Six Ways to Be a Better Pilot in 2018
by Dan Luke
Pilots all have a drive and passion to be great at what we do. We operate in a unique environment with many demands, and we must continue to expand our skill set to meet them. If we are not training, we are forgetting. The new year brings an opportunity to gain a little bit of flying wisdom and be a better pilot. Here are six things any aviator (or aviatrix) should resolve to do in 2018.
#1 – GET AN IPC
I know what you’re thinking. You stay current so you don’t need an IPC. Hear me out on this.
I once flew with a pilot who came to me for a checkout in a Cirrus SR20. This guy was a former Air Force pilot, a retired captain from a major airline, an aerobatics instructor and had been flying GA his entire life. Needless to say, he was an awesome pilot! Surprisingly, he also had no idea how to do basic GPS approaches. He didn’t know the difference between LNAV, LNAV/VNAV, and LPV. When he retired from the airline, GPS was just being introduced and he never learned it. He also hadn’t received any instrument training since retiring. Like most of us, this pilot stayed current by shooting six approaches every six months.
But there is a big difference between “current” and “proficient”. The regs don’t say anything about shooting six good approaches. Even if you do six, simply awful, VOR approaches, track a course, and do a hold every six months, you are considered current, and therefore, legal to fly IFR.
Current? Yes. Proficient? Maybe not.
It’s understandable that an IPC can be a bit intimidating. After all, it’s essentially an instrument practical test—not something most of us want to repeat. But there really is no downside to getting one. If you are instrument current going into the test, you are instrument current at the end of the test, regardless of how well you performed. If you don’t perform so well…Good! Now you just identified an area in your flying that needs some improvement. You can work on that! Maybe you did an outstanding job… Good! Now you can take to the skies (even the cloudy ones) with confidence that you can operate safely.
Get an IPC this year and consider making it a regular check—this year get an IPC, next year your normal Flight Review. If your Flight Review is due this year, ask your instructor to add an IPC. Remember, just staying “current” doesn’t necessarily mean you are proficient. And not proficient = not safe.
#2 – GO OUT AND GET THAT RATING
Maybe you always wanted to get a multi-engine rating, maybe a sea-plane, maybe you finally have the time in your logbook to be a commercial pilot. Go out and do it.
There is nothing like the training environment to help hone a pilot’s skills. Even adding an operating privilege like a tailwheel, complex airplane, or high performance endorsement all involve some good training and will always improve your skill set.
If time or resources are limited, how about adding a Remote Pilot Certificate to your wallet? It might surprise some pilots how the simple online training for the Remote Pilot Certificate can help them brush up on some airspace rules or other basics that they may not have looked at in years. And, at the end of the training, you have something to show for it.
So whether you have been romanticizing the notion of landing a plane on the water, looking to become a Flight Instructor, or just brush up on some skills, resolve to go out and get that rating this year.
#3 – DO SOME GOOD WITH YOUR UNIQUE SKILLS
“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.” – Orville Wright.
Humanity has been trying to master flight since Daedalus and Icarus. Da Vinci only dreamed to do what we get to do regularly. We are fortunate to be living in a time where our dreams are able to be realized. Now that we’ve realized our dreams, we have a unique opportunity to also do some good.
Volunteer flying offers the opportunity for pilots to use their unique set of skills for the betterment of others. There is someone out there who needs help. You can help them. The possibilities for public benefit flying are varied and many: Flying a patient to their medical treatment, flying a soldier to a recovery clinic, relocating animals in need, or helping to bring supplies into a disaster area.
I am a registered pilot with an organization called Patient AirLift Services who works to connect pilots and aviation resources with people and patients in need. The PALS mission encompasses medical flights, military flights, compassion flights and disaster relief, and I find their staff and coordination to be top notch. You can sign up with PALS here or find a list of other public benefit flying organizations through the Air Care Alliance website here.
Already a volunteer pilot? Great! Resolve to fly more volunteer flights this year!
The feeling that comes with helping those in need is unlike any other and it’s a great way to keep your aircraft moving and your skills sharp.
#4 – LEARN SOME MORE ABOUT MAINTENANCE
As PIC, we have an awesome responsibility for the safety of our flight. We were taught about maintenance throughout training, and we know how to look in a logbook for the required inspections, but are we really sure we have a firm grasp on the safety requirements of our aircraft? Maintenance requirements can be confusing!
Aircraft owners should become very familiar with maintenance regulations and the specifics of their aircraft. What type of maintenance can I perform on my own aircraft? What is preventative maintenance? I want to remove a seat from my plane for a flight. The next flight I want to reinstall the seat. Can I do that? Do I need to log anything? My mechanic just did an annual and handed me a list of things that make my aircraft un-airworthy. If I have those items repaired, do I need another annual or did the first annual satisfy the requirement? How much of that work can I do?
I would suggest that all pilots, but especially aircraft owners, open 14 CFR Part 43 and give it a good read. Pay close attention to Appendix A for particulars on preventative maintenance. Really familiarize yourself with these rules and the maintenance requirements of your aircraft, then actively participate in your aircraft’s annual inspection. You could learn a lot about your plane that way, and it will help you stay safer. The aircraft needs an inspection anyway, you might as well take advantage and learn something this year.
#5 – HIGH ALTITUDE TRAINING
Aircraft are more capable today than most people even understand. There are GA aircraft that operate in environments that were considered outer space not that long ago (relatively speaking). But humans cannot operate in those same environments. We need to rely on our tools, machines, and (you guessed it) training, in order to succeed in flying at high altitudes. For aircraft requiring a type rating to operate at higher altitudes, the training involves learning how to actually operate the controls in that environment. You learn the appropriate air speeds, bank and pitch attitudes, and what to do in an emergency. But aside from an instructor’s wisdom and some reading on the matter, there isn’t usually much focus on human factors during type training.
High Altitude training isn’t just important for jet or turbine aircraft. A turbo Cirrus SR22 can fly well into the flight levels even though it is not pressurized. What would happen if your O2 regulator developed a leak? This is where human factors training comes into play. Learning how the human body—your human body—reacts when exposed to low pressure conditions can be invaluable if a problem ever arises.
Because high altitudes affect each body differently, one of the best ways to get human factors training is to use yourself as a test dummy and sit in an altitude chamber. Feeling the effects of hypoxia and the resulting inability to properly perform might help you recognize a problem and declare that emergency just a little sooner than you would have without the training. That could save your life.
Patient AirLift Services will be hosting the FAA’s Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure or PROTE at Republic Airport (FRG) in June of 2018. This is an amazing opportunity, as it will be the first time the PROTE has made its way to the northeast. (Pilots otherwise might travel all the way to Oklahoma City to take advantage of the FAA’s Hypoxia Training course).
Whether you operate in a high altitude environment or not, put this on your calendar and make it a resolution to sit in an altitude chamber this year. It will take your breath away. (I just couldn’t resist). ☺
#6 – FLY A DIFFERENT PANEL
Years ago, I learned to fly looking at an assortment of dials and gauges that, compared to today’s technology, seem pretty antiquated. These days, I fly an airliner with a glass panel that, well, somehow also now seems antiquated. Amazing how that works. In front of me is an instrument panel that would have absolutely astounded a pilot 20 years ago, and I just called it antiquated.
Technology has changed so much that there are many pilots today who have never flown a plane with a standard “six-pack” instrument panel. And even though glass panels have been around long enough that older versions now seem dated, there are still many pilots who, for fear of change or sheer stubbornness, have not yet flown a glass panel.
This year, go out and fly a different panel.
If you are in a plane with conventional instruments, try to get some instruction in an aircraft with a glass panel. It’s a pretty easy transition and it will expand your horizons and help keep you in pace with the modern flight environment. You’ll learn a lot about why glass panels are generally superior and it can help you feel a little more confident if you ever have the opportunity to fly a more modernly-equipped aircraft.
If you fly a glass panel, find an aircraft to rent with a traditional “six-pack”. This transition is, unfortunately, not as easy. It is, however, well worth it—especially for the instrument pilot. If you rent a plane with a decent instructor and do some basic instrument training—basic attitude flying, intercepting a course, approaches, and (as everyone cringes) holds—you’ll find that getting back in that futuristic flying machine will be that much better. Not only will you have polished up some skills, you will have drastically improved your ability to scan your instruments – a skill often lacking in glass panel pilots.
The new year offers the promise of opportunity. Let’s resolve to take advantage of this opportunity and make ourselves better and safer pilots.
Have fun. Fly safe. And have a Happy New Year.
About the Author
Daniel Luke is an Airline Transport Pilot and CFII AMEL-ASEL. Dan’s aviation career includes Charter Captain, Air Traffic Controller at three towers, and FAA Aviation Safety Inspector. A decorated veteran, Dan served in the US Army as paratrooper serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Dan was twice awarded the Army Commendation Medal, achieved Commandant’s list at the NCO Academy and continued his success by graduating from Marywood University’s aviation program. He is currently an airline pilot with Piedmont Airlines.