The Web is not a Panacea

While there is some truth in this statement…. “Most people that look for something on the Internet use search engines like Google or Yahoo. If your site is one of the first that pops up when they enter “flight instruction salt lake city,” for example, you’re more likely to have the person visit your website, and give you a call if they like what they see.” The same could be said years ago for naming yourself AAA flight instruction to be first in the phone book, or having a large phone book ad etc…

A form of marketing such as the above is better than just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, or someone to walk in the door… but only a tiny tiny bit better. Its the same deal with having a twitter or a facebook page, its just a tiny bit better than doing nothing, even though social media gurus likely would suggest otherwise.

Marketing takes work, short cuts dont cut it, no matter how new, or how well they are sold. Marketing also takes risk. Folks fail to see the risk of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, the door to open, the facebook to get commented, or to be retweeted. Sitting around is perhaps the biggest risk, and one of the biggest reason flight schools dont have students… and also why aviation is so darn expensive.

This is not to say a flight instructor should not be available at the flight school, nor that one shouldnt use social media, nor have an entry in the phone book… but that simply doing the absolute minimum possible, and going back to sitting around and expecting results doesnt work out too well. I’ll go a bit further and say one should not dilute their efforts too much either. I’ve seen twitter profiles with 50 tweets abandoned, facebook pages with a month of entries, and no more, and blogs with 5 entries from 2 years ago. Such ends up a lot like that 4″ 2 column yellow pages ad… Its better than nothing, but its not going to bring in a ton of new customers either.

Consistent effort over the long haul is the answer, albeit testing and followup to see what works is critical. Just as one would not run 5 years of tv ads if they dont bring in business, neither should one pursue other marketing approaches if they cost more in time and effort than the customers they bring in the door.

Shortcutting Study and Guess What Happens…

I came across the following article entitled To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test, and went egads, this is new ??? To me, one could pretty much take the experiment as presented and predict the outcome based upon the FOI. They outcomes observed are not mind blowing in the least, at least not from the point of view of a flight instructor.

Part of it no doubt, as we tend to keep ed psych at arms length, and even then, the ed psych we use tends to be anything but the latest and greatest. The other part is that our focus is to build safe pilots for life, and we tend to look at the standardized written, and even the flight and oral exams as necessary, but that they are far from the endall when it comes to our goals. Ie, no flight instructor in their right mind would be cool signing off on the 8710, if the prospective pilot were not safe, irrespective of how well they could present themselves when it came to said tests. That being said, lets roll through the experiment and see how it spins out from a flight instructors point of view.

The researchers engaged 200 college students in two experiments, assigning them to read several paragraphs about a scientific subject — how the digestive system works, for example, or the different types of vertebrate muscle tissue.

Ok, for our purposes, lets say the material is a POH or flight manual, and the focus will be on one system.

In the first experiment, the students were divided into four groups. One did nothing more than read the text for five minutes. Another studied the passage in four consecutive five-minute sessions.

Depending upon the student, a single read, or reading the material over and over again a few times may be beneficial. Then again, if this is their only exposure to the materials… the students retention a week later is likely to be about nill. Such is a short cut… it works for a bit, but it comes back with a vengeance later.

A third group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which, with the passage in front of them, they arranged information from the passage into a kind of diagram, writing details and ideas in hand-drawn bubbles and linking the bubbles in an organized way.

For some students this might be helpful to them. Note, the key fault here though… “with the passage in front of them”. Such a process might well help a student learn that a vacuum system includes a regulator, and a filter… they might even remember some of it a week later. In a lot of ways, this method is a short cut… its a whole lot easier to sort of wing ones way through things, than it for the student to go hard core and struggle through things closed book so to speak. (granted, some areas will prove troublesome to some students, and short cuts such as the above may be ok, until the student has more experience) Short cuts functioning like training wheels are not all bad, but they best be short lived, of they too will come back to bite later.

The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.

Asking a student what happens when a vacuum filter starts to get plugged, or the difference between a dry and wet pump as a quick check before heading out to the airplane often serves to reinforce what they learned in their home study (and such an approach is about as closed book as one can get). Even more so, bringing up systems type issues through out flight training, reinforces what they are learning, and brings relevance to the materials. Such a process increases retention multifold in contrast with the other methods. A self directed students concept mapping, no matter how well done deal pales in comparison with in your face confrontation with a hypothetical system problem, or even better a real test of understanding with a failure in the sim.

A week later all four groups were given a short-answer test that assessed their ability to recall facts and draw logical conclusions based on the facts.

Yep… the practice retrieval approach proved better than the other approaches, just as the FOI would suggest it would. Reading, rereading, concept mapping ect are useful tools for learning… but experiencing a system issue which tests your understanding and ability to apply what you learned is another deal entirely. Implementing the struggle of an in your face event is really where its at education wise, all other aspects pale in comparison…. and failure early on is ok. Its fine to struggle, in a lot of ways, its even better to struggle than to think you understand when you really dont.

(In a lot of ways, such parallels my experience with pre-med organic chem students…. they flashcarded things to death, but had about zero understanding of the real principles involved. They did not want to struggle, and they needed the A’s, they needed the standardized tests… they really saw no need to understand what really was going on unlike a chem major intent on grad school.)

In fairness though, we cant very well approach every possible a/c system or other parts of aeronautical knowledge in such a fashion, especially at the PPL level, and thats ok, the certificate is a license to learn. What we do need to look out for though, is the student who does the weekend cram ground school and aces the test. We need to look out for the student who can parrot the systems manual left and right. Such students need some in your face experience time to really see if they understand and can apply their knowledge, not just parrot back “good” answers.

As flight instructors we need to continuously be evaluating, and encouraging our students learning, as well as giving them tools to help them learn. We may even advocate some short cuts to help a student through an area they are having trouble with… but we also need to be upfront that such is like a training wheel. It is not an end all.

Aviation Humor at Shorts Expense

Shorts, the box the airplane came in.

The biggest fear of every Shorts crew is crashing in a trailer park, as the wreckage would never be found.

The Shorts flies by vacuum (it’s so ugly that the air is repulsed and gets out of the way)

I gotta admit though… always thought the whole corrugated aluminum skin thing was kinda cool, almost retro like a trimotor.

Parental Responsibility Lap Children

I came across the following article where the NTSB and FAA are at odds over the regs which provide for children under 2 years old to fly on their parents lap. It was interesting to note the comments… pretty much the same old, same old, parents arguing that they didn’t want to pay, and business travelers saying good riddance. One comment sort of stood out though. A parent said, I am responsible for my child, she doesn’t run up and down the aisles, she doesn’t throw tantrums… she is just fine in my lap.

Likely said parent, and the parents so gung ho about lap children have never experienced moderate/severe turbulence, much less CAT (clear air turbulence). I dont care how responsible you are, or how strong you are… if you experience major turbulence, you will not be able to hold unto your child… or in the worst case scenario, in a crash, you wont be able to hold onto your child. Granted, CAT is rare, accidents are rare… and if it was just your child who might be seriously injured or killed, I could sort of see the responsibility aspect. On the other hand, if your child becomes a missile and kills someone else as well as dieing themselves… parental responsibility doesnt go very far.

It was also interesting to note the availability of child harnesses such that a under 2yr old can be secured to the parents safety belt. Which such most certainly reduces the issue of a child becoming a missile… I dont know how well such would work in severe turbulence if the child was on a tether, rather than being tightly secured to the parent.

Is this pilot training????

I was reading Bob Miller’s newsletter, and I about had a bird over inadequate training…. I am hoping this is an abnormality, but I fear it isnt. From Bob’s newsletter.

A CFI who recently graduated from a well-known four-year aviation college in the Northeast United States came into my office recently inquiring about a job as a flight instructor.

My first question, as in all such such interviews, was, “How much actual instrument time have you logged?”  Regrettably, the answer was predictable.

“Ah, I’d say less than one, maybe two hours,” replied the job candidate

The saddest part of this, is chances are this applicant was likely teaching others before applying to work for Bob. How on earth can anyone teach IFR, much less sign off on an 8710, without significant actual experience? Simulators are great, and todays are far beyond the Link Trainer of my bosses time and the ATC610 of my era, but they fall far short of the demands of real inflight calls and decision making. While I dont have my old log ready at hand, I do remember some actual IFR work, well before I even took my private checkride. If memory serves, I had over 5 hours actual at the time.

During my instrument training, actual played a big role too… we dealt with thunderstorms, approaches to minimums, icing, busy ATC, all in actual. I admit, it did add cost, and time, but it was well worth it. In less than an hour after passing my IFR checkride, I was in the soup for real on the way back home with confidence.

Granted, the airline focused procedural type training that apparently goes on in many 4 yr programs does make sense for what it does, even if shy on actual. It prepares the student for further training with an airline… provided, the airline actually does so. In reading the Colgan 3407 transcript, and finding out that with as many hours as the co-pilot had, that she had no icing experience was very concerning.

In many ways, the dues paying of old paid a multitude of benefits. Ie, a thousand hours single pilot IFR in a old freighter, flying all over the country in all seasons is a somewhat scary and very intense, albeit massive skill builder. The thing is, an aviation training program which only teaches to the minimum PTS levels and FAA requirements, no way no how preps students for such an activity, albeit the certificate does provide for such operations.

If we add in todays economic realities, and that airline traffic is likely to shrink to 1984 levels, the number of airline right seats are going to be hard to come by. Thus, far too many folks on that path will have to change gears…. Students are going to need real life, real challenge experience, if they are to prosper, much less survive outside the airline career world.

Secondly, with TAA such as the Cirrus, with its resounding call to be used in a multitude of arenas, not to provide ones students with other than simulated experiences is just going to push the accident rate higher and higher.

Otoh, there is no question, that an instrument rating makes for a safer VFR only pilot. The additional flight skills, as well as the decision making skills are of great value. I know back when the FAA drastically lowered the PIC time require for the instrument rating, one of the factors was to improve low time pilot safety. I think it was successful in that regard… The other factor, of course was how it impacted the safety of those who exercise the privileges of the certificate, which led towards a much needed, and greater focus on decision making, again, a successful endeavor. However, the shortened overall time period, often times precludes actual, much less seasonal variations, provided location allows for them, and that’s a real problem when it comes to the privileges granted by the certificate.

The solution… well there are some out there, but it requires the individual pilot to take responsibility.

  • For thunderstorm or icing experience… bite the bullet, and spend big $ for some time in an A/C certified for known icing, and with weather radar.
  • Inquire around, see if you can swing a deal on a repositioning flight, or dead heading with in the right seat, ideally with a gifted instructor serving as PIC in the left. Even if its not possible to log time, or manipulate the controls, the experienced gained of being in upfront in the soup, in the ice, and/or discussing radar returns is invaluable.
  • Bug your CFI, tell em you want actual, if the school doesnt want to train in actual, but has amazing instructors, and you want to stay with them, ask for a referral to an outfit that does for a few hours.
  • See about a major IFR x/c experience, such as offered by Field Morey has been doing this for years.

As far as IFR competency and employment goes, I think what Austin Collin‘s has to say to potential new employees makes a ton of sense.

Every pilot must have a level of knowledge, skill and experience that would enable that pilot to cope — ALONE — safely and legally with any situation that is likely to occur while flying the line. Such situations include icing encounters, thunderstorms, approaches down to minimums at night in turbulent conditions, complex ATC clearances with last-minute changes, or various instrument and equipment failures. ….. If you are not already current and proficient on instruments in a complex, high-performance airplane, common sense dictates that you need to get current and proficient on instruments in a complex, high-performance airplane before you go out and apply for a job flying on instruments in a complex, high-performance airplane! A doctor would certainly not go out and apply for a job with a hospital or a medical clinic if he was not already a competent physician. Likewise, a pilot should not seek aviation employment unless he possesses at least the minimal level of basic and general knowledge and skill to perform those functions and exercise the privileges of his certificates and ratings.


Unless you plan to operate VFR only, or use your instrument certificate for enroute only, ie, from IAF to landing will be in solid VFR conditions, most training programs, if only to the PTS are pretty inadequate, and most certainly for employment without further training. To truly use your certificate, you need to demand more than the minimums prescribed by the FAA.

Aviation, the social leveling agent ?

Its funny looking back, how aviation tended to level out social demographics. The funniest I ever experienced was the dialog between a F100 A level exec and a auto mechanic. At the airport, both tended to wear biker attire, and flew similar airplanes, and often chat with one another. During the workweek, each had dramatically different roles…

One week, the F100 exec took his BMW in for some engine work. He never put 2+2 together that he knew the mechanic, nor did the mechanic the same. It was just business… Until the next weekend at the airport, when the mechanic was chatting about a car he worked on, and then a whole bunch of laughter ensured. The 2 guys did not recognize each other in their work attire, and just went about their business. At the airport, things added up, and they got a good chuckle out of the deal.

I remember the same as a young green behind the ears pilot flying parts here and there. I often would run into big wheels at any number of airport lounges during wait times, and we’d chat a bit. I had no idea who I would be talking to, short of the obviously attire they were wearing, or the jet they flew in on. Yet, the wisdom and the things I learnd from those fellows was always amazing, to say nothing of how much they would feel free to share with an interested youngster.

To some extent, this leveling thing seems to be somewhat history related. Years ago, I met a number Quiet Birdmen, and it blew my mind that these gurus of aviation held to such a level social playing field. It was the love of flying that brought folks together, whether it was a retired old guy in a 150, a airshow guy with a Stearman, or a 747 Captain, it made no difference, it was flying.

Today though, there does seem some disparity… and I’m not so sure why that is. Folks still love flying, but the starry eye teenager at the airport fence, or the grizzled old QB with a cigar perpetually flying the hanger have ceased to exist for the most part. I’m sure the sanitized sterile airport environment of today has some to do with it, but I’m leery to attribute causality. I’m thinking there has to be more… I think if it could be identified, and addressed, it might do more for aviation, that even the most expensive and dedicated marketing platform to generate interest.

What do you think?

On Checkride Signoffs

When I sign off on an 8710, I’m stating that the student has the required pilot skill, and the judgment necessary to safely exercise the privileges granted by the certificate/rating he is going to be tested for. The DPE, or FAA inspector, just serves as a small cross check to see if I’ve done my job correctly. Ie, they just do not have time to check over everything I’ve taught over the last few months or years… the required elements of the PTS (practical test standards) are not the end all, a pilot could pass said elements, and still be a danger to him/herself and others.

However… not all instructors see things this way. The text of 8710-11 only states: I have personally instructed the applicant, and consider this person ready to take the test.

Does this mean, every one of my students is an ace flyer; every private pilot could safely handle SLD icing, a broken throttle cable, a deer on the runway at Vr, a wheel bearing lockup, or being shot at etc… or every instrument student could safely fly an ILS approach to minimums, in TSRW, with an electrical failure, gear failure, a barfing passenger, and a loose dog in back… no. What it means is: the pilot applicant understands, the issuance of a certificate is a license to learn, and that while their initial skill levels are higher than the FAA minimums (I view the PTS as absolute  minimums), they will be lacking in judgment until they gain further experience, and they must replace personal judgment with other tools… ie PAVE ( personal pilot, aircract, environment, external factors ) is one of many etc.

For some… this means they end up being fair weather pilots, in well maintained aircraft, and rarely if ever venture much beyond 50 knots from home base, and never at night, and thats ok… they use judgment to limit what they encounter, and short of WINGS, BFR, or refresher training, higher skills dont get much of a workout. For others, it means going round the world once they have enough experience, and skill to do so, and their higher skill levels will be pushed as they train for such. The certificate/rating provides for a multitude of options, limited for the most part only by pilot judgment and skill.

And what about instructors who view their role as test prep only, and they just teach to the minimums? If their students are sharp, they will do fine. If their students are not so sharp… well, thats an issue. Either A, hopefully the DPE or FAA inspector will catch any problems, or B, the pilot will take it on his/her own to work on skill and judgment after they pass their checkride.

I do think there is a moral component in this… for some people, they just dont have, nor do they seem trainable in the judgment arena. It might be they need to be paired with another instructor, and sometimes, that has worked out well… things click, and while they may be a bit iffy for a bit, they end up doing just fine over time. For others, they just dont get it… and for such students, they need to be aware of this as soon as possible, so either A, they can wash out early, or B, take a good look at themselves, and see what they need to change before continuing.

Tail Stall Detection and Recovery

My FIRC this time around has a section on tail stalls, and being the information is somewhat rare, I thought it appropriate to cover here. Bare in mind, this is generic information for airplanes under 12,500 lbs, the actual flight manual or pilots operating handbook, if updated is always the best source.

Tailplane Stall Detection:

Tailplane stalls most often, but not always occur when flaps are being extended, or power is being added. One should also note, that if wings are picking up ice, the tail is likely to do so as well, in fact perhaps 2-3X as much as the wing… and sadly, its not visible to the pilot. In any case, if the potential exists for tail icing, one should be hand flying, rather than relying on the autopilot. Yoke forces are key.

Symptoms include

  • Lightening loads.
  • Difficulty trimming.
  • Pilot-induced (pitch) oscillations.
  • Buffets in yoke, not airframe. (The yoke pulls forward, sometimes smashing to the stop and can’t be pulled back; forces of more than 100 lbs. can occur.)
  • Very sudden pitch-down, which can be unrecoverable on approach.

Do note, that stall warning systems can also end up iced over, and as such may not function.

Tailplane Stall Recovery

  • If you just added flaps, and symptons of a tail stall occur, retract the flaps.
  • If the yoke slams forward, it may be necessary to apply significant force to pull it back. In either case, as contrasted with a wing stall, the recovery action is the reverse, ie pull back.

In General

  • pull back
  • reduce power
  • reduce flaps

Being tail stall recovery is the reverse of everything one is taught, its imperative to that one detects the yoke forces, rather than the airframe going mushy.

Additional Resources:

Actual Tail Stall Event

Useful videos and data from Nasa

AC No: 23.143-1 “Ice Contaminated Tailplane Stall”

Aircraft Accidents where tail stall occurred

10mar64 DC4 Slick Airways,.Boston-“Loss of balancing forces on stabalizer, due ice accretion,causing aircraft to pitch nose down too low to effect recovery…

15jan’77 Viscount,Skyline sweden,”ice on leading edge of Stabalizer causing flow seperation and Stabalizer…

06Apr58 Viscount,Capital airlines,Michigan,Undetected ice accretion on stabalizer,in conjunction with specific speed and configuration,caused loss of pitch control…

Airline regulation, the glory days… sort of

Its in the airlines best interest to make money…. and as long as the probability of an accident has not changed appreciably from quarter to quarter, they will continue to reduce costs. Note, the key word appreciably… a 0.1% reduction in safety every quarter does build over time, even if its not noticeable on a quarterly report, much less in practice.

In the 70’s, service was what sold, regulated ticket prices were multifold higher than what they are today. However, the process controls and such to improve safety were still in development. Instead, the airlines relied on highly skilled people in nearly all areas of their operation. And despite that, the accident rates were much higher than today. Case in point, the crew coordination on theEastern Air Lines 401 crash. A highly experienced crew, albeit new in type, focused all their attention on a landing gear annunciator, while their plane slowly descended into a swamp.

747 Piano Bar
747 Piano Bar


Today, with a high degree of automation, process controls in design, manufacturing, operations, and service insuring high reliability, the high levels of skill needed in years past, as long as nothing goes wrong, is not really needed, at least not all the time. There in lies the problem, as long as nothing goes wrong. And the problem is exacerbated, by the temptation for the airlines, the government, and the employees, to rely more and more on process, and less so on skill, in order to minimize labor costs, and thereby maximize the revenue stream.

Over the next few blog entries, I’m going to take a look at these different groups, and changes over the years which have created potentially more broken links which can lead to an accident, despite vast improvements in process control. These issues are prevalent, not only in the airline world, but also in general aviation. They are systemic problems, and sadly short of returning to the days of regulation, are unlikely to be solved. The feedback provided by the free market system, while it can work, has such huge time lags, far too many people would die, or be seriously injured, before the constraints of the free market system could kick in, if they would at all due to secondary consequences.

I want to buy my own plane

This is something students always bring up sooner or later. They hate the idea of renting without building any equity. Yet, as we all know, the fixed costs are often times the real killer when it comes to private aircraft ownership. Years back, when I was doing the mechanic thing, we had a Baron we used to do the annual on. It flew maybe 5-10 hours a year if that. The insurance, hanger, and maintnence costs must have eaten the owners alive.

The problem of course is that only a few people, other than actual owners truely know what the fixed costs, and total operating costs of an aircraft is. That is, until the advent of the sharing information on the internet. I found a really cool site PlaneQuest which allows you to select an aircraft, and view a composite of both fixed and operating costs. While the numbers seem biased a little bit low imho, they still serve as a reasonable ball park figure to help your students make the right choices.

My guess, is that the maintenance figures are based upon owners assisted annuals, and good old boy discounts. Insurance for anything other than a 150, 172 or warrior as usual borders on extortion, as do hanger costs, depending where one is located. Thus, depending upon ones insurance risk, and location, the total costs may be pretty decent. No matter what, it will help a student understand some of the costs involved.

resources for flight instructors