Read accident case studies and aviation stories to help you stay sharp.
By Dan Sobczak
Editor's note: This article first appeared in America's Flyways magazine in July 2006. This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.
As a student pilot years ago, I realized early in my training that I needed to fly regularly. Maintaining a respectable level of proficiency at my budding pilot skills meant flying at least two or sometimes three times per week.
By not flying consistently, I reasoned I would probably spend extra time and money re-learning previous lessons, as I would likely forget important skills during my downtime.
Sunset at Falcon Field (KFFZ) in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Dan Sobczak.
After I earned my private pilot certificate and my well of flight funds had dried up (I procured a small loan early in my training to help pay for flight lessons), I made a commitment to myself that I would fly at least a minimum of once every two weeks to maintain my proficiency.
Much of that flying would be limited to quick practice area flights to refresh my private pilot maneuvers, or fly circuits around the pattern to work on my landings. At least I would be flying consistently and improving my growing skills as an aviator.
Over the next two years, this minimum flight schedule worked well for my personal flying abilities. That is, until the holiday season rolled around and my trusty car of six years decided to strand me on the side of a road one severe clear Saturday afternoon, its fuel pump failing without warning.
After a costly repair of the failed pump and other maintenance issues that cropped up around the same time, I recognized that my flying days were now a distant memory, at least temporarily. My car repairs had used up any extra funds I had for flying. I was grounded.
As a student pilot or a newly certificated pilot, you may find yourself grounded for any number of reasons. When you're not able to fly consistently, what can you do to keep your flying skills up to par and stay sharp mentally?
There are a number of resources you can take advantage of to help your mind stay airborne, even though your feet are firmly attached to the ground.
While the following tips have helped me stay focused mentally during my downtimes, this list is certainly not all-inclusive.
Back in 2005, I checked out in an Allegro 2000, a light sport aircraft that was new at the time. While I was learning the flow of the Allegro's cockpit, it dawned on me one morning as I jumped in my car to go to work that my vehicle's cockpit layout was vaguely similar to the Allegro's instrument panel.
An Allegro 2000 Light Sport Airplane in 2005 at Falcon Field (KFFZ) in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Dan Sobczak.
I began taking my Allegro checklists to work with me for a few days. Before starting my car, I'd run through the startup flow of the Allegro. While stopped at a red light and it was safe to do so, I'd quickly run through the Allegro's emergency procedures, grabbing at the Allegro's instrument panel controls where they would be on my dashboard.
Surprisingly, the next time I strapped into the Allegro, I felt much more comfortable with that airplane's flow.
Finally, and most importantly, when you return to flight for the first time after an extended layoff, get an instructor and make your return flight a solid hour, or more as needed, of recurrent training. Work on the basics. Get a few landings under your belt with an instructor in the right seat.
One thing you cannot simulate on the ground is the feel of an aircraft. Though your skills may not diminish from an extended layoff, your feel for that aircraft, and perhaps your overall confidence, may suffer. However, as you regain the feel of the airplane, and your confidence, you just may learn a new tip or two from your instructor in the process.
The Flight Chain App team
Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.
Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.
The only aviation accident app that helps you see and understand the accident chain from NTSB reports.
Flight Chain App and its blog Ahead of the Power Curve are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.