Misinformation is Human! (in Flying Too!)

Among all the great lessons of the last few weeks, one should be abundantly clear; we humans eagerly embrace and hold passionately to half-truths and misinformation, and we love to be “right.” And as a species, we tend toward self-surety and obstinate, over-confidence! This is a genetic, evolutionary adaptation that makes us fast to react and adapt – but humans are consequently weak on self-doubt, nuance, and verification. This tendency to act assertively on partial information and heuristics has allowed us as a species to conquer the globe, adapting and living from the arctic to the equator. But we have seen this tendency in politics, fueled by social media, can also make us all passionate enemies and cause great harm.

Unfortunately, in flying if we do not curb half-truths and haste and carefully verify our information, it can make us dead (Darwin award?) Hope and intuition do not work well with the aerodynamic of control, this game requires science. Gravity works all day, all night, all year long.

Misinformation (and associated mishandling of the controls) is a leading cause of Loss of Control-Inflight. It is essential for pilots and educators to foster and retain a flexible, self-questioning attitude. We must always be ready to check and refine our closely held theories and techniques, continually improving and learning. Misinformation can come from the “internet buffet of YouTube misinformation” but many errors and misconceptions are even deeper than that – built into our human operating system – 200K years of walking not flying.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

As educators, it is our critical professional responsibility to study, verify and transmit only true facts regarding aerodynamics and control. We must dig deep into our learner’s understanding (questions/discussion/performance) and root out deeply embedded misinformation; we all drive cars and have embedded two-dimensional habits.  Our human “naive rendition” of what makes planes fly and turn IS WRONG! Daily driving habits need to be identified and isolated from our flying skills. Safe flying requires different skills and continuous educationnot intuition.

Many SAFE presenters have repeatedly reported from public presentations seeing the pervasive misunderstanding of turning flight among pilots and even CFIs. Usually, of attendees polled, >70% believe the rudder or ailerons create and sustain a turn. And like all humans, they are passionately committed to their misinformation. I was tracking a FaceBook post on this subject, where the poster was very gently trying to convince misguided pilots and CFIs that LIFT turns planes. Many pilots have never transitioned fully from the 2-dimensional world of driving and misunderstand the basic turn; it is LIFT that turns the plane, aileron application supplies the desired bank angle and rudder cancels the yaw.

A great tool to illustrate the forces in a turn is the Bold Method CFI java tool you can load and run on your tablet. This simple demonstration should precede the first introduction to turning flight (or we are reinforcing an error!) Rich Stowell’s excellent presentation on “Learn To Turn” is FREE in the SAFE public resource center and covers this topic thoroughly.

Educators have to irradicate misinformation and help a new learner grasp the true forces at work in flight if we are to make safer pilots. Regarding long-time pilots laboring under misconceptions, good luck with changing those entrenched minds, we all know that is harder than building skyscrapers in our current climate of  “I’m right/your wrong (and stupid)” Fly safe out there (and I recommend some self-doubt and humility in everything!) Have fun.


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This 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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