Home Study

If you are like me you have the best of intentions. As a conscientious pilot who wants to fly in a professional manner, you desire to stay up to date on the latest aviation information. You are planning to go to the next safety seminar that the FAA or AOPA puts on in your area. You meant to go to the last one, but something important came up and you just couldn't make it. Come to think of it, that's what happened the time before. Even with the best of intentions, most pilots find it very difficult to spend even a fraction of the time they would like to spend refreshing their aviation knowledge and staying abreast of new developments.

As I mentioned in my article last month on What Is Safety?, any skill or knowledge gradually diminishes if not refreshed regularly, and there are constant changes and improvements we need to keep abreast of. The problem is that with everything else going on in our lives, it can be easy to feel comfortable with our current knowledge level when in fact it has decreased quite a bit from when we first attained our license, and there may be new information we are not even aware of. One way to enhance our safety level and reduce the risks involved in our flying is to look for regular opportunities to refresh and enhance our knowledge of aviation information and regulations.

As it turns out this is actually very easy to do. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation (ASF) is working hard to make the information we need to be safe, efficient and effective in the cockpit available literally at our fingertips. They are dedicated to making general aviation flying easier and safer, so they offer a wide range of educational resources free of charge to all pilots on their website aopa.org/asf. Let's take a tour of some of the wealth of information available there.

Real Pilot Stories: Can you imagine flying at 10,000 feet in a Cessna 401, hearing a loud noise, looking back and seeing the top door open and the owner's wife trying to hold onto the ankles of her three-year-old grandson who had opened the door and been sucked out? What would you do if you were cruising along and suddenly a snake came out of an unused instrument opening on the panel? That's right, snake on a plane! We can always learn from the experiences of other pilots, and it's interesting to think about how we would handle various difficult situations, so you might want to start with "Real Pilot Stories." These are short slide shows narrated by the actual pilots involved who describe how they handled some of the amazing challenges that can occur during a flight.

On-Demand SafetyCasts: Many pilots enjoy the aviation humor of Rod Machado, one of the 12 instructors featured in the ASF On-Demand SafetyCasts. These 60-minute video seminars bring the nation's leading safety experts to you at your convenience, with discussions ranging from basic skills like "The Ups & Downs of Takeoffs and Landings" to hot topics such as "Flying With Glass Cockpits in General Aviation."

Interactive Courses: The Air Safety Foundation offers 22 interactive computer training courses on a wide variety of aviation subjects. The time required to complete a course can vary from only four minutes on the new laser visual warning system around the Washington, DC, Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), to a course on "Engines and Propellers" that can take up to 90 minutes to complete. Most of the courses average around an hour in length. The nice thing about the Interactive Courses is that you control the pace. You can skim through stuff you already know or information that is not of interest to you, and then linger on the subjects that need more attention. If you start a course and get interrupted before you are done, your progress is automatically saved so you can pick up where you left off before.

Many of these courses are excellent for reviewing and refreshing basic information all pilots should know, especially because even the basic courses focus on specific information that can help pilots stay alive and stay out of trouble. Other courses cover some of the latest advances in aviation. These courses are good enough that at least one regional carrier is requiring all their pilots take the course on Runway Safety as part of their FAA-approved training program. Many of the courses qualify for the FAA Wings and AOPA Accident Forgiveness programs.

There seem to be a lot of pilots who are getting into trouble due to a lack of knowledge of airspace requirements, so I would recommend starting with "Know Before You Go - Navigating Today's Airspace." Like me, you may be a little embarrassed by your lack of knowledge of some of the finer details of airspace regulations when you take the short quiz at the beginning of the course. As you proceed through the course, the interactive graphics really help to picture the situation as one type of airspace builds on another.

The most serious airspace infractions involve Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), so after completing the course on airspace, it would be a good idea to continue with "Mission Possible - Navigating Today's Special Use Airspace." It is one thing to read about the expanding TFRs for Camp David, Crawford or Kennebunkport when the president is in town, but the information really comes alive when you watch the TFR grow and see the huge area that is actually included. If you live or fly in the Washington, DC, area, you might follow these courses up with the short segment on the laser visual warning system around the Washington ADIZ.

With so many pilots flying with advanced GPS navigation systems and glass cockpits, the SafetyCast on "Flying With Glass Cockpits in General Aviation" combined with the interactive courses on GPS for VFR or IFR operations and the series of interactive courses ASF is developing on panel-mounted GPS receivers should be popular. The GPS receiver courses only take about 15 minutes each and focus on the few functions regularly used by a typical pilot in VFR flight. They include a free PDF quick-reference card to carry in the cockpit, making them very useful for the VFR renter pilot who does not regularly use the equipment.

Whether you are a brand-new student pilot just starting out, or you have thousands of hours in your logbook, you will benefit from regularly visiting the ASF website to take advantage of the wealth of information available there. For ex-perienced pilots, a lot of it will be a review of what you already know. However, I am finding tidbits that I either forgot or just never learned even in the so-called basic information. I know that every added bit of information I have available will help me to increase my level of safety by making me more aware of the risks I face and giving me more tools to effectively deal with those risks. I challenge each reader to join me in committing to reserve at least one hour a month on their calendar to refresh their aviation knowledge base using the resources available on the ASF website.


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