Parvez Dara, MD FACP, Master Instructor, SAFE Member
There is Providence in the flight of the bird. Its departures and arrivals are never certain and its flight path is not when or where, but dictated by the breezes, the feeds, the treetops and its kin. There is magic and majesty in that flight nevertheless. From the ground there is a joyous longing to belong to that carefree, wild and non interpretive version of life.
As equally as the joy of flight in an airplane, humans have learned to master the art of that magic. As thrust overcomes the drag and lift picks up the weight, the momentary weightlessness on untying the surely bonds to the earth has a unique if not special meaning to the flier.
The earth recedes as the blue sky enriches the vistas. Little dumplings of white clouds seed the blueness like cotton candy, delicious in their being. The smooth air and the power to transform the landscape by a turn here or there is intoxicating and liberating.
You pull back on the stick/yoke and the climb continues as you feel your weight against the seat, the fears and expectations of living recede with the green earth. The magical metallic beast honors each command without a moment of hesitation.
The roar of the engine, recede fades and dissolves into the sights that come in bunches of wonder. Here there is a cottage where the setting sun sprinkles its embers to color it a golden yellow and there the forest of treetops are illuminated as if the painter had a last minute desire to add color to the rich landscape.
If you are lucky, someday you might see the sun dissected by a thin layer of cloud that stretches from here to the ends of the earth as you witness the golden hue bounce off the bottom and then the tops of the wavy clouds in a climb. It is a beauteous sight to behold; one for the memories. You might see the rich blueness of the sky slowly give way to a darker hue and the first signs of the sunset come alive. The rich tapestry unfolds with its lights burning below, enriching the darkening landscape. Ah, there is such Providence in flight.
You might encounter a momentary pulse of euphoria about then as the night owls rise to take their space and the full breadth of human endeavor below begins to shine. Humans are such creative species to desire to view the earth, in all its phases with the sun, through a birds’ eye.
From above there are no large and small, no tall or short, no fat and slim, no young and old but only in the mind’s comparisons. Everything below dissolves into a symphony of symmetry. The cadence, the pitch and the notes, all resolve to the hum and liberating feeling of freedom.
As the colors darken outside, the colors within the cockpit brighten. The world outside is displayed in a rectangular screen for positional awareness. Ah there the nonlinear, convoluted darkness amid the city lights is the river and here the bright linear flow of lights is the bridge joining the two land masses.
If you are gifted in knowing the Instrument flight systems, the alignment of the horizontal and vertical course deviation indicators show you where and how to arrive safely at your destination. All the lights, darkness or cloudy encounters cannot hide the safety of the runways that beckon you.
There is Providence in flight. There is magic in its delights. There is existential freedom.
NTSB Forum: “Humans and Hardware”
Preventing General Aviation Inflight Loss of Control — Training Solutions Panel October 14, 2015, Washington, DC
Remarks by Rich Stowell, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators
The status quo in aviation education is unacceptable.
Those of us who provide spin and upset recovery training see the results of our training system on a daily basis. We constantly deal with the same recurring questions and concerns; the same fears and frustrations.
[NTSB Board] Member Weener has referred to loss of control (LOC) as a “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge.” Recurrent indeed.
In 1944, Wolfgang Langewiesche observed that “Almost all fatal flying accidents are caused by loss of control during a turn.”
He concluded that pilots, as a group, simply don’t know how to turn. Little has changed in the 70-plus years since.
Most fatal LOC accidents continue to occur during the maneuvering phase.
In fact, if we separated the block of maneuvering accidents into its own category, LOC while maneuvering by itself would rank third on the list of fatal accident causes.
It’s clear that except for the ability to mimic only the most basic of turns, pilots, as a group, remain unconsciously incompetent with regard to maneuvering flight.
According to aviation safety pioneer Jerome Lederer, “Every accident, no matter how minor, is a failure of the organization.” In this case, the “organization” is our flight training industry.
These pilots entrusted us with their safety and wellbeing. They believed the training system would teach them how to maneuver an airplane. And we failed them.
Simply stated, we have a training delivery problem.
We can try to push all of the doctrine and standards and curricula and technology and products we want into the training pipeline.
Absent a concerted effort to significantly improve the delivery system, none of these enhancements will yield the safety dividends we envision.
Responding to the loss of control problem in commercial aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently published its Manual on Upset Prevention and Recovery Training. The manual promotes an integrated approach to training designed to maximize the learning experience.
Academics: laying a strong and factually accurate foundation of aeronautical knowledge.
Simulation, which can be as sophisticated as a Level D flight simulator, or as simple as visualization techniques similar to those used by air show pilots before they fly their aerobatic routines.
And on-airplane training: the live experience that cements the concepts and techniques introduced through academics and simulation into a positive and enduring learning experience.
This is the way flight training could and should be conducted at all levels. And it is the way flight training began a century ago. The Wright brothers established the first flight schools in the U.S. Guess what their training methodology was:
- Detailed ground school
- Simulation using a functioning mock up of their flyer
- And on-airplane training
Moreover, the Wrights trained their students to be demonstration pilots.
What if you trained your students to be demo pilots for your flight school? For your airplanes? How about for general aviation? What if our mindset was, “You represent me, you represent our school, you represent general aviation”?
Somewhere between the Wrights and the new ICAO manual, we got lost. We’ve deviated from a proven flight plan. Perhaps we’ve forgotten where we were trying to go in the first place.
The ICAO manual serves as a reminder, a course correction. A path back to what the Wright brothers understood: That acting in the best interests of our students also serves our interests.
Recalibrating won’t be easy.
According to AOPA, educational quality and customer service make up 75% of a pilot’s training experience.
Of all the obstacles on the path to the private pilot check ride, AOPA found the quality of instruction to be a persistent issue and a weak link in the chain.
Students will put up with a lot to become private pilots. What most won’t tolerate, however, is poor treatment and poor instruction. So they eventually quit.
Yet the minority does reach the next level. Increasingly unfulfilled and unconfident, some of them eventually drop out of aviation as well. Others are destined to become accident stats discussed at forums like this.
But we are talking about real people. People who at one time were inspired by flight; who were excited about joining the aviation community.
The status quo underappreciates and undervalues the profession of aviation education. As a result, poorly managed schools and poorly trained instructors are the norm.
In contrast, when instructors accept the challenge of professional development and are recognized for achievement, the marketplace responds in a positive way.
The majority of Master Instructors, for example, earn 10 to 40% more income as a result of participation in the Master Instructor Continuing Education Program. And since 1997, three out of four honorees in the National CFI and FAASTeam Rep of the Year categories have been Master Instructors.
The general aviation fleet is enormously diverse. Not everyone will use a supplemental angle of attack system. Not everyone will take advantage of new technologies and training products.
But at some point, everyone will interact with a flight school or an instructor. And everyone needs to learn to turn.
So imagine what general aviation would look like:
If authentic flight school operators were the norm. Where most schools focused on developing long-term participants in aviation, and not on the Hobbs meter.
If authentic instructors were the norm. Where most of those who became flight instructors did so because they were passionate about teaching, not because they were incentivized into it as a means to log hours for something else.
Where the spin endorsement provided a legitimate record of an instructor’s stall/spin knowledge and capability. Where instructors taught to the student, not to the test.
Creating a culture of authentic operators and instructors will be a difficult task, but it is imperative if training solutions will have any hope of large-scale success.
Lastly, if pilots were taught properly about turn dynamics. Conceptually simple, this will not necessarily be an easy task.
To get the ball rolling, today I’m announcing the “Learn to Turn” initiative. I envision a freely available multi-media experience that goes far beyond our historically inadequate treatment of turns. But I can’t do this alone. I need your help. If you can offer time, talent, or other resources to this project, then let’s work together to teach pilots how to maneuver their airplanes safely and with confidence. (FMI, see http://www.LearnToAviate.tips)
Imagine the potential dividends resulting from these training solutions:
- Most students would become private pilots instead of dropping out;
- Most pilots, including instructors, would invest in recurrent training;
- The successful outcome of a maneuver genuinely would never be in doubt;
- And loss of control no longer would be the primary cause of fatal
We often think of the Wright brothers’ achievement in terms of powered flight. But the Wright’s saw control as the central problem they had to solve in order for flying machines to be viable.
Controllable flight is their legacy, and their vision forever changed the world.
I’m not proposing that we change the world; only that we change critical parts of our training delivery system.
The mandate we have as aviation educators is captured in Richard Bach’s short story, School for Perfection:
“To teach. To teach!
To take time with the students.
To offer them the priceless thing that is the ability to fly.”
Thank you. Rich Stowell Master Instructor-aerobatic, SAFE founder, National FAA CFI of the Year 2006, National FAA Safety Team Rep of the Year 2014
As pilots we spend almost all of our time in a very small corner of the available flight envelope (perhaps less than 5%!) It is amazing and illuminating to watch a well flown aerobatic routine and see what a talented pilot and capable aircraft can safely accomplish. These highly trained pilots thoroughly understand the aerodynamics of flight in all three dimensions and have honed their skills to operate safely at the edges of the flight envelope. Their flying during extreme maneuvers is automatic and precise (even “comfortable”) freeing up mental energy to deal with surprises. Although I don’t think all pilots must pursue aerobatics to be safe, it is essential to flight safety that we mere mortals challenge ourselves regularly and explore new areas of aviation. Pushing the edges of their “personal flight envelope” with regular dual training is essential for safety.
It is too easy to become complacent and dull with repetitive droning flight. Even our “experts”, the CFIs develop “right seat rust” continually “watching and not flying!” The majority of flight in cruise is not even hand flown. Deteriorating pilot skills is clearly implicated in the NTSB’s recent “Most Wanted List” where 47% of fatal accidents involve pilots losing control of their aircraft!
Without regular practice and challenge, our comfort zone shrinks daily, our skills deteriorate and we are vulnerable to startle response and loss of control. Dual flight with a competent, current instructor, out of our comfort zone, will both rekindle the passion for flying and also tune up our skills. Exploring new flight challenges during a flight review or adding a new rating is an excellent safety prescription for continued safety (and fun!) All of this can be part of your FAA Wings credit.
For a useful knowledge review, I highly recommend AOPA program Essential Aerodynamics. There are no Greek Letters here and the video presentation is excellent. Then get out and “yank and bank” a bit with a competent CFI. Hopefully, slow flight with turning and accelerated stalls will again become “comfortable” and ready for deployment if an upset catches you by surprise in flight. Master instructor and founding SAFE member Rich Stowell demonstrates this all beautifully (while inverted) in his amazing YouTube video. He calls it a “Public Service Announcement” for pilots. Please get out there and expand your “personal flight envelope” with some additional training. I guarantee you will enjoy it!
Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a 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.
Many SAFE members are professional educators teaching on a daily basis but also we have pilots at every level who help us build aviation excellence. For pilots at every level, one very simple and rewarding daily action can move aviation further than all our large advocacy projects. Share your aviation passion and knowledge at every opportunity. Bring new people into our world of flying! This article in Air Facts precipitated blog post.
Unfortunately, I see many pilots who keep their love of aviation largely separate from their daily lives. They only “light up” when they come to the airport or meet with “pilot friends.” I would recommend you to do just the opposite. Display those airplane models and pictures at work and let people know you are a pilot; encourage a dialogue and answer every question. Each person we touch and get interested in flying is going to help build aviation and perhaps also be one less detractor. Especially with young people you will still find a natural curiosity and excitement. What I discovered in my life (40+ years and thousands of hours of flying) is that sharing continually rekindles your original love of flying and keeps it alive. We need more young and growing minds involved in aviation. EAA Young Eagles is an excellent program to support aviation growth and geared precisely to sharing and growing aviation. Carry this further and mentor your new excited protege. (We are in the process of retooling our mentor program at SAFE right now) Without these new and excited pilots filling the ranks we will soon time out…share your love of aviation! 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.
“Between 2008 and 2014, about 47 percent of fatal fixed-wing GA accidents in the United States involved pilots losing control of their aircraft in flight, resulting in 1,210 fatalities” [full report] This sure does not help GA’s public image and certainly is not on our list of “fun flying activities.” Those who have followed this blog might detect a pattern emerging…a focus on positive aircraft control, thorough aerodynamic understanding and engendering a passion for aviation excellence in all pilots and educators. Proper education and discipline can greatly reduce our accident rates. SAFE is committed to improving our safety record in aviation by empowering flight educators with superior resources, supporting their passion to teach professionally and comprehensively, and changing the industry to support their vital mission. Please view SAFE member Rich Stowell’s testimony at the NTSB hearings Oct. 14,2015. [pdf here] There are many more resources on our website. Please support our mission with a donation (it’s quick and on-line) or join our team to create meaningful change in our aviation training and regulatory system. We have made great progress…more soon. 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.
We are seeing a significant increase in accidents involving the overuse or misuse of cockpit automation. If you have not watched the American Airlines video “Children of the Magenta” please do that now. (What I am going to write here is perfectly captured by this talented presenter.) We have forgotten that in flying we are first and foremost pilots, not automation managers. The wonderful tools that are increasingly found in our small aircraft have the purpose of reducing workload…not making it harder to fly! And certainly not flying the plane because we are unable to do so. We must maintain the necessary skills to engage and take over the airplane and flight at any point.
At the time of this video in 1997, 68% of airline accidents involved “automation dependency.” Savvy airline training programs were actively discouraging airline crews from becoming “automation managers.” Subsequently many high visibility accidents like Air France 447 and Asiana Airlines flight 214 (the “seawall approach” at San Francisco) have proved the disabling effect of automation. Now we are experiencing this same phenomenon in smaller planes as the technology propagates downward into piston planes. Increasingly the evils of “task saturation,” “loss situational awareness,” and “deterioration of hand-flying” are implicated in deviations or accidents.
One antidote is careful monitoring by the pilot or crew to detect either task saturation from automation dependency, loss of situational awareness or just confusion about the operation of the flight management system in general (“what’s it doing now…?”). The necessary action is to step down a level of automation or take over the flight manually. For this reason it is imperative that every pilot maintains confident hand flying skills to fly accurately and improve the outcome of any flight. Pilots and crews that lack hand flying skills and/or confidence are increasingly involved in accidents. The FAA has issued a SAFO (Safety Alert For Operators) on the importance of hand flying citing an “increase in manual handling errors”. The new FAA Advisory Circular on flight reviews advises flight instructors to watch for automation dependency and weak hand flying skills during flight reviews. Similarly every pilot must monitor and correct their own automation dependency. It is incumbent upon the careful pilot to maintain and sharpen their hand flying skills with regular practice or dual flight. “George” usually does a great job flying (embarrassing too 🙂 !) but please remember to turn off the magic, take a turn flying and stay sharp! And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.