Recurrent training from a pro pilot’s perspective

In only 3 days, I completed 12 hours of ground training and 12 hours of flight training and I was ready for my checkride.  No, this was not the most intense finish-up course you have ever heard of, nor was it a new rating for a seaplane. It was my recurrent training for my type rating (required for jets, aircraft that weigh more than 12,500lbs or as designated).

Perhaps you are thinking this is the most intense flight training program you have ever heard of?  Or maybe you are wishing that this only comes once every several years.  In reality, this is the industry standard training for jet pilots and we go through this training every six to twelve months, depending on the type of flying that we do.

If you are like most students on the professional pilot track, no matter what stage of training you are in, you are studying for your lessons, memorizing facts/numbers about your aircraft, reviewing procedures and maneuvers to practice, and worried about flying standards in preparation for your checkride.  What I often find when talking to flight students is the common myth that once “you make it” in flying, most of your studying days are over.  If you still hold this misbelief or hope, I am sorry to burst your bubble.  

Professional flying involves a lot more than just hopping in the seat and moving the flight controls.  Pilots are held to strict standards (ATP – PTS if you are interested) during every flight evaluation they encounter, and are held to those standards functionally while flying the line.  This revelation is not meant to frighten you; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Now is the time in your career to embrace the studying, reviewing, standards, and checks and balances that we as professional pilots live on a daily basis.

How can you go from preparing for a 2 hr lesson 3-5 times a week, to 24 hours of ground and flight training in a 72 hr period?  PREPARATION!  Adopting good study habits early in your flight training will provide a good foundation for your future career. Successfully completing this amount of training in a short period is all about how you approach the training and what you are doing to prepare.  My preparation for this most recent training began over 3 weeks before I arrived for ground school.

Here are some suggestions for getting ready for this kind of training event.

  • Memorize your required emergency and abnormal items as well as limitations of your aircraft.  While many facts and procedures are not required to be memorized, having basic knowledge about your specific aircraft is considered a prerequisite for most time-constrained training sessions.  Each training will expect different things to be completed in advance, so make sure that you determine where your effort should go, lest you waste your time reviewing items that doesn’t need to be memorized.  In fact, many things in aircraft operations shouldn’t be memorized as acting too quickly from memory can cause a pilot to act in haste and worsen a situation.  In contrast, knowing the memory items for an engine fire, for example, will allow you to act quickly to a situation that could become disastrous if not attended to in the correct order and in a timely manner.
  • Review POH/AFM for operational and systems knowledge.  Understanding the basics of how your aircraft works allows for you to make the correct decisions at the correct time to address everything from normal procedures down to emergencies.  While instructors will differ on how much they expect you to have memorized about your aircraft, a good rule of thumb is to be able to explain what each switch does in your aircraft, how that affects its systems, and when you should use it.  If you can cover those answers in detail, then you will be well prepared.  For other questions beyond what you know from memory, knowing where to get that information can be just as, if not more important.  Make sure that you know where to look in your POH/AFM to find that information.
  • Take detailed notes while engaging with the instructor during your ground sessions.  Taking notes is a great way to help you review information that you learned in a lecture session later, it is also key for many people on getting that information to be stored in long term memory.  For those students who need more than rote information to understand something, interacting with the instructor, as appropriate, will allow you to ask questions to explain items that remain unclear and it engages the brain for communication and active learning so things don’t get too dry.
  • Review SOPs for flight maneuvers. Having a working knowledge of your standard operating procedures for flight maneuvers will allow you to focus on the nuances of learning that maneuver instead of seeing it all for the first time.  A great example is learning the key points and aircraft settings for the traffic pattern.  Each aircraft requires different speeds, configurations and settings at different points in the traffic pattern.  Most of these can be written down and studied in advance such that the rote part of the procedure is done before you ever fly the aircraft for the first time.  Once in flight, you can work on how things look and feel, rather than working out power settings and when to put down the flaps.  
  • Be familiar with your avionics and flight systems. Many maneuvers and procedures require the use of the aircraft’s avionics, but unfamiliarity with this equipment can turn a simple thing, like flying an ILS approach, into a laborious task filled with distraction.  If you have an avionics simulator for your equipment, use it before you fly to the point of feeling familiar.  If you don’t have access to a simulator, then reading the manual to become familiar with the steps will help. Nothing helps as much as practicing the real thing, but doing that gets easier if you work ahead of time on the steps.
  • During the checkride, relax.  You are simply demonstrating what you do on an average day.  Students and professional pilots alike have checkride anxiety.  This anxiety is a distraction and often comes from concerns of “messing it up” or “not feeling ready”.  In the cases of training under an instructor, they are generally in a position to know your skills and performance better than you are, since most of us are our own worst critics.  If you aren’t working with an instructor, try to be honest about your flying and give equal weight to the times things went well vs. when they didn’t go as great as you hoped.  If you fly to standards and do the right things every time you fly, then flying for a checkride is just like any other day.  Nothing new, nothing different, just somebody else sitting in the aircraft with you.

Completing professional level training starts with the skills you learned when you were a student pilot.  While things might get more compact, and the training days might be longer than you are currently used to, it has the same keys to success.  Like the old aviation adage goes; fly like you train, train like you fly.

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David Zitt is gold seal flight flight instructor and Airline Transport Pilot. Formerly a chief flight instructor of a Part 141 flight training academy, David is a pilot and director of safety at a Cincinnati-based corporate flight department. David is type rated in the C500 and C525 series aircraft. David owns a 1943 L-4 Cub (the military version of the popular J-3 Cub).