The human race has an insatiable need for self-delusion, so every year we make promises to ourselves. Even though they’re made in earnest on December 31st, they usually prove very hard to keep as the year progresses. Hey, when it’s July and you’re gorging yourself at a picnic, it’s hard to remember that six months earlier you pledged to lose weight. Twelve months is a long time.
A more workable plan would be to come up with a series of 12 monthly, easy-to-keep resolutions that not only will make us better pilots, but also will be a lot more fun than trying to shed 10 pounds.
Resolution 1: Start the annual inspection on your airplane now so it’s ready to go for spring.
Annual inspections happen just once a year, but they’re so amazingly long that it feels as though you’ve barely finished one before you’re due for the next one. Unfortunately, when spring arrives (finally!), far too often we find ourselves in a mechanical frenzy trying to catch up.
Resolution 2: Break the winter doldrums by getting a new endorsement, rating or flight experience.
Rather than letting winter imprison you for six months of the year, think about using the season to your advantage by learning to fly skis. Okay, so this isn’t going to help pilots in the Sun Belt, but they’ve no right to complain about winter anyway.
Alternatively, you can always just quit yourself of winter and seek out an aerobatic training school somewhere snow-free—leave the weather behind for a long weekend. Florida, Arizona and Southern California abound with these kinds of schools.
Resolution 3: Take advantage of traveling aviation road shows.
Identify a hands-on airplane skill that you’d like to acquire—for example, fabric covering, sheet-metal work or wiring—and get connected with one of the sport air builder’s workshops that will be in your area.
If dirty hands aren’t your thing, find one of the traveling shows that checks off the groundschool requirements necessary for your next license or rating. The bring-it-to-the-customer approach, taken by many aviation seminar providers, now makes it much easier to find something that fits both your schedule and your needs.
Resolution 4: Actually get started on the annual you were supposed to do back in January. (Or say “To heck with it” and plan a family trip south to Florida!)
If you head south in April, make sure you include Disney World, and be prepared to feign amazement to your significant other that this just happens to be the week of Sun ’n Fun, which is a convenient drive down the I-4 to Lakeland. And then there’s Jack Brown’s famous seaplane school in Winter Haven, which offers float ratings (refer to your February resolution). There are also warbird rides everywhere you look; try North American Top-Gun (T-6 Texans) in St. Augustine (which is also the nation’s oldest city), Warbird Adventures (Texans) or Stallion 51 in Kissimmee (your chance to fly a dual-control Mustang!). Most of this is within an hour of any hotel on the “mouse land” grounds, so you can duck out, and your family probably won’t even miss you.
Resolution 5: Fly with a CFI to get tuned up for summer.
It’s the rare private pilot who actually flies regularly during the winter. For that reason, we need to recognize that our aero muscles may be just a little flabby and out of shape. Each one of us should consider a quick hour or two with a local CFI to brush the rust off. It would be great if the weather cooperates with some good crosswinds, so the two of you can chase that particular demon back into the closet.
The CFI flight time would also be a good time to catch up with the latest in cockpit glass. This is getting easier as more and more rental fleets include brand-new, glass-panel-equipped 172s and 182s. It would be nice to know what all those buttons actually do.
Resolution 6: Practice short-field operations.
Get back with your CFI and land on no less than three runways that are well under 2,000 feet long. You get extra points if one is less than 1,500 feet long and on the side of a hill. (Lots of extra points if you’re working a runway that’s not only short, but soft as well, so you get to practice true soft-field takeoffs and landings.) Beware that you’ll lose points if you practice either type of landing on a 3,500-foot runway.
There’s no substitute for turning final to a runway that’s actually significantly shorter than what you’re used to. Although 2,000 feet isn’t super short, to average pilots who spend all their time on 3,500-foot strips, it looks that way. Something in the 1,500-foot category may look impossible to some pilots. By practicing on a shorter-than-average field, you have some skin in the game and you aren’t playacting.
Incidentally, if working a truly soft, short field, be careful. A soft-field takeoff may get you off the ground, but doesn’t give you the energy to make it over close-by obstacles.
Resolution 7: Fly no less than 10 hours this month and include 25 landings spread over three different airports.
Practicing landings at your home airport is much better than nothing, but the “strange factor” of new airports can’t be denied: your first landing into an unfamiliar airport always carries some degree of uncomfortable feelings. It forces you to reevaluate everything about your approaches and landings to make sure they fit the new environment.
Resolution 8: Go camping with your airplane.
Whether it’s at one of the major events, a local fly-in or on a backwoods runway, think seriously about tossing a tent and sleeping bag in the baggage compartment and communing with nature under the wing of your airplane. Assuming your family hasn’t outgrown your airplane, this can be a great family event and a way to build memories. And we should all do our part during Feed-the-Mosquitoes Month.
Resolution 9: Investigate light sport airplanes and fly at least two.
Whether you’re new to aviation and are trying to become an airplane owner or are a long-time aviator who is hedging bets against the day when passing a medical becomes problematic, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the current crop of light sport airplanes (LSA). They range from new and exotic to old and fit-like-an-old-shoe, and from expensive to a 1948-something-or-other that can be bought for a comparative song. You’ll be surprised at how well the new composite LSAs fly. Assuming you’re safe to drive, the FAA considers you safe to fly with the only restrictions being your common sense and those placed on LSA airplanes and their pilots.
Resolution 10: Make a scenic flight to enjoy the fall colors.
Most parts of the country have locations where autumn repaints the landscape. At the same time, many of those areas have some sort of fall activities (Oktoberfest, pumpkin patches, etc.) that are fun for the family. You can make it a day trip or a short overnighter.
Resolution 11: Fly no less than three totally different airplanes this month. If you’re a low-wing pilot, check-out in some high wings, and vice versa.
Ideally, at least one of the new airplanes should expand your horizons and may even include some sort of endorsement. Step up and get your high-performance endorsement, or maybe get your tailwheel sign-off. This will improve your piloting skills and open the door to hundreds of other fun airplane types.
Getting a check-out and forcing yourself to become comfortable in totally new types of airplanes does wonderful things for your proficiency. Check-outs stretch your ability to adapt and really increase your overall awareness. Besides that, they’re a ton of fun.
Resolution 12: Start next year’s annual.
Enough said? Next year we’re not going to let spring catch us with our inspection panels down.