Three SAFE Charter Members Earn Master CFI for Tenth Time!

Master Instructors LLC designated its next class of Ten-Time Masters.  The historic achievement marks twenty years of participation in the Master Instructor Continuing Education Program (MICEP).  Three instructors comprise this second group to reach the ten-time milestone: David Faile of Fairfield, Connecticut; Lonnie Hilkemeier of Boulder, Colorado; and Lou Wipotnik of Wheeling, Illinois.  All three are charter members of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE)

DavidFaileDavid Faile is an AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) representative, a FAASTeam representative in the Windsor Locks FSDO area, and the holder of the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.  The 1999 National CFI of the Year, David instructs at Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Airport (BDR).

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Lonnie Hilkemeier is the senior flight instructor and president of Specialty Flight Training (http://www.SpecialtyFlight.com/), a Cessna Pilot Center at Boulder Airport (BDU).  Colorado’s first Master Instructor in 1998, he also serves as a FAASTeam representative in the FAA’s Denver FSDO area.

LouWIpotnikLou Wipotnik is an independent Chicago-area flight and ground instructor at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK).  The holder of an FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot award and the 1996 National CFI of the Year, he is also a FAASTeam representative in the FAA’s DuPage FSDO area and serves in the Civil Air Patrol’s Illinois Wing. 

According to MICEP co-creator JoAnn Hill, “We are honored that these individuals have continued with the program for so long, and are excited to share their amazing accomplishment.”  Others will soon join the ranks of Ten-Time Masters over the upcoming months.

Dave McVInnie 10X MCFI and Lifetime SAFE Member
Dave McVInnie 10X MCFI and Lifetime SAFE Member

As a reward for long-term commitment to professional development as aviation educators, Ten-Time Masters receive embroidered MA-1 flight jackets sponsored by PilotMall.com of Lakeland, FL.  Additionally, Master Instructors LLC commissioned special wings pins reserved exclusively for Ten-Time and Emeritus Masters, sponsored by Aviation Instruction of Camarillo, CA and Specialty Flight Training of Boulder, CO.  The names of Ten-Time Masters are also listed on a dedicated page on the Master Instructors website under the menu tab “With Distinction.”

The Master Instructor Continuing Education Program was conceived and developed in 1995 by JoAnn and Sandy Hill of Longmont, Colorado, and launched in 1997 during AirVenture with the blessing of then-FAA Administrator Barry Valentine.  The Hills, highly experienced educators with a passion for aviation, developed the program as a means to encourage and recognize higher levels of professionalism in aviation education.  The program also sets professional standards to which all aviation educators can aspire.

The Hills initially administered the program through another organization; in 2009, however, they formed Master Instructors LLC.  According to MICEP co-creator Sandy Hill, “We, along with a vast majority of Master Instructors, believed the program stood for something much larger than any one organization.”  He added, “moving the program’s management to an independent entity has provided much greater autonomy and ensured impartiality in the accreditation process.”

The peer-reviewed designation process is rigorous.  In addition to other requirements, applicants must document at least 500 hours in qualifying activities within the previous 24 calendar months.  To foster well-rounded aviation educators, the hours must be distributed among five categories: Educator, Service to the Aviation Community, Creator of Media, Continuing Education, and Participant.

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The Hills are quick to point out that Master Instructors have “earned their black belts” in aviation education, thus setting them apart from instructors who merely use the job to further their air carrier careers.  The evidence bears out the Hills’ assertion: since 1997, a combined 37 individuals have been honored in the National CFI and FAASTeam Rep of the Year categories, 27 of whom are Master Instructors.  The marketplace has also responded to their commitment to the profession: a poll revealed that most Masters realize a 10 to 40 percent increase in income as a result of their participation in MICEP.

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MICEP’s success has been the model for other aviation accreditation programs.  The Soaring Society of America (SSA), for example, drew on the Hills work to develop its Master Instructor Cross-Country program.  The derivative programs, however, require membership in the sponsoring organizations to participate.  MICEP, on the other hand, is open to all qualified aviation educators regardless of their other affiliations; membership in a particular organization is not a prerequisite.  With more than 160 active Masters, MICEP remains the largest accreditation program of its type for aviation educators.

JoAnn Hill says the program will “continue to serve current Masters while improving outreach to other aviation educators.”  Continuing to influence training standards and doctrine, promote industry programs such as General Aviation Awards, and form new partnerships with training providers are goals as well.

For more information:
http://www.MasterInstructors.org/

The Dark Side of Adaptation; “Normalizing!”

Adaptability is an important defining trait of human existence and probably most responsible for our survival and growth as a species. Humans live happily in every corner of our planet from polar wastelands to equatorial rain forests and in every case seem to adapt and flourish. I am sure you have seen pictures, or experienced first hand, some amazing conditions people become comfortable with and contentedly call “home.” At first it might be awkward and weird but pretty soon it becomes “normal” as we adapt!

Adaptability is also an important trait for pilots. We must overcome diverse challenges transitioning to new equipment or flying in challenging environments. These new conditions at first require courage and ingenuity, but ultimately we conform and become comfortable. Air Inuit in northern Canada has an Op. Spec. to fly passengers “VFR” in Twin Otters with only 300′ ceiling and one mile viz (though this requires <90K, flaps 10 degrees and synthetic vision system for safety).

Challenger Space Shuttle LaunchChallengerExplosion

 

 

 

 

There is, however, a dark side to adaptability and that is the “normalization of deviance.” This term was coined by Diane Vaughan, a professor at Columbia University investigating NASA’s Challenger launch decision in 1986. The process of “normalization of deviance” is when a person or organization becomes so familiar with an odd or deviant behavior that it no longer seems strange and alarming but becomes accepted as the “new normal.” This chameleon psychic process seems to be an integral part of our human survival mechanism. Given time we seem to adapt and accept just about any deviant structure and made it a comfortable part of our world. This is also why a objective “standard operating procedure” (and the discipline to follow it) is such an essential tool in aviation safety.

In the 1980s, NASA’s Space Shuttles were being launched on increasingly short intervals. And despite the solid booster “O” rings leaking at launch temperatures much lower than specified, time pressures, historic success (the absence of immediate bad outcomes) and “group think” led to acceptance of these increasingly unsafe conditions. This “normalization of deviance” ultimately resulted in a dramatically public national tragedy. The fact that a similar NASA accident occurred only 8 years later with the “normal shedding of fuel tank insulation” on launch shows how pernicious this problem can be. (The only benefit gained from these tragedies is that recent work by NASA on accident theory is amazing.)

CognitionPicture“So that was NASA but how does this effect us in our everyday flying?” Please look around your airport carefully. I am sure you have been witness to a pilot who has strangely unsafe practices that they personally regard as “normal?” Over time these “rogue pilots” have unfortunately drifted far from objectively accepted safety practices and personally “normalized” techniques that are clearly unsafe. Maybe they have just become “less than proficient” but this too has become “acceptable” or “justified” due to high cost or time constraints. We pilots are a pretty respectful and tolerant bunch so often this “accident waiting to happen” continues unchallenged until the inevitable occurs. Let’s change this please and take action *before* the accident. “Friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!”

Please check out safety writer Dr. Bill Rhodes definition of “scary pilots” in an article by John King. Tony Kern also documents this phenomenon in the military with his book Rogue Pilot. And popular blogger Tom Rapp explains a scary 135 charter example in detail with his examination of normalization in the Bedford Gulfstream accident.

This dangerous “normalization of deviance” occurs even more easily in private aviation where the only normative filter is a (often perfunctory) 2 year flight review. Please don’t stand by if you are aware of cases of compliance drift and normalization. Embrace your normalizing friend and talk some sense into them, carefully and honestly. Let’s embrace the same culture change that cured a lot of unsafe drunk driving; “Friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!” It would be much better to have this friend mad at you than injured. Let’s modify our culture and help everyone embrace a higher standard of safety in their flying. And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Stress and Pilot Performance: Part 2

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

Stress hormones are catabolic in nature; in other words, they break the body down. In the last issue of SAFE, the magazine, we discussed the problems of stress relating to pilot performance. Now, we’ll continue the conversation.

In 1976, Selye described stress as “wear and tear” on the body. Some degree of stress is actually necessary in order to perform day-to-day tasks, but stress which persists over a long period can severely affect human performance and health.

Interestingly, individuals with the strongest psychosocial support systems seem to be able to tolerate the most stress without adverse effects (Mitchell, 1997), so creating and maintaining healthy relationships is critical to good stress management.

Stress that persists over a long period of time is called cumulative stress. Some clear indications of cumulative stress are physical and emotional exhaustion, apathy, and deterioration in performance. Cumulative stress needs to be dissipated or discharged through physical exercise, meditation, body massage, or other forms of relaxation.

Extensive research conducted by NASA over the years confirms that a moderate level of stress has a positive effect on human performance while abnormal levels of stress decrease human performance. Additionally, research findings indicate that the performance of complex or unfamiliar tasks requires a higher level of attention than completion of simple or over-learned tasks, thereby increasing stress levels. During an inflight emergency, the pilot’s workload can quickly exceed his or her capabilities to perform certain tasks within a finite period of time.

This inability to respond in itself creates stress, which in the extreme becomes traumatic stress. Everly (1997) makes the point that traumatic stress overwhelms our normal coping mechanisms while cumulative stress erodes them. The analogy that comes to mind is that of an ocean wave. A single ocean wave can easily knock a person down just as a single traumatic episode can overwhelm a person. But it takes many ocean waves over a period of time to erode a beach, just as it takes on going stress to cause “wear and tear” on the body.

Coping with Stress

In theory, as one matures and adapts to life’s many stressors, one learns to cope more effectively with stress. It would seem that as a pilot grows in experience, he or she should be able to handle more stress. However, there is a limit to the amount of stress a human being can handle. This limit varies from individual to individual and also varies over the life span. Elderly individuals generally cannot cope as well with the same amount of stress as a younger person.

There are numerous techniques available to cope with the effects of stress, but some of the most helpful techniques are very simple — just make sure you get plenty of exercise, rest, and healthy food. Research studies show that individuals who get less than seven-to-eight hours of sleep per night are not as alert as those who do (Foster & Wulff, 205; Hublin et al., 2007). Additionally, the Operators Guide to Human Factors in Aviation, a compendium of information first published in 2009, cites research to indicate the adverse effects of too much caffeine on pilot judgment and the effects of sitting for too long at a time on pilot performance. Few pilots would think that drinking too much coffee or sitting too long in the cockpit could produce stress, but it does.

Stress can be significantly reduced through increased awareness of one’s personal signs of stress. In addition, stress can be successfully managed through meditation, the practice of constructive self-talk, socializing with friends, deep breathing exercises, muscle tension release exercises, visualization or guided imagery, therapeutic massage, reiki therapy, listening to soothing music, and by being appropriately assertive in meeting your own needs.

Other stress busters include taking a walk for at least 20 minutes a day, journaling aboutyour thoughts and feelings, planning some “alone time” each day, simplifying your life on all levels, and doing at least one thing each day just because it pleases you. Learn to take control of how you spend your time and you will also reduce your stress level in the process.

Stress that isn’t dissipated daily will continue to accumulate over time and either “spill out” at some inappropriate time, such as yelling at your spouse, or become internalized in the form of high blood pressure, migraine headaches, stiff neck, low back pain, chest pain, or an actual heart attack. For that reason, it is important that pilots of all certificate levels learn to recognize their own personal signs of stress and have a plan for dissipating or reducing stress as necessary.

Rossiter Stress graphic

In Conclusion

The best way to cope with stress as a pilot is to do a thorough job of assessing your own fitness for flight. The checklist in Table 1 was devised by the FAA Aeromedical Branch to aid a pilot in determining fitness for flight FAR 61.53 prohibits a person from serving as “a required pilot flight crewmember” if experiencing “a medical deficiency.” In other words, pilots are expected to ground themselves if they have a physical or mental impairment that affects the safety of flight. Flying when you are depressed, angry, physically ill, fatigued, or emotionally stressed out is never a good idea because such conditions can and do impair pilot judgment.

While piloting an aircraft will never be a stress free activity, there are things a pilot can do to minimize the amount of stress experienced. Educating oneself about the effects of stress on human performance generally and on your own performance as a pilot, flight instructor, or crew member in particular can go a long way toward increasing safety of flight and your mental and physical wellbeing.

This is an excerpt from our SAFE magazine. Members get full access to this magazine (and so much more!) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Sherry Knight Rossiter holds an ATP and CFI-I for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has worked extensively with general aviation pilots who have survived aircraft accidents or other frightening flight experiences. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and teaches online psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

SAFE CFI Mentoring Reborn: Share Your Wisdom!

…please share your years of accumulated wisdom and help young CFIs.  Pay it forward!

From a recent FaceBook post by a VFR-only Cirrus pilot:

“First time in 800+ hrs I’ve had to scrub a VFR flight because of weather. The field quickly went marginal to IFR in minutes while I taxied out and did the run up. I waited for 10 min checking the weather and with ATC and it was a losing battle.”

As a responsible flight instructor, don’t the first 15 words of this post ring an alarm bell for you?  How likely do you think is it that a pilot could accumulate more than 800 hours of flight time without ever canceling a VFR flight because of weather conditions?

It’s possible, I’m sure, but there was something about the photo accompanying the post that sent chills up and down my spine. It was the juxtaposition of that beautiful, glowing always-VFR virtual reality screen with the obvious IMC conditions outside.

Cirrus Instruction

Save the nastygrams, I’m not singling out Cirrus pilots. Nearly all new airplanes these days come with glass panels, and all those easy-to-understand visual displays and additional information can help keep a pilot safer.

On the other hand, I believe that for some pilots all those whistles and bells give the false confidence to burrow ever-deeper into deteriorating weather. On Cirrus aircraft, the presence of the red ripcord handle for the parachute can add to overconfidence for judgment-impaired pilots.

In the early days of glass panels, grouchy old instructors would turn up their noses at non-pilots who bought fast, fancy new glass airplanes and expected to be taught to fly in them. The expression often used in those days was “he has more money than brains.”

Again, I’m not picking on Cirrus.  It’s just that this revolutionary aircraft with a parachute was one of the first and by far the most popular all-glass airplane type, and is still a natural choice for well-heeled newbie pilots. In the early years, the Cirrus aircraft accident rate, particularly in weather-involved accidents, was far greater than for other traveling-type airplanes. To its credit, Cirrus redoubled its training efforts and re-emphasized ADM and recurrency for pilots of this type. With that education, the Cirrus’ accident rate now compares favorably with similar GA aircraft.

Bravo, Cirrus!

For CFIs, much of this comes down to teaching pilot judgment. That was difficult enough in Cessna 152s with a single 360-channel navcom, but today some newbies are convinced that all the gadgets in their fancy new technologically-advanced airplane mean it can be used for “anywhere, anytime traveling.”  That makes teaching ADM even more important, also more difficult, and that’s where you, the experienced CFI, come in.

SAFE is re-energizing its Mentor program, which allows experienced SAFE CFI members to sign up via the SAFE web site to advise and counsel less experienced CFIs.  Such advice might be in marketing, transition training or a hundred other topics, not only on how to teach pilot judgment. There’s a convenient sign-up form on our website to share your hard-won expertise and judgment to the younger generation.

Please share your accumulated years of CFI wisdom and help younger instructors.  Login to the member side of the website and fill in the form, we will match you with the many new CFIs seeking an experienced mentor.


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And if you are not a SAFE member yet, this is your cue to join our group of aviation education professionals. Support SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.
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Savvy CFI: “Baked In” Human Pilot Problems!

We humans contain “baked-in” reactions driven by our land-based biology that are extremely dangerous in flight. Our human “operating system” evolved over thousands of years of terrestrial existence and contains some unique inbred vulnerabilities that serve us poorly once airborne. Providing humans flight training, the only kind I have done incidentally :), is largely a concerted effort to overwrite these very basic visceral reactions with “unnatural” trained piloting responses. The durability of these new trained responses depends on the depth of the initial imprint and the recency of review and reinforcement. This last is a very important point. I believe our biology (and fear) will drag us back to unsafe piloting operations without recent flight experience and reinforcement of correct responses. As pilots we naturally revert to our unsafe terrestrial reactions through interference and passage of time.

EvolvedIntoPilotOur most dangerous “naturally human” tendency I see demonstrated as a CFI (and even unfortunately as a DPE)  is the baked-in human reaction of pulling away from the ground. This is especially apparent in new (or rusty) pilots and leads directly to the unfortunate “loss of control inflight” (our most pernicious safety problem in GA). New student pilots, all to some degree fearful and tentative, initially achieve success and comfort tuning and maneuvering at altitude. As soon as they get into the pattern down low, the nose keeps coming up and airspeed drops off (especially in the turns). All pilots, seemingly because of their human nature, unconsciously raise the nose to get away when they see the green earth coming closer. This fear and “monkey pull” response seems to be baked into our operating system; an instinctive and erroneous impulse to achieve safety. Sound aerodynamic knowledge and careful flight training tells us that exactly the opposite response is necessary. Every safe pilot must substitute a trained “unload” response to overwrite this natural “monkey pull” tendency. This same “monkey pull” appears on final approach if the plane gets low at a constant airspeed.  As the runway starts rising in the windscreen and the ground comes closer, you will see the yoke coming back in the aircraft (oh so naturally) with a poorly trained pilot. Witness the B-777 “seawall approach” in San Francisco and endless other examples.

fuseliftAnother related problem that seems to be baked-in and must be carefully trained out is a fear of banking and the resulting turning of the plane with the rudders alone. If you are a long-time aviator I know this seems inconceivable but please reach way back with me and imagine those first flights accurately. (I still teach those first lessons to a lot of people and see the very tangible fear) For all future safety, a pilot must from the very beginning  be able to turn confidently (and coordinated) with a reasonable bank. Unless a pilot gets comfortable banking the plane with coordinated controls and learns to enjoy the bank, they will somewhere deep inside fear turning and instead skid the plane to achieve a turn. Again, this is where comprehensive aerodynamic understanding is the necessary tool to overwrite an initial “naturally human” aversion. Many fearful students have confessed they believe the plane will roll over. Other poorly trained pilots believe lift is unequal on the wings in a stable turn!

These original impressions in psychology are called “naive rendition.” A savvy instructor knows they must be addressed directly and overwritten with correct knowledge to create an enduringly safe pilot. Nervous pilots who never get comfortable banking, usually get increasingly cautious over time and develop the habit of skidding every turn. They limit their bank to 20 degrees and fly huge traffic patterns. Combine this with the “monkey pull” instinct and you can easily explain many LOC-I accidents. Additionally in a startle situation the erroneous response resurfaces. The roots of all these errors are psychological “baked-in” tendencies. Our human psychological payload is often ignored or not specifically addressed in flight training but this is the only path to durable flight safety.

Please make sure your students acquire good basic turning habits before proceeding to more complex maneuvers. Spending time on the basics and achieving a durable “trained response” (as well as stable, comfortable turns) is essential. Constant exposure is then necessary to retain this trained response since our “natural instincts” take over and misguide us in flight. Ultimately, through flight training and aerodynamic knowledge, we need to recognize and unravel these “natural” problems and substitute safe and aerodynamically sound flight reactions.

Future savvy CFI topics: fear, a natural reaction. No fear is dangerous, too much is paralyzing; where is your correct balance? We will also explore cognitive biases that can lead us into disaster; 90% of drivers believe they are better than average 🙂 Another rich area of inquiry is the “two minds problem.” Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow explores our human irrationality. We will see how this impacts our piloting success and safety.

Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

The New AC-61.65 is Available! CFI Power of the Pen!

Our essential guidance as aviation educators, the FAA Advisory Circular 61.65, has finally been updated. This essential document contains all the official FAA guidance on certification standards, knowledge test procedures and “everything in flight training.” Additionally, it conveniently provides the “script” for accurate endorsements. With a stroke of your CFI pen (and the correct solo endorsement) you can make a land-based biped into a pilot (I would also suggest some flight training per 61.87 🙂  As a DPE I see many lousy versions of the required endorsements. And without the correct endorsements your clients cannot start their flight test, and boy is that inconvenient and embarrassing on test day.

6165F_SAFEAppOne major reason I wrote the free SAFE Toolkit App was to provide these exact endorsements (as well as experience requirements and every tool) for every CFI. Everything in one place in your pocket! The SAFE Toolkit is now updated to include the changes found in the the new AC.

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The new FAA AC 61.65F also provides guidance on how to acquire the new plastic student pilot certificate (required after April 1st) for your student pilots through IACRA. Please note that even a DPE will enter IACRA in the “recommending instructor” role (not DPE) to acquire this for a student. And all CFIs can perform this function now. Download the new pdf here: AC_61-65F and put the SAFE Toolkit on your phone (or iPad) so you have this and the experience requirements readily available. Try an emulator copy here.

And please Join SAFE and support our mission of enabling aviation excellence in pilots and educators. The amazing member benefits alone make this important commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

 

 

HYPOXIA IN FLIGHT

Master CFI Parvez Dara, MD FACP, ATP, MCFI

As humans we depend on energy. Our energy is created in little biological machinery present in every cell, called mitochondria. These tiny powerhouses generate phosphates from converting (Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP) to Adenosine Diphosphate or ADP). Phosphate groups are needed to move cells within organs to do their jobs, e.g. muscles to contract (locomotion) hearts to pump (heart beat), kidneys to filter (filter blood), livers to digest and brains to process information. Absent phosphate and we are looking at an abyss. Oxygen, the quintessence of all elements breathes life into living creatures. Without it there is no water, nor breathable air, nor the lusty energy that makes us want to fly.

The breathable air contains 20.946% Oxygen. Humans exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen to replenish the stores of renewable energy for every one of the trillion cells that make us. This energy is in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP releases a phosphate group that acts as an energy bar for the cell to chew on so that it can accomplish its functions. These functions include manufacturing proteins, hormones, keeping the integrity of the cell wall etc. From our aviation point of view the function that cannot be clouded is the brain activity. The brain weighs about 3 pounds and consumes 25% of the oxygen supply. The brain’s hefty consumption is a testimony to its integrated and creative functions. 100% of the brain is at work 100% of the time and it needs its constant and uninterrupted energy supply.

Effects of Hypoxia on Brain using fMRI.
Effects of Hypoxia on Brain using fMRI.

The rarified air, for this purpose over 5000 feet at night (due to effect on the eyes) and over 8000 feet during the day, at altitude has reduced content of oxygen, which causes our brains, first to compensate by increasing blood pressure, then the respiration and heart rate to maintain the steady oxygen supply. When oxygen levels lower further, portions of the brain function capitulate, akin to losing the alternator, one reduces energy load by keeping only the most important instruments on the panel active so as not to drain the battery. So flying in un-pressurized aircraft without oxygen, your cognitive skills diminish. The additional harm at the rarified air is the loss of moisture in the air, which makes us breathe our moisture and not breathe any in, thus leading to dehydration. Your communication and math skills suffer as do interpretative skills. Missing calls, airway intersections or flying into adverse conditions becomes possible. To unscramble the brain a little oxygen rich air is mandatory. A “Chamber Ride” at an aviation facility confirms this.Remember an intensely low oxygen level for a short time or a low-level prolonged oxygen restriction can have similar short term and long term consequences on cellular behavior. If you fly above 5000 feet at night or above 8000 feet during the day use oxygen. It is good for the cerebral soul. Think about these problems reading this while seated in your armchair, on the ground rather than trying to decipher this information in the air:

1.      Mathematics Skill deterioration

2.      Cognitive Skill deterioration

3.      Instant Recall diminished (Frequency recall)

4.      Remote Recall diminished (experiential references)

5.      Decision Making Skills deteriorate (Time, distance and fuel consumption)

6.      Risk Assessment Impaired (eg. Go, No go decision into weather)

7.      Physical functional Impairment (muscle weakness)

8.      Lethargy/Fatigue.

The most common reaction to hypoxia is a feeling of euphoria. This is especially dangerous because an affected pilot will not usually feel “sick” or disabled but more typically feel “high” (feeling real good). Given this reaction, there is no incentive to discontinue a flight or exercise an alternate course of action. Pilots suffering from hypoxia feel like aviation gods! Only a trained vigilance from the presence of cues like altitude and duration can arm a pilot to be on guard for the onset of hypoxia; insidious and stealthy. Training in a altitude chamber or oxygen deprivation class is helpful to bring this point home clearly.

The common physiological sign of hypoxia is cyanosis or blue color in the extremities, most noticably in your fingernail beds. Before the easy (and very reasonably priced) oximiters were available pilots checked their nails for blue color.  I highly recommend an oximeter for anyone flying regularly at altitudes above 10,000 feet for any length of time. I also suggest that at altitude, one should take deep breaths to use the entire lung capacity to oxygenate the blood, since we have a tendency to shallow breathe in a cockpit. Having supplemental oxygen readily available is also an excellent safety precaution. Safe flying always requires current training, vigilance and an attitude of caution in the presence of known threats (in this case high altitude).

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of enabling aviation excellence in pilots and educators. The amazing member benefits alone make this important commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.