Death by CFI?! We can DO BETTER than this.
This is not normally something that I would make any sort of public comment about, much less make a dedicated video about, but something terrible, yet preventable, happened on September 27th, 2023, and I’m just not willing to keep my mouth shut about this topic anymore.
We can do better than this:
If this is the first time you’re seeing one of my videos, I’m Josh. I’m a pilot and flight instructor, I have a burning passion for aviation, and just as much a passion for filmmaking. I started making aviation YouTube videos in 2010, and as I’ve grown up and matured alongside my content, I’ve made it my mission to showcase safe practices, while sharing the beauty this world has to offer through the lens of a camera.
I make a firm point to not drift from that mission in creating content. I’m not going to drift into the realm of accident reports and debriefs on this channel - there are channels that do that respectfully, and do it well. I watch those people, I learn from their videos, but I don’t aim to create that content. I don’t have the credentials, I don’t have the experience, and I don’t have the desire.
Showcasing safe practices while sharing the beauty this world has to offer: That’s my wheelhouse, and I don’t intend to change lanes. But I will divert from my normal format here for a few moments.
Accidents in General Aviation seem like they’re becoming more and more common. Whether they truly are increasing in frequency, or if we’re just hearing about them more easily through social media, we’d have to dig through the NTSBs data to derive an educated answer - regardless, the fatal accident rate in general aviation is unacceptably high compared to other facets of aviation, and we HAVE to get serious about becoming safer, more disciplined pilots, more responsible aircraft owners, and more professional flight instructors.
On September 27th, 2023, there was a fatal airplane crash. You may ask yourself: which one. And it’s sad that we have so many in general aviation that we have to ask that question to narrow it down.
In Ohio county, Kentucky, a Piper PA-28, came apart in-flight after penetrating a supercell - they flew into a thunderstorm. It was a training flight, a student and a flight instructor on a night cross-country, both suffered fatal injuries - the aircraft was ripped apart and the debris was scattered over 25 acres. I’m not talking about this to go off about what I think caused the crash or what could have been done differently - that’s the job of the NTSB, they’re very good at that job. At this point the NTSB has already released the preliminary report and, to those of us who are paying attention, it’s blatantly obvious what happened. I’m making this video to talk about a fatal human factors issue that massively contributed to, or dare I say, caused this accident.
Chelsea and I are out traveling, but we heard about it almost before the news even publicly broke, because that’s the immediate area where her family is from. We got a couple of texts from friends out there saying “fatal crash in Ohio county, it wasn’t me.” It’s gut wrenching to hear about this, especially as very active aviators - Imagining the sheer terror these individuals felt in the final seconds of that flight is hard to stomach.
Relatively quickly after we heard about the accident, a screen recording surfaced through text to us, and within a few hours it was already on the news and in the hands of the FAA. The screen recording is of the flight instructor’s Snapchat - he was taking photos and videos before and during the accident flight that revealed a dynamic between him and the student pilot that broke my heart, and made my blood absolutely boil.
Click Photos to Enlarge
First is video of this CFI shaking his head in disappointment, then he flips the camera to show the student slowly going through his preflight inspection with a checklist and flashlight in his hand, and the caption reads: “Me and this student would not get along if he was my full time student. I’ve seen faster at the special olympics.”
Next clip is a video of the CFI tapping his fingers on the fuselage as the student appears to be getting the cockpit ready for this night XC. Caption reads: “I don’t have to be up at 4:30am tomorrow or nothing. Let’s take our sweet ass time and have a conversation instead of getting this 3hr flight done.”
Next clip is of the takeoff, caption reads: “This is gonna be a long 3-hr flight with Forrest Gump jr. Let me tell you this, he is not still the smartest in his class.”
Next is a clip showing the cruise portion of the flight followed by a photo leads us to the next caption, which reads: “1.6hrs into the flight of me giving it to him straight up. Forest says: I don’t mind you being hard on me, I know I need it. Me thinking to myself: did you really think I cared if you minded? But what I actually said was we’re flying planes not driving a car, we can’t have these weak areas this far in the game.”
The next and final slide of this recording is a screenshot of foreflight showing a few severe thunderstorms along their route, caption reads: “Headed *our* way like a group of pissed off hornets.”
Not long after that, the aircraft requested an IFR clearance, remarked about severe turbulence with the air traffic controller, was advised by ATC to make an immediate turn to the east to get away from the weather, then radar and radio contact were lost.
The NTSB will piece together all the details in due-time to give us the full picture of what happened so we can learn from this. But, here’s where I’m no longer willing to stay silent:
I do not care about what anyone does in their personal time, what they post on social media, who they hang out with - I DO NOT care what kind of person a flight instructor is outside the bounds of his or her duties as an aviation ambassador. That’s not my business.
However, when you cross into the arena of exercising the privileges of an FAA certificate, that is now my business. It’s all of our business, and it’s the FAAs business. As FAA certificate holders, we all have a duty to represent our industry well, and call out unsafe, damaging, unprofessional, and hazardous conduct.
It’s an overwhelming process for a student to step through flight training whether they’re getting their first certificate or adding a rating later on. They are new to this part of the process, and they’re VERY MUCH leaning on their flight instructors to teach them, to guide them, and to mentor them.
If this CFIs snapchat caption is accurate, it sounds like the student was AWARE of his weak areas, whatever those may have been, and was humble enough to address that openly. The CFI then mocked his humility.
If you haven’t learned about these yet, I hope you will soon - I invite you to read about them on your own. As part of the Fundamentals of Instructing curriculum that Flight Instructors are tested on before earning the instructor certificate, we study the 5 Hazardous Attitudes in Aviation:
1. Anti-Authority: “Don’t tell me…”
2. Impulsivity: “Do it quickly.”
3. Invulnerability: “It won’t happen to me.”
4. Macho: “I can do it.”
5. Resignation: “What’s the use?”
ALL of these could become severe safety risks in anyone if gone unchecked. That includes you, and that includes me.
This CFI, in this Snapchat instance alone, displayed 3 out of 5:
1. Impulsivity: Rushing the student to just get it done with the “I have better things to do” attitude. When you’re on the clock as a fight instructor, your time belongs to mentoring that student, and to the safety of that flight (period).
2. Invulnerability: Flying into bad weather for the sake of getting back to OWB.
3. Macho: “I can do it better…” than you. Forrest Gump Jr Nickname.
I’m not convinced this instructor knew the hazardous attitudes, he was CERTAINLY blissfully ignorant to the fact that he was exhibiting them, and honestly probably hadn’t laid eyes on them ever since he crammed for his Fundamentals of Instructing written exam.
Based on the immature arrogance, lack of sound judgment, and publicly disrespectful attitude, I believe this guy had no business acting as a flight instructor - I know for a fact he went to a fast-track flight school to crank through his certificates and ratings to build time to go to the airlines, and that’s great - that’s a path that many choose and it can be the easiest and most cost-effective way to get your minimum hours for the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, but if you’re gonna use student pilots as stepping stones to your success, you better be willing to give that job, and everything it entails, the respect it demands.
There are 3 pieces of advice I’d like to leave here:
The first one is for the student pilots out there. I’m talking to those of you who are maybe thinking about learning to fly someday, those who are working on their first certificate like Private Pilot, or those who already have certificates and ratings, but you’re training for the NEXT rating…
Positive Qualities of an instructor include challenging you, and stretching your comfort zone and knowledge a little more in each lesson, doing so in an encouraging, professional, and RESPECTFUL manner. Feedback and criticism should ALWAYS be constructive, never destructive.
If your instructor is chronically beating you down with insults, passive-aggressive jabs, and a disrespectful attitude (i.e. destructive criticism), you are well within your rights to COMMUNICATE with them about that: tell them that you’re not a fan of the way they deliver negative feedback to you, get their thoughts on it and have a two way conversation about it. If they’re not receptive and blow you off, go to their boss. If they’re the owner of the operation, then ask around and shop for a different school, or switch instructors.
There are good instructors and bad instructors of all types - even better if you can find one who is a CAREER CFI, meaning they are not merely using you as a stepping stone to get hours or money - they instruct because they love it. Those instructors are usually going to give you a better experience in learning to fly, and GOD I wish there were more of them out there.
You’re the customer. You are paying THEM. Research them, ask around, ask them about their career and experience, google their name to see if they’ve been fired from other flight schools and if so, why… You’re trusting your life to this instructor, both when they’re in that seat next to you AND when you’re signed off and flying solo with their taught habits, so get to know them, and advocate for yourself if you have to.
The second piece of advice is for the pilots out there, whether you’re a full-time professional pilot or you fly for fun on the weekends:
Be the best role model you can be to other pilots and students. Use conservative judgment, and make safety a ritual, not a talking point. Use a checklist at every phase change - it baffles me how many pilots DON’T use a checklist, as if they’re above that “student pilot crutch.”
Be disciplined in your flying. You don’t always have an instructor there to give you feedback on your behavior or judgment, so it’s up to YOU to hold yourself accountable to be the safest pilot you know.
Fly with other pilots who you respect often, and be open to feedback in the cockpit - just remember that not all feedback is good feedback - be a critical thinker.
Go up with a flight instructor more often than your flight review requires you to, and take recurrent training seriously. Don’t limit your recurrent training to the bare minimum that the regs require - you owe it to yourself, and your passengers to be more than a bare-minimum aviator.
Pilots are ambassadors to aviation just as much as instructors are - be a respectable aviator, never stop training, employ safety-centric habits in your flying, and be a positive role model for new pilots… and old pilots too for that matter.
Lastly, to all flight instructors out there:
The Law of Primacy is another piece of the fundamentals of instructing curriculum - it states: “Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable, impression.” Students are absorbing everything you say and do, habits and attitudes, the good AND the bad.
Your job isn’t simply to bark at a student when they screw up, log the hours, collect their money, and schedule the next time. We’re expected to be role models, and we took an oath to be professional ambassadors to aviation.
Think back to high school or college: who was your favorite teacher or professor? I’d be willing to bet they were the mentor-figure who you could visit in their office at any time with your questions, they asserted their leadership in a respectful way, and made you feel GOOD about yourself while showing you the way to success. I can think of several of those awesome people in my schooling.
If you’re going to use your instructor certificate as a stepping stone to a flying career, that’s fine, that great! But, you better take it seriously, because your actions and conduct are directly affecting other people’s lives and the pursuit of their own career and dreams.
I invite you to check your ego, put yourself in each of your students’ shoes and ask: what kind of experience am I giving these students? Even better, ASK your students to give their honest feedback about YOU and the services YOU are hired to provide to them.
Be ready for constructive criticism - don’t get defensive, hear them out, and have an adult conversation about it. Don’t let your own hazardous attitudes put a stop to a constructive conversation, or prevent it altogether.
There are so many amazing Flight Instructors out there doing an amazing job as aviation ambassadors, but at the same time there are so many down-right bad flight instructors who are far too arrogant, immature, and disrespectful to hold that certificate - and it’s OUR job as aviation ambassadors to 1) be aware of OUR OWN hazardous attitudes first and foremost - that’s called humility 2) call out unprofessional behavior when we see it. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s required, 3) put a stop to unsafe habits and attitudes before they lead to a fatal accident, like this one.
Looking at the details of this accident and all the others like it has really forced me to look inward at my own behaviors, attitudes, and judgements, and of course the image I see isn’t without flaws, and I invite you to do the same thing with yourself regularly. That’s what I’m gonna do. We, as an industry, can do better than this.
Please share this video with anyone you think it may help, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on any of this down in the comments, and until next time, you know the drill.
I want you to stay happy, stay healthy, stay current, and most importantly, stay proficient. Students: keep an open mind, and advocate for yourself. Pilots: Be safe and responsible aviators. Never stop learning. Instructors: Check your ego. Be a positive role model to your students, and be the change that we need in Aviation.
- Josh Flowers