Combat Advice for Pilots (Mario’s Rules)

We do not fly in combat but these are great ideas for every pilot!

I am a sponge for advice from qualified people. In aviation, these “been there, done that” people possess a wealth of knowledge that is usually overlooked in our modern pursuit of the “new and shiny.” The finer points and greater general truths in aviation are subtle and obscure. True learning in our world is an apprenticeship that never ends. So when I present safety seminars and need fresh material, I often solicit “best practices” from these proven aviators. The stories and advice are often amazingly helpful. One such man, a veteran of 125 combat missions over Vietnam (and still flying) shared these three fine rules to apply to your flying for greater safety.

Never assume you know it all, there is always more to learn and in fact, situations continually change so more study is essential. Mario Tomei is an older gentleman who gives knowledge tests for the FAA at our flying club. When some aviator rejoices at barely passing with the minimal 70 points (mensa!) Mario usually sighs quietly and conveys his important counsel; “You proved you know enough to pass, but not enough to fly safely…please go home and study more, you will need this knowledge at some point” And as a pilot examiner I can second that advice. There are some applicants who might scare us a little but by the FAA rules of engagement are entitled to pass (we administer the government’s test). They may skate along the edge of failure for a whole evaluation but also barely tumble over the bar. These people, just like the lowest score in medical school, are “fully qualified” and no will know how marginal their skills might be. Same advice, “for safety, more study and practice is essential.” And to be a safe pilot at any level, we are always studying and learning.

Always rely on standard operating procedures and a checklist. This is especially helpful when the fertilizer hits the fan. When I inquired about this advice, Mario mentioned being inverted in formation in a high performance jet fighter when an engine flamed out. “Disengage the formation, descend below 30,000 ft and attempt a restart.” (I am paraphrasing here but apparently it worked, and he convinced me) How many accidents could be avoided by simple reliance on standard, operating procedures and checklist guidance? A basic humility is required to accept that we are human and consequently subject to mental errors. Most pilots seem uniformly “alpha” and inclined toward over confidence. Only our better nature can control this “inner child” and apply discipline to everyday flying for safety.

Always maintain a sense of wonder at what we accomplish daily as aviators when we defy gravity. A little fear is a good thing. It is essential to always keep your guard up and entertain a little fear (or healthy concern if you prefer) to maintain your vigilance in aviation. The Marine Combat Hunter Program calls this “Operating in the Condition Yellow” for optimal situational awareness. If you perceive no threat there will be no awareness. Applying this precept has saved many lives in all areas where danger lurks. Always entertain the possibility of surprises and failures because nothing about “it worked before” really means it will work this time! “Fat, dumb and happy” is a sure recipe to turn a shiny aluminum plane into future beer cans. Thank you Mario Tomei for all you have taught me. Let’s all fly safe out there!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Trump Proposes Corporate ATC

By any measure the US air traffic control system is the envy of the world for travel efficiency and safety. As GA pilots we enjoy the benefits of this huge managed system. But paying the huge bill for these services becomes a political football every year with congressional squabbles that create continual budgetary uncertainties, sequestration and great inefficiencies for that system. AOPA is a critical voice in the defense of General Aviation pilots in this squabble as is NBNA representing corporate aviation.

Obviously, secure funding of some form is needed to create long-term stability, efficiency and progress for the current ATC system. Additionally, though financially bloated and occasionally controversial, the FAA’s multi-year modernization program called NextGen, (the upgrading from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS systems) is the obvious next step in air traffic control. Whether we want the airlines running our ATC as a private corporation is obviously a question of concern for those of us in the General Aviation arena.

The Trump proposal is part of a $1.2 trillion discretionary budget blueprint for the year starting Oct. 1 to “Make America Great Again.” The proposal would have the Transportation Department start moving controllers “to an independent, non-governmental organization” claiming the move would “make the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.”

These proposals are nothing new in Washington. Last year President Obama proposed the same thing and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation that would have privatized air traffic control and imposed user fees on Part 135 charter operations based outside Alaska and Hawaii. This legislation was supported by the major airlines and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association but failed to make it to the floor and died amidst intense bipartisan criticism.

This year however, privatization is a more solid keystone of President Trump’s mission and this adds strength to these proposals to “corporatize” ATC and fund it through user fees. We will see how this plays out in the coming months. I would advise all concerned pilots to be vigilant and active in protecting the rights of general aviation (less than 1% of the electorate) or our future will soon  resemble the European model.

(BTW; these are *my* comments and may or may not represent the official viewpoint of SAFE. Approving every sentence included here would sure slow our ability to stay current with the evolving issues. We appreciate *your* comments below.)

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Leveraging Learning Technology in Aviation!

As aviation educators and flight students, we finally can enjoy the amazing new technology that makes learning much more efficient and enjoyable. “Artificial intelligence” or “machine learning” are really not about scary robots taking over our lives. “Intelligent technology” is more accurately the incrementally increasing difficulty that is the heart of every video game. Using this same “learning technology” to your advantage makes your aviation education much more efficient and enjoyable.

To help you pass your instrument knowledge test, the new GoldMethod program learns which aviation questions are most difficult for you in your study and refocus your effort specifically in these problem areas. After you take the first quiz (and reliably miss some questions) all future versions of that same material focus specifically on the areas where you have demonstrated weakness. Easy questions you have mastered disappear as you progress. These technology tools enable more rapid, thorough learning (rather that the usual rote memorization) for FAA tests. Especially with the new ACS integrated knowledge/skill format thorough learning of the knowledge elements is critical.  This proven pedagogical technique, know as “dynamic persistence factor,”  is as old as Aristotle but is now leveraged with on-line teaching technology thanks to Gold Seal (the first company to put a private pilot ground school on the internet).

Not only is the GoldMethod more efficient at improving your knowledge base and recall, it is more motivating and fun, incorporating a social sharing function with badges and a leaderboard. You can have fun competing with your friends as you learn; have you noticed pilots are kind of competitive? Why slog mindlessly through the same knowledge bank questions you already know? GoldMethod optimizes your effort with this new technology and raises the “intellectual resistance level” as you improve.

The IFR intelligence-based software is only $99 and it’s so efficient Gold Seal guarantees your success; they will actually pay for your test if you fail! For members of SAFE you can access this new instrument course for only $29! (and yes our membership is still only $45 a year)  Gold Seal is donating all this money to SAFE during this promotion (group hug!) This is a limited Sun ‘N Fun promotion so jump on it now and turbocharge your aviation learning.

All proceeds from the special SAFE/GoldMethod Promotion go directly to SAFE!
The folks at Gold Seal have made this program available at a deeply discounted price and donate all proceeds to our organization! (Group hug!)

SAFE provides resources for educational excellence and professionalism and Gold Seal’s new GoldMethod perfectly exemplifies these ideals. SAFE CFIs also get a free access to the related FAA Ground School website to create their own personal website and track their students as they progress. Leverage Gold Seal technology for faster and more effective aviation learning.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Can We Achieve “Perfect Safety”?

How we understand and perform aviation safety is largely determined by how we answer this important question; are “zero accidents” actually possible in flying? This answer is also critical for understanding and appreciating the entirely new FAA approach to deviations and accidents demonstrated in their new “Compliance Philosophy” introduced in 2015.

Historically, errors and accidents are understood to be the result of individual or small group human failures. This view assumes people generally make rational choices and that failures (deviations and accidents) happen because of a “broken component/bad actor” in the system and/or an irrational decisions. This viewpoint also criminalizes errors; “find the culprit and punish the offender”. Through retribution we will make the whole industry safer by incrementally purging each “bad actor”, like catching pests. With enough vigilance and effort this should result in a perfectly safe, zero accident environment.

However, a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to safety called “just culture” has recently evolved and is still not widely understood or embraced. “Just culture” was first mentioned by James Reason and fully articulated and developed by Sidney Dekker (who wrote this book). The “just culture” theory maintains that only a small number of human errors are deliberately caused. More typically, deviations are caused by the highly complex nature of our aviation system and the rapidly changing environment. Though each pilot may strive heroically to embrace and maintain a safe operation, the operational environment can lead to “honest errors”.

Through the lens of “just culture”, criminalizing every individual error actually decreases the larger goal of aviation safety by preventing the healthy reporting of deviations which alert and improve the whole system (witness the ASRS reporting system). Balancing safety and accountability is the key challenge to making this worldview succeed. It is inappropriate to claim every single error was a system failure and there is no human culpability. “Just culture” is not blanket amnesty, but rather defines the limits of personal responsibility and acceptable behavior within the system. Learning from our “honest errors” and building a better system are the goals of “just culture.”

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So how does this abstract theorizing impact the life of a modern pilot? Under FAA Compliance Philosophy the (new improved) FAA’s first reaction to a violation or accident will be education or “more training.” Enforcement actions are appropriately reserved for willful violators and rogue pilots. This is a beneficial change to the FAA interpretation and treatment of errors. This “just culture” paradigm increases our ability to troubleshoot and improve our aviation system through honest feedback. And though it’s not possible to  achieve “zero accidents”, we will increase the safety of our system over time through compassionate partnership with our regulators. The recent Jan/Feb issue of FAA Safety Briefing was entirely devoted to this new compliance philosophy. So though the price of our incredible freedom to fly recreationally will always result some accidents we can now work as a team to make our complex aviation system safer.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Slow Down, Add Oversight (FRAT), For Safety!

We have highlighted many amazing technological tools available to pilots in recent blog articles (and the significant savings available to SAFE members). These advances in technology for efficient planning are continually amazing but also occasionally overwhelming. By correctly using a familiar app, several clicks can plan a flight, incorporate the wind and weather, suggest alternates while analyzing the most efficient altitudes and also file the plan (in less than five minutes!) All this can occur before the higher levels of human risk planning have even been engaged;  It is possible to be off and flying before the “human risk processor” has geared up and asked “is this a safe flight?” The speed and convenience of all this wonderful techno-wizardry are exactly the problem.

slowdownTo be safe, it is essential to slow down this process and ask honest questions before every flight; Have you, as a pilot, actually engaged all this data on a personal level? Is “all available information” in your head or merely downloaded on the iPad? (did you *read* the NOTAMS?) Do you know how to operate your app fluidly? (see ForeFlight Power User) Finally, have you incorporated your personal mission parameters and are *you* mission qualified (e.g. hard IFR at night) to fly this flight?  Once you have processed the data personally it is essential to objectively make a safe “go, no-go” decision. Being honest and accurate (and avoiding the emotional desires) is the difficult part.

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-11-47-19-amIn part 135 charter flying, we have extensive Standard Operating Procedures, op-specs and levels of oversight from the Director of Operations on down to curate every significant pilot decision. I believe this is the reason professional flying is significantly safer than recreational flying. Professional pilots are not allowed to “just go flying.” We always have a second (or third) set of eyes on every important decision asking “does this really make sense?” There is a price for that amazing freedom we enjoy when flying for fun. If you want to make *your* flying safer you need to add in an oversight layer to your aviation decisions.

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-10-58-48-amIf you are facing a significant “close call/on the edge” decision, I highly recommend running it by an experienced flying buddy or CFI. Think of this like the PADI SCUBA initiative, where you always have a “buddy” check your equipment, monitor your decisions and make sure you are “thinking straight” to assure operational safety. Diving is a similar fun and exciting recreational activity with real physical danger if risks are not carefully analyzed. Lacking this you can employ one of the new FRAT apps to objectively analyze the risk factors. Still in final development is the FAAST Flight Risk Analysis Tool (or “FRAT”). This incorporates your personal level of proficiency and asks the hard questions about your abilities (just like my boss in charter)

The AOPA FRAT is fully functional and available here. This comes in two formats; quick check and detailed evaluation. AOPA has great media on risk management;  Click here for a great interactive program on personal risk management using modern technology. A second opinion can help you be safer and may just save your life when emotional “mission mentality” (get ‘er done) is overriding good sense!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Debrief Digitally (Like the Pros) With CloudAhoy!

flightsafetysimsProfessional part 121 (airline) and 135 (charter) pilots are required to train and pass a flight check every 6 months to retain their flight privileges. This usually is accomplished in full motion simulators at a professional training center like Flight Safety. This is an intense, high-stakes experience for every pilot and covers all normal and emergency operations critical to flight safety. Several short, but intense, sessions cover normal operations which morph into emergency descents and depressurization; it can be a long, challenging day in the box.

digitaldebriefThe most useful part of this fully immersive experience (at least for me) is the digital debrief that follows every sim session. This immediate playback composites full GPS map track, cockpit video and control activation in one program that can be analyzed in detail after each flight. The playback provides the opportunity to sit down calmly after each sim session to both understand and correct issues that occurred during the session. This replay also provides an absolutely complete and honest reliving of the experience; an opportunity to see your strengths and weaknesses for future improvement and safety. Digital debrief is a flight training force multiplier!

Historically this level of technological magic was only available at the big sim centers like Flight Safety due to complexity and expense. Now, thanks to CloudAhoy, every General Aviation CFI and flight school can access this amazing set of digital tools. The very newest version of Cloud Ahoy, with many new features, is being released Monday, February 13th (with a significant savings for all SAFE members).

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-11-24-21-amGive this amazing program a try (free test flight!) and discover the value of calmly debriefing after each flight experience. This complete replay, in a nonthreatening environment, creates a much better understanding and easily doubles the efficiency of every flight lesson. In addition to analyzing and teaching during playback, you will discover Cloud Ahoy also motivates and inspires students by validating their improvement. For DPEs and during stage checks, CloudAhoy can provide a verifiable digital record of exact performance for future records.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

Effective CFI; Attitude Control is Aircraft Control

Thank-you Charles McDougal, CFI (and former DPE) for these wonderful ideas and for helping us all become better CFIs. A good CFI is always learning!

When I passed my CFI check ride, I felt the full weight of my accomplishment. And after a few weeks of feeling brand new at it, I settled down and remember feeling that I was highly competent. In some ways, this was true; I was safe, kind, and really enjoyed working with students. But other aspects of teaching flight revealed themselves to me a bit later. And frankly, the learning has never stopped. Fifteen years of sitting in the right seat during practical tests as a DPE and trying to help students and instructors find better ways to teach and to learn had a helpful impact also. I hope that sharing some of what I have learned can help other new instructors to teach more effectively so that their students can learn more efficiently and with fewer difficulties.

The first thing I would ask flight instructors to do is to reexamine their concept of aircraft control. The age-old hangar discussion about pitch-for-air speed/power-for-altitude, does more to obscure a true concept of control than anything I know, and never ends. So, I will not comment further on those choices. Instead, I want to talk about this concept; Attitude Control is Aircraft Control.

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Now I know we can prove that control can be achieved merely through power adjustment, but this does not make doing so a valid control paradigm. Just as flying the airplane with the trim(s) does not make this a correct technique, even though it can work. In aviation, it is often the case that one thing is true, and instead of the other thing being false, it is also true. It is also possible to learn how to control an airplane in a way that is not correct, just plain wrong, and to still achieve a tolerable level of success. So, before we start talking about teaching an attitude based control concept and its execution in the airplane, we should make sure that this is the way we are flying and thinking when we ourselves are at the controls.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-9-43-22-amIn a nutshell; The way we control an airplane in flight is to use the flight controls to change or maintain the aircraft attitude, while ensuring sufficient thrust for the altitude selected and the airspeed desired for the current configuration and flight phase. This may sound overly simplistic, but do me a favor; examine every action a pilot makes after adding power for takeoff. First, we have right rudder to counter left turning tendencies and aileron to oppose cross wind forces – This is to maintain the longitudinal axis with the runway centerline and keep the wings level; maintaining an attitude. When we rotate, we raise the nose to a climb pitch attitude and fine tune the rudder pressure to stay coordinated, or with the longitudinal axis aligned with our flight path. With the first turn we roll the airplane, changing its attitude to create a horizontal component of lift, and a turn. Etc., etc., etc.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-9-45-10-amOn final approach, we set an estimated power setting and fly pitch for our descent to the runway. Too fast or too high, we adjust power and then go back to flying pitch, perhaps quite often or even continuously. Don’t believe me? How does a coupled autopilot system fly an ILS approach? It uses the flight controls to change or maintain the attitude of the airplane while the auto throttles, (or the pilot) adjusts power for airspeed.

So please examine the way you fly and the way you think about your flying. Everything we do is changing or maintaining attitude, make sure the student understands that this is what he or she is really doing. Unintentional stall base to final? Power is nice to have, but what fixes the problem is lowering the pitch attitude that supports a flyable angle of attack, rudder to keep the empennage behind you! Attitude Control is Aircraft Control!

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The concept that attitude control is what we are doing in the airplane at-all-times, notwithstanding the need for power changes, must be reviewed on every preflight briefing and reinforced during every flight lesson, at least pre-solo. Here are some ways to implement attitude flying concepts, as well as a few other tips that are guaranteed to make your instruction more effective.

  • Make sure you are teaching an attitude based control paradigm from the very first lesson, using outside visual references exclusively for control reference (the way the airplane flying handbook says), instrumentation only to confirm proper airspeed, heading, altitude, and power setting. We call this; Flying Outside, Checking Inside, versus: Flying Inside, Checking Outside. There is a huge difference!
  • For everything you are going to tell the student to do, develop commands that begin with; “OK, look outside and……”. NOT; “look at the ____ instrument and ….”. Maneuver first by outside reference, check the applicable parameter briefly to confirm efficacy of attitude and power setting.
  • When you are demonstrating a maneuver, concentrate on getting the student to look at the reference that indeed you are looking at (and this should be outside the airplane), and what you are doing to modify the picture. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate – you are not hogging the controls. Students need to emulate good examples of aircraft control.
  • NEVER be on the controls at the same time as your student. Let her fly, or transfer control and you fly and demonstrate, (or return the aircraft to a safe condition if that is the problem). When two pilots are both on the controls, only one of them has a clue what is going on…….and it’s not the student.
  • Require your student to use the checklist correctly from day one. This means, don’t use it as a read-then-do “cookbook” in flight. When airborne, normal procedures must be memorized; do the item from memory, THEN read the checklist to ensure everything has been accomplished. Other times, preflight, run up, takeoff, landing, emergencies – the checklist may be appropriately implemented either as a “do” or “review then do” list. Be demanding (but kind) enforcing checklist usage. Your student will only develop the ability to integrate the checklist properly if you require it on every flight. Someday this may save a life.
  • Don’t let your student land on the first lesson, or the second lesson, or the third. Probably not the fourth. If you do, you will be giving control commands (rather than the student seeing the need for attitude change and power adjustment), or even worse by “helping” on the controls. Instead, teach the student how to fly the pattern to a Go-Around from 50 feet or so. Then, you take control abeam the numbers (on the second approach) and demonstrate, getting the student’s attention OUTSIDE the airplane at the things you are looking at to fly the pattern and land. After four or five lessons the student will have learned how to execute a safe go around, and due to the law of primacy, will always have this skill available, will have seen multiple demonstrations of good pattern and landing procedures (including your relentless and correct integration of the PRINTED checklist, and will be “ready to learn” when it’s time for them to land.
  • Require your students to show up early, get a formal weather briefing including all elements of a standard briefing, calculate weight and balance manually, and be ready to brief you on the day’s flight lesson. If this doesn’t happen, don’t fly; turn the lesson into a ground session including the importance of preflight preparation.
  • Always require that your student have current charts, AFD, plotter, and flight computer with them on every flight. Turn the G1000 to full dim regularly. Fail the iPad regularly. Do not allow own ship position on the iPad.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-9-51-18-amMany of these tips are orbital, meaning they are peripheral techniques used to implement the core curriculum. The core curriculum is the concept of attitude flying. Any student should be able to respond correctly to this question by his third flight; How does a pilot control an airplane in flight? – By using the flight controls to change or maintain aircraft attitude while ensuring adequate power for the attitude selected!

As always, if any of this seems unfamiliar or extreme, or even substantially different than how you are used to flying and teaching (and thinking), then make sure to experiment with a senior instructor to ensure the safety of both you and your students.

Best wishes for safe and effective teaching!

charlesmcdougal

Charles McDougal started flying in his late 30’s after a 20-year career as a performing musician. Instructing at the flight school where he learned to fly, he eventually became Chief Flight Instructor, supervising the activities of up to 35 CFI’s. In 1999 he was designated as a Pilot Examiner by the FAA. For 15 years Charles approached aviation from three tangents; as a very active DPE, the owner and operator of two Rutan Canard airplanes in which he flew 2000 hours over ten years (and a Mooney M20J after that), and as a corporate pilot and flight department manager for a succession of small business and families.  In 2014, the FAA chose not renew his designation. He has had several technical articles published in AOPA flight training magazine. Currently Mr. McDougal is Chief Pilot for an expanding flight department in San Antonio, TX where he lives with his wife and a number of dogs, and is on sabbatical from teaching.


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!