In last month's report, we focused on getting the airplane ready to fly after having been idle during the winter months. This month, we will focus on shaking off the dust and cobwebs for the pilot prior to getting in the airplane.
As a flight instructor for more than 30 years, I have seen pilots that come out when the weather warms up and expect to jump in the plane and take off. However, it's best to stop and reflect on how much time has gone by since we were in the plane and review the last time we flew.
When was the last time you went out and practiced simple maneuvers, stalls, slow flight, hood work, or even touch and goes? As a flight instructor, I try to always conduct an interview with a student to find out what type of flying s/he has done recently. Even if you're not flying with a CFI, you should take the time to ask yourself these questions, put together a plan and then go practice.
Let's take a look at a suggested plan of attack to get rid of the cobwebs before you yell, "Clear!"
Single-pilot resource management (SRM) teaches about Risk Management and Pilot, Aircraft, Environment, and External Pressures (or PAVE).
Pilot - Is the pilot rested and in the proper frame of mind? I ask about a pilot's "frame of mind" a lot even if a pilot is rested physically. Pilots should also be rested emotionally and mentally. How many times have we gotten into an airplane and our mind is still thinking about stuff from work or home? You need to be 100% dedicated to flying the airplane, regardless of the size and type. I still prep the same for a flight in a Cessna 172 as I do for a flight in my Beechcraft Baron 58P. One aircraft might be more complex than the other, but both require undivided attention to detail.
Aircraft - In last month's article we covered this in detail. Make sure that everything on the aircraft is operational and the maintenance has been complete. Some maintenance items may be deferred until a later date if they are not "Flight Critical." As the Pilot in Command (PIC), you need to understand that one item by itself might not be flight critical, but multiple items may add up to a situation that is flight critical. If you are not 100% satisfied with the airplane, don't leave the tie down area.
Environment - I like to think of this area as the realm into which you are about to launch into: is it VFR or IFR? Regardless of which one it is, when was the last time you looked into FAR Part 91and reviewed the regulations surrounding VFR and IFR flight? It might not be exciting reading, but the FAA may have changed some regulations. As the PIC, you need to be aware of the regulations. Also consider the local flying area around the airport. Have the practice areas changed, have more neighbourhoods become off-limits for overflying due to noise complaints, or has the airport itself changed with new run-up areas or taxiways? When was the last time you reviewed the checklist for the aircraft you are going to fly, the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) or Flight Manual (FM)? Are you up to speed on the emergency procedures and can you execute without having to look them up? Most of emergencies we need to be handle from memory and then confirm with a checklist. Spend some time with the POH/FM before you go to the airport.
External Pressures - Are you, the pilot, influenced by external pressures that are keeping you from being focused on flying the airplane? Most of us have things in our daily life that we are always thinking about. Do you stop and take care of those external pressures before climbing into the cockpit? This is a personal call that each of us must make each and every time we fly. Just like setting personal minimums for flying in the wind or flying that instrument approach, every pilot is different and it is a judgment call. Don't forget to make that call and leave your troubles on the ground and stay focused on the flight deck. Try and fly "under the hood" at least once per month so your skills do not become rusty. Practice your skills and you will become the "master" and not the "student" when it comes to flying safe!
Finally, check out one of the many Safety Briefs that happen across the country that are put on by various organizations and flying clubs, most of which are free to the pilot. Another great resource is the AOPA Air Safety Institute's online catalog of courses. The Air Safety Institute has more courses that go in depth answering a lot of the questions that today's pilots have. These courses are another tool in our aviation toolbox that should be used throughout your flying career.
About the Author: Robert Benda is the Manager of the Aviation Training Production department at Jeppesen. He has been an active pilot since 1975 and a Certified Flight Instructor since 1980. Bob holds an ATP rating and Gold Seal CFI/CFII/MEI certificate along with Advanced and Instrument Ground Instructor. He is the current owner of a 1980 BE58P Baron and previously owned a 1964 C210 prior to upgrading to the Baron. He is an active instructor and uses his Baron to support flying medical missions for LifeLine Pilots and wounded warriors for Veterans Airlift Command.