just “pilots doing our job” (humble always trumps hubris). And while it is true every professional pilot is trained continuously in Crew Resource Management and also generating successful outcomes in emergencies, we all can continually draw golden lessons from this amazing historic flight; here are a few thoughts.

What happens over time is we tend to forget how badly this situation could have ended. Remember the ugly Colgin crash that followed soon after Sully or the Air France 447? This highlights the amazing constellation of luck and skill that made the “Miracle on the Hudson” all work out. Here are three very important pitfalls to avoid in every emergency and some techniques to “prepare” for surprise occurrences.

The major obstacle to effective action in every emergency is the startle/surprise incapacitation. This is when our mental circuit breaker trips off line and the human psychology says “why me?” or “this can’t be happening.” Even the most prepared and experienced pilot is going to have a moment of inaction, but we have to reboot and get functioning ASAP.  Step one in every emergency has to be “fly the plane; then analyze, engage and work the problem.”  Using a checklist and standard operating procedures is essential to get your mind functioning and back to work. This requires resilience, grit or emotional fortitude and as pilots, we work hard to develop and maintain these qualities. The best antidote to surprise/startle incapacitation is maintaining constant mental alertness in flight (especially at critical phases of flight). If we can maintain alert awareness and try continuously to “expect the unexpected” (Marines call “code yellow”) it is less likely that surprise will overwhelm us in these situations. (Watch for our upcoming LiveStream with Rod Machado on “The Improbable Turn”)

A second common problem in emergencies is being rendered ineffective by trying to achieve a “perfect” outcome. In business decision this is called “overfitting.” The unique and endlessly variety of possible emergencies almost precludes a “textbook solution.” This is a time for a TLAR (that looks about right) solution; a time for inginuity and getting the “best of the worst.” Once we accept and engage the emergency situation, it is essential to remain flexible, and use as many resources as possible to share the cognitive load (so we are not “swimming in glue”) and creatively visualize the outcome we need to survive; optimize. This technique is called “satisficing” and it means getting as much as you can of the required parameters while accepting the outcome that will not be perfect. (Check out the amazing Nobel Laureate Herb Simon and heuristic decisions; when time, resources and processing power are limited)

A last major failing in emergencies almost follows directly from the previous advice of soliciting resources. We can get so much help and so many good ideas that this confuses the situation and dissipates effective, decisive action. Think of all the runways Sully was offered in those 208 seconds of glide. There are either too many contrary solutions or just plain bad advice. In an emergency you have to aggressively assert command authority at some point and decide on a course of action and commit to the plan “we’re going in the Hudson” If you waffle on KLGA and KTEB as options, you ruin your glide and miss the river. “I really would prefer a runway” (the perfect solution) but a large flat area without combustible materials will have to do ( “satisficing” )  As pilots we can all rejoice at this wonderful example of piloting skill and decision-making. Hopefully we all can model some good lessons for future challenges; watch out for geese!


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!