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mFC Podcast | Episode 14 | Night Flying, Changes to the FAA Written Exams, ATC Update

Night flying over north Nashville...

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Feedback: chris@myflightcoach.com or call 615-669-2359

This week’s mFC show is all about night flying!  For many students this is a time of excitement.  They can’t wait for this new experience.  Others it seems are pretty anxious about what awaits them after dark (cue scary music!).  Really, night flying is a blast and it is a lot of fun.  So I offer some basic considerations about night flying and some things to remember as you enter this phase of your training.

I also talk about the changes happening with the FAA written exams which are already being seen in the ATP, CFI FOI, and Instrument pilots tests.  While it is good that we’re moving away from a “memorize and go” approach, I think it would be helpful if the FAA would assist instructors as to the types of changes occurring and offer some input on best ways to prepare students for the exam.  I don’t think it’s right to completely overhaul the test and just surprise people.  (Which is what is happening.)

I also talk a little about the recent instances of Air Traffic Controllers falling asleep on the job.  There’s a great commentary on this over at JetWhine and I’ve linked a couple of articles up as well.  Obviously, there are some changes needed (and I don’t think firing the head of the program was necessarily the best move, but I digress) in scheduling and workload management.  But I also appeal to us as pilots to support the controllers, the vast majority of whom are conscientious, courteous, patient and professional.   So hopefully the FAA can make the changes needed in order to make an already great air traffic system even better!

Resources from Today’s Show:

Virgin Galactic Looking for Pilot-Astronauts

FAA Revamping Knowledge Tests

Test Scores Affected by FAA Changes

JetWhine: Controllers Need to Wake Up

Changes to Controller Scheduling

Preparation Key to Night Flying

“Night Flying” from Flight Training Magazine

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What Will You Remember?

Sunset west of Nashville, 4/2/2011

Yesterday I was flying with a student and we were privy to an awesome Tennessee sunset.  The air was smooth and had calmed remarkably from the gusty conditions early in the day.   In those few minutes I thought about the privledge of flying and how, were I not a pilot, I would never see such an incredible view.

I recalled a student who had just finished a solo cross country.  I was at the airport when he landed and I was a bit impatient.  He was running later than I’d hoped and I had been pacing in the FBO as I watched the sun begin to sink.  Finally I heard him announce his position and enter the pattern.

When he landed he was practically ecstatic.  As I helped him push the airplane into the hangar, he talked about all he had seen and experienced on his flight.  He talked about how freeing it was to be in the plane, navigating and flying with confidence.  I smiled as I remembered his first few flights and how, like many students, he had struggled to manage all the tasks of flying.  Moments like that are just gold to me as an instructor- seeing the undeniable progress of a student.

As the hydraulic hangar door closed, I mentioned to him that for me flying is an adventure every time I leave the ground.  I was glad he was finding that to be the case also.

I thought about these 2 experiences as  I drove home last night and how someday, years from now, when I’m old and my flying days have long since passed, I’ll remember the feel of the controls in my hands.  I have no doubt I’ll smile when I recall the first-solos I’ve seen and the satisfaction of a well-made landing.  Undoubtedly, my heart will race remembering shooting an ILS approach and breaking out of the clouds as the runway appeared through the haze right where it should be.

In the twilight of my life, of all the experiences I may have (with the exception of my family) I think I’ll treasure the hours spent flying the most.  And of all those hours I think I’ll always treasure the sunsets.

What will you remember?

25 Things You May Not Know About Me

Taking up the challenge from Justin at coachradio.tv, I’m listing 25 little-known facts about me.  –Chris

1.  From the time I was 6 to the time I was 16 I was heavily involved in karate.  I won 6 state championships during those years.

2.  I really became interested in flying and shifted my focus from karate to flying in my late teens.  I soloed (flew by myself for the first time) when I was 16.

3.  I went to Auburn University on an Army ROTC Scholarship and majored in Aviation.  I spent 6 years on active duty in the Army, eventually being honorably discharged as a Captain.  I was known as a “Jack of All Trades” because of the variety of positions I held.

4.  I could eat Chinese food three times a week and not grow tired of it.

5.  My wife and I went through several years of infertility treatments before we adopted our boys. One of our favorite things to do is tell the story of how our family was formed through adoption.

6.  I read about 4 books a month.  Most on business or personal development or faith.

7.   I was an Episcopal Priest for a little over 5 years.  I went to seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.  When I came back to Tennessee I served as a Church Planter (one who starts new churches).

8.  I left the priesthood in 2007 and, along with my family, became Catholic.  I decided not to pursue the Catholic Priesthood even though there is a special provision that allows for married Episcopal clergy to become priests.

9.  I still have a lot in common with, and a great respect for, Christians of all stripes and want to help be a bridge-builder in this area.  I believe there is much more than unites us than divides us.   These days, we need each other.

A sample of my BonJovi collection.

10.  I grew up on 80′s pop/rock/metal.  I still LOVE Bon Jovi and Def Leppard.  My wife took me to see Def Leppard on my birthday in 2009.  The crowd was sure older than it was when I saw them in 1988! (So were we!)

11.  I am an active Flight Instructor and fly 2-3 times per week…usually more.

12.  My creative brain usually comes up with more ideas than I can pursue.  I’m definitely an ideas guy.

13.  The part of ministry that I really have missed is having the opportunity of regularly contributing to people’s lives in a meaningful way.   That’s part of why I love instructing and coaching.

14.  When I’m driving, I’m constantly talking to the other cars.  I get irritated easily in traffic.  This is something I’m working on.

15.  Our 6-year old has pretty strong food allergies.  Presently we’re having to be a gluten-free house.  Most everything that I like (liked) to eat had gluten in it.

16.  In addition to the music in #10, I like good, non-cheesy, honest, Christian music.  No fluff please. I LOVE Skillet.

17.  I don’t watch much T.V.  I typically have one or two shows that I really am committed to.  Some of those shows have been:  Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica (new version), and Medium.

18.  I’m a Star Wars geek.  I pretty much love science fiction.  I think that genre easily blends philosophy and religion and morality together and comes up with some interesting dilemmas.

19.  Re: #17, I hate TV shows that try to be meaningful but only come up with an emotionally manipulative storyline.  For example, I can’t stand the “Christmas Shoes” movie that runs constantly in November and December.  I don’t cry at Hallmark commercials.  Now “BraveHeart”…THAT brings a tear to my eye.

20.  I continue to learn to be very intentional about time.  We either manage it or it will manage us.

21.  I was born in raised in Mississippi.  Went to college in Alabama.  When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I lost most of my southern accent.  It was a necessity when learning to speak publicly (i.e. preaching).

22.  Being a Dad is awesome.  But it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ve learned loads about me and much of it has brought a good dose of humility.

23.  I have a great passion for missions work.  My wife Sheryl and I worked at a missionary home office when I was in seminary. Mission Aviation Fellowship blends my love of flying with missions really well.  I’d love to fly for them.

24.  I’ve been able to visit a number of countries.  I’ve visited England, Ireland, Wales, Italy, France, Turkey, Greece, Ecuador and Spain.  Ireland is probably my favorite.

25.  Between being in the Army and being in ministry, I had a 15 year hiatus from flying. Coming back into it was a thrill and I enjoy helping others find their way back into the cockpit too.

The PreFlight

Teaching students about making a thorough preflight check is easy early in training.  On the whole, new students are very conscientious and methodical, sometimes overly so.  As they become more confident and capable, things –including the preflight– begin to roll a bit more smoothly.

It is the student later in training, and after receiving their certificate that sometimes is tempted to cut corners.  The preflight begins to be done as if it were a race and the attention to detail begins to wane.  For probably most of these pilots their oversight will have no noticable consequence.  But here’s the question:  Why rush it?  Is it really worth the risk?

I teach a preflight that is based on the old 70’s era Cessna manuals that was systematic and methodical.  You start at the baggage door on the left side and work your way around the aircraft the same way, every time.  There’s something to be said for routine, especially when conducting a preflight check.

Even (or especially) if the plane is regularly flown, take time to check it over.  You don’t know what happened on its last flight.  Did they, as I discovered on one plane I used to fly, drag the tail down the runway while in the flare?  Did that damage anything?  Did they lock the brakes and damage the tires?  Did they fuel it properly or fail to report something faulty?

It’s your posterior (and that of your family, students etc.)  you are putting in the plane.  Check it.

Synergy

Jason Schappert and Chris Findley at KISM

My family and I are on vacation this week in Orlando, seeing EPCOT, The Magic Kingdom and all things Disney.  Of course I knew that this would bring me close to my friend and fellow-instructor/entrepreneur Jason Schappert of mzeroa.com.  With a little coordination of our schedules we, along with our wives, met for dinner.  Jason and Ashley flew over from Ocala and Sheryl and I picked them up at KISM (Kissimmee, FL) and we were off to have some local BBQ.

I share this with you because it excites me to see Jason’s passion and enthusiasm for flying.  Here’s a guy who is an instructor because he loves instructing.  He’s not a time-builder, he’s a pilot-builder.  This attitude makes all the difference.  He has some fantastic resources including books on passing the Private Pilot and Instrument Pilot checkrides, a new book on popular aviation acronyms, and his online groundschool to name a few.

I admire Jason not only because of his teaching, but of his vision for making flight training materials accessible to pilots from where ever they are.  He also has a keen marketing mind and wants to truly develop a business that is successful on all fronts, but specifically in terms of pilots trained by his work.

As we shared books we were reading and marketing ideas back and forth, I really had the sense of being with someone who understands what people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Tony Hsieh, Seth Godin, and Guy Kawasaki are saying and is able to translate that to the flight instruction world.  That’s exciting to see.

There are some things in the works, some collaboration, he and I will be doing in the future and I’m pumped up about it.  I won’t share any specifics, let’s just say that it’s going to be an accessible and really neat resource for pilots to both learn new concepts and refresh their memory on others.

All too soon our evening was winding down.  Our wives were chatting away, enjoying some tea courtesy of Signature Flight Support (Jason DID buy 8 gallons of Avgas, so what the heck right?! 🙂 )  He and I were making plans and dreaming up new ways of encouraging pilots and laughing about some of the experiences we’ve had as instructors.

My mind was racing with new ideas and thankfulness for finally meeting Schap in person (we’ve done business and written for each other’s resources for months knowing each other only via Skype/Email).  As Sheryl and I said bye to Jason and Ashley one word came to mind…

Synergy…pure synergy.

In any case, check out Jason’s work and tell him Chris sent ya.

Learning Theory for Student Pilots

Every CFI candidate spends a considerable amount of time not only learning to fly from the right seat, but also learning about learning.  We learn about disuse and interference.  We learn how frequency and muscle memory play into flight instruction.  But after our initial CFI Checkride it is often difficult to keep what we learned about teaching in the forefront of our minds.  We often begin to focus more on flying and rely on repetition to do the teaching.

My wife, a counselor, just returned from a recent conference where the topic of learning was central.  A very pragmatic and easy to understand model was presented.  As she described it, I became excited because I realized it described the flight training process perfectly!  The beauty of this model is that it can give Flight Instructors, as well as their students, some hooks on which to hang their experiences.  If can provide insight into the challenges and even the frustrations of flight training.  This could be one way of helping students make sense of where they are in the process and showing them the next logical step they will experience.

The model is simple, containing only four steps:

STEP 1: Unconscious Incompetence: The first step of this process is not knowing what you don’t know.  This is the discovery flight stage.  You are excited to be flying but you really don’t know much about what’s going on, what you will feel, what the instruments are or what the controls do.  The key to this stage is that you don’t really even know what questions to ask.  It is very important that the instructor understand this phase and that his or her role is to anticipate the topics that need to be addressed and the questions that need to be answered.  The more the instructor can do this, the more comfortably the student will be in establishing themselves in the training process.

STEP 2: Conscious Incompetence: The second phase of learning is the sense of being overwhelmed.  Suddenly the student is keenly aware of their lack of knowledge, experience and skill.  This usually comes in the early, pre-solo lessons.  Every part of their flying takes very conscious and concerted effort.  Maintaining a coordinated turn, holding straight and level flight, pitching for a constant airspeed climb all require great effort and the maneuvers won’t be particularly well done.  They’re learning, after all!  There’s a lot of self-doubt and sometimes students simply feel they are drowning in new experiences and buckets of information.  This can prove to be discouraging for the student.  They need to know that this is a normal part of learning to fly!  The instructor has to really walk a student through this phase of their training carefully to keep them encouraged and moving forward.  Look for even minor areas of improvement and build on them.  Don’t let despair take root!  If they can hold on through this phase, the breakthroughs are coming!

STEP 3: Conscious Competence: “That landing was all yours!”

I’m always excited to say that to a new pilot who has just made his first unassisted landing.   Without fail they are surprised and question me, “Really?  You weren’t on the controls?!”  They don’t realize that they have gained competence in this new skill.  At this stage your student’s flying has improved immensely and they are able to do many of the maneuvers well.   They can see their progress and remember how they had struggled only a few weeks ago with many of these same maneuvers.  Even though they are doing well, their competence still requires a great deal of conscious effort.  Many of the maneuvers are still rather mechanical, but they are done well and to standard.

At this point in training, their ability to fly well is dependent on their ability to mentally stay ahead of the plane.  Students can be fairly easily overwhelmed if too many tasks demand their attention.   Even so, as they move through this phase and become more competent, it is good to challenge them with distractions and diversions so they learn to think more and more ahead of the plane.  Students are usually very enthusiastic about their progress in this phase (and they should be) but it does take a lot of effort to do many of these tasks.

STEP 4: Unconscious Competence: As instructors we notice this long before the student will.  They begin holding their altitude without much effort, their turns no longer sling the instructor to the outside of the turn, and the pattern becomes second nature.  Stall awareness and recovery becomes automatic.  They feel the buffet, they sense the break of the stall, and automatically make their recovery.  It’s important to help them see their progress and celebrate their newly developed skills.  These skills are now second nature.  They occur without much thought at all.  As an instructor, this is great to see develop in a student.

Hopefully, by the time of the checkride the student knows what they know and have confidence in their skills as a pilot.  They will have become “unconsciously competent” but not overly cocky, which is a bit of a balance.   At this stage, the pilot knows she can fly the plane and her knowledge base is such that she has solid command of the Private Pilot material.  They are proud of their accomplishments and confident in their abilities, but also know there is much more to learn.  By Step 4 they do many of the tasks of flying without thinking.  They have learned not only the motor skills required to fly, but have also grown comfortable in their role as pilot.

These four steps can provide a great frame of reference for both instructors and students to understand their place in the training process.  It can be encouraging to understand that this is indeed a process and that it is normal to feel  overwhelmed before gaining your confidence and proficiency as a pilot.  It is good for a student to see his progress and his growth in competency.  Hopefully flight instructors can also frame their experience in a new way and be encouraged in their work as teachers.

10 Keys to Being a Great Flight Student, Part 2 (6-10)

Continued from 10 Keys to Being a Great Flight Student, Part 1 (1-5) >>>

6.  Choose an aircraft that makes sense- An often overlooked issue is choosing an airplane that makes sense for you.  Sometimes the glass cockpit makes sense and is affordable to a student pilot.  Other times a modest 172 is the right choice for a person’s aviation career and pocketbook.  Explore your options and find the plane that makes sense to you.  Remember, what you get your license in doesn’t tie you to that plane forever.  So you might want to use a 172 and after your license you can always move up to a more advanced platform.

7.  Study- Few things can hamstring your training more than failing to study.  Along with your flying skills, you must also be building a solid knowledge base.  It is very important to always be reading and learning.  This ensures that you are prepared for each lesson and reduces the amount of time your instructor has to spend explaining concepts in the air (not the best place for theorizing) –which costs you additional money.  If you’re doing stalls, be reading about stalls, recovery, and common errors.  If you’re going to do a dual cross country, then study navigation and airspace and be ready for the trip.  You’ll get so much more out of the flight itself.

8.  Be Financially Prepared–  One of the problems when talking about the cost of flight training is that we equate it with other hobbies like golf or ski lessons.  Flight training is a specialized skill with very specialized equipment.  Of course we all wish it was less expensive, but you’re looking at around $7,500 to earn your license.  This number can vary up or down depending on a number of factors including the type of plane flown, how often you fly, and how fast you pick up the concepts and techniques involved in flying.  I encourage my students to plan ahead to avoid hitting a financial wall in their training.  It will make your training much less stressful and enjoyable if you aren’t worried about the cost of each successive flight.

9.  Take your Written Exam early- I’m a huge advocate for getting the written out of the way.  I’ve explained my method and rationale for passing the written in other articles.  For this, I simply encourage you to not get hung up on studying to pass the test.  I think that’s OK –just as it is with other mandatory standardized tests (GRE, SAT, etc.)   Your preparation will indeed deepen your knowledge and you will, by default, learn many of the concepts.  But the written is in no way comprehensive or even a great barometer of learning.  I believe your knowledge and understanding is shown more in the preparation and execution of the Practical Test.  By the time you get there, you’ll know your stuff.  So take the written early (I like to see it done before you begin your solo cross-countries), it’ll help your knowledge and give you the excitement of crossing one of the major hurdles between you and your license.

10.  Stretch Yourself- Be willing to attempt new things (under the watchful eye of your instructor of course) and trust when your instructor says you’re ready to move your flying to the next level.  Be willing to fly when winds are higher than normal.   Be willing to experience a day of flying in low visibility.  Let yourself be challenged and embrace those challenges.   A wealth of training experiences will serve you well as a Private Pilot.

What other factors help students be GREAT flight students?  Leave your ideas in the comments!