Today’s Flight Plan
Right around the start of AviatorCast, I was reading a book called “The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die”. Quickly, I was overtaken by this book. At this time I consider it to be required reading for all pilots, especially newly branded pilots.
At that time I reached out to Dr. Paul Craig, the author of the “The Killing Zone” and a number of other titles. My message to him was simply one of admiration, and I also asked him if he’d want to come on the show.
He responded with a ‘yes’.
Ever since, I’d been waiting for this episode to finally come up.
Through his research, Paul has come up with some of the most intriguing conclusions in aviation training today. He proved that: TAA (technically advanced aircraft) really have nothing to do with efficient training, scenario based training REALLY works, an aviator can get a private with instrument quicker when the course is combined, and a competency based program does a great job turning out ready aviators.
Of course, all of this is a body of work that was done outside his proven theories present in The Killing Zone.
In the Killing Zone, Dr. Craig works diligently and masterfully to present this proven data and accident report breakdowns with a conversational and immersive writing tone. I found myself up until 4am a couple nights, totally engrossed in this material.
What defines ‘The Killing Zone’? What does the title mean? The Killing Zone, as you will find out, is a proven stage of vulnerability for pilots. Pilots are most vulnerable under 1000 hours. However, it’s the hours between 100 and 350 where the accident and fatality rates spike tremendously. And, it has largely been this way for 30 years, the span of Paul’s data.
This book is a treasure. You really can’t pass it up.
As soon as you hit play on this podcast, you’ll realize just how easy going, knowledgable, and forward thinking Paul is. I immensely enjoyed this interview, and hope you will do the same.
The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die
Access to Flight (Private and Instrument Combined)
TAA (Technically Advanced Aircraft)
SBT (Scenario Based Training)
Paul’s University Aviation Program
Paul’s Page at ASA (a great aviation publication company)
Other Books from Paul Craig
Dr. Paul Craig
Huge thanks to Dr. Paul Craig for coming on the show. I speak on behalf of all of us at AviatorCast when I say it was quite an honor. Paul, thanks for your wonderful contribution to aviation. You’ve no doubt left an impact on this aviator’s mind. I can only imagine the thousands of others that are affected by your work. Thank you!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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This is AviatorCast episode 11, where we keep the blue side up!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. Some would call me a geek, they may be right and I’ll accept that title, so long as I still get to dock at an airplane, act as pilot in command, and slip the surly bonds of Earth. The rare air up there is my home. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an artform, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility and a commitment to excellence. Each episode of AviatorCast will have real flight training and flight simulation topics or an interview with an inspirational and influential aviator. Our desire and mission is not only to create awesome aviators, but also bridge the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So welcome to this, the 11th episode of AviatorCast. I’m very overjoyed that you’re here. This has been a great time so far and we have an awesome show lined up for you today. I’m really, really excited about this show and I think you guys will be too because we’ve alluded to it quite a few times already. So before we get into that, let’s hear a review from pilot23364 from the United States. He gives us five stars and says “Chris does a great job of keeping the listener interested with his laidback and conversational style. I’m a commercial pilot who has been flying for several years and the topics covered so far have really been a great refresher. Chris covers one real world aviation topic and one flight simulation topic per episode. I think all pilots and prospective pilots should subscribe. So thank you so much for that review. Much appreciated. That was left on iTunes. You can also review us on iTunes if you enjoy this show and it is a doozy let me tell you.
We are absolutely honored today to have Dr. Paul Craig join us. Dr. Craig is the author of many aviation books, one of which we talk a lot about on the show called “The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die.” Paul is a forward-thinking aviation educator that has made a tremendous impact on aviation safety and training through his seasoned career and I’m so excited to have him on the show with us today. I think his work is just tremendous and I really love the conversational and informative style of his writing. So I hate to make you hold short any longer or even clear you to line up and wait, so you’re cleared for takeoff. Now, hangar talk with Dr. Paul Craig.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are welcoming Dr. Paul Craig with us today, how are you Paul?
Paul: Very good. Thanks for having me Chris.
Chris: Yeah, it’s an honor. We have talked about your book The Killing Zone quite a bit. I think it’s brought up every episode we have here at AviatorCast. We’re definitely honored to have you here. We want to get to know you a little bit first so why don’t you tell us a bit about your background, how you got started with flying, kind of the medium stuff you did in your flying career and where you’re at now so people can get an idea of who you are and what you’re about.
Paul: Well thanks Chris and thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure and it’s an honor for me as well. But you know, nobody in my family was a pilot. I was not exposed to aviation at all really growing up. My father was a businessman, he travelled some so I’ve gone to the airport, but nothing about actually flying. Then when I was, I think I was a junior in high school, there was an English teacher at my school. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. He was an English teacher but he was also a private pilot and I don’t know how he did it but he figured out some way to convince the principal I guess to offer an aviation science class as an elective, and to be honest I did not know it was but I guess I needed a science elective so I took the class. Essentially, it was sort of like a private pilot ground school and the guy was terrific. I remembered that in the spring semester, he wanted us to do three projects and we had to choose three projects off a list of eight things to do, and five of the eight things were like term paper or sort of things, people might not wanted to do, but the other three were discovery flights or introductory flights at three local airports. So nobody wanted to write those papers so we all went off and took introductory flights and that’s when I first get behind the yoke of a small airplane and one of those kind of things. I went up on that flight and really never came back down.
Chris: Yeah, just like a lot of us.
Paul: So I owe a lot to that teacher. In fact, he’s still around and I’m still in contact with him. He made us a promise that if anybody ever actually got a pilot’s license which seem like a farfetched thing to dream at that time, that we would have to come back and take him for a flight. Well, it did happen. I’ve lost track of him there for a while when I was in college and a little few years after that, but eventually I did hook back up with him and I did pay my debts. I [inaudible-00:06:14] that statement that says as pilots we have our debts to pay. I certainly paid mine with my high school teacher and I got a picture of him when I, well he’s long since retired now, but it was really the thing that got me going and lots of people have a story like that. Sometimes it just takes a little push.
Chris: Certainly does, yeah that’s great. And where from there? How did you get into… I’m guessing after that point you got into a college program or what did you…
Paul: I did. Actually, I’m a professor now at Middle Tennessee State University but I went to MTSU. I mentioned I grew up in Nashville so it was nearby. So I graduated and I became a flight instructor. I wanted to be a flight instructor but I also wanted to teach at the college level, and so I looked around to see where I might be able to do both things and I ended up in North Carolina. I taught at a community college in North Carolina for about nine years and kind of really earned my strides. At first, I was the department head but that’s only because I was the only one there, and I was the flight instructor and the ground school teacher all in one. When I got there, I think we had 11 students and as I said, I left nine years later to return to MTSU and I think the program had over 150 students at that point. It was a great experience for me and I learned a lot of things. Then as I said, I came back to MTSU as the chief flight instructor. Eventually, joined the faculty and was a department chair for a while and now I’m a professor of aerospace. I teach as I specialize in the flight instructor class, and I tried to do research projects and write some books occasionally.
Chris: Yeah, it sends like from there, your career got pretty varied. When did you start writing your books?
Paul: Well I had a few, when I was a flight instructor and still looking for a college job, teaching job, I had written some articles on flight instruction, various aspects of flight instruction. I had sent them in and had a few of them published, you know, plane and pilot magazine and flying magazine and so forth. And so at one point I thought “Maybe what I should do is just kind of like combo all those together in like column chapter and maybe this could be a manuscript.” Well, that’s not really a good idea but at that time I didn’t know that. So I sent a bunch of those into different publishers, got many rejection letters.
And then one day, a guy by the name of Tom Morsinger called me up, I didn’t know him, and he said that he’d take a look at one of my manuscripts and he said something like “You know, we really enjoyed your conversational style of which you’re writing and all and we think it’s very interesting,” and I’m getting all excited right. But then he said “But we’re not going to publish what you sent us.” “Then why do you put me on a hook like that?” And he said “Well, we’re kind of a conservative company. We tried to go into the field and see what the market needs and then we get somebody who we think can speak to that, to write about it, and we’re interested to know if you would like to do one of the projects.” At that time, it was TED books and then later became Carter Mcgraw-Hill. So I said yes and after about two or three projects like that, I started thinking a little selfishly maybe that “Well, who are these gurus that are out there in the world telling pilots what they need to read. I’m out here everyday, maybe I should be pitching some ideas.” From that point on, I think most of the titles were of my own ideas. But that’s really how it started, almost by accident.
Chris: Great. Yeah, I really love that. Can you, I don’t know if you list off in your head. What books have you actually written and what are the basic subjects of those books?
Paul: My first one was called “Be a Better Pilot” and the name kind of speaks for itself. It’s trying to increase the airmanship of pilots. This was about 20 some odd years ago. That was the idea. That gist of it was to try to look at various areas that pilots could increase their professionalism, I guess airmanship. I did one on stalls and spins and stall-spin prevention. You might know who Bill Kershner was, he passed away about three years ago, but he was probably the preeminent aerobatics and spin instructor, and he lived in Tennessee and I got to know him and my experience and time spent with him is extremely valuable now looking back on it. And so I actually went and he’s like the expert of spins at that time, and I actually went and asked permission if it would be okay if I will write the book, because I didn’t want to step on his toes. It was like going to see Yoda. He said “No, the more information out there the better. It can only make aviation safer,” so he was very supportive.
I wrote a multiengine flying book. I’m a multiengine instructor myself and it’s always been an area that’s a difficult subject for pilots sometimes especially in the aerodynamics area, single engine aerodynamics of a multiengine airplane, one of those. I wrote a book called “Pilot in Command” which, I’m probably giving away too many secrets. It was actually a rewrite of my doctoral dissertation. Nobody in their right mind would read a doctoral dissertation if they didn’t have to. So it was a research project that I had done while I was finishing that degree, and by this time, I had a really good relationship with the publisher and I said “Yeah, I got this idea to rewrite this into more of a conversation style as opposed to a more formal style that a dissertation would be written in.” And that was really based on a research project where we took pilots and put them in real world scenarios in a simulator and let tips fall where they may, and that was a very interesting project and I really enjoyed putting that into a book form that people might actually read.
I did a project when I was in college graduate school where I was supposed to do some curriculum improvement, so I picked the navigation class. I’ve taught navigation but there doesn’t seem to really be a good navigation book that covers it the right amount. In most books, it will be a chapter on navigation then there are other books that are like more than you need for primary training, so I tried to put something together for my college class and when the class was over with, I just didn’t want to put it on the shelf, so that became another book. It became “Air Navigation Essentials.” Very basic. Actually it mentions GPS but it’s really pre-GPS in the book. And then the two editions of The Killing Zone that you mentioned before which we can talk about some.
But really, they just kind of reflect what I was thinking about at that time and I don’t know… my English teachers, they just would roll over in their grave if they realize that somebody who could hardly get out of an English class has had the chance to write these books, but I don’t really think of it like that. Chris what I do is I just sit down at the computer and I just pretend that it’s just you and me. I just think it’s you and me on a Saturday afternoon at the hangar and it’s raining so we can’t go flying so we’re going to talk about something, and so I just simply have a conversation with the keyboard. That’s why these books are not textbooks. Well, I guess one of them sort of is but, the Access to Flight book probably is, but the others are really not, and they’re not meant to be. People don’t read textbooks for pleasure.
Chris: Yeah, I know they don’t. No matter what the subject matter is.
Chris: You know, that’s what I actually really love about your writing style and what attracted me to it instantly, was just the conversational style. But not only that, all of which you talked about is backed up with data or accidents reports which is really interesting. You’re not just sharing opinions but you’re actually backing it up with data, so it’s nearly undisputable. In the sense of The Killing Zone, it is nearly undisputable that there’s an area there where pilots are getting in more accidents if you will.
Paul: Well that’s correct. You know, I’m not completely thrilled with that title. I think my title was actually The Danger Zone. I guess maybe we got talked into that by the publisher to make it a little bit more sensational, but it still is true and you pointed out. There are two editions of the book. In the first book, I wrote in I guess the year 2000. I took the data from 1983 to 1999. I pick 1983 simply because that’s the year I became a flight instructor. I just wanted to take a look and see what all that happened during the years that I had been a flight instructor and just take a look to see. And as you said, there’s a zone that the accidents show where pilots are the most likely to be involved in an accident. You have to be careful with statistics, especially accident statistics. I always try to caution people about this. Accidents, while they are rare, they don’t happen a lot, so in a pure statistical sense, these accidents would be called outliers. They’re not in the normal group. So a statistician would immediately throw out the outliers and not consider them.
But when there are accidents, that’s what we do consider, so it’s really not a statistically sound thing to do to just look at the accidents because you’re only looking at the unusual things. And so, you have to kind of look at the numbers for what they’re actually telling you. When we look at just raw numbers, and of course raw numbers are sometimes deceptive because you could for instance have 100 accidents one year, and then 200 the next year, and you would think that the second year would be more dangerous or less safe year. But maybe not. Maybe flying took place four times as much, and so the exposure to the risk was greater in one year and the accident rate might have been less. So you have to kind of be careful when you deal with accidents statistics for all those reasons. But nevertheless, the information is still there and it’s still important to know that as I look through the statistics and I was dealing with fatal accidents and gosh I hope readers pay close attention to the part where I say just how respectful that I am about this, and that we are not in any way trying to cast judgments, say “Well this person did something wrong.” What we’re trying to do is learn from this and try to make it better for the next group or the next person along.
I picked from 1983 forward because these were the years I was instructor, so I take this really personally. These are the years that maybe I could’ve done something. I couldn’t have stopped all these accidents because I didn’t all these people, but you see, what I’m saying is as a fraternity of flight instructors, this is our job. So these were actually personal failings. To me, it’s very powerful because if you have a fatal accident, we lose someone who is a fellow pilot, someone who’s in our, not necessarily our profession but certainly in our love of aviation. That’s what I always try to caution people. We deal with a very delicate subject. As I did the numbers, it came out pretty clear. Student pilots are extremely safe. They have very low accident rates, and so we have to at least make the assumption that part of the reason they’re safe even though they have less experience than others, is that the flight instructor’s influence has got to be included. A flight instructor does have veto power over a solo flight or a solo cross country flight, and what I tried to do with my students is I let them make the decision and then see if we agree and if we don’t agree, then we talk about it.
Most of the time, we do agree and that helps them learn to make these decisions but after they become private pilots, the accident rate or the accident numbers increased markedly so and stayed that way until pilots attain an area of flight error experience of around, it was around 350s when it started to taper off. So that was the zone right there and it’s kind of a scary thing to think that the way to get experience is to get out there, yet there are some who have not survived that zone of time when they were trying to gain experience for whatever reason. That was really the discovery I guess at that time. And then 12 years went by and I’m thinking you know, between 2000 and 2011, just think of all the things Chris that have happened in aviation since then. You’ve been a pilot there in that same period of time. With automation and autopilots and GPS and moving maps and all the things that are with us now that weren’t with us during that 1983 to 2000 period of time.
So I wanted to go back and revisit this and just see what has happened in those years. Has automation in any way improved the situation? And so the second edition of the book, I guess the headline is that things are better. There have been fewer accidents in total. But sadly that gap, that zone still exists. There are still more accidents in raw numbers that take place in that zone, that 50 to 350 range, even though the total number is down. I guess that’s a success but my job as a flight instructor on a personal basis and I guess my job on a larger basis with the books is to try to train out the next accident and try to make it so that the next accident doesn’t happen. And that’s a difficult. Actually it’s impossible to tabulate because you can’t count the accident that never happened.
Chris: Right yeah.
Paul: So you can never go back really and say “Well because we said this or because we did that or because we taught this or we wrote this, that 10 accidents didn’t happen. You’ll never know. So you just do the best you can and you hope for the best.
Chris: Right, year. That’s exactly something I pointed out to someone else when I was discussing this with them, is yes we have all these accident data but we don’t have any data showing an accident that was prevented because someone read a book or because someone read an article or because they went up and did more training than they were supposed to for their biannual flight review. We can’t measure those things and that’s one of the catch-22s about being a pilot, is you just have to watch out for yourself constantly, and one word that I use even in the intro to the show is humility, just knowing that you have to stay ahead and you’re not invulnerable and you shouldn’t be macho and all those things. So yeah, definitely you got to stay ahead of that.
So, you did this new version largely because, or rather the second edition largely because of the introduction of TAA or as the FAA calls them, technically advanced aircraft, but one thing that I really enjoyed and one thing that I really believed in with flight training is scenario-based training or SBT. Tell us a little bit about the study that you had done with TAA and SBT and what you learned from that, just kind of summarizing what you shared in the book.
Paul: Yeah, I’ll be happy to. I’m a university professor so in addition to teaching classes, my primary responsibility is to go out and see if I can seek out some research funding. And so I was successful about 10 years ago working with NASA, and people say “NASA? I thought you have to do with airplanes, not go to Mars or something.” But remember, the first A in NASA is aeronautics, so they were very in the situation, and so my proposal that we were able to fund and successfully complete, was when the technically mass aircraft were just coming out and our school was purchasing some airplanes and we were going to try to equip them with glass cockpit, it turned out to be G1000 system. And so my strategy was to try to find out what new things should we start tseaching when we have technically advanced aircraft that we haven’t before. This is just a technology shift that’s common in many walks of my life. I always say there was a time in my life when I knew how to change the ribbon on a typewriter, but that’s just not a skill that I need anymore and it’s not a skill I should be teaching, otherwise I’m just wasting somebody’s time. So what things are going to be like that in aviation? What things are tried and true but still obsolete that we need to shift and what things that we never even of yet, should we start teaching right away?
So I came up with a strategy to use a scenario-based training system and used glass cockpits and start with a new group of students and just see what would happen. I guess it’s been about 10 years ago but the freshmen class came in and I let them know that they were going to be the ones that we’re going to fly the new airplanes with the new cool electronics and avionics and then we would just see what happened. I used, we’re a Part 141 school and there’s a little known portion of 141, I don’t remember the right number, but it said something like this, that if you can convince the FAA that your way of teaching is as rigorous as theirs, then you can get it approved as accepted. I was working with the folks at FAA headquarters in Washington as part of this grant, and so they were instrumental in helping nudge my local FSDO into approving the syllabus, and the syllabus included not only scenarios but competency-based, so it had no minimum flight times, and I still to this day don’t… pretty sure that the guys at the national FSDO didn’t know what they were approving but they were being told to.
Just observe how pilots were going to fly and we did this is with a combination syllabus for private and instrument all at once. In other words, they stayed student pilots all the way until the day they became private instruments in one check ride. And I had to get an exemption from the FARs to do that because back then, you had to be a private pilot in order to be eligible for the instrument rating. Because of this research that was changed, now the regulation reads that it can be done either way.
Traditionally what you do when you try to see if you’ve made any improvements in pilot training is you see if the flight hours that he students are flying are less or more. But in this example, we weren’t really counting flight hours. It was a competency-based syllabus so the student met the standards of a particular lesson, they moved on, and when they went through all the training, we didn’t care how many hours they had when they went for a check ride. Just we want to know “were they confident?” So we weren’t able to compare apples to apples that way, so to determine if we were doing any better, what we did was, you know, all flight schools have a backroom that has a filing cabinet full of old dusty training records right? So we went and dusted those things off and we went through about the previous 10 years of our private and instrument training and tried to discover how many times did a student during those years have a set back and we define a setback as any time the student came up to like lesson 12 and they haven’t made the completion standard for lesson 12, so they had to repeat lesson 12 again. They didn’t go straight to lesson 13. And we eliminated times when people were gone for a summer break or Christmas holidays, things like that, so that to be a natural setback, and we discovered that our students in those years from zero hours to instrument rating had on average about 12 setbacks. In other words, 12 times that they had to repeat a lesson at least one time because they’d hit a learning plateau or they’d hit a roadblock of some kind. Now think about that, 12 setbacks is a lot of money and it’s a lot of frustration. Every pilot who’s in training has had one of those days right, where the wheels kind of came off and they drove home from the airport saying “I’m not ever going out back there again.”
Chris: Yeah definitely.
Paul: Every pilot can relate to this. Twelve times was a lot I thought but that was the average. So after one year’s time of doing our scenario-based, competency-based glass cockpit training, the students from zero to instrument rating, their average setbacks was three. So it had dropped from 12 to 3 and that’s several thousand dollars saved and lots and lots of frustration saved. So we thought that we were kind of on to something but remember we bit off a lot more than we thought we could chew. We were having technically-advanced aircraft and we were having scenario-based training. So although I had my hunch, I couldn’t know for sure with proof with data to back it up which one was making the improvement. Was it the syllabus or was it the airplane?
So the next year, we did another experiment to try to answer that question, and this time, we took our students that were moving through the program into the instrument rating and we let them fly the new airplanes with the glass cockpit but with the old syllabus. So we waited another year and we counted everything and we watched everything and we observed flights. And of course, if the number of setbacks stayed low, then we would have evidence that it was the technically advanced aircraft that was making the big difference because that’s what was different between the two. But if the setbacks were to return, then it would tell us that the different syllabus, the scenario-based syllabus was the one making the difference because that was the thing that was different the next year. Well guess what? The setbacks returned, and they were pretty close to 12 again.
And so that gave us some evidence to make the statement that flight instructors really, really matter and the syllabus that you use really, really matters and if you use a scenario-based training approach that puts the pilot in real-word situations, they’re far more prepared to make those decisions on those situations when they’re on their own and outside of training because they’ve done it before inside of training. So although I think that the technically advanced aircraft are terrific and we don’t want to go back, I think that it’s the way you teach. It’s not the equipment alone, it’s not the electronics alone that makes the difference, and so I guess you could teach scenario-based training with a fleet of J-3 Cubs and come out okay.
That was our experience with it and now, the check ride, the practical test standard has enhanced language about using scenarios in the check ride and we were listed in the federal register as the research that helped them make the decision to go in that direction. And Chris, let me say this while we’re on the topic. There were some back then and maybe some still today that felt like that if you were in favor of scenarios, that that somehow made you opposed to maneuver training. And really, that’s not true. You still have to be able to land in a crosswind, and you still have to be able to fly the airplane and handle emergencies and all those things. So we’re certainly not against that, but we tried to put these things in real world scenarios where, for instance, one we did was I’d ask a student to… I would pose as a friend of theirs and I’d actually bring a camera with me. We’d fly out to some places and I need to take a picture of this house. Could you fly around the house and I’m going to take photographs as we go around it. And as we were going around it, I would say things like “Hey, could you get a little lower? Because I’m just not getting the angle of the shot I need. And this wing is in the picture. Could you kind of yaw the plane back so I could get a better angle with a full frame?” And so I’m attempting the patient. You see, I’m doing the turnaround the point right?
Chris: Right, exactly.
Paul: Okay, but I’m attempting the student to go lower than they should. I’m attempting the pilot to fly in an unsafe, maybe uncoordinated way and this is exactly what his buddy is going to do after the check ride and he’s a private pilot. He’s going to go out and do this because he wants to show his friends how cool this is and they’re going to want to take pictures of their house. So we’re still teaching the skills but now the pilot is seeing it in a real world example, and you know, we’re pilots, we get bored very easy. If we don’t have a reason for doing it, we don’t want to do it. The reason we’re pilots in the first place is we love a new challenge every single day. If you and I were to take off and fly a cross country and then tomorrow we went and did the same flight, it wouldn’t be the same flight really. The wind is different, the weather is different. There’s all going to be things that are going to be a new challenge for us. That’s where people say “But why do you like to fly?” and sometimes it’s hard for us to put our finger on that, but part of the reason is it provides us that challenge that’s everyday different.
I have respect for people who work on the assembly line and do the same thing day after day, hour after hour, but it would drive me crazy. And so, this need to have an application for our knowledge is part of being a pilot, so we think the scenario-based training just goes with our personality and I think the students really, well I know the students really respond to it well and like it better, but it doesn’t mean we don’t teach basic stick and rudder. We’ll never get away from that.
Chris: Right. Yeah, that always has to be the base. You know, this is obviously directly related to The Killing Zone in a literal sense just because when you get your license and you’re going out and you’re actually taking passengers for the first time, these are the types of scenarios that these people will be going through, and because of this lack of scenario-based training, this is had to prove but it’s very, very likely that this is directly related to the reason why you have such a spike in the accident rate in that timeframe, because this decision-making hadn’t been really driven into the students when they were pilots. It just seems like it’s directly related in that sense.
Paul: Well of course I agree. Anything that we practice, we get better at. And so we practice landings so we get better at it. We practice our takeoffs or maneuvers, we get better at it. We should also practice our decision making. The difference between, people always say “Good flight instructors have always presented things to students.” You’ll be flying along and the instructor will say “Okay, let’s pretend there’s a line of thunderstorms in front of us now, and we’re going to have to figure out what to do,” so the student decides to divert to a different airport or maybe turn around and go back to the airport where they came from. And when they do that, then they’re showing their skills at how to navigate a new course or set a new course, and that’s a good skill to have. But in the real world, it’s a different thing, because in the real world, you would have had a reason to be going on that flight in the first place.
Paul: Right? In other words, let’s say you were going to a family reunion or your grandmother’s 80th birthday, and the whole family is gathering and you’re going to fly there. So now when you’re in route, if you see if a lot thundershowers, it’s not as easy a decision just to go somewhere else or to turn back because people are expecting you to be there. So the pressure of the real world is going to be much different than the training world. And so, sure you call it a successful lesson when you just divert to an airport and land, but you missed the whole point about the consequences of not making that flight, and the pressure that will be on the pilot. There is no pressure if you’re just pleasing your instructor by diverting, but you’re going to disappoint your whole family if you don’t make it to this flight, so put yourself in that situation.
You’re going to be more likely to press ahead and try to make it through because that’s the consequences of you not making through are pretty great in your mind as opposed to just a training environment thing where you’re just trying to get this lesson taken care of so you can move on. You’ve got to put people in that spot so that they can practice disappointing people sometimes if it’s not safe to go, and put them in a situation where they can actually practice the decision-making in an area where there are actual consequences involved.
Chris: Yeah, and that’s very difficult, especially for new pilots that maybe even with a father figure on board, they feel like they’re not necessarily the pilot in command, that they still have their dads in there that will tell them to do things and he’s kind of the authority figure, but when you’re the pilot in command, you are the boss of your airplane and what you say goes and that’s the way it is. That’s one thing that not only we learn through books and through what people say, but we have to learn through experience. It’s just one of those things you have to experience and do for yourself.
Paul: Yeah I agree. On occasion fly, my university president around the different meetings and occasions, my university president is my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss, I’m like seven or eight grounds below, and the first time they flew with me, I had this conversation with him. I said “Now, I know you’re the university president and that whatever you say goes, but once we close this door on this airplane, then there’s no meeting that’s so important that you have to go to that we’re going to risk our safety, and if you’re good with that, we’ll have a fine relationship. If you’re not good with that, then you need another pilot.”
I guess I was at the point, maybe I was even tenured, maybe I was at the point where I could say something like that to the president, but you’re right, it could be a lot of pressure especially if it’s a boss, somebody’s hired you to do a job and that job is to get them home for the holidays, it’s difficult to tell them that you can’t do it. So there’s lots of extenuating circumstances that can turn really, really good pilots into poor decision makers.
Chris: Right, and you know, a perfect, actually almost exact example of this is the Polish president that crashed the entire aircraft full of diplomats that the pilots went minimum because someone else is in the cockpit essentially telling them to try to do the approach. Obviously, some other things come into play and we can Monday morning quarterback but it’s just one of those situations where there was a lot of pressure for them to get there and just very, very difficult.
Paul: Well that’s why I’m very sympathetic to these pilots that are involved in these things because there probably was great pressure involved. They didn’t handle it very well but nevertheless, there are lots of things in life we don’t handle that well, but the stakes are just higher.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Great. So I think we’ve touched on The Killing Zone a lot. A couple of followup questions I want to talk about before we move on to kind of our final subject here on The Killing Zone is, what has reaction been since you’ve written this book? What are other pilots saying? What kind of feedback are you getting from the aviation community as a whole?
Paul: Well I’m happy to say that it has been very positive. There is a lot of discussion about the style I guess of the book and how it is very conversational as opposed to buying a textbook or a book of that nature, so I’ve been really encouraged by what I’ve been able to hear. I get emails and phone calls frequently about it. You said earlier that it’s hard to know if something that you might have said in a seminar or written in a book might have helped another pilot and prevented an accident. There’s this one little anecdotal case. I have a friend now, his name is Allan, he lives in Toronoto. He sent me an email and he said that he was going to be visiting Nashville and he wanted to know if he could take my wife and I out to dinner. This guy is a total stranger and so I’m saying “Well, okay.” So we picked a public case so just in case, you know. So we met him and he said “I want to take you out to dinner because I took with a friend of mine who is a private pilot and we got in the air a little too high and the stall horn went off, and somehow I remembered from one of your books that if you put the nose down just enough to gain you enough airspeed without hitting the ground, you’ll be able to accelerate with a flying speed to make a normal takeoff.” So he took the airplane from his friend and missed the fence at the end of the airport and made a normal climb-out and he claims that I helped him avoid an accident. So I guess that’s one. That’s one time when you can say. But no, Allan is a great guy and we stay in touch now all the time.
So I don’t get a lot of things like that but I do get lots of feedback on the book itself and how we try to not only look at an accident. This is not a book of just retelling of accidents. It’s to try to show what things can we know, what things can we learn that would put us in a safer or stronger position if we ever find ourselves in that same spot. So yeah I’m very thankful for the feedback I get. Sometimes they’ll ask me a question and I’ll have to kind of go back and find it in the book myself. I was on an accreditation visit once and there were some students at a university that I was visiting, and they were kind of huddled over in the corner at this reception with faculty members, were mingling around and finally they got up the nerve I guess and they came over and said “Dr. Craig, we need to ask you a question about this book…” and they said “On page 276 of this book, it says…” of course didn’t remember what was on page 276 and I said “Guys, I probably wrote that at 2 o’clock in the morning 10 years ago. You’re going to have to give a minute to catch up here.” But it is a lot of fun and I’m just happy that they’re well received.
Chris: Yeah. I’ve really enjoyed it and like I said, I’ve mentioned it on almost every show I’ve had since I’ve read the book just because it’s had such a big impact and to the extent where I think it should be almost required reading for people going through their training.
Paul: Well thanks for those kind words.
Chris: Yeah, no problem. So one last question before we move on. A lot of our listeners are using simulators at home, not only to stay fresh but to get familiarized with the aircraft before they even get into the cockpit with a certified flight instructor and start their training. How useful do you see home simulators not only in staying fresh but in staying familiar and things of that nature?
Paul: Well I think it’s a terrific breakthrough. Nothing is going to replace the sensation of flying. Your body doesn’t feel the movements and the acceleration of being in an airplane. But that’s not what these things are for. Those sensations will be gained and learned within the actual plane but just the familiarization of the cockpit and the layout and terminology and the phraseology that you would use, that you can come to a flight lesson having already experienced these things is extremely important. One of my son’s friends and I were talking and I was talking about flying into I think Washington DC’s national airport, and he said “Yeah, I’ve done that. Of course, I’ve done it on the computer.” He was talking like he’d really done it. But in his mind he’d experienced it at some degree. No, I think it is a wonderful tool. I think not only for recurrent training to stay fresh as you said, but also in initial going just so it’s not quite, the unknown of some of those things is removed.
When we did our first experiments and lessons with glass cockpits, we realized that there’s a lot of I guess what’s been called knobology involved which means in my day if you got a new fancy gizmo for the airplane, you’d take off and mess with it while you’re in flight. Well that’s probably not a safe thing to do. With the new glass cockpit systems, softkeys and so forth, there’s a lot of just practice and making sure you can turn this knob or push that button to get to the screen you want. I’m always going to the wrong screen, having to back up. It was real important to do more time on the ground and not try to do all that while we’re also flying. So a home-based simulator that has that ability, I’m telling you, they’re more helpful and useful now than they would have been 10 years ago simply because of that.
Chris: Yeah, you know. Especially for new pilots now, the millennials if you will, they are almost, they’re at a big university or a modern school, they’re almost always getting into technically advanced aircraft and they’re kind of the digital babies if you will anyway, so they need to be familiar with that kind of technology, and they are from the outset. I think also in this topic on The Killing Zone and what we talked about before, is there’s also those core skills, those core decision-making skills that are just a part of an aviator. They started all the way back with Charles Lundberg and before and the Wright Brothers, and those are still very much prevalent today. There’s one quote, I use it a lot, I really love it from Orville Wright. He said “It’s possible to fly without engines, but not without knowledge and skill.” I just always really love that and I think it really wraps it all together.
Paul: I love that, and you know, Charles Lindberg was a flight instructor too. And a quote from him and I’m sure it’s not a direct quote, but he said “An airplane is a wonderful piece of machinery because it can teach two lessons at once. It can teach a primary lesson to the student but an advanced lesson to the instructor.” Nothing is more truer than that as far as I’m concerned. You learn so much on every flight and that’s what feeds us. That’s what makes it so exciting for us I think. But you’re right about the millennials, and one of the research questions we had originally was FAA wanted to know, should you have to have like an endorsement or maybe even a new license for glass cockpit. Is it so different that we have to have a whole another license to go by. The recommendation from our research was that no, you didn’t have to do that. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for these people to get in an airplane that had computer equipment. In fact, to me, it’s an airplane with a computer in it. To them, it was sort of a computer with an airplane around it. Does that make sense?
Chris: That’s good.
Paul: So like everything in their life was computerized, so why wouldn’t an airplane be? They look at you like you had two heads when you mentioned that this is supposed to be unusual. This isn’t unusual to them. It was comfortable. So no, there’s no need for a whole another license or another endorsement for use of glass cockpit. Then the question came “If you’re always learning glass, can you go the other way? Can you train in glass cockpit and then transition backwards to a round-dial airplane. Can the image and the attitude of the airplane, the position of the airplane that the picture of a glass cockpit gives you, can it be reproduced by using the round dials or is the picture just so apparent that you can’t form it on your own. Well our experience has been that it goes both ways, that the situation awareness that a glass cockpit can provide, you’ve seen what it’s supposed to look like so when you fly round-dials, you know you look for. It’s had to search for something when you don’t know what it is. I think that it’s been a great benefit for pilots this increase in technology no matter what airplane you fly.
Chris: Yeah. I would say that’s true even in my own experience because I was lucky enough to fly a 1956 Bonanza and then we upgraded it to a 2008 Bonanza at the time, and I didn’t really bother, because I lived in the Rocky Mountains, I didn’t really bother getting my instrument rating in the old Bonanza just because I couldn’t fly enough for the mountain terrain and all that stuff, so we would get an icing or whatever else if there was instrument conditions so I didn’t bother. But once we got the new Bonanza, I got a course at flight safety and got to know the systems really well on the airplane and also the G1000. The G1000 in many senses taught me a lot about instrument flying. Yes, I had my rating. Yes, I was flying instruments and doing so in actual conditions, but the system alone did teach me a lot about that picture that you talked about and it is something that I could go back to a basic six type of aircraft and have that picture in my head about how everything is working, the transitions work, how to smooth things out if you will from one set to the next, so definitely.
Paul: Yeah. I agree. I think it’s a great thing.
Chris: Alright. So let’s wrap up with your latest and greatest. You have taken this private pilot instrument combined and you’ve recently released this with ASA Publications in a program called Access to Flight. So this is a private pilot instrument combined. Essentially when the pilot goes takes the check ride, they are not taking a check ride for a private pilot alone, but rather for private and instrument. So tell us, how this process works, what this program is like, and what kind of results you’re seeing come from a combined course like this which honestly, I’m a huge believer and especially when we’re looking at the number one accident cause being VMC into IMC, it just seems like a no-brainer that we’re going this direction with training.
Paul: I agree. This can be done either part or combined. It can private standalone followed by instrument standalone or combined either way. But the reason that we went ahead and did this approach with a private instrument combined is it is TAA-driven. They’re technology, when you think about it, those systems really kind of do turn night into day with what you can see in the cockpit with the primary displays and multifunction displays, it turns IFR into VFR. And so it’s a blended thing, and there may be a time soon enough where there’s, we don’t think of it as two different things. It’s just flying and we’re going to fly in a weather that’s safe but we’ll fly IFR it’s safe and it won’t be something that’s seen as two separate things in the future. At least that’s a possibility. Access to Flight was actually initiated working in conjunction with Cirrus Design. They had used that in their own training in the United States and across the world and as you said, Aviation Supplies and Academics is the publisher of the book. They’re just such great people to work with.
Essentially, and this is what I alluded to before, there is one textbook out there with my name on it I guess, because this is sort of a textbook but it has chapters both of private data or private information that you consider private pilot information and instrument information and it comes with a syllabus. It both comes in a student version and in the instructor version, that takes a pilot and instructor through flight lessons all the way from the first introductory flights to the instrument rating. And they’re all scenario-based. There are lots of scenario samples in there for the instructor. The instructor edition has tips and things to enhance the instructor’s presentation. As I said, it’s very flexible. It could be used for someone who’s just interested now in getting the private portion of it done, but as I said, if you’re going to fly in an airplane that has these electronic marbles, then it’s almost a shame, it’s almost like watching only black and white television shows on the colored TV. You’d want to use your whole capability and that makes a natural integration to instrument flight. I think it’s also been well-received and the instructor edition and the pilot edition got syllabus with all tips and things to guide you through one lesson to the other. It’s not to replace an instructor. The most important safety tool you ever have is your flight instructor. So great flight instruction is always required to produce good safe pilots, but this is a backup for that instructor, to help them so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Chris: Right, yeah. When did you guys release this package?
Paul: Chris it’s been a couple of years. It’s not been that new. It’s probably been I guess 2012.
Chris: Okay, great. Are you seeing a lot of… I know that your university has adopted this private pilot instrument combined. I don’t know if you guys were still doing that, but how many schools out there are doing this sort of thing?
Paul: I don’t know a number to be honest. We have done it and we’ve also incorporated commercial pilot scenario-based training for our curriculum and because it is also competency-based, there is no minimum flight time on that as well. So a person, they go for their commercial check ride whenever they’re ready and sometimes that’s less time than you normally see. We’re a part 141 school so you could get a commercial on 190 hours typically, but our average is down around 165, 170, and some of that includes maybe 20 hours of simulator time.
Paul: And let me say that our goal was not necessarily to cut down the flight time. Our goal was do this in a way that was efficient and produce safe pilots and that they would enjoy. The fact that it’s been less time has just been icing on the cake, but of course the students love that part because it’s cheaper for them to do it. And so now we have scenario-based training that goes all the way to commercial. You know, I think that initially, the scenario-based idea was under the FITS program, FAA-Industry Training Standards. It was not something that was a law. It was a recommendation because laws take a long time to change. So now, I think FITS was sort of a proof of concept idea. It was to see would this work, would there be any benefits to it, how would the students like it, would it produce solid pilots or improve the pilot quality. So now I think we’ve transitioned. FITS is still around but now, since the scenario idea is part of the check ride in the practical test standard, we’ve moved to more of an application of scenarios as opposed to what FITS was sort of just a trial in pilot project as it were. So I think that we’ve seen in the last seven or eight years that translation from a trial, a test project to a standard operative procedure pretty much.
Chris: Right. So are you convinced this is the way the future, this scenario-based training, the combined instrument private sort of thing?
Paul: I think the scenario-based training is the highlight. If a person doesn’t want to do a combination private instrument, then that’s not a deal-breaker for me, that’s their preference. But I always think the scenario-based training matches how we train better. You train for the real world so you’re ready for it when we you get there. But I became more convinced just from reaction of the students. They really do see a reason to do these things, and students are the first to say “Why are we going to go out and do…” and you name the maneuver, fill in the blank, and sometimes the answer is well it’s because it’s on the syllabus. We sort of have to do that. Well that’s not really a good reason. I remember once, I asked this, a student pilot to do a turnaround the point on a stage check once and he did have a very good job. There were strong winds and he took care of it, perfectly handled the wind rift, and so I just said “Why exactly would we do such a maneuver?” and what he told me was that was really just a practice for later on when they would do holding patterns in the instrument training world, and I’m saying “That’s not really the answer that I was looking for.” That’s not the real reason.
So in other words, that person had learned a maneuver but not had been taught any application whatsoever. He did not know why he was doing it. And so therefore anytime you ask a pilot to go memorize something, they’ll do it but they won’t remember it very long and when it comes down to, they’ll get pilot written test, but when it comes down to actually applying it, if all they’ve ever done is memorize stuff, it just doesn’t work. You cant’ make the association from just learning a fact and how you’re going to put those facts together with five other facts to handle a situation that comes up. So I just think, the way to go that is the most applicable to what the students need and it’s great that the students like it.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. I do like that it’s competency-based too rather than a rating mill, just getting people through their ratings. It’s actually teaching them the correct principles which is so important in the initial stages especially going back to what we see with The Killing Zone.
Paul: Yeah, I certainly agree.
Chris: So now, we are where we are. Where do you think aviation training is going in the future?
Paul: You know, it’s going to be always important to fly the airplane, to maintain the skills of a pilot, the skills involved with just the airmanship, but I think that the knowledge base is going to continue to grow. I mean, I have a book of pilot knowledge that pilots like in the 30s would have used and it’s 50 pages…
Paul: And now our books are hundreds of pages. So I think that if you love to fly, if you want to learn to fly, then work with an instructor who really knows the stick and rudder skills. I fly off an airport that has only one runway so our students have to learn how to land in the crosswind. We don’t have a second runway to go to in case the wind is perpendicular. I don’t see that ever changing but the environment we fly in will probably change. I was in a meeting one time where a guy asked a question about the future. He says “In 20 years, will there be such a thing as VFR? In 20 years, will there be such a thing as uncontrolled airspace?” And I don’t know the answers to those two things. I can say that I hope there is just from my own standpoint. What will be the effect of unmanned vehicles? Will there be a time where pilots are not allowed to fly because it’s more accurate to fly an unmanned vehicle from the ground. They’ll have to have restricted areas where pilots can go out and fly around and like now we have areas where only unmanned planes can fly. Gosh I hope it doesn’t get to that. I think challenges are always going to be there.
But I like to look at it positively. I think the additional technology that we have available to us is just incredible. I think the job of pilot has shifted some from simply a manipulator of controls, to information manager. The idea, the fact that in your onboard systems now, you can probably figure out what time sunset will be in Stockton, California tonight. Well that might be really good information but maybe not while I’m shooting an instrument approach in Nashville. So I have to be able to… it used to be that you didn’t have enough information to make good decisions. Now you have too much. Now you have to be able to decipher and prioritize what is necessary now and what do I need to make a good decision at this point. As that information explosion takes place, I think more skills will be more necessary in that area to be able to look at an array of information and data and zero in on what you need right now to make a good decision about things. I think the future is going to be that. We’re going to have to talk to our future pilots about how to divide and conquer the available information that we have in the cockpit and it’s a good thing because having more information is not bad. It’s just using it in a prioritized and proper way I guess.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. There’s new stuff all the time. We’re looking at ATSB now that’s becoming very prevalent in every airplane because iPads are becoming prevalent, and it’s rapidly changing. And then there’s the recent announcement from Garmin that you can now get SVT synthetic vision on an iPad on their Garmin pilot app. It’s all stuff we have to manage we have to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of that golden rule of flying which is aviate, navigate, communicate.
Paul: And when you think about it, aviation and aviation training didn’t really change very much for about what, 70 years there? The things we taught in 1999 would have been pretty close to the same lessons in the same airplanes, in some cases, the exact same airplanes as we had done 20 years before that. And then in the last 10 or 15 years, this has all happened and it’s happened so quickly that it’s a big challenge for us to stay up with it. And we are the leaders of this. Pilots and flight instructors. The FAA is first to tell you that they’re just not nimble. They can’t keep up with the rate of change, so we have to take it upon ourselves to make good decisions and safe decisions in how we use the equipment, because I think overall it’s a good thing, but like anything, we have to be able to use it wisely.
Chris: Definitely. Well, I think we’re out of time. I really appreciate you being here. Is there anything you want to say to our listeners before we sign off here?
Paul: Well, if you’re a person who is new to flying or contemplating starting your flying lessons, you’ve just got to go for it. I mean, there’s just nothing more satisfying than piloting an airplane and seeing that view and especially if you’re young. I soloed when I was 16 and when I soloed, man this is the biggest thing that happened in my whole life. I had driven a car but that’s just you live long enough to do that. It really will make you a better decision-maker in all of your life. But I mean, where in life can you be in charge of something like we are in an airplane? I can’t think of any place or any part of my life where I’m actually in charge of anything completely, and so it’s a very empowering thing to do. So jump in this with us and we’re going to need your help to manage all of the new technologies to come, and especially young folks who do this, are naturals with technology. We need you more than anybody to help us figure out how to make this application of technology work and remain safe, so come and join us.
Chris: Great, well thank you so much for coming on the show and everybody, I will put some show notes with links for the different things we’ve talked about, different acronyms that you may not be familiar with and also the books that Dr. Craig has written, and we really appreciate you being her Paul and we’d love to have you back on sometime if the opportunity arises, and we definitely appreciate all the hard work that you’ve done and we wish you the best.
Paul: Well Chris, you deserve congratulations too. What you’re doing is just fantastic and you’re using the technology and the new media to get the word out, so you’re my hero today.
Chris: Appreciate that. Thank you so much.
Chris: Yeah, see you.
Wow, a huge thanks to Dr. Paul Craig for coming on the show. It was truly enjoyable and I just really love his insights into training, and you can tell that with the work that he’s done and the work that he continues to do that he just does a tremendous job and really sees things for how they are. I just love the competency-based stuff that he does, the scenario-based stuff that he does, and I’m a true believer that his book The Killing Zone should be required reading for any new pilot. It is that good, and I encourage you to pick it up today. I’ll have a link for that in the show notes. Again, a huge, huge thanks goes out to Dr. Paul Craig for joining us on the show. If you’d like to leave him your personal thanks, please feel free to do so either through email with me@AviatorCast.com or comment on this episode on AviatorCast.com. So that does it for this show. We’d love to hear your thoughts. You can truly shape this show and the topics we provide. Take a quick 2-minute survey at survey.AviatorCast.com. That is a new thing so you probably haven’t heard it before. Again, that’s survey.AviatorCast.com. It would be very much appreciated and we can continue to provide really great interviews and topics for you especially with the type of ideas that you gives us.
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