5. Continued Ed
When I was presented with my private certificate, the examiner said, "This is a license to learn." Part of that learning can be done without going near an airplane. A wide selection of training courses and refresher programs are available online and on DVD.
The AOPA Air Safety Institute posts a number of free interactive video programs that are designed to improve our flying. The courses are available at airsafetyinstitute.org and you don't have to be a member of AOPA to access them.
Pilot Workshops (pilotworkshops.com) offers free weekly pilot tips from a cadre of respected flight instructors and examiners that are taken from the full-length programs the company offers to subscribers.
If you're not a participant in the FAA WINGS program (FAAsafety.gov), you should be. The program is designed to encourage pilots to continue their aviation education and requires attendance at seminars or training programs and some training flights.
To become aware of when and where WINGS' approved seminars are being held, you can subscribe to Newsbug (newsbug.afasf.org), which provides notices of FAA Safety Team safety seminars and events within 100 miles of your ZIP code.
Finally, as part of your continuing education, dig out the pilot's operating handbook (POH) for your airplane and read it again. You'll be surprised at what you either never knew or have forgotten.
6. Schedule a Flight With an Instructor
Don't be shy. If it's been awhile since you've heard from your flight instructor, give him or her a call and schedule a flight. The biennial flight reviews that were mandated back in 1974 might be too far between to wipe off the rust that has accumulated over the previous two years or, to stifle any germinating bad habits. Consider at least an annual refresher or better yet, one every six months. Include instrument approaches, and it's a great way to stay current — and proficient. If you're qualified to fly different classes of airplanes, you might want to alternate and complete the reviews in different aircraft.
7. Give Your Autopilot a Rest
Technological paradigm shifts have been impressive, but in some ways they've done a disservice. Pilots have become dependent on the use of autopilots and GPS navigators and the old adage "If you don't use it, you'll lose it" comes to mind.
Periodically, give your autopilot a rest. During a longer flight, plan to hand-fly a leg or, better yet, make a flight from beginning to end without the help of the autopilot. If nothing else, it'll give you new respect for how well the autopilot flies your airplane.
8. Pretend to Be a Weather Man
It was Mark Twain who said, "Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it." As pilots, we tend to be much more conscious of what's happening in the firmament but although we can't do anything about it, we should understand what's in store for us on any flight. I'd guess you probably haven't studied weather-depiction charts or prog charts since you had to prepare for a knowledge test.
As an exercise, call up a series of surface weather analysis charts over time and then forecast the weather conditions you would expect to encounter during a future flight between two points on the chart. Having done that, get a weather briefing for the same flight and see how close your forecast came to the briefer's forecast.
9. Ratings Count
One of the best ways to improve your flying is by adding certificates or ratings. Moving up from a private to a commercial certificate will add precision to your skill set. Advancing in class, you could add an instrument rating, which would help your precision even more and enhance the utility of your airplane. A glider rating will teach you a great deal about the effects of ridge waves and thermals, but most importantly, it will give you a new understanding of energy management. A helicopter rating will add an appreciation for the importance of staying ahead of the airplane and anticipating responses to your control inputs. Other ratings that will improve your competence and add utility — and adventure — include multiengine, seaplane, gyroplane and balloon, among others.
Other options for "graduate" study include courses in mountain flying, aerobatics and endorsements to operate tailwheel, complex- and high-performance airplanes.