Bring Along a Buddy

It helps uncover subtle flaws in your technique.

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Flying contributing editor Tom Benenson

I'm a lucky guy. When I ask someone to fly along with me to hone my procedures, I can turn to Flying contributing editor Tom Benenson. Tom is one of the most experienced pilots you'll find, and has made a career seeking out detailed strategies for flying in the IFR system, so his input is invaluable. I found that out on our return trip from Sun 'n Fun earlier this month.

The weather was cooperating nicely with high pressure dominating the East Coast. We discussed the return trip in the days leading up to the launch, and we decided to fly VFR to Savannah, then IFR the rest of the way to Tom's home airport in upstate New York. Our last fuel stop was my home base, Somerset Airport in New Jersey, so we'd have the option of staying overnight if weather or fatigue dictated. Of course, that would mean Tom would learn how "relaxing" it can be living with eight-year-old twin boys. As it turned out, I was able to get Tom home to Columbia County Airport and return to Somerset all in one day. Lucky for him.

We arrived at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport before dawn, and loaded my E35 Bonanza (a 1954-vintage V-tail). The stars aligned well for returning the rental car across the field and catching a ride courtesy of the Landmark Aviation. Nicely done, guys, thanks. So we were able to depart roughly on schedule at about 7:20 am. When I asked Departure to activate my VFR flight plan, they said they had an IFR plan on file for me. That was the result of my inexperience filing with Fltplan.com, but it worked out fine for us, as an unexpected layer of cloud at 2,000 feet resulted in our shooting a for-real ILS into Savannah, despite forecasts for VMC all day, all the way.

As we motored northward, Tom filled in some of the fallow time discussing a talk he'd be giving on flying safety, and I noticed he was scribbling notes as we went along. Focused as I was on flying, it slowly occurred to me that flaws in my technique could be part of the fodder he was looking for to enlighten his audience. Hmmm. Turns out I had little to fear.

Tom's main suggestions, which he outlined neatly for me in a cogent email a few days later, consisted mainly of: using a highlighter to note progress and current position on the enroute charts; suggesting that I listen up and try to anticipate the next frequency I might receive — and how to find likely prospects on the chart; tuning the new frequency and calling in before I write it down, rather than after; and that I consider simplifying my double-clipboard cockpit organization technique — a smaller version of my flight log form would make my life aloft less complicated. Tom also suggested that, when approaching a non-tower airport, I should make a call farther out — about 15 or 20 miles — and be clear about my position and intentions. "Bonanza 3473 Bravo 15 west, inbound for landing Runway 12."

So it was helpful to smooth out some unwanted habits that might have crept into my flying. But even more than that, it was immensely valuable just having someone else overseeing my procedures — and NOT finding major flaws. Any nagging doubts that I might be less than safe enough were put to rest. That doesn't mean I'm complacent. In fact, the opposite is true. I'm now that much more committed to refining my procedures.

It was a long flight after a long week of working hard at Sun 'n Fun. Though not particularly complex, the challenge to complete the flight safely and efficiently was there. Having Tom's tush in the right seat — and the experienced brain attached at the other end of his spine — made my flight much more enriching.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at enewsletter@flyingmagazine.com. We'd love to hear from you.