Beyond “Blue Sky” Flight Training!

Have a happy and restful holiday! Here is one quick “handshake commitment” for the New Year between your main course and dessert on Christmas Day.

There seems to be an increasing tendency in flight training to only fly on “blue sky” days; no clouds and little wind. Many schools claim this is “safer” but we are actually creating increasingly weaker pilots with degenerating levels of real skill.  True, these pilots (and junior CFIs) could probably survive fine in the right seat of an airliner under close supervision. But what about the 1500 hours they will spend “preparing” the next generation of pilots? We need more proficiency here to correct the downward spiral of timid CFIs teaching increasingly weak pilots. (Contact SAFE for a CFI-PRO™ course at your school).

Last week we examined crosswinds, (80% of accidents in the pattern have wind) but VFR into IMC is one of the most toxic areas of flight: 4% of accidents but 63% fatal! Most new pilots never were exposed to real weather. Add wind and weather together and you have the most common and the most fatal accidents – and neither area is taught in primary training!

It is essential for senior CFIs (SAFE CFI-PRO™) to train junior CFIs to be safe and confident with wind and marginal weather (within the constraints of safety of course). Then these CFIs must expose flight students to wind and weather so they understand this environment and know their real personal limits. Every pilot I have trained  in wind or weather comes away from this exposure simultaneously more confident but also personally respectful; understanding their limits. By contrast “blue sky” applicants on PPL flight tests sometimes (over)confidently tell me they could fly X-C in 1-3 sm viz “no problem!” (and why are pilots killing themselves?)

Every private should have 10 crosswind landings (logged) and should demonstrate solid proficiency – because your DPE will never see this on “test day”.  All instrument students should have 3-5 hours of actual weather flying experience (ditto). And the fact that CFIIs teach pilots instrument skills and have never themselves been in a cloud is unconscionable. Most learners quickly understand that real clouds are actually easier to fly through – what a confidence builder (and necessary step).  Every VFR pilot encountering marginal VFR suddenly gains respect for how minimal “FAA minimums” can be.

No new CFI should instruct without Extended Envelope Training (and hopefully a UPRT course). Try a stall power-off in a full slip – and witness *nothing* happening; “what?” Real experience is required to be safe and confident, both for CFIs and pilots in training. We need to extend our flight training envelope beyond blue sky days. Fly safe 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).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.

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