Stoicism Defeats “Magical Thinking”!

We need to be mentally prepared when we go flying. Aviation is what industrial analysts call a “high consequence area.” The consequences of even a small slip-up can be huge! Our human defense to these exposures –  so we can fly another day –  is to convince ourselves that this must be “the other guy” not me! But truly this can happen to all of us. Unless we make it personal, these cautions will not succeed. We need to be vigilant and fully aware when we go flying (not “fat, dumb, and happy”) We need to understand the internal failure process that causes these failures and how we can occasionally be guilty of this erroneous thinking.

The optimism bias is built into all humans. We think we will be luckier than our peers or there would be no state lotteries, no start-up businesses (85% fail) and we all would be saving for retirement (instead of buying planes). Tali Sharot wrote a great book – The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain – examining every side of this interesting phenomenon. It got us out of the trees millions of years ago and still propels human effort and achievement. (And pilots seem to have a bigger dose of this tonic)

We humans also commonly exhibit a sense of superiority – not necessarily arrogance -but 90% of drivers say they are “above average” and the superiority bias has been replicated in every human endeavor. And pilots are not the steely-eyed rational thinkers we seem, but driven (like everyone else) by emotional motivations- that “mission mentality”? – and we often fall prey to “magical thinking.” How else would someone believe they could “stretch fuel” or fly through severe icing in a piston plane? We are dreamers who buy more planes than we can afford (or fly) and then occasionally try too hard to succeed. When you combine our built-in optimism with over-confidence and confirmation bias, you have a toxic built-in mindset we need to monitor carefully and work to control (the most complex airspace is between our ears?)

The best antidote for this misplaced optimism might be the ancient Greek Stoic Philosophy and the process of negative visualization – they call it the “premeditation of evils”. Used by warriors marching into battle, this approach is modeled nicely in a good pre-takeoff briefing. The idea is to realistically visualize and prepare for all the possible terrible outcomes before we go flying (instead of wearing the rose-colored glasses); “On the take-off before rotation, if I have any problem – fire, loss of control, or any surprising noise or malfunction – I will reduce the power, maintain the centerline and stop” Adding more detail and realism is even better; “if an engine fails before rotation, I will reduce power and stay on the runway…” and creates caution and readiness for action. This process requires us to be totally present, fully aware – what shooters call “condition yellow“. Surely this is not a rosy, happy picture, but it is not intended to be. A stoic is realistically placing all the risks on the table for an honest evaluation. Too much optimism is can easily harm us.

“Personal minimums” applied to every area of flight are also the same “premeditation of evils” when evaluating enroute weather and changing circumstances. “If the ceiling is below 3,000 agl and I am VFR only, I will turn around and land…” But the essential commitment that makes this process work is honesty, discipline and clearly imagining how terrible the outcome would be in a very personal setting. It would really suck to be in the hospital for three months and then walk with a limp for the rest of my life…or not come home at all.

I certainly don’t want to diminish anyone’s joy of flying with these recommendations, but we have to be honest about our job as pilots since the very real price is our life and those of our friends and family. And especially when teaching, honesty and careful modeling of risk management are essential. Clearly, bad stuff happens too often in aviation and we have to pay attention.

The same human adaptation which normalizes risk can also diminish our healthy respect (and occasional fear) for the dangers of flight. Did you ever have a moment of clarity at altitude flying cross-country in the middle of the night and realize how bold some of this flying really is? With no appreciation for risk we can quickly become complacent and thus vulnerable. Fly as if your life depends on your success and both your skills and presence of mind will improve. It is essential to stay situationally aware of and protect yourself from importing too much optimism into our flight decisions. Fly safely (and often) out there!

The “SAFE Strategies” was just published with SAFE Board Candidates (please vote) and details on #OSH22. Our SAFE dinner is on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center

Our show booth is  in Hangar B booth #2092 for renewal benefits and a chance to win sweepstakes prizes (Zulu 3 from Lightspeed, Aerox O2 system), SPorty’s

Fly Adaptively – TLAR Defeats Perfectionism!

Pursuing excellence and striving to be better is a positive piloting trait and the heart of professionalism. It is unfortunately often confused with “perfectionism” which is a neurotic need to avoid any perceived errors – rooted in fear and insecurity. Perfectionists seek external validation and are often driven by shame. Being perfect “every day in every way” can be seriously disabling in both life and in flying. It is also a serious impediment to learning anything new since this requires some humility and vulnerability (not a “know it all”). Perfectionism causes indecision and procrastination since no action can be taken until it is absolutely “the best.”  And in flying, “no action” is definitely the “enemy of the good.” By contrast, aeronautical decision-making strives for the “best possible” solution in a timely manner; “satisficing” not maximizing. TLAR (that looks about right) is from the military; extemporaneous improvisation in the heat of battle. The  pitfalls of perfectionism go way beyond the usual “pilot OCD.” To be safe we need to fully understand the difference.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.”
Dr. Brené Brown

Perfectionism can cause serious psychopathology because perfectionists relentlessly drive themselves to achieve an impossible standard—no hesitations, deviations, or inconsistencies. (This is the driving force behind anorexia) They can become hyper-sensitive to imperfection (in themselves and others) and can fall easily into helplessness and self-recrimination. Perfectionists believe their acceptance from others (being a good pilot) is dependent upon never making any mistakes. For true perfectionists, there is never “good enough,” since by definition, “perfect” is always out of reach. Psychologists catalog perfectionism as a defense mechanism with a rigid set of rituals designed to avoid failure and especially shame (failure in the eyes of others). Operationally, perfectionists are vulnerable to distress and cognitive rigidity; haunted by a chronic sense of failure as well as indecisiveness, procrastination, and shame. Perfectionist pilots can be truly painful to work with since they often display an outward sense of superiority and condescension as well as an unwillingness to adapt to changing situations. In this way, perfectionism is very different from “striving for excellence!

Perfectionism, after all, is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world. It is built on an excruciating irony: making, and admitting, mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning and being human. It also makes you better at your career and relationships and life in general. By avoiding mistakes at any cost, a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals. Amanda Ruggeri

If you see yourself in some of these descriptions, don’t be alarmed. Every psychological profile is a spectrum and pilots all have “tendencies.” There are good elements that can be salvaged, it is the core negative motivation that needs to be avoided. Though we should all maintain and aspire to the highest standards and ideal outcomes, we need to fight against rigid perfectionism as a weakness that is disabling. Flying is too dynamic and fraught with variables and surprises to be amenable to the rigidity of perfectionism. Our best strategy for decision-making in a rapidly changing, high stakes environment is “the best solution in the current situation.”

TIme to playA common metaphor for decision making in aviation is the sport of football. As in aviation, football requires hard practice, drilling skills, and technique.  It similarly runs all the hypothetical scenarios and even decides the perfect desired course of action in the huddle. But as soon as the ball is snapped and the whole situation evolves, everything is changing rapidly. This fluid world of multiple variables and limited time, requires fast action, improvisation and flexibility not the rigidity of perfection. Aviation decisions require “fast and frugal decision-making” rather than rigid and constrained pre-decided planning. As General Eisenhower famously said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Satisficing” is a decision making concept developed by a genius (and Nobel prize-winning) computer scientist named Herbert Simon way back in the 1950s. He was the first behavioral psychologist and debunked the Renaissance idea of “perfection in knowledge and action.” We live in a fast-changing world where we have limited time, resources, and information.  “Perfect choices” are impossible in a dynamic environment. Simon advocated the best choice limited by circumstances which he called “satisficing.” This is also the core concept which pilots call “aeronautical decision making” (ADM). We cannot freeze the action, we must decide on the fly and achieve the best outcome given the limiting factors of time information and resources.

F-16_June_2008The aeronautical origin of this concept was Colonel John Boyd, the famous developer of energy management fighter tactics (and later the F-16 aircraft at the Pentagon). Boyd ran the Nellis AFB “Top Gun” fighter school for years and created the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act model for decision-making in fluid, rapidly changing (usually wartime) conflicts. This was gratefully accepted by the Marine Corps and is taught at every business school in America for business decisions. The book “Team Of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal incorporates many of these ideas employing fast-cycle iterations. When the action is fast and furious, decision making is fast and frugal.

The heart of fast and frugal decision-making is the application of “heuristics” or rules of thumb. These predetermined scripts simplify the decision-making process through mental shortcuts. Heuristics bypass the careful, rational (but time-consuming) deliberation process and occur decisively and immediately in areas with a clear need for action. These also encompass the habits we, as pilots, work so hard to embed almost instinctively in our operating system. Another term from the military that often describes this ability is TLAR (“that looks about right”) and is an anathema to perfectionists. When Apollo 13 blew up (the famous quote “Houston, we’ve had a problem”) and the playbook had to be thrown out requiring calculations on the “back of the napkin.” Flexible thinking brought this crippled craft back home with the most accurate splashdown in history. So trust the force a little and work with “satisficing” to achieve the best outcome given the circumstances. You will always be better off acting decisively than frozen looking for an elusive “perfect choice.” Fly safely out there (and often)!

Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Honesty & “Tough Love” for Safety!

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMThe most dangerous CFI is not the one lacking skills or with a history of safety issues. That CFI is usually locally notorious and avoided by astute (or scared) learners. A less obvious but much more dangerous CFI is the one that lacks professional standards and integrity and approves participation rather than achievement. On one level this can be a new CFI that craves approval and has not learned to properly (but gently) “deliver disappointment.” We all know that even despite hours attained, sometimes “more training is necessary” to achieve a known standard. New CFIs often lack a clear understanding of the standard or the process of getting to the goal line (see last week’s “10 Rules For New CFIs“). This is also a reason why CFI oversight and mentoring is so vital for new instructors.

SuperCessnaPanelProgressing deeper into the darkness is the occasionally dishonest “approval for a fee” method of flight training. A tip-off here is the large red flag promising “guaranteed success.” We all know the huge variety of human talents prevents any assurance of a set number of hours and dollars for true achievement. Only very careful filtering on the input side (and not just a fat bank account) can assure guaranteed achievement (and even then weather and equipment require “load balancing” for financial losses). Just look to the military for an honest example of how rigorous the intake and weeding out process in flight training can be. Honest schools present realistic cost estimates in their advertising and NO guarantees…”mileage may vary!”

Shopping for Santa Claus DPEs and granting undeserved privileges compromises the whole aviation safety culture. Our business has no room for “participation trophies” given away for “just showing up.”  And the hope that weak pilots will “get better later” never really works out! Being a professional necessitates “tough love” (honest care for your safety and better self)  and adherence to a known standard of excellence. Honesty and integrity are critical requirements of the CFI job to prevent the approval of unqualified pilots. Larceny at the DPE level are even more heinous and recently demonstrated here.

Pushy clients can always be found “shopping for a yes” in flight training. A professional CFI must set standards and carefully control expectations. The “power of the pen” is the only barrier between these pilots and their shiny new plane. Honest “tough love” can be a bitter pill that delays their “success” and also damages their ego. But all true progress comes with some struggle and personal safety hangs in the balance. CFI endorsements convey serious privileges that should be earned only by demonstrating proper skill, knowledge, and judgment.

SuperCessnaIf you are a client or student, watch out for the “pathological pleasers” and the “guaranteed results” who too easily gives away privileges you do not earn. There are no gifts in aviation – except the happy surprise of “weather better than forecast?” Safe progress requires some serious work and discipline to earn every achievement. If your CFI is overly helpful or continuously complimentary, seek a new coach on your way to your certificate or rating. And for your flight review seek out someone that makes you work hard – your life depends on it. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.


10 Essential Rules for New CFI!

Congratulations and welcome to this new world! I hope you enjoy your profession as an aviation educator. Here is what I can tell you that you may want to ‘file away.’  I started out as you did: an “Independent CFI” in a state clear across the country from where I had done all my training and with absolutely no friends, contacts, ‘network,’ or anything like that to give me a ‘leg up’ in my new ‘Home State.’ Ready for take-off?

1) Don’t Fly Junk! By this, I mean that if you find that the Owner/Operator of said aircraft seems to have either a cavalier attitude about maintenance or is reluctant to take your ‘squawks’ on necessary repairs/fixes/equipment troubles/etc. seriously and address them pronto or tends to do maintenance ‘on the cheap’ or appears to be skirting or flouting the regs…walk away. There are other good, honest, flight operations out there.

2) Your time is valuable. Don’t ‘give it away.’ Flight Instruction is worth whatever you charge & ground Instruction is too. Establish that early on. Ergo, if you charge $50/Hr & have a typical 2 Hr block booked & WX precludes you getting ‘air time’ with your Student, have a 2 Hr Ground Session instead & it is not a ‘Loss’ for either of you.

3) Don’t be timid about establishing your PIC authority;  when you say, “I have the Controls!” or “My Aircraft!” your Student’s feet & hands must IMMEDIATELY come off the controls. This needs to be established before you ever set foot in the plane. Accept No ARGUMENTS here‼️ A lot of these students today are well-heeled execs, Business Owners, Doctors, Lawyers, etc. and some have a tendency to regard you as their “inferior” as if you are merely a Doorman, Barista, or Valet. Squelch that Attitude politely but firmly very early on, or it can become a Nightmare for you. Any trouble with a prospect who prefers to take his/her Grandiose Delusions into the air with you…’cut them loose’ to go find someone else to fly with & ‘Don’t let the door hit ‘em’ in the ass on the way out.

4) Always show up early & fully prepared for each lesson. Dress, speak and conduct yourself as a professional. Respect yourself, & treat others with respect. Observe the Golden Rule.


5) DO NOT discuss Politics. Half your Students will be ‘on the other side’ – in some places that will be more like 80 or 90%. Too bad. Not your problem. Just be yourself & don’t get drawn into the ‘Vortex’ where there are No Winners.

6) Your first Student to ‘Solo’ will be ready before you are‼️😅 No problem. It’s pretty much true with all of us… that ‘second-guessing’ & thinking 🤔 💭 ‘Did I cover EVERYTHING?!’ Don’t worry about it. In time & with greater Experience you will know when the Student finally ‘clicks’ & clearly is ready for ‘three times around the patch!’ Just be aware that in the beginning, you will feel pretty anguished standing there on the sidelines watching your fledgling out there on his/her own for the first time. Make sure to ‘Celebrate’ afterward! This is a ‘Big Deal!’ for all concerned‼️

7) Try to have the Student feel good about SOMETHING after the completion of each flight. What do I mean? Example: the student is having trouble with Steep Turns. Okay…break it off and do ‘Turns Around a Point’ or practice ‘Slips!’ Give your student an opportunity to feel ‘Wow! I DID IT‼️’ instead of returning to the field dejected because they ‘failed’ at one particular task.

8) Don’t be too eager to ‘jump on the controls’ (or the radio) with every deviation from ‘perfection.’ You weren’t perfect either when you were starting out. Try to just get them to be aware of things they can do to help themselves, instead, like say releasing that ‘Death Grip’ on the yoke & holding it instead like a Stradivarius violin 🎻 or a beautiful romantic partner. Use some gentle humor in the cockpit to de-stress the situation. Leave them room to discover, learn, and grow.

9) Beware ‘Experienced Pilots’ who need a Flight Review or who are ‘Rusty’ They will surprise you with Totally Mondo Bizarro behaviors and techniques that defy any expectation! (Pilots get weird with added hours and no dual…)

10) NEVER become Complacent in the Cockpit! It can kill you.

(Send us your list of “10 Rules” you live by as a CFI…we might publish it!)

Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Creating Productive Scenarios; “Struggle Zone”


Scenario-based training has acquired a stigma in aviation though misuse. But if done properly, these experiences can be the most powerful tool in an experienced educator’s arsenal. And scenarios are the required core focus of all modern FAA ACS testing (what your good DPE is going to use during every evaluation). Every CFI must be an astute evaluator to be an effective educator. Proper application of scenarios requires discretion and creativity. Using the right tool at the appropriate time creates the most effective educational experience. Properly constructed scenarios add  a world of valuable challenge and motivation to training and more accurately resemble the real flight experience. Deployed properly, scenarios expand a small geographic area into the whole country (with no added cost!) and build higher level judgment skills making safer pilots.

The Misuse…

The misuse of scenarios comes primarily from imposing unimaginative (generic) scenarios onto every student without customizing the challenges to the proper level. Many scenarios are applied too soon and exceed the learner’s skill level.  Every flight operation requires some level of fluid skill – often acquired by drill and repetition – before the scenario can be effective (why piano scales are taught before Haydn!) Failure to consider the unique needs of each student wastes valuable time and money. “Learning opportunities” instead become “play time for instructors” building hours. Complex and inappropriate scenarios become an expensive burden for the pilot-in-training; 50 hour solos and 100 hour X-C levels.

The critical skill for the aviation educator is evaluation so the proper level of challenge is achieved. The heart of a successful scenario is customizing each learning experience to achieve optimal challenge (struggle zone). Creative generation and applicatiion of new experiences creates rapid skill acquisition, excitement and judgement (higher level learning). The result is versatile, resilient pilots (and often at a lower cost through efficiency). But in every case the pilot-in-training needs the prerequisite skills to adquately meet the scenario challenge -again – initially learned by rote and embedded through muscle memory, then extrapolated to each creative challenge with a scenario.

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, mostly 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 challenge the pilot and transport your learner 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, encountered 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 unique and surprising location with a mission and set of weather conditions. Active engagement and “buy in” from the learner is essential so adding a personal need to the mission 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 and available for FAA WINGS credit on faasafety.gov

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”. Attend our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop and  acquire expert instructor skills more rapidly (are we still learning as educators?). Fly safely (and often!)


Our SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshop covers the CFI as evaluator. We also cover “client-focused” flight training to address the 80% drop out rate in initial flight training.

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

Better Teaching/Learning: “Make It Stick!”

As aviation educators we tend to put a lot of emphasis on technical content but we often miss the superior learning techniques that make this information stick. Recent educational research reveals that the most effective learning strategies are not intuitive at all, and much of what we have been taught – or picked up from osmosis over years of experience – about how to learn is wrong.

Make it Stick; The Science of Successful Learning” is a very enjoyable and readable book. It was the collaborative process of many writers over years of development. And what’s not to love about a learning text that starts out with an aviation example:

This book debunks some of the common learning strategies that are “time-proven” and “feel good” to the learner. Instead it suggests some more effective techniques to advance your learning – for both you and your students. For instance, instead of highlighting and re-reading material, the authors recommend summarizing material in your own words and testing yourself over a period of time (pop quizzes!). This more effortful  “reflective learning” has proven to be much more effective for retention and future application. And instead of the intensive cram session, break your studying down into “distributed learning sessions” over a longer periods of time mixing several areas together; called “interleaving.” By injecting personal meaning and creatively reformatting material, we help ensure that difficult information will be available when you need it – on that dark and stormy night when the engine is running rough!

Anytime a learning session is more interactive and creatively involves the learner it is going to stick better. Challenging your learner, rather than spoon feeding – even adding “desirable difficulties” – to improve retention. And that is not intuitive at all; weren’t we all taught to make subjects as easy and simple as possible? A summary of this text is here for those pressed for time. A very good (and FREE) Coursera on “Learning How to Learn” is available for the exceptionally motivated. Enjoy and let me know what you think? Fly safely (and often)!

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Airline Professionals VS Worker Bee CFIs

After my blog yesterday on regional airline hiring I heard directly and on FB from 8 of my former employee/CFIs (some even started with me as students) who corrected the record for me. Thank-you guys, I am humbled and honored to have been any small part of all your lives, you are all amazing professionals and leaders in the safest aviation system in the world. I certainly did not intend to diminish that accomplishment (and in no way support the YouTube position).

One airline captain wrote this short article below to explain and clarify the current airline opportunities. Adam’s FB post was especially revealing with 19-20 days off a month, the hard-working professional CFI is certainly more accurately the “worker bee!”

The Benefits of Airline Flying

The Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI article makes some very good points (airline flying is certainly not for everyone!), but the YouTube video cited seems to miss the mark. The individual on the video, dressed in his former employer’s uniform, tells a tale of low pay and low job satisfaction. Throughout his narrative, he gives several examples that I feel are in need of additional perspective.


The YouTube creator includes commuting to and from his base as part of his job. It’s not, it’s a choice. Most young adults move to their place of work and aren’t afforded the ability to fly for free to their office. Virtually every regional airline is hiring right now, offering nationwide basing options. A decade ago I may have empathized, as only high cost of living bases were available to up-and-comers (e.g., JFK/LGA).

Operational Tempo

Yes, time pressure does exist at the airlines. After a year in this environment, programming the FMS and completing the prerequisite preflight checks are second nature. It’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed during the first year. In addition, most regionals allow meal breaks and most crews can successfully divide up the required tasks so no one goes hungry.

Compensation / Career Trajectory

In today’s environment, the road to a major airline is the quickest it has been in decades. Upgrade to a six-figure regional captain seat is currently attainable within 2-3 years, quickly followed by the ability to get hired by a major. Based on NBAA salary surveys, a young person will likely make $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 more at a major airline than a large cabin business jet captain position (over a 20-30 year career span). Loss of license and long term disability are generally included in a major airline pilot’s benefits package, in addition to a 16% 401k contribution (no match required). Robust health insurance options are also available.

Although not mentioned, I will contend that there is no better place to quickly accumulate thousands of hours of flight time in a standardized environment with hundreds of other pilots (immense exposure). Regardless of where you want to end up (corporate, instructing, etc.), the foundation that a 121 operation offers will satisfy both auditors (e.g., Wyvern, Argus) and those on the hiring board that you’ve seen quite a bit. This isn’t to say that you can’t get the same exposure in other ways (charter!), but it’s certainly a well-vetted pathway.

Quality of Life

Totally subjective. Personally, I’d rather have a fixed schedule a month in advance than be on call. Some folks like the “dynamic” nature of non-flying jobs (I did at one point), but it’s hard to justify with little ones at home. Being “just a number” pays off in dividends when trying to manipulate one’s schedule to make a recital or tend to a sick loved one.

Job Satisfaction

Had the author stayed a bit longer, he may have been able to enter into the training department, joined the safety team, or engaged in management duties. There are incredibly satisfying roles within the airlines, from designing approach procedures to on-boarding a new type of aircraft into the fleet. Alternatively, he could’ve gotten senior enough to establish a light schedule where he could “teach GA” on his own time, even opening up his own 141 school (as many have done before him).

Bottom Line

David makes some great arguments in the blog post itself. There is truly a dire need for professional CFIs. There are many other roads in aviation. Airline flying isn’t for everyone. Mid-life career-changers may not benefit from the 121 life as much as a twenty-something. The video, however, is reminiscent of a medical student complaining about residency: “paying dues”, whether right or wrong, is a part of the airline career and pays off dividends in much less time than that of a medical doctor or aspiring professional athlete.

– JM is currently a pilot with experience in the 61, 121, 135, 141, 142, and OEM sectors. The views expressed above are his own and not representative of his employer. His views expressed are personal and he makes no claim of being an “aviation expert!”

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment and continue the dialogue. If you feel inspired, please contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there!

And please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. ourr 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 to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI!

What a wonderful time to be entering the aviation profession! There are amazing opportunities around every corner – either as a young person seeking a first job or as a mid-life lateral transfer into this exciting field. But with the din of aggressive airline recruiting, many people are entirely missing the advantages of becoming a professional aviation educator. All the focus is geared toward becoming a worker bee for the airlines. It is a serious mistake for young, motivated pilots to just march mindlessly forward with only an eye toward the airlines, there are other viable options.

If you would believe the media and marketing blitz, every regional airline is just waving cash and guaranteeing happiness and a bright future of freedom and fun. But don’t fool yourself; not only must every pilot personally earn that precious right seat slot in the airline machine (tough work!), this part of aviation is certainly not the right fit for everyone. The airlines provides a very structured version of the “flying dream” with limited flexibility and freedom; its not for everyone. Your flying is very structured and it takes years of commitment to climb the ladder to qualify for the “dream job” everyone imagines is around the corner (great when you get there). If you are just new to the working world or pusuing a mid-life lateral transition into aviation, consider also a future as an aviation educator as a viable choice.

The CFI certificate used to be a mandatory step for everyone entering any aviation career. But in this hot pilot-hiring market, many young people are increasingly skipping this step, and this is a huge mistake. This person will miss a vital learning opportunity that CFI time provides – and this could be a great fall back position when the next airline downturn strikes. CFI experience will also provide a window into a different aviation career with more flexibility and freedom (different strokes for different folks). And amazingly, this version of aviation professionalism is currently providing equal financial opportunities to the airlines.  Glass Door is currently advertising CFI salaries at $79K.   As a professional CFI you largely define your own personal future, building your credentials in the areas that interest you (and there is more variety than you could ever imagine). But make no mistake, this path certainly requires more personal imagination and commitment. Amazingly, from the moment you are FAA certificated as a CFI, you are potentially your own own professional business person – not that I would advise this step without some seasoning and mentoring. This is a very different version of the aviation dream from the structured airline life where you are a cog in a bigger machine. There have been some pretty high-profile airline defections and career blow-back. And all I am advocating is exploring all the possibilities.

I went to UND, commercial aviation degree. Worked for UND for 3 years in a couple different roles, instructor, stage pilot, management. Accepted a job at a regional airline flying a CRJ-200.

I realized fairly quick that working at an airline wasn’t for me. I wanted to be home for my family, want to progress my career based on ability not seniority, didn’t enjoy flying(why i got into this career), fed up with management vs pilots

So please check this out or spread the word if you are mentoring someone entering aviation. People need to discover the benefits and remarkable flexibility of the recently more lucrative aviation education profession. The attraction of a “personal business” as an aviation educator can be more compatible with the needs and demands of a real life. Instead of using your CFI time as a ladder make it your home. Our profession is seriously in need of really good professional educators and the only limits to income, flexibility and advancement are your own imagination. Flight Safety in Florida will pay for all your CFI certificates and a type rating if you have a commercial and are qualified. Explore the amazing possibilities of being a professional CFI, the shiny jets will always be available as a future possibility. 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!


FAA “License to Learn!”

There are some critical misunderstandings – and lots of unfounded “tribal knowledge” –  regarding the pilot examination system. CFIs and flight school owners sometimes approach a DPE after a checkride with surprise and ask “you tested [this person], and they passed, so why can’t they land in a crosswind?” Well clearly because this is not on the test!  (Does anyone read this book?) If  the FAA wanted to assure crosswind capability in the ACS, this maneuver would be required to be demonstrated. Instead it says: “If a crosswind condition does not exist, the applicant’s knowledge of crosswind elements must be evaluated through oral testing“.  And just about every applicant finds a nice blue-sky, calm-wind day for their evaluation (didn’t you?)   But I totally agree with the flight school – based on accident data and experience – crosswind capability *should* be part of every pilot’s mandatory tool kit. But clearly, the responsibility to create the total, capable, safe pilot rests with the aviation educator not the DPE

In many other areas also, the FAA’s DPE testing system represents only the “minimum viable product” of pilot performance and competency. The FAA has left the creation of a safe pilot to the CFI, with the DPE only testing the very basic “required elements.” DPEs are strongly counseled not to deploy “a higher personal standard” or an attitude about “what a pilot should really look like” on their evaluations!  These “creative” FAA evaluators are (rightfully) removed from the DPE pool. But I can assure you, every pilot examiner is elated when an applicant exceeds the standards and demonstrates superb skill, knowledge and judgment. The superior pilot applicant is what all of us >should< be trying to create in flight training (this goes beyond the ACS). As far as I can tell, the official FAA evaluation or “check ride” was designed to be a perfunctory and redundant “check”  of the CFIs training of an applicant. The checkride should only be an operational filter, or a second opinion to intercept a potential safety problem.

Understanding the FAA testing process in this manner also clearly argues against the practice of sending a problematic and unqualified pilot applicant to a DPE to “see how it goes.”

Imagine if this poorly prepared applicant happens to pass the FAA checkride; they definitely will not be safe or truly competent.  In such a case, both the CFI and the DPE have failed to assure the ACS standards (and the future safety of this person and their passengers). CFIs and DPEs have to understand this process better and work as a team to create safer pilots. And even for a successful new pilot, we have to honestly embrace the time-honored advice every new certificate or rating is “a license to learn“.

One last point to remember is the DPE usually has less than two total hours in the plane to run through a rigorous  set of maneuvers and evaluate a whole catalog of knowledge and judgment elements. The recommending CFI, by contrast, has 40-50 hours of time with this person and must be the true arbiter of excellence. DPEs are also strictly forbidden from handling the controls to demonstrate or teach from the right seat during an evaluation. The current FAA guidance on this point is very clear and has led to the removal of many DPEs. You will not find any “added value” imparted during a flight test from the senior aviator in the right seat; that is FAA policy!

Your input on this issue is certainly welcomed here in the comments (and by the FAA at this e-mail). I know there are professional aviation educators who think the ACS and some of its requirements are too stringent and restrictive; “we are making aviation too expensive and difficult.” This could be an indicator that we are at a good point of compromise (and everyone is equally unhappy)? The real news here is ultimately, the professional aviation educator is at the heart of aviation safety and assures that every pilot is thoroughly trained and safe. Fly safely (and often)!

See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free breakfast gathering on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE


Our Subtle Safety Enemy: “Drift”

Serious pilots all embrace a commitment to the concept of safety and I hope no one –except perhaps our recent Seattle Q400 thief– wants to end up in a “smoking hole”. But despite this commitment and embracing best practices, we are constantly challenged by the subtle “drift” of normalizing.  “Procedural drift” is the result of our built-in human process of adaptation, driven by our urge to achieve greater efficiency and utility. Adaptation has made us the most successful species on earth, happily inhabiting every corner of the globe from the arctic to the slums of Mumbai. But it does not serve us well in maintaining safety in aviation.

The forces and adjustments that lead to “drift” are incremental, subtle and subconscious. As pilots, we are all self-selected, aggressive optimizers and we value the efficiency and utility of getting the job done (mission mentality). But in almost every case, this natural drive is opposed to our better angels of managing the risks and assuring safety. This dynamic process of “drift” starts with any non-standard procedure or short cut often very small. Let’s say that by “pushing the edge” a little, we are blessed with success. This may be a result of skill or entirely due to luck, but either way, with each “success” becomes a neurological and social “win” in our brain. Each success makes us feel good and reinforces the new behavior (see: brain chemical dopamine). With this change we start to “drift”and never assess “luck or skill.” Each success subtly transforms our personal standards and we subconsciously accept a new procedure that may add a risk. The GIV disaster at Bedford a few years ago was a perfect example of professionals who had drifted over years into a very unsafe operation. This crew was literally an “accident waiting to happen” and never through a conscious decision. This very same process fooled a very smart bunch of engineers and managers at NASA and brought down two US space shuttles! This process is built into our human software.

The normalization of deviance is defined as: “The gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the [person or] organization.” Seven years after Dr. Vaughan’s book was published, it struck again. The shuttle Columbia came apart due to damage in its heat shield as it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and seven more astronauts died. NASA had fallen prey to the normalization of deviance for a second time. Shuttles returning with damaged heat shields had become the norm.

Especially in the vacuum of personal flying, with no additional training or any outside objective comparisons, a “personal standard” can develop into some very unique procedures quite contrary to safety. This is why the simple addition of hours does not create safer pilots; it may instead create a very weird and dangerous pilot. (And this is one reason professional pilots revisit the mother ship every six months) Without a supporting professional organization and regular critique, drift and normalizing are almost inevitable in piloting. That is why frequent training and an affiliation to a professional organization (yes- SAFE) with a strong Code of Ethics are essential.

Dr. Bill Rhodes, an Air Force Academy Instructor, has studied pilot personalities extensively and points out lots of warning signs. Almost every time the biggest talker in the room with the “fifty mission jacket” is exactly the person to avoid and ignore. Their personal belief in their own abilities and skills, with no objective standard or verification, has led them to become a dangerous and “creative” aviator (often with the biggest ego).

Especially if you are a new pilot or instructor and value professionalism and excellence in aviation, seek out a proven, professional mentor to guide your growth as you explore and develop your new skills. This is especially important if you are a new aviation educator, in the business of teaching even more pilots (see last week’s blog). We can only sustain a professional standard as a group if we are professionals bonded together; its the human condition. For more on this fascinating process of normalization and drift, see Sidney Dekker’s book “Drift Into Failure” (As a professor he even became a professional pilot to study this process in at work in aviation) It turns out the more errors we expose and talk about the safer we are — not by ignoring the problem. Join SAFE, we are here for you-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!

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