Start With Basic Honesty!

As a flight instructor have you been guilty of telling eager beginners that “learning to fly is easy”? Do you personally really believe that often used phrase? If you think back to *your* initial training don’t you remember those dark moments of discouragement and disappointment that are inevitably part of this process? Learning anything complex is not all sunshine and light. Struggle, disappointment and personal growth are all a necessary part of learning to fly. But if you were successful, at some point some caring person helped you through those  dark times of doubt – a mentor or hopefully a compassionate, honest aviation educator? We know from survey data that a caring and compassionate CFI is  the essential magic element responsible for success in flight training. In our enthusiasm to sell flying we might be doing damage by describing learning to fly as “easy.” I think we all would benefit more by being honest; the result would be a better completion rate and more happy pilots in training. This would help to insure the health of our aviation industry and give us many more lifetime clients.

In our eagerness to sell flying we have  failed our future pilots- it all starts with that initial interview. I personally believe this is a major reason we see the 80% rate during initial pilot training; we need to more accurately communicate the challenges and control the expectations here.  Present the honest story, with the future benefits.  Certainly “sell the sizzle” but do not diminish the challenges.

My personal formula for introducing the subject goes something like this; “Learning to fly is a great challenge and provides amazing adventure and fun. This process does require hard work, effort and your time and money. In addition to acquiring the obvious physical skills it also requires personal growth and assuming responsibility; it rewards a ‘take charge’ personality and some courage. Your investment of time, money and effort will be paid back a hundred fold if you stay the course and work through the process; being a pilot opens up so many worlds of fun and adventure. And the learning and discovery can be fun and rewarding; we’ll work through the difficulties together”

The professional aviation educator has to commit to being more than just a technician in this learning process. A great CFI is a coach, motivator and practical psychologist in addition to guiding the skills part (did you know you signed up for this?). If you are a pilot seeking a CFI look beyond the badges, patches and accolades. Look for a true committed professional, a warm-hearted “people person” who cares about your success and has a track record of happy pilots.

50KsoloEvery initial interview between potential pilot and educator is similar to an “engagement letter” that any lawyer would write.  This tool should be part of any professional relationship involving a lot of time and money (and its usually in writing). Unfortunately in flying, honesty is rare, we tend to sell sunshine and light and diminish the struggle. And if we present the FAA “40 hour myth” we are also lying. I have certainly finished some very talented students in 35 hours (141 school), but we all know that is not the “average” and not an expectation I would promote to the general public. Doubling the 40 is a more reasonable target (and I don’t embrace other FAA minimums – like VFR in “one mile clear of clouds” either). Someone for whom completion is not possible (or will take excessive time) should be informed early in training (and gently terminated if the project is not going to work). Again AOPA survey data reveals that the reason people drop out of flying is not the cost, it is the unrealistic expectations presented in the early interview and a lack of value. If you initially told them $12K to be a pilot and we are passing $18K and still in X-C you are going to have problems. This is no different than  remodeling contractor promising your new bathroom for $20K then proceeding to charge $35K (and its still not done).

The critical part in flight training that differs from other professional models is the level of personal commitment and caring required of the effective aviation educator. We are not just technicians who perform a sterile service or twist a few screws to create a performance. We need to be personally involved and coaching our pilots in training to get them through the goal posts. It requires caring and compassion and that is rare in our modern world of aviation instruction. I don’t think they teach empathy or compassion during initial training at our “puppy mill” CFI academies. This is acquired with life experience and comes with time. But it is the essential trait if you want to be a successful aviation educator; you have to care. This is the magic that makes flight training work. Fly safely out there (and often)


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Build Better Flight Educators; New CFI-ACS!

New CFIs are safe if they are aware of their limitations…But are they effective and efficient?

Please stand back and take a fresh  look at our flight training industry. Why do we have the least experienced aviators (brand new CFIs) in charge of creating our next generation of pilots? Does this enhance safety? Should those “one year olds” really be teaching our new aviators? There is even a push in our industry now to roll back the long-standing requirement for 200 /2  to sign off initial CFI applicants as the “puppy mills” crank out “educators” even faster. Have we gone totally mad?

Certainly, part of why we do this is cultural inertia; “that’s the way we’ve always done it” (and it “sort of” worked due to mentoring and slow hiring). But the primary motivator has always been economics; “they want/need essential hours and we can pay them less!” But now that the pilot crunch is on, no one is left to teach our new students, and there is no mentorship to assure continuity and “seasoning”.  With the aviation student drop out rate already at 80% our industry is at a tipping point. First, we need more senior CFIs back in the field (ideas on this in a future blog) but we also need a dedicated cadre of better new CFIs. SAFE’s primary mission is to raise the professionalism (and pay) of our educators and hence raise all aviation excellence. With the creation of a new ACS for CFI (now out in beta form), SAFE is taking a close look at this educational process. What an amazing opportunity to raise the level of CFI skill, knowledge and judgment and make a difference! We were all there as the “new CFI” what would you change?

Our industry has finally come to realize that basic aircraft control is at the root of our aviation safety issues; “Loss of Control” is the leading cause of aviation fatalities. There is a failure in the basic instructional understanding of aircraft control; this is transmitted down through our whole training system. We’ve become fascinated with technology and lost our focus on the basics of pitch and power. Our new CFIs must have a better understanding of aerodynamics and focus on primary attitude awareness for aircraft control. We need to get back to basics of attitude plus power to achieve control and performance rather than teaching whizz bang technology. CFIs have to know this to teach it or all is lost. We want your input and ideas (and energy) This letter was written by a former DPE and current G$$ driver and countersigned by many senior DPEs at SAFE. Let us know your ideas please:

“This letter is in response to the recent FAA webinar explaining ACS changes as well as offering a ‘sneak preview’ of the ATP and CFI ACS. It is crafted by a former DPE (15 years and 2400 tests, now a current G4 pilot) and then edited and counter-signed by several DPEs at SAFE. The opinions here also represent a widespread opinion among experienced CFIs and DPEs throughout our aviation industry.

We feel the new Flight Instructor Airplane ACS should have multiple task elements that require a deeper understanding of aerodynamics and a serious requirement to teach each maneuver using aircraft attitude as the primary control reference. We also need to develop more knowledgeable and professional instructors, dedicated to aviation education as a career rather than temporary “hour-builders.” These changes are essential to addressing the continuing GA accident rate and 80% new student dropout rate which are ruining our industry. With the aging pilot population and precipitous drop in student pilot starts, recreational flying is in danger of disappearing entirely in the US. The new CFI ACS is an excellent opportunity to finally move the needle on these vital issues.

Focusing on attitude control as primary control reference will revitalize the understanding of correct basic aircraft control among our students, our flight instructors, and dare we say, our evaluators. Here we have a chance to make a quantum difference in training efficacy, and ultimately, the safety of the flying public; pilot and passenger alike. 

Current and former pilot examiners have witnessed a marked and progressive decline in the understanding of correct aircraft control paradigms among both pilots and flight instructors. As the last of our “greatest generation” of senior aviators “goes west” we are in danger of losing the “true wisdom” of aircraft operation. Control of the aircraft is always achieved through attitude control combined with a proper power setting. This simple and effective concept is well documented in all versions of the airplane flying handbook, yet in interactions with the CFI population, we find it largely unknown, or unclear – what we might call fuzzy knowledge. This needs to be documented and tested in the new FAA CFI ACS.

The fact is that giving a new student a firm grasp of this basic concept, as well as effective instruction in its application from the first lesson, are the most important aspects of the entire training process. We all have witnessed pilots who did not receive good attitude based instruction from the first lesson. They are prone to slow progress, unexplained, unsafe, and arbitrary control inputs, fear of basic maneuvers such as stalls and slow flight, and higher levels of frustration and delayed progress with the landing phase. But due to the vagaries of the training and testing process, a pilot without a good conceptual foundation in attitude flying will eventually pass his or her check ride. 

One of the bizarre aspects of this general decline in knowledge about how we actually control an airplane in flight is a quite universal agreement among highly experienced instructors and evaluators that it is indeed widespread. Networking with highly experienced CFI’s and DPE’s, we find universal agreement that this lack of understanding is present at every level of the pilot population, and is an issue for both safety and training efficacy. Yet most seem apathetic about trying to change this pernicious trend, having tried over the years to move the needle of understanding in a positive direction. In most cases, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

Without a concept of attitude control at the base of one’s knowledge pyramid, hearing this message later has little impact on how a pilot flies or how a CFI teaches. Basic aerodynamic knowledge informs the (attitude flying) concept, which enables the learning of proper techniques and procedures. What most often happens in current training programs is this; background knowledge – informing no fundamental concept – then techniques and procedures drawn directly from the laws of physics. This does not work well. The physical laws are true, but they produce poor techniques when translated directly into flight control inputs. Attitude control as aircraft control must be introduced early (as it is in the Airplane Flying Handbook) and often, as the fundamental concept which enables precise and accurate aircraft control techniques. The CFI ACS is the place where a renewed emphasis on the teaching of attitude flying concepts and techniques can spark an industry-wide increase in understanding and application of correct control paradigms.

Evidence of the erosion of authentic knowledge about attitude aircraft control was highly visible in the recent NTSB roundtable on the Loss of Control pandemic. While a few participants did try to move the discussion towards attitude flying – Patty Wagstaff, Doug Stewart, Charlie Precourt, and Sean Elliot all tried – it seemed the discussion kept moving back to technology solutions and airspeed, airspeed, airspeed. The nifty device invented by the young EAA innovators is a wearable display of airspeed and factored stall speed; very cool. But this also points to a questionable paradigm. Airspeed is not the control reference, it is a result of aircraft attitude combined with energy state. The fellow who kicked off the roundtable actually described a scenario ending in tragedy when the pilot “took his eye off the airspeed indicator for one split second”.  I would say he actually lost situational awareness of his attitude and his energy state which caused a decrease in airspeed at a critical moment. We don’t want our students flying by looking at the airspeed indicator – we want them flying by outside attitude reference and reading the results on the flight instruments or the PFD, right? 

SAFE and allied professionals are poised to help advance this initiative in basic flying skills and instructor professionalism. I don’t believe you will find much dissent among those of us who are most experienced and knowledgeable about flight training and testing. It is our humble opinion that the most prevalent contributor to loss of control accidents is the loss of attitude awareness due to a lack of the solid foundation in attitude control concepts and techniques. Yet we seem to be slipping further and further from the truth of what we actually do with those flight controls. Please consider this suggestion carefully and feel free to contact us for additional aspects of this problem and its remedy. The CFI ACS is the place to change this trend.


SAFEtoolkitAd-Appeal2018Please “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! 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!