Oh, yes. It is the time of year when we all make them. This is the time of year where all of the gyms and health spas are gearing up for all of us with good intentions – intentions that last until the end of January. And not too surprisingly, I am suggesting some resolutions for your flying life as well.
Are you as good as you can be? Well, maybe so, maybe not. But you won’t know unless try something different. So, don’t just resolve to “fly more”, or to “be a better, safer pilot”. Let’s make some concrete promises to ourselves, post the list where we see them every day, and then take some action. Here are some suggestions.
Are you a weekend pilot that loves wandering the neighborhood, looking for the best airport pie? Or maybe you love to hit the fly-ins. In any case, when is the last time you told yourself that you can (and will) land the plane exactly on the spot you pick? Most of us turn downwind to base, look at the runway, and think, “Sure, I can land down there somewhere.” And actually, if you are flying a single engine piston-powered plane to a runway that is 5,000 feet long and 75 feet wide, “somewhere” is probably going to get you by. But I will bet that you are better than that. I bet, that with some practice (and maybe some coaching?) you can actually get back to landing the plane on centerline, at the point you selected and (dare I say it) pointed straight down the runway.
Or maybe you are a pilot that likes nothing more than to get out by yourself and watch the ground slip away below you. The destination is not important for you – only the journey. So, for you, when is the last time you moved the plane through the air on a path you chose – one where the pitch and roll continually changed, but the rudder kept the ball centered all the while? Maybe you should resolve to try some light aerobatics, such as lazy 8s or a chandelle. These are Commercial Pilot requirements that are not beyond the ability of most Private Pilots, and they are just fun.
Do you resolve to get in some more cross-country experience? Long-term readers in this space already know my answer to this question. How about some volunteer flying. If you are a lower-time pilot, Pilots ‘n’ Paws could use your help. Dogs and cats always seem to need to be somewhere else, and they just don’t seem to be able to pay for a ticket on United. Check out http://www.pilotsnpaws.org/ to see where you can go.
If you are a pilot with a little more experience, perhaps with a Commercial rating or an Instrument rating, you might be better suited for an Angel Flight mission. The name changes a bit, depending on your region of the country, but all of the members of the Air Care Alliance (http://www.aircarealliance.org/) look for volunteer pilots to help people in their community.
Maybe your resolution is to add some aviation knowledge, but you really don’t want to add a rating, and the checkbook says “No more outlay!!” Easy solution. Check out the list of all of the free on-line courses from AOPA – (http://www.aopa.org/Education/Online-Courses). And “now” might be a good time to sign up for the FAA Wings program. This free program can guide your through a year’s worth of pilot education.
This might also be the year for you to add another rating, or maybe put something else new in in your log book. A tail wheel endorsement? Maybe a high-performance or complex aircraft endorsement? Don’t just say, “Sure, sometime this year.” Write out the steps (and dates) that are going to move you to that goal.
There is a school of thought that says “practice makes perfect.” But the corollary to that of course, is that “imperfect practice makes imperfect.” If you are looking to improve a skill, you might not your own best teacher. And, unless your buddy (or spouse) has some skills that you don’t, he or she might not be your best teacher either. There are a lot of good CFIs around the country, but there are two sources to click on to find some of the best instructors in the country. First, www.MasterInstructors.org lists 160 CFIs on their site. And the National Ass’n. of Flight Instructors (www.nafinet.org) site allows you to slice and dice their member instructor list, searching for Master Instructors, as well as selecting instructors with a particular specialty. CFIs who have earned a Master rating from either organization are the best of the best.
Have you said to yourself at some point, “I wish I knew more about the inside of my plane?” Let’s do it. Two ideas that might move you down that path. First, when your plane’s annual inspection is due, don’t taxi it to your mechanic’s hangar and walk away. Ask him if you can help. There is a lot that a non-mechanic can do, under the eyes of an A&P. You can remove inspection plates, help remove tires, spark plugs, batteries, and a host of other items. And in the meantime, you can see just how this mechanical marvel is put together, and how your flying techniques have helped or hurt your plane since the last inspection.
Another way to learn more about your plane is to join a type club. If you are a Cessna pilot, the Cessna Pilots’ Association is the place for you. Check out the American Bonanza Society for all things “Beech”. Additionally, there are type clubs for the Piper pilots, the Aeronica pilots, and nearly all of you other pilots as well.
Do you want to mingle with other pilots, soak up some of their knowledge, and share your own? Maybe it is time to look for a local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. EAA chapters are found all over the country, and their emphasis varies with their membership. Some are very “hands-on” and building a specific type of plane, such as RVs and GlassStars other metal planes, or perhaps they seem to all like composite aircraft. Other groups gravitate toward restoring old classics. Still others are more interested in warbirds, or in aerobatic flying. Something for everyone. And some include folks that just like to hang out together and talk flying.
And finally, if you are one of those people who loves both history and flying, look around for a chapter of the Commemorative Air Force or one of the aircraft history museums in your area. These folks always need enthusiastic volunteers, and you get to combine the pleasures of hanging around other enthusiasts, digging into old airplanes, and sharing your passion with the visitors who come through the doors.
Wishing you the best that flying has to offer in 2015.
Don’t just practice until you get it right. Practice until you don’t get it wrong
Chris Hope has taught fledgling and experienced pilots for nearly 40 years, mostly in the Kansas City area. Chris holds flight instructor certificates for single engine land and sea airplanes and multi-engine land planes, as well as for instrument training. He holds ground instructor certificates for advanced and instrument training. Chris is an FAA Gold Seal Instructor and a Master Certified Flight Instructor. Chris serves as a member of the FAASTeam in the Kansas City area. His website is www.ChrisHopeFAAFlightInstructor.com