This is the book that comes from the real world experience of over 15 years and 8,000 hours of teaching single pilot IFR. This is not a book about passing written tests or check rides (although it can make the check ride easier). This book is only for the pilots that have an open mind and want to truly be part of the PilotSafety.org #MasteryNotMinimums group. The only goal of this must have book is to make IFR much easier and safer for anyone that wants it.
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One of the hardest things for most pilots with an instrument rating is staying current and, more importantly, proficient. Pilots quickly lose their IFR skills when they don’t practice instrument skills and procedures often. The best reason to use a safety pilot is to have someone who can look outside for traffic, terrain, and obstacles while practicing instrument approaches in VMC. There are a couple of caveats. When practicing approaches at non-towered airports, there are three critical things you must do. See the chapter on Practicing IFR Approaches: Non-Towered Airport Survival Tips for the three things to keep you safe at non-towered airports. The other thing is knowing what a safety pilot is for and, most importantly, what they should never do.
Let’s look at the job qualifications and job description of a safety pilot. Qualifications needed are defined in 91.109 and 61.3. They must have the necessary certificates and ratings for that category and class of aircraft to act as PIC. If Dave is looking for a safety pilot in his Cessna 421, a high-performance twin airplane, he has two choices. Bill, a private pilot aircraft single and multi-engine land ratings, has never had an instrument rating with a current medical is qualified to be a safety pilot. Paul, a 17,000 hour ATP with ASEL and AMEL and a CFI/CFII, is not qualified to be a safety pilot since his last medical certificate was denied. Remember, it’s not about experience; it’s about the ability to meet the requirements of 91.109 and 61.3. The only responsibility of a safety pilot is to look outside and maintain the safety of the flight. They are not supposed to teach. That’s right; a safety pilot is not supposed to teach you what they learned, work the GPS or radio, or even show you cool new tricks on ForeFlight. A pilot who focuses their entire attention outside is the responsibility of a safety pilot.
This is where things go wrong, and people with good intentions can do more harm than good. One of the most shared posts I see on Facebook is a pilot training for their instrument rating and wants to know if any local pilot wants to be their safety pilot to meet the minimum hours required for the practical test without paying for an instructor. This is a terrible idea for four reasons; primacy, reinforcing bad habits, the leaky bucket theory of learning, and, most importantly, safety.
Primacy is a big problem in all of general aviation. See our chapter on Primacy=Old Bad Ideas for more information. The short version is that you will teach and preach what you learned even if it’s wrong. A classic example is that a safety pilot would “teach” an IFR student that you need to comply with all ATC instructions and check in to new frequencies as fast as you can. Check out the ATC vs. Pilot: Who’s in Command Here? chapter to see why both can cause problems. Why would the safety pilot “teach” that you have to check-in as fast as you can? Because they were taught that early in their training.
As long as we’re discussing primacy, let’s bust a big and dangerous myth in GA. Practice Makes Permanent: Not Perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Using a safety pilot, a student who makes errors while flying instrument maneuvers or approaches is allowed to reinforce and build on those bad habits. A qualified CFII would correct or, more importantly, prevent those actions before they become ingrained and much harder to fix later.
The third reason a safety pilot shouldn’t teach is that they aren’t trained and have never had their knowledge and expertise in teaching IFR tested. Do a Google search for or click on the link, Dr. Ivan Misner, The Leaky Bucket Syndrome of Learning. If a master instrument instructor trains a private pilot for their instrument rating, that student may absorb 70-80% of the knowledge. When in turn, they try to pass it on to others as a safety pilot, maybe only 50% gets passed on along with a mixture of mistakes and misunderstandings.
The most crucial reason a safety pilot should not provide “tips and tricks” is simple. It’s a direct conflict of their responsibilities to have a clear and unobstructed view of outside the aircraft. The whole reason we have safety pilots is so that instrument-rated and proficient pilots can keep their legal currency during simulated IMC while wearing foggles or a hood. The safety pilot must do their only job and look outside for traffic, terrain, and obstacles. If they are heads-down in the cockpit, they are failing their primary duty. It takes a lot of training and experience to be a great instrument instructor and divide their attention as needed.
There are just as many social media posts from people that offer to be safety pilots. Let’s look at the following Facebook post and decide together if it’s really in the best interests of other pilots working on their instrument rating to take advantage of this offer.
If you’ve read this far, you already know this is a bad idea and why. I want to point out that this pilot offering his free “services” is not trying to hurt anyone. I’m sure it comes from the best intentions, and he is trying to help. Of course, he’s also trying to build experience for his goals, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Safety pilots are a great idea and should be used much more often by pilots who are already proficient and have their instrument rating. They are one of the best ways to keep currency and maintain those skills which deteriorate so fast when unused. The fastest way to lose your IFR skills is not to use them. The best safety pilots are two friends who help keep each other proficient and sharp by flying at least once per week.
Remember, safety pilots are great at looking outside and keeping the other pilots safe while maintaining their skills. They should never be used as a substitute for qualified instruction.
Gary “GPS”(Guy in the Pink Shirt) Reeves has over 8,000 hours and travels the US and Internationally to help good pilots master single-pilot IFR using Autopilots, Avidyne, Garmin, Glass Displays, and ForeFlight. He is the 2019 FAA National CFI of the Year, a lead rep for the FAA Safety Team, and one of the most popular national public speakers. To PRE-ORDER THE BOOK CLICK HERE NOW