Little-used skills

At every stage of training in aviation, we are inundated with information. That which is most useful usually stands out pretty clearly, and is often common sense: Stay out of the clouds when flying VFR; maintain your altitude, especially when on an IFR flight; use your checklists. But along the way we learn—or try to—a lot of what appears to be either minutiae or skills and information that just don’t appear to have a lot of modern-day application.

It’s long been a complaint among pilots learning to fly IFR that we should not have to learn anything about microwave landing systems because they really has no practical application in the modern world. The same could be said about a lot of the weather products we struggle to memorize.

But there are few nuggets here and there that are worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially if you are interested in doing any flying that will require flying over large quantities of open water. Airline flying and top-of-the-line corporate flying fall into these categories:

  • Position reports. It’s one thing to read about a position report, but it’s something else to really put it into use. I currently fly over the Pacific a lot, and position reports are an essential way of life. The format is standard, but it needs practice to be perfected. There are certain rules that need to be met. Remember the one about being off by more than three minutes? If not, go look it up! It’s very unlikely that you will need to use this skill in the United States, but in the event of a radar outage, you will need it. This is an easy skill to practice on any flight. You can verbalize the report to yourself without transmitting it.
  • Lost communication procedures. When was the last time you really reviewed what to do? How well would you handle this? Considering that modern equipment is becoming more and more “single unit,” how well would you do if that all-in-one box in your airplane just went kaput?
  • Good guesstimation. How well can you estimate the amount of fuel your airplane will use on a given flight? If the gauges were to fail, could you be within 5 percent of the total burn if you had to make a guess? Could you be within 3 percent? Again, this is an easy skill to practice on any flight just by making notes on a separate sheet of paper. If it’s an airplane you fly regularly, you should also keep track of your burn records at various altitudes, engine settings, et cetera. The charts and data in the book are based on new equipment. The added benefit to doing this in your airplane is that if the performance begins to deteriorate, you will have something to point your mechanic in the right direction.
  • Old-fashioned navigation. If you want to find out just how good your skills are, go flying with a safety pilot buddy. Revert to needle, ball, and airspeed, and fly a short cross-country using just your wet compass and your watch. This can be very humbling in the modern world.

Flying has become so technologically driven that it is easy to forget the basics and the simplicity that can be used. Take the time to knock some rust off your mental and physical skills, and boost your confidence at the same time. Remember, the best pilots are always training!—Chip Wright

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