AMA with Jason Miller

April, 18, 2020 by

Yesterday, we had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Jason Miller, of The Finer Points, where the members in our Workshop got a chance to ask him questions.

He is the host of The Finer Points Aviation Podcast. CFII with more than 20 years of aviation experience and nearly 10,000 hours of instruction given. Jason is a member of the FAA safety team, an instructor for AOPA’s Air Safety Institute and was named by the FAA as the western pacific CFI of the year for 2009 and 2016.


If there is one thing you could tell your students, what would that be?

That efficiency, effective, and precision comes largely from the work you do outside the airplane. I recommend a 3-1 ratio. 3 hours of ground for every 1 hour of flight. It’s hard to believe and act on but it’s true.

If you look at the way the military and airlines do it (largely because they can force their cadets to) they ALL do it that way. This is where simulators can be SO powerful. You should really divide your sim session though between what is fun and what is effective. Allow time for both. Everybody has to go to “the gym” from time to time and the simulator can be an amazing work out

There’s somewhat of a debate on whether general aviation along with Hot Air Balloon pilots should be flying during the coronavirus pandemic. What are your thoughts on this topic?

I think that it’s extremely important that we follow the guidelines of social distancing to get through this as quickly as possible — you can see the numbers working as we do that — if you can rent / fly solo / maybe you own — I think that’s fine right now.

I think that in May, I may start flying with students, but I will be wearing a very good mask

Have you ever tried Infinite Flight?

Only one time at the Flight Sim Expo — I thought it was beautiful. I have never put too much thought into how a mobile simulator can be effective for the kind of training I’m talking about … but certainly the fun column is fully covered there! There are probably other ways it can be more “gym” like.

For example, are there detailed cockpits in Infinite Flight? Those would be great to simply run checklists and flow checks. Not super fun but it will make you stronger in a real airplane.

In the A350, XCub, TBM-930, A321, A320 and C172 there is now animated cockpits. And B777 is being reworked. So working instruments, working glass panels, gauges, etc.

Oh sweet. But keep in mind, even a detailed static cockpit can be extremely effective for running checklists / practicing flows etc.

I’m about 3-5 hours away from my check ride, then the pandemic happened. I have a ways to go in my online ground school so I’m trying to stay on top of that during this time. What are some key things I should focus on to try and not be too rusty in the airplane when I get back to it? I’m afraid I’ll regress a lot.

It’s gonna happen. Period. You will be rusty in your flying skills when you return, flying is NOT like riding a bike. So don’t worry about that. Use the sim to polish procedures, pre takeoff briefings, check lists usage, emergency flows etc. Those things will be even stronger when you return and then you are free to polish the flying up. Flying is 25% of the problem when it comes to learning to fly.

What is a guaranteed/common mistake you see PPL students make on their check ride?

Not practicing the “demonstration”. We hear SO much about “not training for the test” but people forget that demonstrating skills is very different than building skills. You have to separate this in training and make sure you go out and “scrimmage” some days. Practice the demonstration periodically throughout training. Clearing turns before every maneuver, checklists after etc. without stopping to work on anything that goes wrong. Save that for another day.

Also, talking out loud. If I don’t hear it, I assume you’re not doing it. Get credit for what you are doing. Talk your way through it.

Also, I just don’t know why rudder use is so hard to teach / learn … If you have poor rudder inputs on the first lift off / climb / first couple of turns — I’ve already decided a lot about your flying. Opposite holds true too. If it’s good, you’re already winning the battle.

Another way you can use any sim (Infinite Flight included) is to use it to think in front of the airplane methodically. For each next event on a flight (waypoint, turn, climb / descent etc.) Use 5 T’s, “when I get to that point I will TURN / TIME / TWIST / THROTTLE / TALK … all that before you get to the waypoint or whatever.

How did it feel to get the honor of being the Western Pacific CFI of the year?

Regarding the honor from the FAA — that was really cool! It’s particularly rewarding to have the FAA pat you on the back. Especially because I’m pretty honest about my shortcomings and am often afraid they are going to “get me”, so it was nice to know they appreciate what I”m doing. I probably won’t be totally happy until it’s a National CFI of the Year award though.

Is getting your CFI worth it if your looking to get quality, quick hours? I’m currently not sure what I want to do after College to build hours and the instructors I fly with all have mixed emotions on getting it to build hours for the airlines. Would like to know your opinion on it with all of your experience.

Is teaching worth it? yes. There is a saying that you don’t really know something until you can teach it. It’s kind of true. There are other ways, but the other ways are often harder to achieve the same level. So unless it sounds excruciating to you, I’d do it. There are a few notable exceptions. (Michael Maniero, for example, if you know him)

When a student is struggling to grasp or understand something that you are trying to teach them, is there anything in particular you do to remedy that to make it click in there head then be able to execute it?

I try to find a common point of reference and search for analogies I can use. Team sports is great for this. A lot of people have played some kind of team sport, so things like “scrimmage” vs. “skill building” is easily understood. More specific stuff for me is horseback riding (a lot of similarities there), riflery (for sight picture concepts) etc. So I always ask, “What do you do for a living?” / “What do you do for fun?” / “Have you ever ridden a horse?” / “Have you ever shot a gun?” / “How do you learn best?”

Programmers understand “default” so you can say things like “Go arounds are the default” and it makes sense. Same for Standardizing Procedures. Why do you copy / paste links instead of re-type them? It’s an S.O.P to prevent typing errors.

The airlines / professional operators have achieved amazing success through standardization. It’s central to what they do. I wrote a book on this called “Setting the Standard” (for iPad only, sorry) but it’s a list of S.O.Ps for single pilot general aviation operators. This is the stuff I was saying up front would be great to practice in a sim.

I have seen several safety presentations on aviation accident reviews and what went wrong. Oftentimes, the information presented surrounding the fatal accidents pertains to findings of OTC medications. Is there a reason the FAA does not perform random drug tests on pilots (such as a ramp check perhaps)? As many employers in the civilian world require both initial and random drug testing to be done as a condition of employment, why would the FAA not have the same approach?

Interesting. I haven’t seen that many cases that are a result of this … usually there are much more obvious reasons for the accident. But I think the answer to your question is probably just the infringement on freedoms. Pilots aren’t really that open to this type of monitoring and groups like AOPA continue to be effective fighting for pilot rights. An opposite type of question I’ve always asked myself is why don’t ER doctors have to do random drug testing? There are so many other places where the professionalism of the career assumes this type of monitoring is not necessary. Is it? or is it not? I don’t know. But I’m sure most general aviation pilots would find this too intrusive.

Do you have any suggestions on pilots who are making the transition from helicopters to fixed wing (no, not the other way around). What pitfalls are there to be aware of?

Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m not sure I know enough about helicopters to say but just a quick thought is the forward speed / descent profiles etc. Flying a Mooney Acclaim that needs to be stage cooled requires descent planning about 70 miles out from the destination or you’ll fly right by.

It’s possible too that helicopter pilots would be prone to excessive control inputs, but I’m guessing. This is an area where horseback riding can be a good comparison. I tell my students, “hold on loosely, but don’t let go. Don’t yank the horses mouth. It’s a bit like Curling … get ahead of the airplane and let it do it’s thing.”

As I’m in the process, my biggest hangup has been resetting my mentality of “we don’t need a runway” to “what is the runway length, and how much distance do I need to be safe.” It is a whole different process from start to finish. Luckily, there are some similarities once airborne, but takeoff and approach planning is different.

An S.O.P I would adopt is an abort point on every runway. Usually the halfway point on a shorter runway. If your wheels aren’t down by the abort point, go around. Go around is the default, be ready to do it. I’ve seen two fatal accidents in my career which could have been avoided with this procedure. Airlines also add about 20% to the margins in “the book”.

On the control input thing, a light grip on the yoke (two fingers) will solve more problems than I can even list but one big one is altitude control. One way to “train that in” is to thread a pen (or pencil) through your fingers (one over / one under and so on) and the hand you use to hold the yoke. If you try and hold on tight, it will literally hurt.

Do you normally attend AOPA events? How many a year?

Yes, but it’s not really fair because I lecture / teach for AOPA (the Air Safety Institute usually). I love their regional events and think they are an important group to support. Mostly because of their work in D.C fighting for our rights.


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Kyle Boas is the Founder of the IFATC Education Group. He is an IFATC Supervisor and Infinite Flight Appeals team member. — More