Knocking the Rust Off
By: Jason Blair, Designated Pilot Examiner | April 2013
Most of us don't get to fly a lot in the winter, and we get rusty. We fly more in
the spring and summer because the weather is conducive; we have more time off, take
vacations, etc. Unfortunately, it is also when we have more incidents, more accidents,
and sadly, more deaths in aviation.
As a Designated Pilot Examiner, when I see pilots during practical tests, they are
usually at their best. They have practiced, studied, gotten current, and have done
everything they can to be sure they demonstrate the qualities of the absolute best
pilot they can be. But most don't stay at this level of proficiency. Pilots fall
back into their normal life pattern, flying when it is convenient or when they want
to make a personal or business trip. This isn’t necessarily enough flying to keep
As an examiner, an instructor and a pilot who flies regularly, I've collected a
practices that can help all pilots keep their skills sharp.
- Flying Isn’t Just for Holidays. Pilots’ lives are busy and many
only get a chance to use their aircraft for trips when they have time off. This
irregular flying doesn't keep their skills up. Long trips also don't help build
repetitive practice for things such as landings, planning flights in consideration
of weather, or even familiarity with the cockpit. The answer is simple, yet sometimes
tough to do: Fly more often. These don't have to be long flights, a half hour with
3 landings on a Saturday morning twice a month will go far to keeping you proficient
between those longer trips that sometimes come months apart.
- Fly With an Instructor or Another Pilot. Nobody likes criticism,
but receiving some qualified feedback will increase your skill development and competence
as a pilot. Taking a qualified instructor with you periodically to obtain outside
feedback is a good idea. Find a local instructor, ask them to take a ride with you
and take to heart what they indicate you should work on. If an instructor isn't
available, take an experienced, qualified pilot who will provide you with some straight
feedback. In both cases, be honest and challenge yourself to practice the things
you really need work on, not what you think will make the instructor or your friend
think you are a good pilot.
- Stop Before Programming Anything. A new iPad, a new portable GPS,
a new panel mounted GPS or glass panel is fun to engage with, but it can also be
overwhelming. In some cases, it can be confusing and cause our attention to shift
to the system rather than our aircraft. It can lead to problems if we are trying
to taxi or takeoff at the same time. When our attention diverts from aircraft control,
it’s easy to end up taxiing where we shouldn't. The result can be a runway incursion,
or causing damage to the aircraft by taxiing off a taxiway, running over a runway
light, or bumping a wing on a hangar. When you are programming or setting up equipment,
stop the aircraft. This simple tip can help pilots avoid potential aircraft damage
or violations of regulations.
- Be Willing to Say It's a "No-Go.”Be Willing to Say It's a "No-Go.”
The pressure of a planned family trip can be hard to overcome, but it's always better
to be able to take a trip in the future than to have one end in tragedy because
of a bad decision to fly in conditions beyond the capability of the pilot or the
aircraft. Set good personal minimums and stick to them. Practice this even on days
when you aren't flying by "simulating" planning for a flight.
I regularly look at weather on days when I am not flying. It takes just a few minutes
to pick a location, get the weather in the way that you normally do, and analyze
it. Imagine you were really planning to fly that day and make a decision if it would
be a "go" or a "no-go." What I find in most cases is we are more conservative when
there isn't real-world pressure to make the flight taking into account our own personal
minimums. If we practice this process when it "doesn't matter" we build a habit.
The hope is that this habit will matter when it is the real deal.
Last year, the Memorial Day weekend saw a significant increase in fatal accidents.
We saw the same thing on the Fourth of July weekend. Pilots who weren't keeping
their skills sharp flew on those weekends for fun and for travel with a tragic end.
Help us make sure this spring and summer keeps pilots and the friends and families
who ride with them safe by making good decisions and staying proficient.
Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot
Examiner with 4,600 hours total time and 2,600 hours instruction given. He serves
on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and is the past Executive Director of
the National Association of Flight Instructors. He also consults on aviation training
and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.
does not provide technical or legal advice, and is not affiliated with companies
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