Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

10 Signs Of A Great Pilot

Observations from around the patch

10signsAll of us have spent considerable time observing our fellow aviators’ takeoffs, landings, radio communications, preflight inspections and general behavior at (and away from) the airport. The group I camp with at Oshkosh is a mix of private and commercial pilots, flight instructors, a few seasoned airline and military pilots and an increasing number of student pilots. Each year, as we lounge in beach chairs in the “North 40” while watching evening arrivals, our typical observations include: “Looks high and fast.” “Too low, too slow.” “Great landing!” “Amazing recovery!” “Must be a student pilot.” “Smooth!” “Wow, we could learn something from her.”

Is our Oshkosh group that different from any other group of pilots? Probably not. Consciously or subconsciously, we all place judgments on other pilots and ask the same questions: Are they safe? Would I fly with them? Would I handle the situation better than they did?

One evening, alongside runway 9, a few of us (mostly instructors—you’ll never get more opinions than from a group of CFIs) debated over what differentiates a truly good pilot from the masses. We didn’t agree completely, but we did achieve some consensus on the qualities we admire. To round out that discussion, I queried a number of instructor colleagues, everyday pilots and students on their observations of what characterizes a great pilot.

1. THOROUGH Performing a complete preflight inspection (in and out of the cockpit) and using a checklist are two basic disciplines drilled into us before we set foot in our first airplane. Yet we frequently hear about control locks not being removed and, too often, witness $100 hamburger pilots just jump into their planes and take off—no preflight, no run-up, no nothing. Whether using a laminated card, a panel-placarded list or even well-practiced mnemonics, a consistent process is the best way to defend yourself from dumb, preventable mistakes. Even between short flights, performing a simple walk around before departing will ensure that your prop lock is off and the cowl plugs are removed, and that you’re not going to taxi with the asphalt securely attached to your tie down ring.

10signsWeather briefings and flight planning are the other basic tasks ingrained early on in training. But, for some reason, many pilots believe they can save time by “winging it” or by simply depending on the GPS.

Neither Mother Nature nor the publishers of the temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) have the slightest tolerance for a lack of planning.

Is it likely that something significantly bad could happen with the airplane or with the weather in the hour or two after taking off? My friend Captain John would answer, “Probably not, unless it does!”


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