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!



Proficiency, Precision, and Mastery!

Some time ago I wrote an article that recounted my experience as a pilot in training, even though I had years of experience as both a pilot and instructor, which shared my experience of receiving my Seaplane Rating and transitioning to the experimental Epic LT turboprop, within months of each other, and how these experiences made me a better flight instructor.  It made me a better pilot because I was learning new skills and a better teacher because I was reminded that learning is about growing in a myriad of ways. Most importantly it taught me to be more patient with myself and the pilots I am privileged to work with as their instructor, coach, and facilitator in the learning process.

Almost seven years later as an Epic Aircraft Factory Trained Instructor, I conduct transition and recurrent training in the Epic LT and provide Mentor Pilot training in the certified E-1000. I recently facilitated a program created by Peter King, Flight Training Program Manager at Epic Aircraft, which was designed to assess and improve the skills of pilot’s upgrading, to an Epic aircraft. This program is called the Epic Challenge and its’ purpose was to have pilots arrive for factory training with their skills sharp enough to meet the rigors and time constraints of the upgrade to a higher performance aircraft.

As I prepared to conduct this training and reflected on my own training, over the years, I was struck by the thought that this program would be an excellent challenge for all pilots regardless of whether they are moving up to a new airplane, a higher performance aircraft or motivated to refine and improve their pilot skill set. The challenge for the instructor is to effectively conduct the pilot assessment element of this program and then, in concert with the pilot training, to creatively choreograph and structure the training scenarios.

The Epic Challenge, as noted above, was designed to assess, and improve the skills of pilots preparing for transition training into an Epic aircraft. The program is not complicated:

For the pilot training, it requires a commitment to training, an honest assessment of piloting skills and a willingness to do whatever it takes to be the best you can be.

For the instructor, it requires a commitment as a professional educator and a training portfolio that can meet all the requirements necessary to facilitate the goals of the challenge.

The concept of a challenge for improvement is not new. We are reminded regularly that recurrent training is a very necessary part for building and retaining our skills as a pilot and an instructor. Many of the “Type specific” organizations encourage their members to train regularly and offer levels of recognition for this training. The American Bonanza Society is a great example of this through the ABS Aviator Program. AOPA encourages pilots and instructors to improve through Focused Flight Review profiles. These and many more examples remind us that we should never stop learning and growing as pilots and flight educators.

The Epic Challenge should be considered as more than a program designed to prepare pilots for their transition training to a new aircraft. I believe strongly that it can be used for recurrent training and skills enhancement for both pilots and instructors. The focus of the program is a “holy trinity” of aviation, PROFICIENCY, PRECISION, MASTERY. By meeting or exceeding the standards of each scenario we are growing as aviators and having fun in the process.

As an example: there are eight scenario’s and there are twenty-four months between each required Flight Review. Chose a different scenario every three months. At the end of the twenty-four months, you have completed the requirements for your Flight Review and then some.  This is only one example of how the Challenge can be applied. The pilot, the airplane, and the desired outcome are the only limiting factors. Let your imagination run wild.


The Skills Development program is implemented in two phases:

  1. Skills Assessment in the form of a no-jeopardy assessment flight is the cornerstone for the success of this training. An assessment form was developed which outlines the skills to be evaluated and graded from needs work to meets or exceeds standards.
  2. Skills Improvement and assessment in the form of a series of fun flight-training challenges collectively called The Epic Challenge.

The challenges are intended to inspire pilots to elevate their skills by pursuing ever-increasing standards of proficiency, pushing pilots beyond their comfort zones while focusing on skills that will increase their enjoyment of and success during Epic flight training. The skills development program provides a complete roadmap for conducting this training but for brevity the program will not be fully outlined at this time. The following are the eight challenges that comprise the Epic Challenge:

  1. The Perfect Pattern
  2. Two Hours, Four Airports, Eight Landings
  3. Zero Tolerance
  4. Minimal Control (airmanship skills)
  5. Green Needles Only
  6. Big Iron Conga Line
  7. Classic Air Derby
  8. Garmin Geek-Out (Simulator or airplane)

The skills assessment should be conducted in an airplane with the following characteristics:

  • G1000Nxi
  • High-performance
  • Complex
  • G1000 Flight Deck or digital avionics suite with an integrated autopilot (if possible)
  • Aircraft that would be well suited to skills development are:
  • Bonanza G36
  • Columbia 350/400 with G1000
  • Cessna TTx  G2000
  • Piper M350, Meridian M500/600 with G1000
  • Lancair Evolution
  • Epic LT or E1000

The above-listed aircraft were chosen given the genesis of the Challenge. The challenges can be done in any airplane and each challenge can be developed to suit the goals of the pilot training and the specific airplane being flown. This will provide both the pilot and the instructor with an opportunity to think about the goals, the airplane, and how the challenges could be developed to elevate the skills of the pilot training and the creativity of the flight instructor (think outside the box). In the case of the Garmin Geek-Out scenario, a Redbird MCX with a G1000 interface was used.

Finding an Instructor

An important element to the success and credibility of any training is the Flight Instructor. When looking for a “qualified” CFI if you are planning on moving up to any advanced aircraft, not just a turboprop, it is strongly recommended that you find a seasoned educator with the following qualifications:

  1. Turbine aircraft experience (if required)
  2. Professional operations experience, if required (airline, charter, military)
  3. G1000 and advanced avionics experience
  4. Factory or type-club standardized training
  5. American Bonanza Society BPPP, BPT
  6. Cirrus CSIP
  7. Cessna Advanced Aircraft Recurrent Training (CAART)
  8. Piper M-Type MMOPA,
  9. LOBO
  10. TBM

Most of what I have shared has been focused on an upgrading pilot. If you are a Flight Instructor, wanting to enhance your skills, you should consider this program as a way to improve. To find a qualified instructor may take some time and patience.  In addition to your personal contacts try professional aviation educator organizations.

My Experience

At first glance, the challenges, developed by Epic, seemed straightforward. However, when the pilot training and I sat down to plan each scenario, we discovered an opportunity to mix and match the scenarios in such a way that we were able to complete six of the scenarios over the first weekend and the remaining two in the equivalent of one day (1/2 Friday afternoon, 1/2 Saturday morning).

The day before our first weekend we spent several hours discussing our plan, being clear as to the standards for performance (which are outlined in the guidelines for the program) and how we would integrate each of the scenarios into the flight.

In the case, of this pilot, I had conducted his transition to the TTx as well as his instrument training and have mentored him over the past four years. I was very aware of his strengths and weaknesses which made the need for a skills assessment flight unnecessary.  I share this piece of information because the skills assessment component of the Challenge is critical to developing a baseline for the successful measurement of improvement during the training.

It made a big difference that the pilot training was very motivated as he was stepping up to an E1000, from a Cessna TTx, and was scheduled to begin his training two weeks after our last flight.  Attacking the scenarios as we did add an element of consciously managing our energy and allowing for some rest between the flights which made a big difference.

The Challenge Coins as Incentive

As an added incentive to the skills enhancement component of the training, Epic created Challenge Coins for each one of the Challenges completed and endorsed by his/her instructor. They are very cool and well worth adding to your aviation memorabilia collection. As it turned out the pilot training was the first pilot to have earned all eight challenge coins and successfully completed his initial factory training and is happily learning all about his new airplane. As his instructor, it was a total blast facilitating this process and watching him meet the challenge of each scenario and grow as a pilot.

Join SAFE and get 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 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).

Essential Skills Missed in Pilot Training!

Using the ACS testing standard as a training manual leads to many missed opportunities in primary pilot training. Essential skills like fueling or tying down a plane are critical to safety but often ignored in the “rush for the rating” – teaching to the test. How exactly can you be a pilot if you don’t know how to add the “blue juice” that makes a plane go or secure the aircraft after a flight? Here are 10 ideas developed by the SAFE Faculty Lounge – please add your comments below!

"The First 50 Hours" by Budd Davisson offers a syllalbus on how to safely expand your skills as a new pilot; the "Missing Manual!"

1) Every pilot needs to know how to fuel a plane and also correctly operate a self-serve fuel pump – this is a safety-of-flight issue! But since many pilots learn at larger academies, there is often no opportunity to gain this essential skill. Fly to a local non-tower field and work with the local line crew to learn this skill (tips and donuts accepted!) Flying with friends at a local club or EAA chapter is a great method to learn skills like this (and also experience some different planes!)

2) Every pilot should be able to tie down an aircraft securely (and apply the chocks). The basic knots are simple, and most super-fun fly-outs (like SnF, OSH) require this skill. Once you “leave home” as a pilot this is usually *your* job.

3) Taking off and landing on real grass runways (dual first please) is an exciting and skill-expanding experience. Suddenly a whole world of new airports is available for learning and exploration. And every new experience as a pilot improves all your other flying and makes a safer pilot. Remember, survivable emergency off-field landings require these skills with obstacles, terrain and surface conditions. Grass fields are also the first step toward a tailwheel signoff or a seaplane rating.

4) Grab a competent CFI and build skill with crosswinds and wind gusts. Every pilot should be able to comfortably handle a 10K crosswind and most initial training never gets this far. Every pilot will experience this as soon as they are “out in the world” – guaranteed. And 60% of accidents happen here so better wind skills are required immediately.

5) If you learned at a tower field, it is necessary to build your non-tower chops. If you are only comfortable with unicom, go practice in a Delta until you are comfortable. We are all victims of our initial training and it limits our capabilities for safe flight in the larger world. Master flight following and get comfortable with ATC services for safety.

6) Keep building the skills above by working up to a busy airport in Class C or B airspace. Taking an experienced friend or knowledgable CFI is a good idea to make this a fun “learning experience” (not terror). Many pilots never even fly in these airspaces. Until a pilot develops the skills and confidence to handle busy airspace with traffic and ATC, they are handicapped as a pilot. Pretty quickly, the rapid pace and busy comm. become second nature. This is a critical step toward an instrument rating and allows access to more airports safely and comfortably.

7) Master stalls with ballistic recovery (no power) straight ahead and turning. You will have to find a CFI who is comfortable with this area of flight, but once you see how easy recovery is (unload) a lot of fear melts away and all your flying will improve dramatically with the confidence at the edges of the envelope.

8) Following on the above, practice dead stick landings (no power) from various points in the traffic pattern – you should always be able to get back safely from the pattern (and in emergencies, just figure out how to get to your custom “pattern.”) This used to be considered “essential knowledge” in every basic flying guide but is rare in pilots today. Your energy management will improve dramatically (as will all your flying). Common flight test failure is is applicants flying a huge pattern and long final (go to the field first then descend). Some training in a glider or tailwheel aircraft will help these same skills.

9) Fine-tune your pitch and power management so you can minimize pitch and power changes transitioning from climb to cruise to descent. Study and memorize all the standard configurations and “know your numbers.” Aim for greater precision in all your flying. All smooth flying is a series of increasingly smaller corrections to the desired performance.

10) Fly in some “Ugly VFR” that would be “personally unacceptable” weather so you can calibrate how lousy 1sm really is to fly in. (Do this safely with an IFR current CFI and IFR-legal plane) Then bore some holes in real clouds on a clearance without a hood and see what real clouds look like. It is truly valuable to experience real “VFR into IMC.”  Currency with real cloud flying will prevent panic and save your life.  Local ATC can usually approve block airspace for maneuvering.

Finally, put all these skills together, flying with flight following to a field >50nm away. Fuel and tie down the plane, and learn how to borrow the crew car. Maybe get some IFR on the way back home and buy lunch for your CFI. Thank this important person for showing you all the diverse and fun ways to use aviation and to continue learning. Pilot certification is just the beginning, we learn every day in aviation. Fly safe out there (and often!)

Thanks to all the participants in the SAFE Faculty Lounge for the ideas in this blog. If you are a reader here check out this (tightly curated) FB group.

Join SAFE and get 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 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).

The Best in Aviation Education: MCFI!

Of the 117K CFIs on the US registry, the majority are inactive or “frozen CFIs.” Only 8% of FAA CFIs are actually  “active” by measurable metrics. Many CFIs on the FAA registry make their living flying airliners or charter jets and their GA experience can get rusty. The FAA defines “inactive” by what they can measure, no sign-offs in a year, and some CFIs stay pretty busy with IPCs and reviews (thank you for your service)!

FAA statistics also reveal that 16K new CFIs  are added to the FAA system every year. These are often the “sled dogs CFIs,” actively teaching full time, brand new to the business, and building their flight hours. As a consumer of aviation education – perhaps your daughter is learning to fly or you are shopping for training or a challenging flight review – your options for professional aviation education are pretty depressing. Your choice is either a “frozen” CFI who has not taught in years or a brand new academy graduate (though some are great). How do you find a current, professional aviation educator?

If you are a conscientious pilot seeking challenging training, you should receive more than a WINGS pin because excellence and professionalism are totally voluntary in our current system. The flight training system is pretty broken. While every GA airplane requires an extensive annual inspection (with a couple days in the shop), a pilot can get a quick review every two years flying to lunch with any CFI buddy. This sometimes “perfunctory flight review” is probably the biggest hole in our safety system (see AOPA Focused Flight Review!) And the majority of pilots were taught by the brand new CFIs to the minimum testing standards (and why do we have a problem with continuing accidents?)

Conscientious pilots, who are serious about safety, seek out training to improve every year. The FAA WINGS program and the Focused Flight Review are excellent resources for these pilots, but professional CFIs are almost impossible to find. The few passionate CFIs who continue to teach, despite the lack of financial reward, receive little recognition or visibility. This professionalism and excellence are entirely voluntary in the FAA system since professional instructors have no continuing FAA accreditation.

This is exactly why the Master Instructor Program was created 25 years ago. This accreditation defines the true professionals who are actively teaching and continually improving their knowledge. FInd a professional CFI on the website. For CFIs in the field, this program keeps an educator motivated and learning. Sandy and JoAnn Hill created the MCFI program in 1997 to challenge educators and also to define a standard for continuing educational excellence. Just about every active CFI can qualify for a Master Instructor certification if they document their activity. This process requires some record-keeping since the standards are suitably rigorous. Download the worksheet and start filling in your experience to earn your MCFI designation.

For those senior CFIs who are timing out of the airlines (or COVID escapees) please get back into aviation education and help the “youngsters” – we need you (and even created a great CFI insurance plan)! Fly safely out there (and often).

Please complete the Redbird GA Flight Training Survey to accurately assess our current GA activity. See you at Redbird Migration and Sun ‘N Fun!

Join SAFE and get 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 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).

Better (Safer) Instrument Flying!

Last week’s “VFR into IMC” blog generated a lot of comments and discussions online. Many readers were surprised at how poorly instrument-rated pilots do statistically with a simple 180-degree turn in IMC (when surprised) – usually not much better than VFR pilots. This problem illustrates some interesting – and scary – facts about most instrument pilots.  Many IFR-trained pilots are pretty bad with manual control; either never trained well or rusty. Many IFR pilots have also never actually been in a cloud (not FAA-required). The trend away from hand flying is also accelerating as avionics become more capable. The modern pilot in most planes is increasingly becoming a “programmer.” There are endless YouTubes online covering “buttonology,” and all hell breaks loose when “George” goes away requiring hand flying to survive. These pilots might as well be remotely operating their (MQ-9?) “aerial vehicles.” Automation dependency is not just a problem with GA, but started with automated airliners and is now a problem in aviation at all levels and starts with basic flight training.

In nearly 100 million flights by United States passenger airlines over the past decade, there has been a single fatality. Other than most landings and takeoffs, the planes have largely been flying themselves.

The origin of this problem is with the basic training and testing of pilots. One of the weakest parts of most IFR checkrides is the applicant’s demonstration of basic instrument flying skills (without the automation). This is an increasing trend despite the FAA’s urgent plea to develop and maintain manual piloting skills (and not just IFR). If you want to be safer as an instrument pilot – and have more fun – please get some actual IMC flying and work on your hand-flying skills (I am guilty too). We already know that the autopilot can fly in IMC just fine, we need to focus on keeping the hand flying skills sharp too.

The pilot’s role has moved from “physically manipulating flight controls and interpreting cues into a role where they ‘interact and control complex systems and play a central role in system safety. ERAU white paper

In a good instrument training course, the first 1/3 of the training should be learning to control the aircraft entirely by instrument reference and without automation. This involves discovering and utilizing standard power and attitude references for performance targets. This is naturally disappointing for many pilots because there is an urge to play with all the fun computers in the panel they paid so much for. But only when an IFR trainee can hand fly as confidently by instrument reference as by visual outside cues are they ready to move on to tracking, holding and approaches. (BTW, there is a completely analogous situation in VFR training where every new learner wants to start off with landings, before the basic skills are mastered).

So if your CFII starts your IFR training off with approaches (as is the case in most quickie “crash courses”) have a discussion, or just fire them. And saving money by hiring the cheapest CFII you can find is also a dumb idea; it takes years to learn to teach instruments well with a perspective of actual experience; hire a pro. You are developing skills that will save your life in an emergency (or not). Fly safely out there (and often)!

Apologies to my MQ-9 buddies (instructors and pilots) nearby! Apparently the MQ-9 is entirely "hand-flown?" (Bad assumption on my part). And I have never been invited to try one out...for some reason?!

Join SAFE and get 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 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).

Inadvertent IMC: Level Wings, Climb!

Any pilot caught in “inadvertent IMC” usually got into this trouble somewhat intentionally, continuing into deteriorating weather with some hope of improvement or “getting through.” This continued flight, usually driven by “mission mentality,” often gets lower (and scarier) until continuing visual flight is impossible (CFIT is often associated with these accidents). But what happens next usually kills pilots. 2/3s of both IFR-rated and VFR die when they try to turn around without visual references; they lose control or run into terrain while maneuvering. A 180 degree turn immediately after entering inadvertent IMC seems unwise for a panicked and unprepared pilot (even IFR rated).  But pilot training and testing often still recommends an immediate 180-degree turn as “the FAA solution to an IMC encounter”- and it is airplane handbooks everywhere. Actually, a 180 turn for IMC escape is *not* in the ACS  or any FAA guidance I could find! The newest FAA Airplane Flying Handbook also now recommends all IFR turns (for pilot emergencies and in training/testing) be limited to a maximum of 10 degrees of bank.

Thank you Doug Stewart; POH guidance!

This “boiler-plate” recommendation is > 60 years old and based on very limited data available at the time. This advice also predates the FAA requirement for every private pilot to have 3 hours of instrument training (and computer simulators). The 180-degree turn using a clock (with a sweep second hand) also seems to even predate gyro instruments in GA planes? Technically, applicants for flight tests are instructed to follow their POH guidance (required for check rides).

A turn before entering IMC is wise – avoidance!  A turn immediately after entering IMC seems like poor risk management given the GAJSC data. A pilot in this scud-running scenario is usually low and in a panic. Getting control (level) and getting away from terrain (climb) creates time to calm down and determine the best course of action (and it might be a 180 is a good idea when you have settled down and achieved control – but not immediately). There is no clear source of this flight training dogma but the first mention might be a 1954 AOPA study with Bonanzas? After that, it seems have migrated from “avoidance to escape” and become part of some many flight manuals.

The FAA guidance on surviving inadvertent IMC is first recognizing and accepting the failure of visual reference to control the plane by committing to flight on the instruments – entirely! Then definitely do not make (or teach) an immediate 180 turn; job #1 is achieving and maintaining control. Flying level is safest (if the terrain is not an issue). My personal advice (having watched many pilots attempt that immediate 180 degree turn) is to initially stare at the attitude indicator while you calm yourself, carefully keeping the wings level. “Stare” works best because an inexperienced pilot “scanning” can often result in fixation and LOC-I too. (Personal simulators have helped greatly with these IFR skills though)

The pilot should make a conscious effort to relax. The pilot needs to understand the most important concernin fact the only concern at this pointis to keep the wings level. FAA Airplane Flying Handbook

The modern age of YouTube confessions enables a look at an actual “inadvertent VFR into IMC” that worked out. This IFR-rated pilot admits to panic and confusion entering the clouds. To his credit he used all his resources; autopilot and ATC. He climbed, continued straight and was able to sort out the situation without resorting to sudden and inappropriate maneuvering.

Once a pilot is calmed down (trimmed and breathing again) some cross-checking is valuable. In most cases, the best next action is a smooth, stable climb away from the terrain (while maintaining control) since the terrain is often a threat. This maneuver is often emotionally difficult since this same pilot was just previously avoiding clouds. But now it’s time to avoid rocks. Accepting the emergency and climbing away from terrain in most cases is critical to survival. Finally, as control becomes more comfortable and a safe altitude is achieved, seeking help with a radar facility is important. There is a reason this is required on the flight test. Learning division of attention is essential to aircraft control. Every pilot must be cautious and assertive about flying the plane first (within your level of safety) when talking with ATC. Unfortunately, not every controller can understand the gravity of your predicament (SAFE has good people working on this). Flying the aircraft under control is your first priority. This video from AOPA with Rod Machado recommending flight training in real weather pertains to this situation (and also last week’s blog.)

VFR into IMC resources from AOPA

SAFE Executive Director Emeritus, Doug Stewart, is working with the GAJSC to codify a new “IMC escape maneuver” that specifies a wings level climb. This was also advocated in an AOPA article in 2005. Usually, a pilot in these inadvertent IMC situations has usually gotten increasingly lower while avoiding clouds and CFIT is a significant hazard. Let’s eliminate the “immediate 180 turn” advice and save pilots who blunder into clouds. Level wings, maintain control (breathe), and climb; no turning?! Fly safely out there (and often).

Join SAFE and get 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 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).

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