Flight School: Maintaining Proficiency

What kinds of things should pilots practice regularly once they obtain their pilot certificate?

Max Trescott is the 2008 National Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year. Based in Palo Alto, California, he teaches in glass cockpit aircraft and in Lake amphibians. He also publishes aviation books and software available through g1000book.com. He says:

Celebrate your pilot certificate by flying often! But don’t get stuck in a rut and fly the same routine each time you fly. Instead, reinforce all of your flying skills while developing new ones. Build a plan to get regular experience in these areas: piloting skills, flight planning and aeronautical ­decision-making (ADM).

In the skills area, practicing landings is most important. Pilots seem to understand that, and a typical flight for many pilots involves eight or 10 landings and then calling it quits. But make sure you practice the full range of landings, including power-off landings from the pattern altitude and higher. When I pull the power at 4,500 feet, I sometimes hear from the student: “I haven’t done that since I got my license 10 years ago.” “Well, why the heck not?” I wonder.

If you fly tailwheel aircraft, practice wheel landings regularly. Seaplane pilots should practice glassy water landings even when the water’s not glassy. And, no matter what equipment you fly, make sure that you practice go-arounds often. Make sure that the right side of your body is moving forward in concert as you add power and right rudder.

While maintaining your flying skills, don’t forget to exercise your brain. Practice planning trips to various destinations, even some you may never fly to. Consider the safest routes, not just the GPS direct route, taking possible emergency landing sites into consideration. Pick safe altitudes that avoid terrain and obstructions. Evaluate the weather on different days and decide which of those days you would cancel.

Finally, become a student of ADM. Before each flight, think about the unique risks you face for that flight. It could be issues related to weather, terrain, familiarity with the aircraft or airport, night, fuel, unfamiliar airspace or even noise abatement regulations. If anything makes you uncomfortable, mitigate the risk by getting more information, bringing along a CFI or canceling the trip.

Eric Radtke is an airline transport pilot, Gold Seal flight instructor, advanced ground instructor and NAFI-accredited Master Flight Instructor. Eric has been involved in aviation education since 1998 and currently serves as president and chief instructor of Sporty’s Academy — the educational arm of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. He says:

Earning a pilot certificate is a special accomplishment. It also comes with the responsibility to continue learning and refining those skills through practice. Creating a plan for doing so will only enhance your aviation experiences and provide even greater personal enrichment.

Practice landings: A wise person once told me: “You can’t practice anything effectively unless you have goals and a method to measure progress.” In terms of making more consistent landings, this means examining your landings with a critical eye. Some things to consider:

Speed: Are your pattern speeds correct and consistent through all legs?

Aiming and touchdown points: Are you maintaining the discipline to select aiming and touchdown points for every landing and making those touchdown points?

Flare and touchdown: Are you appropriately trading airspeed for altitude in the form of a shallower descent in the flare and touching down as the wings stall?

Runway alignment: Are you on centerline with the longitudinal axis parallel to the runway?

Go-arounds: Are you following your own rules for a stable approach and executing a go-around when appropriate?
Judge your improvement on the quality of your "bad" landings. And practice under a variety of conditions (wind, configuration, time of day, etc.) to better hone your visual cues and mastery of the airplane.

Practice abnormal procedures: Read the wonderfully insightful section of your POH that includes an expanded discussion of abnormal and emergency procedures. On your next flight, review the table of contents for the emergency section and select an event you haven’t practiced. Follow the checklist for that item and understand the “why” behind it. This exercise not only will prepare you for real-time anomalies, but also will ensure a better understanding of your aircraft’s systems.

Finally, fly: There’s nothing better for proficiency than to fly more and visit unfamiliar airports.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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