“YouTube Roulette” – Verifying Your Information!

Red you win! Black = “Game Over!”

As a thought experiment, imagine you are at a food buffet with a wide variety of options freely available to you. The only problem is half are nourishing and good for you and the other half will make you sick and might even kill you. And the most attractive might be the most poisonous. Welcome to the world of YouTube (and the internet) as “aviation education!” The internet is a great tool to disseminate valuable information but we have to continuously remind ourselves it is also very good at propagating myths and fallacies. And as humans we are often too willing to believe and reinforce our own personal biases – just look at our current political climate?

An applicant on a CFI evaluation recently demonstrated a monster skid turning base to final describing it as a “slip to landing” – Game over, no replay! (Can you imagine him spreading this error to 20 new people a month?) His source was a 30K airline pilot online who very clearly described this erroneous maneuver as “an easy way to slip to final” – “just add bottom rudder and hold aileron out of the turn.” (Please don’t try this!)  The source seemed valid with credentials and lots of other useful information. But this totally wrong and dangerous information was a “poison pill” mixed in with useful hints. The result was a very unhappy (and unsuccessful) applicant.

In another case, I recently watched a well-credentialed online CFI from a bigger school (with a pretty well-produced series of training videos) teach and simultaneously perform a chandelle (presumably to help commercial applicants). This maneuver was so far from correct it was embarrassing. It really could have been a perfect demonstration of “common student errors” instead. And guaranteed some unfortunate student is going to believe this video and show up for a flight test and fly this procedure as a model (it happens). Game over!

Your pilot knowledge and skills should be a protected vault of trusted learning and techniques that has to be verified and correct. It should never be a public thoroughfare of opinions, but firewalled from everyday casual inputs. It is essential to suspiciously examine and test every opinion or recommendation you take in against known valid sources before importing it into your operating system. Bad information is like malicious computer code in a system -it can fire off an inappropriate or dangerous action at the worst time. And once you acquire and reinforce a bad habit it is very difficult to eradicate.

As a CFI and examiner, I see bad techniques and erroneous ideas way too often – this is both online and elsewhere given as advice or “education.” Online sources are just the easiest “vector for the virus” – clicks are dollars and truth is rare! Unfortunately, being able to tell good from bad in “aviation truth” almost presupposes a certain advanced level of skill and knowledge – coupled with a discerning bull$hit detector. So step one is carefully verifying every source and “fact.” Choose your reliable, trusted providers and verify the information against known industry “references.” For aviators, these are the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook or Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. All the FAA manuals and handbooks are available FREE and you can take that knowledge to the bank. Peer review and careful screening ensure good content. Remember, YouTubes are created to be sensational and attract attention (fame and profit). They are not necessarily intended as good guides for safe procedures or standard acceptable practices. (Hold my beer and watch this…)

Similarly, finding a good CFI with trusted advice, effective techniques and a compatible demeanor can be challenging.  The first person a school “assigns” might be the wrong person for you. As the “consumer” (paying the bill?) you are entitled to select your own professional and to a certain degree decide your training. Especially in aviation, I would never say “the customer is always right,” but in matters of compatibility, you are the boss. Execute your due diligence and check their credentials. Remember, you will “become this person” in your future flying behavior.  The reason they call an FAA evaluation a “check-ride” is that the DPE is “checking” the work of a CFI that did the training (and of course the final demonstration of skill, knowledge, and judgment). The CFI creates the pilot over 40-50 hours together, molding techniques, knowledge and to a certain degree attitude. The DPE is very simply just the “gatekeeper” with an hour or two to decide “yes or no” based on an objective standard the FAA enforces. Many times on flight tests, it is abundantly clear that the reason for an applicant failing was (unfortunately) the “source”- their CFI’s errors and omissions. It is worth shopping carefully for the best CFI to do your aviation education. And as you persist beyond your initial training, YOU are now the arbiter of your “aviation truth” so shop wisely. Fly safely (and often!)


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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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