As 2016 thunders onto the scene, people everywhere are diligently crafting their New Year’s Resolutions. So what will it be this year? Will you finally get around to cutting out your daily dose of delectable donuts? Will you lose those extra 10 pounds that have been lurking about your midsection for the past year? Maybe you want to finish that book you’ve been meaning to read. Regardless of the myriad items gracing your resolution list, if you’re a pilot there five things you must absolutely do in 2016.
1. Get airborne!
This seems like an obvious goal for a pilot to make. There are, however, significant barriers in the General Aviation (GA) world that keep many pilots out of the cockpit—cost being perhaps the greatest. Pilots can pay as much as $165 per hour (including fuel) to rent a newer, single-engine Cessna 172. Let’s not even mention how much a multi-engine rental costs these days! As a result, many aviators aren’t able to keep their skills sharp due to personal budget constraints, so they give up flying altogether. Don’t be one of them!
There are several options available to reduce flying costs. Flying clubs continue to maintain popularity as a cost-effective method of logging flight time. The Civil Air Patrol offers various opportunities to fly at a reduced cost for those who already have their Private Pilot Certificate. Joint aircraft ownership can also be a cost-effective means of getting into the cockpit. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association provides a wealth of information on mitigating the costs associated with flying. (http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Aircraft-Ownership/Reducing-the-Cost-of-Flying)
Maybe you don’t think your pilot skills are sharp, or perhaps you think you just don’t have the time to get airborne. Stop making excuses! Make 2016 the year you do more flying. Make a resolve to get into—or back into—the sky. You got into flying because you loved it, keep the flames of your passion for aviation burning bright by getting behind the controls this year.
2. Attend an air show.
A funny thing happens at large gatherings of pilots: adults turn into little kids again. People sit for hours gazing into the sky at a delicate ballet of physics and psychology. It doesn’t matter how much flying time a pilot has, attending an air show will almost always act as the proverbial gasoline being poured on the fire of aviation passion. Watching all types of aircraft being maneuvered with skill and precision is enough to bring a tear to even the crustiest aviator’s eye. Sharing this experience with other pilots may be just what you need to dust off that pilot’s license and take to the skies again!
3. Read National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigations.
This may sound somewhat morbid, but when pilots study breakdowns in safety that resulted in disaster, they resolve to be a safer pilot. Reading through a chain of events that ended in injury, or even death, can you help you identify similar links in the chain that may crop up in your own flying. As you recognize these links, you will be able to take the appropriate action early enough to avoid a disastrous outcome. The research is easy to do and pays big dividends. The NTSB makes the findings of each of their investigations available to the public via an online searchable database. (http://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/index.aspx)
Professional pilots are frequently briefed on aircraft accident investigations as part of ongoing safety training. GA pilots don’t have the same requirement for recurrent safety training, but a similar study of aircraft accidents will serve a GA pilot equally well. Set a goal to research at least one aircraft accident per quarter and keep a notebook of lessons learned. This will help make you a better pilot!
4. Seek emergency procedure training in a simulator.
You will never be able to practice the entire range of inflight emergencies while live-flying an actual airplane. Practice handling these difficult scenarios in a simulator. Many flight schools have flight simulators that can be used to practice handling emergencies. Get in the habit of applying the same mantra Air Force pilots apply when faced with an airborne emergency: maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take the appropriate action, and land as soon as conditions permit.
It doesn’t matter how many times you mess up or crash the ‘aircraft’; it’s a simulator! Make your learning mistakes on the ground in a simulator instead of airborne in an actual aircraft!
5. Take on new flying challenges.
Flight instructors often tell student pilots not to do anything “dumb, dangerous, or different” before sending them up on a solo flight. This advice is timeless, but it can often keep pilots from trying a perfectly safe and acceptable technique once they are certified if it’s “different” from what their instructor taught.
This year, find something new you want to try (shooting a practice LDA approach, for example), research it, and do it! If it’s something that stretches your comfort limits, run the idea by a Certified Flight Instructor first—you may even want to take your instructor with you. You will never be able to expand your aviation skillset if you don’t try new or different things. Safety is always your first concern, so be sure you apply good judgment and discipline in all of your flying.
Make 2016 a great year for you to be a pilot. Resolving now to be better at something you love to do will enrich your life and increase your confidence and competence in the cockpit. Now put down that donut, don t your jogging suit, and jump into the cockpit. 2016 is going to be a wild ride!