As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.
Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.
As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.
This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.
A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!
A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.—Ed.]
The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!
Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]
I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By Chip Wright