by Jeffery R. Taylor
WisDOT Aviation Consultant
What was your first thought the last time someone asked you to fly an airplane? Was it, “Am I current?” If it was, you are probably not alone. Typically, pilots begin to compare what their currency status is in relation to the FAR 61.57 Recent Flight Experience. This lists the number of takeoffs and landings or the number of instrument approaches required in a given time period. Pilots also check FAR 61.56 Flight Reviews, which lists the minimum training requirements for their pilot certificate. While being current from an FAA legal standpoint is always important, shouldn’t we ask more of ourselves? And don’t our passengers assume we are doing more than maintaining the bare legal minimum?
Looking back at how I was trained, and how I trained student pilots, this pattern does not surprise me. During the early stages of our aviation experience, we all became well versed in reading the regulations and learning the minimum requirements for each certificate. In fact, during the practical exams for a certificate, the examiner probably quizzed us on these minimums. Unfortunately, their intent was misunderstood. It was not to reinforce that we only need three takeoffs and landings every 90 days; it was merely to verify that we understood the FAA bare legal minimum.
So what can we do to move beyond staying “legally current,” to improving our proficiency as pilots? First, take a conservative approach when assessing your individual level of proficiency. Several studies show that skill loss in some of the most important phases of flight (landings, unusual attitude recovery and crosswind takeoffs), occur much sooner than most pilots expect. And particularly concerning is that these studies also show we are not very accurate at assessing our level of proficiency. Overestimating our abilities is not just a pilot trait; it is a common human characteristic.
Practice makes perfect. Or better yet, perfect practice makes perfect. We have all heard these sayings, but these phrases become clichés because they are true. There is no greater benefit to your proficiency than practicing the skills you need the most. While cost is always a factor, there are economical tools available to practice your piloting skills. Listen to that little voice in your head when it suggests that you need more practice. It’s talking for a reason.
Simulators have come a long way in providing a realistic flight experience. There are several flight simulation programs available for home use on a PC that allows you to fly an assortment of aircraft in almost any weather. For those who don’t want to use a computer, the least expensive flight simulator is “chair flying.”
Find a quiet room, not just to allow you to concentrate, but to keep others from staring. Then, sit down and visualize a flight. It is an extremely effective tool for building habit patterns and preparing you to maximize your flight time. Props can help. A photo of your cockpit panel is a great visual aid. While flight simulators can be valuable tools, it’s important they are used appropriately. Treat them like an aircraft.
To gain the maximum benefit from your flight simulation experience, truly act as if you are in an aircraft. Also, make sure you are practicing correctly. Review flight manuals and discuss procedures with a local CFI and verify that your procedures are appropriate. While you might look a little funny “play acting” flying, the benefits far outweigh the kidding and your potential passengers will appreciate your conscientious efforts.
Flying an airplane is not like riding a bike. Pilots today need to maintain knowledge and proficiency in a wide range of skills to conduct a safe flight. Respect the fact that your skills need to be nourished on a consistent basis and never assume that just because you are legally current, you are also safe.