Make your next flight more meaningful by practicing this

Ok, so your checkride was conducted within the parameters of the certification standards and you demonstrated quality decision-making skills and judgment, but that’s just the beginning.  Earning a pilot certificate is a special accomplishment.  It also comes with the responsibility to continue learning and refining those skills through practice. Creating a plan for doing so will only enhance your aviation experiences and provide even greater personal enrichment. It also provides purpose for your next flight.

Practice landings.  A wise person once told me you can’t practice anything effectively unless you have goals and a method to measure progress.  In terms of making more consistent landings, this means examining your landings with a critical eye. Some things to consider:

  • Speed – Have you established target pattern speeds? Is the speed and configuration correct and consistent through all legs of the pattern for departure and arrival legs?
  • Aiming & Touchdown points – Are you maintaining the discipline to select an aim and touchdown point for every landing and making those touchdown points consistently. Have you established an acceptable standard by which the airplane should be comfortably on the ground?
  • Flare & Touchdown – Are you appropriately trading airspeed for altitude in the form of a shallower descent rate in the flare and touching down as the wings stall in the case of a normal landing?
  • Runway alignment – Are you rolling out on final approach on centerline? Are you landing with the longitudinal axis parallel to the runway?
  • Crosswinds – Are you growing more confident in managing crosswind? Do you have the flight controls properly positioned for taxi and takeoff? Are your crosswind landings equally consistent with the upwind main landing gear touching down first with no side load?
  • Go-Arounds – Are you following your own rules for a stable approach and executing a go-around when appropriate? And are you practicing go-arounds even in the case it’s not necessary? A go-around is a complicated maneuver with significant configuration change at low altitude and should be the top exit strategy in any undesirable situation.

Judge your improvement on the quality of your “bad” landings.  And practice under a variety of conditions (wind, configuration, time of day, etc.) to better hone your visual cues and mastery of the airplane. A safety pilot or instructor may see elements not as obvious to the pilot flying.

Practice abnormal procedures.  Read the wonderfully insightful section of your POH that includes an expanded discussion of abnormal and emergency procedures.  On your next flight, review the table of contents for the emergency section and select an event you haven’t practiced. Follow the checklist for that item and understand the “why” behind it.  This exercise will not only prepare you for real-time abnormals, but will ensure a better understanding of your aircraft’s systems.

What about an engine failure immediately after takeoff? What about a partial power loss? A blown tire? Electrical failure?

Finally, fly.  There’s nothing better for proficiency than to fly more and visit new places. And if you need an additional excuse, the colors of the fall foliage are a spectacular sight from an airplane.