Staying Ahead of the Airplane

Pilots always need to think about what comes next.

Tip Staying Ahead
Tip Staying Ahead

We’ve all heard the sage advice about staying at least a couple steps ahead of the airplane. This becomes even more critical in IMC when we must keep it crystal clear in our minds not only where the airplane is now but also where it will be at a point in the not-so-distant future.

If you wait until you reach a fix or waypoint where action is required before thinking about it, you’ll always find yourself falling behind the airplane. How can you prevent that from happening? One method is to continually ask yourself two questions: “What am I waiting for?” and “What will I do when it happens?”

You might be waiting for station passage, a level-off altitude to be reached, the CDI needle to center or something else of importance. To avoid becoming complacent, many pilots like to ask themselves, “What are the next two things I need to do?” My instrument instructor called it the trap of sitting in the airplane “fat, dumb and happy” — in other words, not thinking about what comes next.

If you always keep in mind the event you’re waiting for and know what you’re supposed to do when it happens, not only will you seldom be falling behind, you’ll also be pleased to find yourself staying many steps ahead.