Keep Learning, Keep Current

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All too often I see excited pilots after they’ve earned their license with big plans to put it to good use. Maybe they want to take business trips to make work more efficient, or perhaps they learned to fly to vacation at more remote destinations. Unfortunately, what’s also common are busy schedules that interfere while time begins to slip by.

After some cancelled flights for a variety of reasons, pilots feels less confident about their flying abilities and find themselves a year or more later, having only made a few flights, most of which were taken right after they earned their license. No longer current to carry passengers, or comfortable flying themselves, they may even stop flying all together, but the promises continue.

These same pilots promise themselves they’ll get back to flying when spring comes or work slows down, but never seem to take that next step.  They may even be at a loss for where to turn. They may consider turning to a flight instructor, but perhaps embarrassment from letting the license sit idle so long leads them a different direction.  However, seeking out a flight instructor is always a good decision.

So how do you get back to flying?

My favorite suggestion is to keep learning. A Recreational or Sport pilot could begin training toward a Private certificate and a Private pilot could begin work on the instrument rating. If you’re an instrument rated pilot with no aspirations of obtaining a commercial license, you could work on lowering your personal minimums for ceilings or visibility.

mountain_2If you don’t have the time or money to dedicate to another license, try a fun, less expensive flying adventure. Seek out an instructor to learn about the challenges, pitfalls, and exhilaration of mountain flying. With your instructor’s help, plan a few trips into and over more challenging terrain. In addition to being a lot of fun, you’ve also added new skills and confidence in managing this type of flying on your own.

You might also consider adding a high performance and/or complex endorsement – a great way to make your business trips quicker. Flying a faster airplane will generally be more expensive by the hour, but may result in a break-even investment given the time savings.  Add to this some high altitude flight training with the use of supplemental oxygen and you’ve allowed for even more flexibility in your flight planning as you may be able to take advantage of more favorable wind or the ability to climb over (versus around) weather.

imagesFind a flight school with access and the knowledge to teach turf runway operations. Flying from a grass runway is another thrill that will enhance your “feel” of the airplane.  Some of these same flight schools may offer tail wheel training or even glider flying. Even if you don’t plan to add a glider rating or tail wheel endorsement, the training alone makes you a better stick and rudder pilot. Soaring flight requires planning descents while considering vertical and horizontal air movement which is sure to provide confidence flying the airplane in a real engine-out emergency.

bellancaAerobatic training is not only fun, but teach you the very crucial aerodynamic understanding and ability to recover from stalls and spins. Training is accomplished in aircraft rated for spins and aerobatic flight.  For a few hundred dollars and a fun weekend, you walk away not only a current pilot, but with new skills to keep you safe.

Given all of these options, still the best way to get back into flying and keep current is to keep your instructor’s number handy. Add a recurring quarterly alert on your smart phone to remind you to schedule a lesson.

In terms of what to accomplish with your instructor is up to you. Ask your instructor to create a syllabus that offers flexibility to grow and evolve. Items to consider would be emergency and abnormal procedures, landings (especially crosswind), and anything else that you believe could use practice. Don’t be shy about tackling what you know to be weaker areas. I personally have several students, each at various experience levels, who fly with me every few months to be challenged. No matter the skill level it’s beneficial and it keeps you coming to the airport.