The Dangers of Timid Piloting

During a recent airplane owners’ gathering in Florida, I did a short poll of the audience on basic aerodynamics. One result reflected a common pattern: pilots fear banking past 30 degrees (especially in the pattern)!  Pilots at all levels erroneously believe 45-degree bank turn has much more “aerodynamic threat” (raises the stall speed much higher) than is actually the case. 70% of the pilots here thought a 45 degree turn added >40% to the stall speed (that is more than double the actual answer of 19%). And since most pilots fear banking and maneuvering in general, they are not confident enough for safe aircraft control. Generally, gentle and trimmed is a great idea for passengers and daily comfort, but timid piloting makes flying unsafe for many important reasons.

Like continual use of autopilot, super-gentle timid flying makes a pilot unwilling and unable to take accurate and decisive control when necessary (unpracticed skills are unavailable). Secondly, timidity in turning leads to pilots “turning the plane flat”- skidding the plane with rudder. This is much more dangerous than coordinated banking, and the real threat in the base to final phase of flight. A timid pilot’s brain is saying “danger: low and slow, don’t bank too much” due to gross misunderstanding of the real threat. The third problem with timid piloting adds more “airspeed buffer” and flies way too fast in the pattern. This leads to being unable to slow down and stabilize the final approach for a normal landing. All the accumulated energy gained through aerodynamic ignorance creates a much more dangerous landing. Most high-performance pilots fly final much too fast into the landing leading to porpoising and prop strikes. Other related problems are landing long and LOC on the runway. These are usually not fatal but regularly wreck expensive planes. 1.4 Vso on base to final yields almost 20% margin above stall even with a 45% bank (which is admittedly excessive). But most (timid) pilots get uncomfortable with even 30% of bank angle in the pattern.

Here is one more related point. Historic pitch/power dogma might lead to all kinds of pilot actions (depending on initial training) to attempt a correction in airspeed. Some pilots might simply add power (and often too much) to recapture lost airspeed. In a left-hand pattern the resulting uncompensated yaw might cause a further skidding force. A more nuanced approach to energy management (see new AFH Chapter 4 on energy management) would recommend a little power and a lower nose attitude (unload) and yield a better result. Practicing Envelope Extension Maneuvers at altitude makes a more confident and knowledgeable pilot. Fly SAFE out there (and often)!

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

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



Safer Flying; Single-pilot Resource Management!

This week’s blog is by Hobie Tomlinson (see bio below). With 40K hours and 9 type ratings, Hobie developed much of what we now call CRM when he was a 747 captain at TWA. Here is an excerpt from our SAFE resource library (free to members )…enjoy!

Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) are the abilitis of the crew (or pilot) to manage all available resources effectively in order to ensure that the outcome of the flight is successful.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) is most often used in general aviation and it is focused on single-pilot operation. SRM recognizes the need for pilots to seek adequate information from many available sources in order to make valid choices. Pilots must continue seeking this knowledge until they have obtained the proper information to make the best possible decisions under the existing circumstances.  Once a pilot has gathered all pertinent information and made the required decisions, the pilot must then continually assess the actions taken in order to ensure that they continually yield the desired outcomes.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) is a central skill in all ACS skills, it is the heart of being an effective pilot in command:

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) integrates the following disciplines:

Situational Awareness (SA) is the accurate perception of operational and environmental factors that affect the flight. It is a logical analysis based upon the aircraft, available external support, the operational environment, and the pilot. In plain language, it simply means ~ “knowing what is going on.”

Proper Situational Awareness is not simply just having a mental picture of the aircraft’s location; but rather, it is the continual mental maintenance of an overall assessment of all the elements which comprise the current flight environment and how each affects the flight. A pilot who maintains good situational awareness is knowledgeable of all aspects of the flight and consequently is able to be proactive in his decision-making process.

Conversely, a pilot who has poor situational awareness is typically missing several important pieces of information and is thus forced to regress into a reactive style of decision-making. A pilot with poor situational awareness lacks a vision of potential future events and is thus forced into making decisions quickly when unexpected events occur, often with very limited options. An example of poor situational awareness and reactive decision-making would be a pilot who does not adequately keep track of his flight’s progress (or the destination weather) and suddenly finds himself faced with destination weather which is below landing weather minimums and inadequate fuel to reach his filed destination alternate! (This accident actually happened to a Cessna Citation crew in Wilmington, NC.)

During a Typical IFR Flight, a pilot usually operates at several levels of situational awareness. For example, a pilot may be in cruise toward his destination with a high level of situational awareness when air traffic control (ATC) issues a revised routing consisting of an unexpected Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR) due to traffic volume. Because the pilot was not expecting that particular STAR and is not familiar with it, situational awareness is temporarily reduced. However, after becoming familiar with the STAR and resuming normal navigation on the new routing, the pilot again returns to a high level of situational awareness.

Factors which Reduce SA include the following:

        • Distractions
        • Unusual or Unexpected events
        • Complacency
        • High Workload
        • Unfamiliar Situations
        • Inoperative Equipment
        • Fatigue

Lack of Situational Awareness (SA) is almost always a precursor to an aircraft accident. The lack of situational awareness can be identified by the occurrence of one or more of the following events:

        • Failure to Stay Ahead of the operation by anticipating upcoming events.
        • Ambiguity ~ when two or more independent sources of information do not agree.
        • Fixation or Preoccupation ~ when the focus of attention is only one item at the exclusion of all others.
        • Confusion ~ the feeling of uncertainly, anxiety, or puzzlement about
        • No One Overseeing the task
        • Uncertainty about the current state of the task
        • Use of Undocumented Procedures (i.e. Shortcuts)
        • Departure from Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) ~ either intentional or unintentional.
        • Violating Task Limitations (or Standards)
        • Failure to Meet Task Targets (or Goals)
        • Unresolved Discrepancy
        • Incomplete Communication

In some situations, loss of situational awareness may be beyond the pilot’s control. As an example, a vacuum pump failure (or Primary Flight Display – PFD- screen failure for you technically advanced aircraft – TAA – types out there) and the associated initial loss of the heading and attitude indicators could cause a pilot to suddenly find his aircraft in an unusual attitude. If this situation occurs, established and trained procedures must be immediately used to reestablish aircraft control and restore situational awareness.

Pilots should be aware of the loss (or reduction) in situational awareness anytime they find themselves in a reactive mindset. To regain situational awareness, immediately reassess your flight situation by seeking additional information from other sources such as your flight and navigation instruments, air traffic control, uplinked weather data or flight service.

Flight Deck Resource Management (CRM or SRM) is the effective use of all available resources which include the following:

        • Human
        • Equipment
        • Information

Flight Deck Resource Management focuses on communication skills, teamwork, task allocation, and decision-making. While Crew Resource Management (CRM) usually concentrates on pilots who operate in crew environments, the elements and concepts also apply to pilots who operate in single-pilot environments (Single-Pilot Resource Management ~ SRM).

Human Resources include all personnel routinely working with the pilot(s) to ensure the safety of the flight. These people include, but are not limited to, the following: dispatchers, schedulers, weather briefers, flight line personnel, fuelers, maintenance and/or avionics technicians, pilots and other crew members, and air traffic control personnel. Pilots need to effectively communicate with all of these people. This communication is best accomplished by using the three key components of the communication process. These three key components are as follows:

        • Inquiry
        • Advocacy
        • Assertion

Pilots must recognize the need to seek enough information from the above resources to make valid decisions. Once the necessary information has been acquired, the resultant decisions of the pilot must be passed on to the individuals who are affected by those decisions. These individuals may include air traffic controllers, passengers, other crew members, fixed base operators and/or people awaiting the arrival of the flight. The pilot may need to request assistance from others in implementing these decisions and in some situations, this may even require assertiveness for all issues to be safely resolved.

Equipment Resources in many of today’s Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) include automated flight and navigations systems. While these automated systems provide relief from many of the routine flight deck tasks, they present another set of problems for pilots. The extensive programming required by automated systems tends to increase pilot workload during the least “structured” (and often rushed) preflight phase of the flight operation. It is imperative that pilots allow adequate time to correctly program their autoflight systems before beginning to taxi the aircraft and avoid any “heads down” time while taxiing. This is one of the most important steps for preventing runway incursions and/or other taxi deviations.

While Flying Enroute the automation, which is intended to reduce pilot workload, essentially removes the pilot from the task of managing the aircraft, thereby reducing the pilot’s situational awareness and promoting complacency. It is important for pilots to continually monitor the information provided by the flight, navigation and weather displays of Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) in order to assure that they maintain proper situational awareness. Pilots must be thoroughly familiar with the operation of; information presented by, and correct management of, all systems used (automated or otherwise). It is essential that pilots remain fully aware of both their equipment’s full capabilities and all its limitations in order to manage these systems effectively and safely.

Information Workload and automated systems (such as autopilots) need proper management to ensure the safety of the flight. A pilot flying in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) is often faced with multiple, simultaneous tasks, each with a different level of importance in ensuring a safe outcome to the flight operation. A high workload example of this occurs during the initial stages of an instrument approach to an airport. The pilot must be able to obtain the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) or Automatic Weather Observing System (AWOS) weather, review the applicable approach plate, properly plan his descent in order to be able to slow and reconfigure the aircraft by the Final Approach Fix, correctly program the communication and navigation radios – including all required automation systems – communicate with Air Traffic Control and complete all the required checklists.

The Pilot who is able to effectively manage his workload will be able to complete as many of these tasks as early as feasible in order to eliminate the possibility of task saturation (becoming overloaded) caused by last-minute ATC changes and communication priorities during a later and more critical stage of the approach.

Figure 1-11 (above) shows that the margins of safety are at their lowest point during this stage of the flight operation. This is where the majority of accidents occur. A large part of the reason for the high accident rate during this portion of the flight is that when a pilot delays (or forgets) routine tasks until the last minute, there is a large possibility of the pilot becoming task saturated and stressed. This task saturated condition will result in a large erosion of the pilot’s performance capabilities and probably even produce a negative safety margin!

Proper Task Management is a requirement for performing safe flight operations. Because humans have a finite (i.e. limited) capacity to absorb information, once the data stream exceeds the pilot’s ability to mentally absorb and process all the required information, task saturation results. When this data stream (information flow) exceeds a pilot’s ability to mentally process the information, any additional information will become unattended and/or displace other tasks and information already being processed. Once a pilot’s task saturation (officially called “channel capacity”) level is reached only the following two alternatives exist:

        • Shed the unimportant tasks
        • Perform all tasks at a less than optimal level

Automatic Task Shedding is a natural event during which the brain rejects incoming data in order to reduce its processing load. This prevents the brain from “locking up” as a computer will do when its processing capacity is exceeded. Because the brain is trying to reduce incoming data during “automatic task shedding,” it will always reject (dump) the most complex task first. The problem with allowing automatic task shedding to occur is that the most complex task which the brain automatically deletes will also be the most important task! This is why a pilot experiencing automatic task shedding will start “majoring in minors.” This is evidenced by the pilot performing some totally irrelevant minor task while a critically important, major task is being completely ignored.

New Flight Instructors are taught to identify task saturation in situations such as when observing a task saturated student concentrating on a minor task (such as resorting their approach plates) while a major event (such as the aircraft rapidly departing controlled flight and entering the very unusual attitude phase) goes completely unnoticed. (Another sure sign is the “glazed over” eyes.) A task-saturated pilot will also be relatively unresponsive to instructional input until his task load is significantly reduced. Just as in an overloaded electrical circuit, either the (information) consumption must be reduced or a circuit failure (automatic task shedding) will be experienced. During flight instructor training, they are taught to remember that a student-in-training is like a violin string ~ “They can only produce good music when they are kept under the proper tension!”

Circuit Failure (Automatic Task Shedding) is prevented by learning to always prioritize tasks (from most important to least important) and to recognize the signs of impending task saturation (an apparent sense of “time compression” accompanied by elevated stress levels). When these signs of impending “task saturation” appear, the pilot needs to implement “manual task shedding” to prevent automatic task shedding from occurring.

This is done by working the prioritized task list from the top down (most important to least important) while simultaneously discarding tasks from the bottom up (least important to most important). This process is continued until the task list is completed or the available time expires. Sometimes it is possible to increase the available time (i.e. requesting a delaying vector from ATC) when vital tasks (such as abnormal or emergency checklists) require additional time to complete before attempting a landing.

The pilot who is able to effectively manage his tasks and properly prioritize them will have a successful flight. (For example, do not become distracted and fixate on some minor problem – such as an irrelevant system malfunction.) This unnecessary focus is a sign of impending task saturation and any irrelevant focus further displaces a pilot’s capability, thus preventing his ability to undertake tasks of greater importance. By planning ahead and properly managing cockpit workload, pilots can effectively reduce their workload during the critical phases of flight.

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

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

The Dangerous Stalls (We Never Teach)!

As educators, we often teach only what we ourselves were taught – conveying the same good (and bad) information or techniques in the same way we learned them. It takes courage to call out and change errors and omissions from our mentors (they are our heroes after all). It also takes creativity and effort to forge new pathways and techniques. But this is what is required to make progress in safety; learning, and changing the “time-honored formulas” based on new data. Consider new trends like “startle” which has transformed our understanding of Loss of Control. Or teaching landings by training slow flight low over the runway instead of just touch and goes. Similarly, focusing more on take-off and departure stalls can be more effective for safety since this area of flight is much more toxic than the time-honored base-to-final turn. Once we understand the static inertia of flight training techniques, it is easier to understand why accident rates stay fairly level. As educators, we often miss training in dangerous areas of flight that regularly challenge pilots – and regularly cause accidents.

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.

Killer stalls occur repeatedly in accident dockets but we fail to train them. The flight scenarios that create stalls in real life often occur because of sudden power changes; either a loss of power on take-off or the sudden application of power during a go-around. But we inevitably train only the constant power stalls that lack the sudden yaw forces that confuse pilots and power spin entries. Why don’t we train these situations where accidents happen? Probably because they are pretty advanced and can be pretty scary for learners. It takes a very careful and compassionate CFI to work through even the “plain vanilla” stalls to the point that a pilot can comfortably recover, developing useful habits. Taking stalls even further requires both a committed trainer and a willing learner. So it is essential to first “sell” the necessity of these maneuvers with their safety advantage; it is also essential to have the “buy in” from your learner. These should not be inflicted on a pilot, this should be a mutually agreed upon “safety mission” and that is why they are in the SAFE CFI-PRO™ curriculum. We have a duty as professional educators to take our “learners” into these common “dark corners” where bad things can happen. And they are especially effective “added value” on a flight review.

Imagine an aircraft on take-off in a steady, trimmed, Vy climb encountering a sudden loss of all power (if you have not tried either of these stalls, please take an experienced CFI along). Recovery from this surprise requires an immediate and aggressive push to reduce the angle of attack. And this is uncomfortable for many pilots due to the proximity to the ground. For untrained pilots, sudden power failures on take-off almost always end badly (even on dual flights). This should be over-trained at altitude until unloading the AOA becomes an instinctive reaction.

Now imagine a very different configuration, just over the runway in the landing configuration, transitioning into the flare and raising the nose. Just before the flare at a high angle of attack, the sudden power application (simulating a go-around) is often mishandled and results in a LOC. There is no extra altitude to spare and reactions here again must be over-trained to be precise and immediate. Both these variable power stalls should be practiced at altitude (with an experienced, compassionate CFI) until they are instinctive. Fly safe out there (and often)!

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

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

Final Goodbye to (Required) VOR Approaches!

Conscientious CFIs and DPEs have been carefully skating on the edge of “FAA legality” with the ambiguity in the FAA interpretation of “instrument approaches” in the regs. Until now, if you follow the strict interpretation of “different approach” in the Glasser Letter (as different “navigational system”) you are continually searching around for an operational VOR to execute an approach for training (flying another approach over a “local VOR” is also not legal for testing – has to be the real deal). You might think this is silly, but Portland FSDO just terminated 3 DPEs (in one day) for various indiscretions – we try hard to do this job legally and correctly. The long X-C has to be verified for qualification. If a test is flown with improper procedures, heads will roll.

As a result, the FAA is rescinding both the Glaser and Pratte interpretations. Furthermore, because the regulations do not define “navigation systems,” Flight Standards Service (AFS) is in the best position to issue policy and guidance on what “navigation systems” mean and which ones may be used under § 61.65(d)(2)(ii)(C)…[C]ongress intended for courts to defer to agencies when they interpret their own ambiguous rules.

Clarification was just issued and disseminated with this FAA Legal interpretation, separating “navigational systems” from “approaches” and freeing up training to use a LOC and/or ILS in a training event under CFR 61.65.

In testing, Appendix 7 of the Instrument ACS requires two different *navigational systems* for the non-precision approaches. (One certainly could be a VOR) Knowledge of VOR seems critical since this is the FAA backup in the MON system if the GPS constellation fails. ILS precision, LOC non-precision works here.

To be perfectly clear (thanks to a comment); this FAA memo clarifies *training.* Testing remains unchanged specifying two nav systems for non-precision approaches (but nowhere requires *three* separate nav sources).

Fly safe out there (and often)!

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

Recurring Flight Training Fallacies!

Aside from new technology, flight training has not changed much since the days of Civilian Pilot Training in WWII; we operate with the same educational assumptions. Year after year, we teach flying with identical methods and get the same 80% dropout rate, alienating a huge potential pilot market. Ignoring 70 years of pedagogical experience and psychological progress, we embrace educational fallacies which are intuitively attractive – they seem like they should work – but have been proven repeatedly to be erroneous.

Here are some suggestions from a paper for the Office of Naval Research. These are educational fallacies we all can easily fall into. Aviation is by nature resistant to change (we cannot afford to “fail fast” to learn lessons). But “the way we have always done it” is equally unproductive. Experiment and innovate in your training and avoid these proven educational fallacies.  Our failures in flight training are often counted in future lives lost.

Training programs for developing high-performance skills are often based on assumptions that may be appropriate for simple skills [but] fallacious when extended to high performance skills. All of these fallacies have some truth [but] when taken to extremes, they often produce inefficient training programs.

Practice makes perfect

This fallacy assumes that simple repetition will magically cause improvement. (Monkey see, monkey do, do, do…) Unfortunately, repetitive practice of complex tasks often only creates frustration. Though simple tasks can usually be mastered with simple repetition, extrapolating this technique to complex activities simply does not work. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that practicing a variety of related skills, or interleaving unique challenges are dramatically more effective at building solid skills and reaching a final performance goal. Deconstruction and variety (see below)  create greater flexibility and resilience in a learner’s performance and achieve a superior result in a shorter time.

Training of the Total Skill

This fallacy assumes that it is best to train a complex skill in its final form. This is continuously demonstrated at every flight school practicing very early stalls or touch and goes. To be effectively taught, complex and variable maneuvers like these must be deconstructed into their meaningful parts which are instructed separately first.  Watching repetitive “crash and goes” with no improvement (or even basic airspeed control) is the most obvious example of this myth. This is just an example of flight instructors turning time and money into frustration. There is a whole field of research called “Cognitive Task Analysis” that dissembles master performance into individual teachable components.

Skill learning is intrinsically enjoyable

This fallacy assumes that skill training is inherently fun and motivating. As a result, many educators forget to build accomplishment and a sense of mastery into training. Extrinsic rewards, variety, and fun are essential to keep learners excited, motivated, and moving forward. This is especially true in a complex, time-consuming skill like flying, where the goalposts are often out of sight. Use creativity and incremental mastery to motivate your learners.

Early focus on perfection

This fallacy assumes the primary goal of training is to achieve initial perfection. Though we all strive for high accuracy in aviation, setting unrealistically high initial goals (and perfectionism itself) is a trap that demotivates learners. Educators need to set achievable goals and incrementally raise the bar for higher achievement as skills improve. E.g. pre-solo +/-200 ft, moving to +/- 100 before solo X-C, then +/- 50 before the flight test?

Initial performance predicts eventual outcome and success

This fallacy assumes we can measure the final product from a very limited early exposure; “I can tell a good pilot in the first hour!” This has been repeatedly proven incorrect, though negativity and “self-fulfilling prophesies” often create failures that “validate” early predictions. Flying is appropriate to a wide variety of beginners, and each learner has unique and very different abilities. There is no way to predict their final level of achievement at the start.

CONCEPtual understanding will translate directly into proficiency

This fallacy assumes that presenting considerable information in the classroom precludes the necessity for hands-on practice (“I told them that”). Thinking and doing are very different activities (and also different parts of the brain). Classroom preparation and mental simulation (e.g. “chair flying”) are very valuable but no substitute for actual “hands-on” flying activity.

We have a very unique challenge as aviation educators. Our success is often measured in lives lost. We have a critical responsibility to be professional and create the best and safest pilots possible; we can’t afford to “fail fast” in aviation. The FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook provides only the very basic starter kit for a serious educator. The National Academies Press’s “How People Learn” is free to read online or download as a pdf. It is by far the best educator reference. Here are some great mass-market books for educators on the learning process:

And here is a great (free) guide for students (and we all are students aren’t we?) Fly safe out there (and often)!

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

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

Complete Engine Failure; Are You Ready?

I had a blog ready to go but this amazing emergency response should be examined; too good to ignore. Put yourself in this pilot’s position, could you respond this professionally? What elements, planning and skill, made this work so smoothly?

This is a perfect example of professional flying after a catastrophic engine failure, handled gracefully. The pilot was calm and accepted the emergency (no denial, no panic). He was also skillful, heading directly to a nearby field (none of the usual delay, indecision, or 10-mile final). Additionally, this pilot was resourceful, soliciting the controller’s help (who was also a pro) and the result was a perfect landing at a nearby alternate.

Obviously, luck played a part in this successful outcome, great weather (though filed IFR), altitude to play with, and a nearby airport. But probably good planning, – “making your own luck” – was also involved.  This means staying current on emergencies, planning the cross-country route over airports rather than over mountains, and keeping the piloting skills sharp to make this emergency look easy (notice the steady sight picture). Can you imagine the outcome here if this was solid clouds into the mountains (no ceilings)? Notice his technique of heading directly to the field and losing altitude overhead to enter a familiar abeam approach. This pilot was glider-rated (though he said it had been a few years since the recent glider experience).

Unfortunately, DPEs seldom see this reliable technique on flight tests, so CFIs are obviously not teaching it (another critical skill not in the ACS). For success with a glide, head directly overhead the field (glider pilots call this high key), and dissipate altitude in a spiral (remember those descending spirals in the commercial ACS?). Plan your descent and turns to enter a normal abeam position (low key) at the usual  1000agl. This has a calming effect and makes the “emergency” into a more familiar and predictable event. In most flight tests, nervous applicants often attempt an amazingly long final which prevents predictable sink analysis and provides no options when the glide is misjudged. A descent directly above with a standard pattern should initially be aiming for the middle of the field. This allows adjustments for altitude error by scrubbing off altitude last (with more flaps or a slip) when the field is assured.

Airshow monster Rob Holland lost his engine while flying home from a Florida airshow in his aerobatic MXS-RH. He describes his decision process and his technique landing on a closed private field in Episode 25 of “I Learned About Flying From That.” His MX descends at 3500 fpm and the (abandoned) runway was 1700′ X 25′ with Hurricane Harvey damage still littering the runway. An exciting event only Rob could pull off.

Buying some dual in a glider is great insurance for experiences like this. It is also big fun. After a few landings, events like this seem “almost normal.” Glider experience also builds maneuvering skills and sharpens awareness of the interactive effects of sink rate and wind drift. Every glider landing is a one-shot deadstick (game over, no replay) event. See Kai Gersten “Off Airport Landings” for some advanced techniques.

When an engine blows up – and this happens despite most careful maintenance – you want to be this guy, not a twisted pile of aluminum in the trees; great job! Fly safe out there and often.

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

SAFE Update On New “FAA CFI Policy”

FAA policymakers assured SAFE today that FIRCs are not going away and that “ALL CFIs will be able to meet the recent experience requirements.” These are both direct intentional quotes they wanted to be publicized. Look at CFR61.217 for how (non-expiring) ground instructors work (multiple pathways for currency). Kinda cool that your CFI will never expire?

The reason there are not yet more details is “this policy is still on the assembly line” and details need to be resolved and consistency assured throughout the agency. The full rule, and all the details, will be published in the Federal Register soon. The public will have an extensive comment period in accordance with the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) system.

The primary cause for this change is  to meet the FAA’s “unified agenda.” The CFI certificate is the only one that expires and this is both costly and quite frankly inconvenient for everyone. The future CFI certificate will never expire; you will continue to “exercise the privileges” by meeting the “recent experience requirements” (still in conference). And to repeat: “ALL CFIs will be able to meet the recent experience requirements.” The FAA interpretation of “active” is NOT just signing 8710-1s for flight tests – a big concern expressed – but rather giving instruction at any level. This includes tail wheel,  spin, transition checkouts, flight reviews, etc; basically signing logbooks  and doing the CFI job (and there will be the FIRC as a fallback). Obviously more questions and details to come, but I think a lot of the hysteria is unwarranted and we have quite an extensive opportunity to comment. Fly safe out there (and often)!

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


CFI “Experience Validation” (No Expiration)?!

This image from an FAA presentation got a lot of attention (and I am sorry we do not have much information yet). But this is a very early “pre-decisional proposal” – basically a “media balloon” – intended to test public opinion and start a discussion (yes the FAA watches social media very carefully). The FAA proposal is to eliminate expirations for flight instructors and simultaneously restrict “exercising the privilege” based on some required activity and/or experience – consistent with most other certificates. Any formal proposal will have to go through a very long official NPRM – comment – process. This will require lots of input from industry and individual CFIs – so don’t panic yet. This idea has been around for many years – see this article from 2010  and there are some good reasons to consider a change. More details will be forthcoming from the FAA, but let’s explore this just a little.

This action would remove the expiration date on flight instructor certificates. In addition, it would remove the requirement for a flight instructor to renew his or her flight instructor certificate. Instead, the rule would call for the flight instructor to meet and demonstrate recent experience requirements to exercise the privileges of his or her certificate.

I renewed a CFI Friday (as this story was breaking) using his FAA WINGS activity. Remarkably, this is not on the FAA WINGS Instructor page but only available in AC 61-91J. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a tab on the FAA WINGS site where a CFI could keep their instructor certificate valid – no FIRC – the same as pilots keep their certificate current? The WINGS program would be a natural learning platform for providing CFIs with “master-level” education. The FAA already has lots of other “activity renewals” under CFR 61.197(a)2ii. Most DPEs can perform any of these functions and it currently only takes about 10 minutes to renew based on activity. CFIs are qualified for renewal under CFR 61.197(a)2ii based on their activites/experience over the last two years. I would imagine the new process would be similar but not require the DPE.

Many part-time CFIs immediately expressed displeasure, imagining the FAA will only count 8710 sign-offs for “activity” – and their instructor privileges might be in jeopardy. But “active” by that definition only represents 8% of the current CFI population. And professional pilots, teaching part-time, are the richest source of experience in our flight training community. FIRCs, now almost exclusively online, have increasingly diminished in duration and quality in recent years. And the NTSB is crying for better FAA oversight of CFIs – and enforcement of an 80% pass rate for active CFIs. Change is in the wind, we’ll soon see where this goes. Fly safe out there (and often).

Thank you to Jason Blair for the link to the new FAA proposal: HERE

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

“Cautious to Cocky;” Avoid the “6C Progression!”

“Cautious to cocky” is a normal progression of human adaptive behavior, built into our DNA. “I don’t know about this” quickly transforms into “I got this!” This is how humans conquered the globe, expanding to 8 billion people and wedged many less adaptive creatures into extinction. Experiences that are initially “weird” or “scary” inevitably become the “new normal.” This adaptive behavior is called “normalizing.”

As pilots,  experiences that are initially frightening soon become “every day OK.” Some degree of risk acceptance is necessary –  we have to adapt and overcome initial fears to successfully learn to fly. But we also have to be wise enough to stop at “confident” rather than proceed all the way to “cocky.” Needless to say “normalizing” past a critical tipping point, paves the way directly into an accident. Where and how do we draw a sensible line to maintain safety? What level of confidence and risk acceptance are appropriate?

It is important not to confuse this process with Dr. Diane Vaughn's "Normalization of Deviance" famously described in her analysis of the NASA accidents. This is a more extreme form of adapting behavior that leads to accepting an inherently dangerous activity. Normalization of deviance as Dr. Vaughn describes it is most commonly exhibited in a group and even operates at a cultural/political level.

A second factor in adapting along this continuum is the loss of awareness and the assignment of habitual behavior to perform repetitive processes (this is where the “complacency” comes in). 90% of our daily activities are habitual, by necessity, in our busy world. We are increasingly overwhelmed by data input and task requirements. Habits automate common tasks and work well when appropriately applied in a predictable environment.  The real danger here comes with the associated loss of awareness. Habitual behavior, by definition, quickly slides into complacency. It is critical, as pilots to practice metacognition. This is the higher-level awareness constantly monitoring our behavior, to ensure each habit is appropriate to the situation. “Cognitive bias” is another normal “efficiency tool” of the human mind that leads us into problems. This process works by assuming the future always resembles the past. Unique and challenging situations can easily get misinterpreted as “reruns” with inappropriate behavior and unfortunate results.

It is almost impossible to draw a safety line independently without an objective standard. “Standard Operating Procedures” are an important starting point” “why do I know better than the rest of the wise pilots that developed these rules?” An external trusted arbiter (CFI or mentor) is often a solid source of wisdom.  If you are in doubt (thank goodness for introspection and metacognition), consult an outside source; this is why mentoring is so valuable. A good pilot is always reflecting on their personal performance, asking questions and grading every flight. This is the only way to stop our natural progression all the way to stupid (take it from a guy growing up with several brothers). The smartest people in the world (NASA’s “High-Reliability Theory”) are the poster children for “normalizing” something incredibly stupid. If they can do it, it is even easier for us. Awareness of this problem should always be handled intentionally, complacency is never OK. Humility is the antidote to inappropriate normalizing. Stop at “confident,” and leave the “incredibly stupid/cocky” for YouTube stars. Fly safely out there (and often)!

This blog is directly drawn from Todd Simmons's presentation at Redbird Migration 2022. The accident he describes was covered in detail in AOPA ASI's ‘Real Pilot Story from the Field’ series about his Carbon Cub crash. https://youtu.be/NGt6TmkYdUw

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

Redbird Learning Opportunity!

Redbird Migration is an amazing gathering of aviation people from all over the country; a fun and exciting networking opportunity. Top trainers, administrators, and business people who run schools and university programs get together and share ideas and techniques. All these presentations are available live and archived online; tune in on the dedicated App! The AOPA Flight Training Excellence awards for the “best in the aviation” will also be announced at this event.

Some “food for thought; ask some “out of the box” questions!

Why can’t a certificated pilot (easily) rent an airplane anywhere like you rent a car? Why will some schools *not* rent to pilots they just trained and tested?

Why do pilots pass the “FAA Test” but insurance companies really are the ones who “set the standards!”

How can we expect CFIs with less than a year of total experience (teaching and sometimes even flying) to be “professional educators?” How “masterful” is *your* CFI?

Why do YouTube “CFI Rockstars” (with very little experience and “dual given”) perpetuate such terrible teaching technique?

My SAFE presentation (and see Redbird tab on the SAFE Toolkit App) targets the new (hour building) aviation educators that primarily train today’s pilots. CFIs (not DPEs) are the primary influencers in our industry, and we need to do better job educating, testing and mentoring them. The simple fact that 2/3s of CFIs have taught for less than a year, are poorly prepared to do this, and leave for the airlines at only 1500 hours is ruining the professionalism and safety of our industry. And we need experienced CFIs to mentor these beginners! Our training system increasingly focused on absolute ACS minimums leaves critical skills *untaught* and creates a spiral of diminishing skills. Some changes are so simple they are a slap in the face; e.g. if 60% of accidents occur during crosswind takeoff and landings, why don’t we train and test these skills? SAFE is advocating 10 logged crosswind landings (like night) for all initial pilot applicants.

On the business side, aviation continually accepts an 80% dropout rate and we teach flying exactly as we did in 1941 despite amazing new tools (like simulation) and modern educational techniques.  A huge part of the American population is not even interested in aviation; the 2021 Redbird Survey revealed 80% of Americans would *never* work in aviation. This fact, and the 6% female participation, demonstrate how poorly we market aviation as an exciting and available career or recreational possibility.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). Download our (FREE) SAFE app for resources and news. Watch Redbird Migration LIVE!

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of building aviation excellence through superior education. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile (the 1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues). Our super CFI Insurance is the best in the business!



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