Some Flying Habits You Keep; Some You Try to Lose

And some seem to go back and forth between the two…

One of the best things about recurrent training or a mandatory flight review is that you get the chance to have a critical set of eyeballs look over your flying habits. There are probably things you are doing wrong that you don't even realize you're doing at all. Margo Kay, one of the instructors at my home airport, did my last biennial flight review. She and I have a lot in common; we're both Red Sox fans living way too close to New York, and we both have sons named Elijah. (It raises eyebrows around the airport office when I ask her, "How's Elijah's mom?" and she comes back with, "Fine thanks. And how's Elijah's dad?") I learned some annoying stuff about myself from Margo. For example, I now realize that over time I had allowed my use of power on landing approaches to get way out of hand. My old rule of, "I ought to be able to land without power from anywhere in the pattern" had pretty much gone to blazes -- mostly out of inattention. I don't do that anymore.

Margo added some new habits. I've always stopped for a quick final check of the aircraft configuration before taxiing out onto the runway for takeoff. Now, thanks to Margo, I also try to stop on the taxiway after landing to perform chores such as raising flaps, turning the transponder to 'standby' and resetting the trim. Like talking on a cell phone while driving, those housekeeping tasks can distract from safe taxi procedures. So it's better to do them while sitting still.

One of my habits I like dates back to my primary flight training. An early instructor taught me to wiggle the rudder pedals back and forth on short final approach -- just a little -- after I've established the glide path and everything is "riding on rails" toward the touchdown point. Making the airplane wag its tail a bit is just a subtle way of reminding my senses that I'm in control, and I am the one who decides where this thing is headed. It makes me feel that much more a pilot, and that much less like a passenger. I don't do it every time, but often enough to keep me on my toes. What's interesting is that this little trick works in all the airplanes I've flown, from simple trainers to jets.

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 We'd love to hear from you.