Man on a Mission: Mentoring Safer Pilots

By By Vicki P. McConnell | April 1, 2011

Mike Franz with students attending his “Clarification and Enhancement of Aeronautical Knowledge” course at Colorado HeliOps.

Over the past 43 years, Mike Franz has had a good look at the efficiency of maneuvers-based training (MBT) methods. Flying for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and as chief pilot, pilot instructor and director of operations for Florida-based civilian operators, he’s personally landed helicopters on battlefields, offshore oil rigs, Alaskan mountain terrain and on pontoons and skids in the Everglades. Yet even after logging 7,600 hours in some challenging flight conditions, Franz is still landing in new territory. This time as an avid proponent of flight training methodologies such as scenario-based training (SBT), learner centered grading (LCG), and single-pilot resource management (SRM). He firmly believes that when pilots—whether new trainees, CFIs, or experienced commercial and private pilots—draw upon this training to fully activate their higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and realistically assess and manage flight safety risks, aeronautical decision making (ADM) can be made better and safer.

Safe flying for 43 years, Mike Franz is ready and willing to mentor pilots/flight schools in FITS scenario-based training.

Franz states that SBT/LCG/SRM “are important tools for changing behavior and habits, moving pilots away from hazardous attitudes such as overconfidence and enhancing student/instructor goal-setting and performance measurement. Essentially, these methods change the task orientation of specific maneuvers in MBT to an integrated mission or scenario structure oriented to real-world flight conditions.” He adds that his passion for SBT/LCG/SRM concepts and willingness to work with flight schools in mentoring new pilots and CFIs is motivated by his desire to reduce the alarming industry statistic attributing 75 to 85 percent of helicopter accidents to pilot error.

No Trick Question

The use of scenarios is not new to either military or commercial pilot training (see “Scenario-based Training: As Real As It Gets,” Rotor & Wing, June 2010). FAA guidelines for SBT/LCG/SRM concepts in general aviation pilot training began in 2002 through its FAA Industry Training Standards (FITS) team, and continue to evolve (see sidebar). Franz is an FAA Safety Team (FAAST) representative for the helicopter industry who has also attended factory schools and recurrent training. He has combined these experiences and the FITS training curricula to develop a one-day course, “Clarification and Enhancement of Aeronautical Knowledge,” first presented last year at Colorado Heli-Ops in Denver (see “Rocky Mountain Rush,” Rotor & Wing, June 2010).

“If you ask a room full of helicopter pilots whether they apply sound judgment in their aeronautical decision making to fly the safest mission possible every time out, most or all will say they do. My own experience in testing, training, and mentoring over a hundred pilots convinced me there are some critical, common misconceptions, misunderstandings, and false confidences from their training, and of which they are unaware. This course can bring that information to their attention so they can immediately optimize single-pilot resources to improve their decision making and fly safer the very next time up.”

Using the SBT/LCG/SRM approach with new pilots establishes the pilot in command (PIC) mindset from Day 1, Class 1, Flight 1. In mentoring students and CFIs at Colorado Heli-Ops, Franz reports that students find the mission-based scenarios effective in helping fly basic maneuvers more confidently even early on, and gain perspective on their performance through pre-flight planning and post-flight reviews. “Unlike traditional MBT, students participate in these reviews rather than depending entirely upon instructor input. And instructors become more actively involved as well, as CFI facilitators of the SBT/LCG/SRM curricula.”

Beside the Bell 206, a critical conversation about preflight planning.

According to Franz, this encourages a strong balance in training new pilots in “both stick wiggling and head work,” which is not the way he personally learned to fly. “In the military, I first learned how to technically fly a helicopter (“stick wiggling”), then on-the-job experiences taught me how to activate my own decision making and judgment to operate it effectively and safely (“head work”). I can honestly say that if I’d had SBT/LCG/SRM instruction, my in-flight judgment would have developed much faster for conditions such as a shift from visual flight rules (VFR) to instrument flight rules (IFR) and understanding the multiple phases of loss of situational awareness.”

He recounts just such a challenge during a flight over the Everglades, with just a single lighted road for visual reference. “I experienced the onset of vertigo, but luckily, I had a safety pilot with me who flew for a brief period, while I used my instruments to resolve the vertigo issue and finish the flight.” Franz had to execute scud-running (dropping altitude to miss weather/clouds and stay in VFR), only once, when he encountered airframe icing while in VFR and had previous knowledge of his terrain and obstacles. He considers it a hazard to avoid for any reason except an extreme emergency.

Creating a Safety Umbrella

A pilot’s own tendencies and attitudes can be like a hazardous rainstorm along a flight route. To weather such risks on any mission with an umbrella of safety are some of the FAA’s best aeronautical decision making guidelines, such as the three Ps and the five Ps with PAVE, CARE and TEAM.

Franz can’t count the number of helicopter missions and ferry flights he’s completed with pilots of various certificate levels who never addressed the importance of ADM. As such, he has students in his course read and refer to the FAA pilot handbook chapter on that topic in its entirety.

“Cultivating a pilot’s best judgment and decision making should be at the heart of every form of training,” Franz emphasizes. “However, when I mention ADM in presentations at industry events, you can just hear the snooze factor ratchet up.” In his view, the integration of the importance of HOTS and ADM is best accomplished through SBT/LCG/SRM concepts as a complete and modern package of structured learning. A graphic representation of this “whole package” is seen in what he calls “the ADM safety umbrella” (see figure above).

Committing to SBT

“I may be late to the value of these training methods in my own experience, but I can see clearly how SBT/LCG/SRM concepts truly affect a pilot’s judgment and safety record,” he says. Franz believes this can make the pilot’s more employable and insurable. For flight school students, these training methods (complemented by simulators) can decrease the time it takes to progress to certificates based on the FAA’s Practical Test Standards (PTS).

Realistically, industry-wide adoption of SBT/LCG/SRM-based training may not move at flight speed, but Franz is already interfacing with NTSB, IHST, HAI, multiple flight schools, insurance companies, and others. He thinks the FAA/FITS emphasis on SBT/LCG/SRM concepts, which has resulted in changes to the FAA’s Flight Instructor Instrument PTS for both aircraft and helicopters (FAA-S-8081-9D, July 2010), “means changes in pilot testing may be ahead of changes in pilot training.”

Franz has set his personal course toward changing that, though he thinks some of his flights in the Arctic Circle and Russia, and urban night emergency training, might be easier than helping change seven decades of entrenched aviation-industry opinion about how pilots should learn. Still, he’s keeping safety on his ultimate horizon. By the middle of this year, Franz expects to publish a training manual, co-authored by Chris Fischer, CFI, a Harvard graduate and professional writer, that will offer guidelines for the helicopter industry’s transition from MBT to FITS-based SBT/LCG/SRM concepts.

He concludes: “In the last 30 years, the aircraft industry has made great advances in technically advanced aircraft, but training has improved only minimally and in my opinion, is antiquated. Today’s accident rate is unacceptable, and I truly believe these training methods, when used in a formal and inclusive way, will create a new standard for pilot competency and dramatically improve the industry safety record.”

Franz took his passion for training safer pilots via FITS methods to the education segment at Heli-Expo in early March, as part of the Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC).

For more information, contact Franz at HelicopterSBT in Naples, Fla. at 239-269-5016 or

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