Train Wind and Weather; Primary Pilot Threats!

Wind and weather cause the majority of aviation accidents. But remarkably, these two causal factors are carefully avoided during most pilot training. “Blue sky flight training” does not prepare pilots for the real world of flying with actual weather challenges. This is a problem both for safety and for future professional pilots who will be required to dispatch in all kinds of challenging conditions. The majority of flight training is in the south seeking these optimal “blue sky” conditions (albeit sometimes oppressively hot). Not surprisingly, aviation accident statistics show the majority of accidents involve landing in windy conditions and/or bad weather. Crosswinds are not required to be demonstrated by the FAA, so they are seldom trained or tested (only by conscientious CFIs and usually not in accelerated programs). Any experienced CFI will tell you that most pilots cannot comfortably handle a significant crosswind. Fortunately, some 99% of these runway excursions are non-fatal – departures are the killer – but they do turn Cessnas and Pipers into beer cans and raise everyone’s insurance rates.

Fatal weather accidents primarily involve the en route phase of flight. Intuitively, you would think an instrument rating would help a pilot’s chances in these situations.  However, statistics reveal that instrument-rated pilots (usually non-current with no actual instrument time) do no better than VFR pilots when encountering “VFR into IMC.”  And over 50% of pilots involved in weather accidents also had a Commercial or ATP certificate. Again, since the FAA does not require any actual instrument training, pilots never build this proficiency.  Both crosswinds and simulated IFR reveal that for part 91 operations, the FAA only specifies minimums. Every FAA certificate or rating is a “license to learn” and consequently does not assure any level of safety! Unfortunately, some “alphabet groups” lobby for lower pilot training requirements and simultaneously plead for greater safety.  To me, these seem like opposing values. So it is up to a savvy, safe pilot to build sensible personal proficiency to face the hazards of actual weather conditions. This is the mission of SAFE; to provide awareness, motivation, and resources to create safer CFIs and pilots. And every experienced, motivated CFI is a missionary for this initiative. It would seem avoiding accidents and living longer would be self-motivating? Every passionate pilot should step up to assure their own proficiency; but how does that work?

Step one for safety is building (and maintaining) crosswind proficiency; this is the most popular way to bend a plane. This requires getting serious dual training outside the usual “comfort zone” with a good CFI. Step two is training in actual instrument conditions (if you are instrument-rated) to become comfortable and proficient (wet wings!) Only then can you build the additional real-world instrument proficiency to deal with ATC and delays, which is another higher level of “IFR smarts.” If you are seeking a professional piloting career you will need these skills and it will put you ahead of the cattle drive. SAFE has put a recent focus on real IFR proficiency and created a new “IFR Focus” Landing Page with many good resources (more soon).

So how does a conscientious pilot get “good in the clouds?”

Realizing you have a serious training need and seeking to fill this gap is the first step and becoming safer. At the heart of this challenge is finding a professional pilot who is still an active CFI willing to transition you into crosswinds or the “cloud world” safely. This usually will not be your newly graduated academy CFI. Shop carefully for an experienced Master CFI with real cloud experience (scars and stories come free). Usually, this is a 135 pilot comfortable with flying in the weather (rather than over it). Find a freight dog or small charter operator who has good teaching skills (a rare combination). If you are an educator, insist that your learners achieve proficiency in these areas, beyond the FAA minimums. Fly safely out there (and often)🙏

See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” FOr more Resources

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

Five Steps for a New CFI; “Good to Great”

We have to be honest here, a brand-new CFI with perhaps 5 hours of real solo and maybe 250 hours total time (in only 2 or 3 aircraft) is not an impressive aviator or trusted educator. This is an opportunity for growth! These are the people who are teaching all our future pilots. Currently, 2/3rds of “active CFIs”have taught for less than one year, they are beginners. It takes some real humility, dedication, and work to grow into an effective educator that clients will trust and benefit from. Those who dig deep and learn the next steps more rapidly will be the successful job candidates for future employment with the airlines or charter operators.

Every experienced and successful aviation educator started in exactly the same place and successfully climbed this same ladder to professionalism.  Growth in all these areas also positions a CFI/pilot for future success as a professional crew member in an airline or a corporate flight department. These same essential (often introspective) skills are sought by every aviation employer during interviews for professional career positions. They seek broad-based professionals rather than limited “hour-builders.” Here are five proven steps that make the pathway to professionalism more focused and efficient. (Use these yourself or pass them on to a new CFI you know)

Understand and Embrace Your New Role as “Educator;” Turn Over the Controls!

Up to the level of the CFI temporary, all the FAA certificates and ratings are for piloting, which builds an obsession for personal precision and error-free control. With the new CFI certificate, that focus goes away and the new mission is becoming an educator (and the flying will be sloppy, these are usually beginners). The focus now switches entirely to empowering and successfully growing the knowledge and control of your learner in the left seat. Every new CFI must learn to relinquish the controls (and the radio) to the learner and empower them to experiment and practice – in a safe environment provided by the CFI. The student is now the most important person. Most problems they encounter are exactly the same problems you worked through in training. Patience, introspection, and compassion are key tools for a successful CFI.

Their flying will not be precise (by definition) which can be intensely frustrating for every new CFI. Understanding and commiserating with their struggle is a critical part of educator success. A caring and honest relationship is critical to motivating your learner’s progress and working through difficulties. An effective CFI is a “compassionate coach.” Every individual learner has different talents and needs which a savvy cfi must leverage to make progress. Their success is *your* success and if they are not progressing, the problem is almost always the CFI.

Grow Your Aviation Knowlege and Experience Aggressively

Take every opportunity (often unpaid) to broaden your aviation experience and knowledge of aviation. Most new CFIs have only experienced a small slice of the bigger world of aviation. Big academy graduates need to learn non-towered operations with self-fueling operations. Small-town CFIs need to play in the busy airspace. And everything you do to expand your knowledge and experience will make you more valuable as an educator and future professional aviator. Most new CFIs are a “minimum-viable-products” It is essential to build experience and value as quickly as you can. Fly (safely) with every different operator you can find and build your experience and resume. There are proven weak areas in all new CFIs, e.g. different airspaces, airworthiness, ACS standards. Hang out with experienced mechanics and educators and be ready to learn (that humility part). Every new experience will make you a better pilot and more valuable educator.

“Old School” Is Sometimes Wrong; Use Modern Methodology

Many of the methods still used in aviation education are ineffective and harmful; part of a persistent culture of “flight instructor techniques” from WWII pilot training.  This “drill Sergeant” methodology was based on the psychology of behaviorism (good dog, bad dog). Modern educational methodology embraces the whole learner as a fully functioning intelligent adult. The savvy CFI must deploy a whole toolkit of creative scenario-based methods to creatively achieve progress in flight training. Many unsuccessful assumptions, still in use in pilot training, inhibit learner progress and create a corrosive learning environment. Every educator needs to carefully reassess their own personal history and purge their methodology of techniques and assumptions that made their own progress less effective; flight training fallacies. If we only train the way we were taught we might be perpetuating half-truths of dangerous myths.

Build Your “Educator Tools” and Understanding of Psychology: Incremental Mastery.

The very brief introduction to the learning process in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook is very good, but only the bare minimum to function as a CFI – remember “FAA minimums?” There are amazing (usually free) resources to build your understanding of the learning process and improve your critical role as an educator. Success largely hinges on the “soft skills” of emotional intelligence most pilots initially avoid. A successful educator needs to care about the success of your learners and also understand their motivations to successfully build their confidence and abilities step by step. All these skills pay you back in professional crew-based flying. You will find much better success employing “incremental mastery” to motivate and educate your clients.

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.

Deconstruction: Overcoming Plateaus

Every learner encounters learning plateaus and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks. One of the indicators of a truly professional CFI is their ability to work their learners through seemingly insurmountable difficulties. This skill is especially critical when doing flight reviews or advanced training with rated pilots. Many long-time habits (taught wrong or developed over time) need to be revisited and reconstructed to achieve better performance for advanced ratings. This requires deconstructing the difficult task into smaller components where the true problem lies. Just watch some really bad landings at your local airport and you will see an example of really bad instruction. Master CFIs deconstruct and rework basic component skills like airspeed control and ground tracking where the real problem lies.

LMK if these techniques work for you, and share these ideas with new CFIs you might know as you mentor their progress. The most important overall quality of a any professional instructor (or pilot) is a passion for learning. Every new experience is an opportunity to grow and improve. If you keep this fire alive you will inspire and motivate your own learners. Fly safely out there (and often)!

See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” FOr more Resources

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


Commercial 180° Power-Off Accuracy Landing

The “power off, 180-degree accuracy landing” defeats many commercial flight test applicants. It is a high bar; managing the aircraft’s energy to elegantly land on a point within 200 feet. Many disappointed candidates report unhelpful advice from their CFIs in training this maneuver, and serious disparities in what DPEs define as “success.”

The burning qualification questions seem to be “Is this a ‘one try’ maneuver?” and “Can you slip despite the requirement for a stabilized approach?” Remember this maneuver is just the more demanding form of a normal landing and all landings should be accurate and on a predetermined aim point. Here are some pointers to make every landing better and the 180° power-off accuracy landing easy.

The Power-Off 180° Is a Logical Extension of a “Normal Landing!”

First, it is important not to overcomplicate this maneuver. *Every* landing should be to an accurate aim point, right from the first solo. As we progress as pilots, we should be continually sharpening this skill to be more precise. And having power available often just corrects for poor judgment or sloppy flying so this is an “opportunity to learn.” Let’s unpack this and give you tools to make this maneuver predictable and consistently successful.

Allowances: First Determine What Your DPE Wants

The first question to resolve if this is for a check-ride is what techniques will be allowed by your evaluator during the demonstration of this maneuver; get on the same page here. Some examiners carry the “stabilized approach” criteria too far and insist on full flaps, gear down immediately, and no slipping allowed. But the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook clearly regards this maneuver as almost an emergency procedure; allowing basically whatever it takes to achieve the result specified in the ACS.

Pilots may use S-turns, slips, early or late extension of flaps, reduce airspeed below best glide, or increase airspeed slightly above best glide in a headwind in order to stabilize the remaining approach, to reach the desired aiming point at an appropriate speed, and to touch down where planned…

A crab or side slip can be used to maintain the desired flight path. A forward slip may be used momentarily to steepen the descent without changing the airspeed. Full flaps should be delayed until it is clear that adding them will not cause the landing to be short of the point. AFH

Another critical question to resolve with your evaluator before the flight is whether a go-around is allowed for a second try. There is no written specification in the guidance for a single attempt in the ACS or any other current published guidance I could find, but recently released recurrent training for DPEs says one try is all you get:

AFS-810: July 5th, 2022 Clarification
This responds to an email inquiry provided to the Airman Testing Standards Group on June 15, 2022, and then forwarded to the Training and Certification Group. In your email inquiry you request official national guidance regarding power-off 180 degree accuracy landing and ask two specific questions.

1. If the applicant chooses to go-around on the Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing, is that ALWAYS unsatisfactory? Answer: No. However, the intent of the evaluation is for the applicant to successfully complete the 180 degree accuracy landing on the first attempt. If the applicant were to execute a [go-around/rejected landing] without a risk mitigation justification (such as a deer on the runway or some other reason making the landing area unsafe), the applicant would normally be disqualified for that landing task.

This idea first appeared in the “FAA Designee Update” (which is no longer in print) and this has occasionally appeared verbally in national DPE training. Examiners still seem to differ on this point but the intention is clear; you get only one shot at this maneuver. Make sure to ascertain what *your* DPE is looking for. The “one try” rule certainly creates intense pressure that leads to some desperate and unsafe “arrivals;” go around for safety and suck up the failure. Always ensure safety in your practice or testing with a go-around if the maneuver is going badly.

Aim Point: Pick the Touchdown Target

The first step in the successful flying of this maneuver is to pick a good touchdown point. This should not be the runway numbers since your “aim point”would be short of the runway, and this does not allow a safety margin if the maneuver is misjudged. The AFM is pretty clear on this.

Note that selection of the runway numbers as the touchdown point does not provide a safety cushion in case of a mechanical problem or
misjudgment. Selecting a point farther down the runway establishes an increased safety margin.

The second essential decision is how far your aiming point will be *before* the touchdown point based on the conditions of the day. When an applicant during an oral tells me they are aiming exactly where they intend to touchdown I already know we are going to be unsuccessful (there is a serious lack of understanding here or they are doing a “stall-down” landing). Basic physics demands some energy to arrest the airplane’s descent and touch-down in the landing attitude.  A plane traveling 60K is using 100 feet per second. A standard 3-second “float” from a co-located aim point would already make this maneuver unsuccessful.

A/C Performance: Determine Your “Float!”

Deciding the aim point will depend on the type of aircraft you are flying. Two essential factors are your *ground speed* entering the level-off, and the amount of “float” your aircraft provides. Obviously, the airspeed has to be precisely controlled by the pilot, but the ground speed will inevitably vary with the wind conditions. So pick your aim point carefully based on the conditions of the day (closer to the point with more headwind).

What speed to fly into ground effect and the amount of float are the essential data every pilot must gather and apply while practicing this maneuver to achieve a predictable result. The amount of “float” varies with each airplane, loading and conditions; some airplanes float and some are “bricks!” Managing this is the real secret to accuracy landings.

All this is energy management, physics, and understanding determine the control during the last part of the landing. This is the number one problem with most of these accuracy landing attempts. Forcing the plane onto the runway is not allowed, the ACS specifies touching down in the landing attitude. So depending on the wind down the runway every applicant should have a calibrated aiming point before the touch-down point. Way too much focus is put on all the other pattern procedures of this maneuver. These adjustments are all intended to achieve the proper energy state at the predetermined aim point over the runway. Ultimately every pilot should be able to fly this maneuver in any plane on any day with varied configurations and conditions.

Airspeed: Fly Precisely and Consistently On Speed

So starting abeam on the downwind, practice this maneuver the same way every time (whatever your technique might be). And this should not be some unusual and exotic formulation. Keep this maneuver as “normal” as possible and eliminate all the variables; just shorten the ground track to the runway for the greater (power-off) rate of descent!

One important difference from a “normal” landing is that after power reduction, is slowing to the best glide speed (and trimming) immediately. This slower speed in every plane is (by definition)is  the “bottom of the drag curve.” This means that a subtle +/- five knots will add drag and increase your descent rate (a very powerful expert tool). Add the first flap selection before turning base as usual, to help stabilize the airspeed, configuration, and descent rate. The base turn position is critical and determined largely by the wind down the runway (just like every landing).

Attitude/Altitude: “Relative Motion” to Judge the Descent Trend (Use Your Ground Track)

If the speed is stabilized and the descent rate is as desired, add the second notch of flaps halfway through the base  before the “key position.” More important than a rote (pre-determined) altitude or point on the ground, is the descent trend you are observing and relative motion in relationship to your aim point. This maneuver is different every time and you will have to adjust based on observed conditions. You also may be asked to perform this at any airfield or wind condition; not just your “warm fuzzy home base airport.” Focus and adjust based on what matters: standardized configuration, stabilized descent, and the visual movement of the aim point.

At a stabilized airspeed and standardized configuration, carefully determine if the aiming point on the runway is moving up or down in relation to your airplane. This is the critical decision point at the key position.

This relative motion will tell you whether you should turn toward the runway (if the point is rising and you are trending low) or high (the point is descending in your visual field and you are trending high). Fix any variations in altitude with ground track.

At a constant rate of descent, adjusting the distance to the runway will determine your touch-down point.

Adjust your track over the ground, cutting toward the numbers if you are low, and squaring off the base if you are high. The objective turning final is to be a little high since you have more drag available to create a higher rate of descent, and a forward slip is available if you misjudged the wind on the final approach.

Keep everything standardized and save the final flaps for the final approach, when subtle adjustments can be applied. As mentioned, the final should be slightly high since more flaps are available (meaningful repetition). But wait until you are lined up and stabilized to make this determination. If you are low at this point the maneuver is already unsuccessful.

Again: the most important data point once established on the final approach is the relative motion of the aiming point in relation to your nose picture at a stabilized airspeed. The three tools you have to add drag are more flaps, slowing your airspeed a little for more drag (raising the nose slightly), and a variable forward slip. Exercise each of these options carefully and one at a time. The objective is to smoothly reach your aim point with the proper airspeed. Everything about the commercial checkride is demonstrating smooth accurate control.

If all your adjustments have worked out, your airplane should be entering ground effect with the aiming point just over the nose, at your pre-determined airspeed (energy state). The last 200 feet should be stabilized  and on speed. Remember that slipping causes inaccurate airspeed indications, so maintain your pitch attitude (don’t chase the A/S) to control your energy.

The final adjustment (expert-level technique) that can fine-tune your touchdown is how you manage the flare. If you are slightly short, you can extend your distance in ground effect with a more aggressive “hold off” gaining almost 200 feet of runway: Diamonds work best for this, Cessnas pretty good, but Pipers “not so much.” It is far better to be a little short for this reason and know your airplane. If you are long on the aim point or have extra energy entering ground effect, you are out of tools to create a “touchdown at a proper pitch attitude. ” If this was Air America you could dump the flaps and other tricks. Read the Commercial ACS carefully for this maneuver; have fun, and practice in varying conditions. The video below is a 360 ° Power-Off Accuracy Landing, but demonstrates many of the techniques mentioned above. The “slipping turn” is a powerful tool many pilots fear (lack of understanding) but we use extensively in gliders…

And then, of course, there is the amazing Bob Hoover, with a loop, roll and landing all power-off in a Shrike Commander: HERE

If you make every landing an “accuracy landing,” the 180 will not seem so intimidating; skill acquisition is the whole objective here. All these subtle adjustments should be what a pilot is doing on *every* landing. You do not get better with just one day or one maneuver, we should always be working to improve our skills. Fly safely out there (and often!)

See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” FOr more Resources

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


“Soft Skills” for Safety; Honesty/Flexibility!

We often talk about safety only in terms of pilot operator skills and capability; very objectifiable attributes. But regardless of how proficient and talented a pilot might be, we all have limitations. Challenges that exceed the skill/knowledge capability of a pilot lead to accidents or death. This “safety equation” of skill vs challenge is unforgiving. For safety assurance, there must be an honest match between the pilot’s capabilities and the challenge of the day. Weather, terrain, A/C performance, and pilot endurance continuously present ways to get in trouble. Regardless of the level of challenge, there must be a “margin of safety” between pilot capability and task requirements to come home safely. The major problem is we don’t honestly assess our personal capabilities.

In our modern technological world, most challenges are painfully obvious; a nasty cold front ahead,  gusty winds or some lurking convective. The accident results when the (usually overconfident) pilot takes off and assumes too much challenge! Basic honesty is the lacking safety ingredient. Watch a few AOPA accident case studies – very therapeutic – where the dead pilot ignored the “known threat” or believed they could overcome it (“magical thinking”). These accident recreations play like horror movies where the audience is screaming; “don’t go into that dark and scary house ” – we all know the hero is going to die. The threat is obvious to everyone except the overconfident pilot, to whom this seems like a good idea. Not so much…

So brutal honesty is the tool we need to start out with: “Do I have the skill, knowledge, and endurance to handle this challenge?” Unfortunately, for the average pilot, an honest personal assessment is amazingly difficult. I think this is one (seldom-stated) reason why the safety record for two-crew operations is statistically 7X safer than solo flights. An honest arbiter provides an independent assessment of the challenges vs the skills and enforces good judgment. If every pilot just called a trusted friend before departing on a challenging flight, we might immediately be 7x safer.

This honesty goes beyond just the decision to initiate a flight. The common “just take a look” technique is often a lie that creates another set of hazards. Newton’s fourth law is “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion!” It is amazingly difficult to turn back or land short once a flight has begun. The only antidote to this kind of stupidity is setting absolutely objective “hard stops” before starting (again honesty). “If the ceiling drops below XXX or the wind is more than XXX I will divert or land.” Personal minimums are essential safety tools. Maintaining the “3 Ds” (Delay, Divert, Drive) is the viable option for safety.

The second major requirement (again psychological) of safety is building flexibility into the original plan. A rigid, unchanging “mission mentality” in the face of the dynamic challenges of aviation (weather, fatigue, and malfunctions) creates the second threat that is well represented in accident data. Pilots continue with an original plan into overwhelming circumstances once in motion and end up dead. In accident recreations, the “view from the balcony” makes these threats obvious. This objective skill is called metacognition. It is the essential ability to remove yourself from the action and objectively analyze the threats (thinking about thinking). I have diverted and landed short many times when my mind says (wisely) “This situation is starting to read like an NTSB report!” Another way to build this safety awareness is to ask yourself how you would explain your potential outcome to the friendly aviation inspector after the crash…

The mandate of a good CFI is to embed these critical “soft skills” into every pilot. These are the most critical and difficult skills to teach (or test). And this is where scenarios are the essential toolkit. Watching other pilots taking the wrong path (AOPA recreations) or allowing (leading) a learner to a wrong decision, demonstrates our human weakness for inaccurate self-assessment and “continuation bias“. The goal is to deliver this learning during dual training, *before* a future accident happens. The AOPA “Do The Right Thing” is also a highly recommended teaching tool. Building the habit of reflective analysis into every pilot is a lifetime learning tool to build awareness and save lives. This is similar to the instructional debrief and should become a habit in every pilot’s toolkit. “What went right, what went wrong; was my success luck or skill?” This is a critical question to answer after every flight. It turbocharges learning and helps keep you safe (and humble). Please fly safely out there (and often)!

See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” FOr more Resources

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here

Flight Test “Pilot Acronyms;” Good or Bad?

Flight test acronyms can be good reminders but must be backed up with a deeper understanding and context to be useful. Simple rote recitation (and forgetting what the acronym letters stand for) will drive your DPE nuts and reveal applicant ignorance rather than understanding.  With our accelerated training environment, the “oral” test portion is increasingly where PPL applicants “crash and burn.” Dig deeper for a thorough understanding. Hopefully, these examples might help.

“A-V-1-A-T-E” Acronym Confusion (Dig Deeper)

If the question is “What inspection(s) are required for VFR flight,” most of these items are not required.” Remember, at the VFR level, you could be testing in a Champ that someone owns. It is much better to start with most simple/basic requirements and layer on more detail based on airspace and operation (see below). This method reveals true understanding to your examiner. Acronyms demonstrate rote memorization that any DPE can see right through with a few questions. Demonstrate a thorough understanding of airworthiness instead of just spouting out everything that *might* be required or inspected. In AV1ATE, only the annual is a guaranteed requirement.

Reveal superior knowledge on a flight test by starting with the annual (required for every aircraft if not on a program). If this is not logged and valid, there is no need to go further, you are not going flying! If you own the plane, no 100 hour is required. The “V” (VOR check) is for IFR (and only if you are using the equipment). A pitot/static test or even a transponder is not necessarily required for VFR flight- nor is an ELT in certain cases: read CFR 91.207 to the end. Mentioning where “FAA legal” diverges from “safe and smart” and considering risk factors by contrast, will earn you big points here – relate risk factors to inop. equipment and your specific operation. Wouldn’t you rather have a two-way radio rather than a transponder anyway? You could at least get into a tower-controlled field.

To gain a deeper understanding of the required airworthiness items, spend a little time with a mechanic and really read the aircraft logbooks and POH (including the regulations cited in those endorsements). KOEL and MEL knowledge are in the ACS. Mentally place your plane in different airspace scenarios and think through what is *really* required. Go deeper than the “hangar flying drivel” everyone else parrots.

“A-R-R-O-W” Acronym Confusion (Dig Deeper)

The “O” in A-R-R-O-W (required documents) is *not necessarily* “Operating Handbook” as is often recited. It probably is required if the aircraft was put into service after the magic certification date of March 1st, 1979 (CFR 21.5, when the standard POH was required by regulation). Most older airplanes do not even have a POH, and are still airworthy (Champ/Cub again) . “O” in A-R-R-O-W would be better thought of as “Operating Limitations” and is often expressed in placards, markings on the gauges (green arc, white arc, redlines). Depending on OEM, an “Airplane Flying Handbook” might be required for older CAR 3 certificated airplanes. Check the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) for your airplane.

A simple weight and balance calculation (PA.I.F.K2e-f) is often pretty easy for applicants since it is a required knowledge test item, but pushing further to a correlation level and incorporating some aerodynamics (PA.I.F.K3) can quickly go beyond some pilot’s understanding. How many “Gs” is your plane rated for (limitations)? Are we in the normal or utility flight category? How do CG and weight affect Va (how does this change). One simple related question I ask that gets this conversation started seems to stump a lot of private (and  commercial/CFI) test applicants; “If an airplane can stall at *any* airspeed, how can we mark “stall speed(s)” on the ASI?”


The “required equipment” in CFR 91.205 is the historic heart of aviation acronyms (A-TOMATO-FLAMES) and this one works pretty well – if applicants can remember what the letters mean without writing it down. DPEs are required to require useful, *working* knowledge in aviation. I teach required equipment by “building the historic plane.” Have a look at an old Champ or Cub and see what equipment is onboard (we used to call these the “sacred seven”). The only flight instruments are the airspeed, altimeter, and compass, (no one seems to know this at the private level) the other four are for the engine. Seatbelts (no shoulder harness) are for the pilot/pax). Why is a stall indicator not required in CFR 91.205 and can we fly a C-150 without one? This is the start of how we progressively build the airplane. Shoulder harness, electrics, gear and MP guage are all added as your “historic airplane” gets more sophisticated; deeper uderstanding!

P-A-V-E: The Necessary (FAA) Acronym

Risk management is central to every ACS evaluation (PA.I.D.Rs/PA.II.A.Rs). Some old-school CFIs missed the memo here, but demonstrating pilot judgment (and PIC authority) is central to ACS flight test success (and your future safety)! Every applicant must be prepared to discuss their personal situation in detail, in terms of the FAA’s P-A-V-E paradigm and include a plan to mitigate these risks. Everyone’s performance suffers on test day, be ready to talk about that. Our “SAFE Checkride Ready!™” section of the SAFE Toolkit App has much more detailed information about the private, instrument, and commercial check rides. Fy safely out there (and often).

See “social Wall” on the SAFE website HERE

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


Spread Your Wings!

As pilots, we have an amazing diversity of “flying machines” available to us.  Unfortunately, most of us never take the time and money necessary to explore these unique experiences. In other articles here I have advocated for “envelope expansion” in your regualr piston flying. This builds unique skills but also enhances safety in all your other flying. Other categories and classes of flying machines are the pathway to transferable skills and new perspectives. To stay safe in aviation, it’s essential to challenge our skills regularly and also reexamine our procedures from time to time with a fresh perspective. In this article I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone a little and explore some new kinds of flying machines. This could be as simple as finally taking up your friend’s offer to experience flight in their Long-Ez – or try a glider ride at the local soaring school.

After a while in the air, everyone gets first ‘proficient’ at what they do regularly, then ‘comfortable’, and the very next stop is often ‘complacency.’ With complacency also comes the boredom of the “same-same round the pattern” flying and a diminishing safety margin if a surprise occurs. Very few of us challenge ourselves on a regular basis to get out of our “comfort zone” and build skills. The original excitement (and even the twinge of fear) from the new adventure soon goes away and we can get stale and rusty if we are not careful.

Not only is complacency damaging for safety, there is a definite trend of pilots dropping out after a bunch of years after they lose the original excitement of flight – the secret to longevity and growth is exploring new aviation adventures! The AOPA is currently partnering with the Recreational Aviation Foundation to encourage back-country flying From Peaks to Pavement: Applying Lessons from the Backcountry”  This is an excellent opportunity to restore challenge and adventure to your flying while building skills transferable to your everyday environment.

The amazing Ron Bragg when I got my DPE…years ago!

I learned to fly in 1970 and after acquiring all my ratings I ran a 141 flight school for 25 years. By necessity that means a lot of the same kind of repetitive flying. After 5 or 10 thousand hours of dual given, there is a diminishing level of new input in this flight environment (ask any CFI – the dreaded “burnout”). No matter how conscientiously you approach each day as a “fresh learning event” there is limited novelty and the human machine tends to stereotype each repetitive experience. As a pilot and especially as an instructor, you inevitably get stale and start “pattern matching” or stereotyping. This is a natural neurological process called “normalizing” – it’s complacency at work and not only is this bad for the piloting skills, it is also destructive to the instructional environment and safety. How many burned out CFIs have you experienced?  I could feel the excitement diminish hour by hour, day by day and year after year!

Fortunately, I discovered gliders (and then everything else that flies) could provide not only a lift in excitement and motivation, but also a unique set of skills to reinvigorate my daily world of flight. Once you are a proficient glider pilot (or instructor), the way you understand (or teach) a power failure in a piston plane is increadibly richer and more detailed…what a unique perspective to bring to a piston lesson.

Maybe you are a Zen Master and can approach each moment as unique, but I found the easiest path to escape “normalizing” is exploring a variety of new aviation experiences. Humans adapt readily to each new environment and we stereotype internally  without knowing it as part of our predictive perception. After a very short time, the scary edges and unusual procedures neurologically disappear and we get “comfortable” – even in the strangest environments – through normalizing. This process is a huge problem for safety because any pilot can subliminally adopt unsafe procedures through “drift” in everyday operations. Anything we do repeatedly becomes the “new normal.

Exploring other aviation environments  – and especially seeking instructional oversight and guidance with a creative professional – is necessary to gain perspective on our previously comfortable groove. We all need a shot of insight and excitement from time to time. I would encourage you to seek out and try some different flying. This experience will pay you back with new insights and skills that improve our skills and outlook. You will come back with a new perspective and fresh appreciation for your “normal” experience. Fly safely out there (and often!)

See our newly launched SAFE website HERE

Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).  10 Tools for New CFIs Here


Mitigating Greater G.A. Risk!

Flying for transportation, airline, and corporate, is designed to be “intentionally boring.” This is how we create safety; “No Surprises!” Conversely, recreational flying is geared toward enjoyment and “fun! And GA operates in a largely unregulated environment. In the corporate and airline world, the FAA regulates and carefully controls any risk to the precious cargo (the people in back). In GA we can legally fly IFR in or out of an airport advertising “zero/zero” or “1 mile clear of clouds” in G airspace; we make and manage our own risk parameters.

This article (fleshed out later) is based on SAFE presentations at OSH that encourage a more proactive safety system and attitude for GA flying. The safety challenge in the GA world is a much greater due to our freedom and flexibility! We need to import (and use) the great tools from the professional flying world to make our recreational flying safer, while still enjoying the fun.

In professional flying, 97% of the flying is handled by an excellent autopilot, not the crew. These flights are conducted to a limited number of airports; with large, well-maintained, predictable ) runways. Then there are endless redundancies and resources – weather planning and dispatch – that GA just does not have. A full flight planning and maintenance department and world-class initial and redundant training for the pilots. Simply adding a second pilot as crew makes a flight seven times safer. Not too many AirBus flights arriving at Alton Bay!

The objective of recreational flying is enjoyment or “fun,” and right there the level of risk can go exponential. The crazy flying we see on YouTube has a very thin margin of safety. Every pilot is their own risk manager; one of the greatest challenges. But even the safety-conscious recreational pilot (trying hard) faces a deck stacked against them. Here are some ideas for single-pilot resource (and risk) management:

No Dispatch or Maintenance Department

Most owners and renters assume the full burden of airworthiness. Often the biggest challenge is how much safety you can afford. The “cheapest rental” or “budget annual” are attractive but impose a “safety price” for sure. In most turbine operations, we have a trained team pre and post-flight and resources en route. Buying the best maintenance you can afford certainly lowers the risk. Having a trained mechanic do the oil change (and a brief inspection) adds another inspection interval too. And preflight diligence, both with the machine and the planning, catches many threats, even if you are just heading out locally to get your flying fix.

Superior Initial Training and recurrency

Professional flight crews receive extensive additional (usually type specific) training, both initially and on a continuing basis. To emulate this kind of augmented safety margin, a GA pilot must step up their game and train more frequently and escape their “comfort zone.

Mitigating the THreats of a More Diverse ENvironment

Airlines fly to about 50 major airports; well-maintained with extensive facilities and controls. GA pilots are flying to all sorts of diverse and very challenging fields. Think of seaplanes, to skiing, to back-country operations. Controlling the risk here is one of our primary challenges. A lot of time (as below) it just involves saying “no” and rejecting the lure of adventure. We all enjoy the crazy YouTube adventures, but many of these only succeed on luck and the failed attempts seldom get recorded (or celebrated).

“Saying No” to “Having Too Much FUN”

We all have strayed over that line of “too much fun” (and hopefully the penalty was not too severe). This should be a learning experience to how unforgiving aviation can be when we violate that essential “margin of safety.” We need to fly as mature adults and disregard the cry of that “inner child” for too much challenge and adventure…

This was written at #OSH23 (in a thrash) and needs more content (coming soon) Fly safely out there (and often)!

See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” FOr more Resources

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



AirVenture is mandatory for all organizations in aviation. It’s where pilots discover new ways to spend money and hopefully fly safer with all the amazing forums. For SAFE, it allows us to meet and listen to our members from all over the world. Stop by Booth B-2097/8 and get some show bling!

SAFE seminars will primarily be at the EAA Pilot Proficiency Center. A listing of all the SAFE seminars is HERE. (Watch the SAFE Toolkit App for a complete listing (and any last-minute changes.

Our SAFE member dinner will be held on campus at the Partner Resource Center (up by the bus park where they serve lunch to exhibitors). Las check indicated a few tickets left until we are filled up (get them soon)! Here are some great pictures Michael Miley took at last year’s event:

Fly safely (and often)! And be especially careful when landing at KOSH🙏

SAFE members (and friends) are invited to our Gala Dinner at AirVenture, Thursday, July 27th. Join us on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. Enjoy tenderloin medallions or broiled salmon (with a veggie option available). Included in one price is a choice of dessert and two drinks from the bar. Tickets are online now. Barry Knuttila (CEO/CFI/ATP) from King Schools will be speaking on challenges in modern flight training.

“Showtime” for SAFE CFI-PRO™

Experienced aviation educators know that many of the techniques taught to initial CFI applicants to pass the FAA practical test are actually harmful to real education. Every effective flight school has historically had techniques to “break in and transform” new academy-trained CFIs so they are “effective educators.” In my 25 years running a 141 flight school we hired CFI graduates from every college and academy. All these new CFIs were eager and excited to fly, but unfortunately only partially educated in the real skills necessary to teach well. No new CFI wants to admit this, but every senior CFI will nod in agreement, there is more work to do after the FAA temporary certificate to become an “effective educator!”

The required knowledge portion of the FAA test is highly useful, but the hands-on practical teaching skills taught to pass the flight portion are largely a “comedy of errors.” Most new FAA CFIs are safe in the plane (because they never let go of the controls) but they are not yet “educators.” To pass their FAA test, they were taught to talk incessantly at a rote-level and monopolize the flight controls and radio. This satisfies the FAA demonstration for safety, but this is not how we actually teach flying!

Experienced CFIs know, mostly through personal introspection, that every new CFI is basically a student teacher, learning the real tools necessary to communicate and educate learners on the job. In many cases the old joke is true “You have to ruin your first five students to learn how to teach well.”  And in today’s hiring market, by the time a CFI gets competent, they are off to their airline job. There are only 12K “active CFIs” in the US, and 2/3rds of these CFIs – teaching our next-generation pilots – have taught for less than a year. Many have even been pilots for less than a full year and have only 5 hours of real solo time. That is the reality of modern aviation.

SAFE has developed and deployed a trademarked course called SAFE CFI-PRO™  that is designed to supply the “missing manual” of effective teaching tools for these new and inexperienced CFIs. This tested course curriculum is designed to transition a brand new CFI from “good to great” as rapidly as possible, filling the many gaps in today’s rapid training CFI environment. Most flight schools lack experienced mentor instructors to build the necessary skills required for new instructors to become effective.

Our first SAFE CFI-PRO™ at AOPA in 2019 attracted the most senior CFIs in the aviation business. This was a great time and debugged our curriculum, but was not our target audience of new, young CFIs. New CFIs are usually deeply in debt and lack the funds and time to travel, so we modified the course to be available in-service at each flight school and academy.

Now we travel this program to individual flight schools and spread the content in the SAFEblog with very good reactions. New CFIs are actually hungry for this content. But we discovered that it is important to reach the new, young (often cash-strapped), CFIs where they live – FREE). This program is being deployed nationally and is available to all flight schools for the asking. We are seeking both your great ideas, help teaching, and financial support from the aviation community.


We modeled SAFE CFI-PRO™  on the original Orlando FSDO “CFI Special Emphasis Program.”. This innovative program *REQUIRED* a full day of additional training for all CFIs in the Orlando district in the 1990s. At the time, ORL FSDO provided 1/4 of all flight certificates nationally. In only two years, this FAA program achieved a 60% reduction in accidents across the district.

SAFE CFI-PRO™is designed to achieve a similar CFI improvement with a nationally available program. We cannot *require* attendance like the FAA so we need to provide this FREE to CFIs and reach them where they live. By improving CFIs, “the #1 influencer in aviation safety,” we will raise the competence and safety of every pilot. (and of course we are desperately seeking sponsors🙏) Fly safely out there (and often)!

If you are a new CFI looking for immediate guidance, Try our SAFE Mentor Program and reference some of the articles HERE.

SAFE members (and friends) are invited to our Gala Dinner at AirVenture, Thursday, July 27th. Join us on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. Enjoy tenderloin medallions or broiled salmon (with a veggie option available). Included in one price is a choice of dessert and two drinks from the bar. Tickets are online now. Barry Knuttila (CEO/CFI/ATP) from King Schools will be speaking on challenges in modern flight training.

“Comfort Zone” and “Pathetic” Spin Training!

The amazing lack of understanding of slip/skid/spin aerodynamics demonstrated by many applicants on flight tests is almost criminal. A simple rote recitation of “P-A-R-E” with no real understanding or experience is not going to save a pilot in an upset situation. Yet Loss of Control-Inflight (LOC-I) is the #1 fatal accident causal factor in aviation. Pilots who have not experienced flight in this area of the flight envelope will suffer from “startle” and lock-up on the controls when they are forced out of their “comfort zone” by surprise circumstances.

The SAFE Extended Envelope Training moves a pilot sequentially (and comfortably) into the corners of the flight envelope and creates greater skill, confidence, and safety.  This training is accomplished in a normal category airplane at your local airport. It builds great skills and is a preliminary step toward full UPRT  courses like APS utilizing aerobatic airplanes.

LOC-I is generally defined as an adverse flight condition that has placed an airplane outside of the normal flight envelope with a potential inability of the pilot to control the airplane using traditional pilot skills. Aviation Performance Solutions

It is not just new pilots that demonstrate this deficit in skill and knowledge. The “comfort zone” can be reinforced over years of flying. Most experienced aviators have not done a comprehensive stall series in years, avoiding any full-control maneuvers with great fear (failure in Flight Review). Consequently, these skills will be unavailable when required for upset survival. It takes a skillful and compassionate aviation educator to move a fearful pilot to the edges of the flight envelope. There must be trust and motivation on the part of the pilot to make this training successful.

Equipped with only the skills gained from normal licensing training, a pilot may be unable to cope in this environment. Delayed reaction, fear, panic, combined with an inability to correctly interpret foreign visual and other sensory cues, and a lack of the skill set required to correctly apply counterintuitive control inputs for safe recovery within this critical window, may all prevent an ill-prepared pilot from surviving an upset. Aviation Performance Solutions

Currently, most applicants on flight tests can barely accomplish a full stall without trembling (and they have been recently trained). Since LOC-I is the #1 cause of fatal accidents that usually end up in a stall/spin descent to a crash, more training is necessary here for *ALL* pilots to assure comfort, competence, and safety.

Much of this fear and timidity can be traced back to FAA SAFO 16010 and “watered-down” flight training. This document guides the ACS and requires flight test applicants to be evaluated at speeds above the stall warning activation. Since minimum controllable airspeed is no longer tested, most aviation educators are no longer *teaching*  this area of the flight envelope either. COnsequently, many new pilots are terrified of full stalls and have never seen a turning stall or a ballistic recovery. This failure in flight training is killing pilots every day through increased timidity and lack of basic skills.

SAFE has long advocated “Extended Envelope Training” for all pilots to develop comfort and competence beyond the everyday “comfort zone” of daily flying. Pilots without surplus skill and knowledge capability will be the victims of LOC-I when forced out of their smaller world by turbulence, weather or other precipitators of upset. The SAFE EET training syllabus can be used as a single training event for more proficient pilots or sequentially for less confident and competent pilots to increase their skills. EET is also an excellent “bridge” between commercial pilot competence and aerobatic aspirations. Learn to use the controls to their full operating limits and coordinate the rudder in all flight attitudes.

Another training intended to create full-envelope comfort and competence is the training performed to satisfy the initial CFI spin endorsement. Unfortunately, most of these endorsements are perfunctory, with very little substantive ground or flight training. AC 61.67C (Chg 2) provides very detailed and specific guidance on what should be accomplished during an initial CFI spin endorsement. CFI spin training is seldom done completely or correctly. We need CFIs who are both well-trained and comfortable in full-envelope training and also compassionate enough to lead other pilots successfully into full-envelope competency or we will never make a real dent in our accident statistics.

We recently had a grieving father of a young CFI contact us. His daughter died while teaching stalls in a large flight academy. A SAFE poll of CFIs revealed that a shocking 65% of CFIs, at some point, had to physically take control from a student who “locked up” on the flight controls. That is an astonishing frequency of student “fear paralysis” during training. Techniques to counter this kind of (avoidable) fear are seldom taught to flight instructors.

Fear, startle and lock-up do not only affect pilots, it is a threat to instructors who may not be fully prepared to handle these situations. Every flight training professional should take a quality upset training course, and every pilot should train fully in the slow flight/stall area to be comfortable and capable. That is what a flight review should include (at a minimum) Train the killers… Fly safely out there (and often)!

SAFE members (and friends) are invited to our Gala Dinner at AirVenture, Thursday, July 27th. Join us on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. Enjoy tenderloin medallions or broiled salmon (with a veggie option available). Included in one price is a choice of dessert and two drinks from the bar. Tickets are online now. Barry Knuttila (CEO/CFI/ATP) from King Schools will be speaking on challenges in modern flight training.