Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Challenge Yourself!

Comfort zones are slow death and are meant to be challenged

Taking The Rating Challenge

A seaplane rating is attainable in just one weekend and not only is terrific fun, but also will sharpen your piloting skills. Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Fla., offers float training in J3 Cubs.
Aviation is so huge that we can always find something that's outside of our comfort and skill zones that can challenge us to our very core. Surprisingly enough, some of the most affordable outside-your-comfort-zone training will teach you the most. Most important, in the process of learning, we're having a huge amount of fun, and our interest in aviation, which can dull over time, gets a real shot in the arm.

Tailwheel Endorsement
Most tailwheel aircraft are from a different design era, so their adverse yaw is more noticeable. Because of that, even in the air, your feet and, more important, your visual acuity, come into play. On the ground, having your eyes connected to your feet defines survival, but it's not nearly as difficult as the wags would have us believe. A tailwheel endorsement opens the door to hundreds of fun airplanes, and will make you a better pilot in everything you fly because it's all about polishing the basics and building your visual acuity. This can be a weekend project.
Aerobatics is the other half of flying, and through it, we not only discover a whole new world of aviating, but become wildly safer pilots. Only a few hours are required to gain the most important skills, but more likely, you'll become addicted and will want much more. This, too, is a weekend project.

Seaplane Rating
Learning to fly floats is like no other learning experience, and is terrific fun. In addition, it challenges you to think well ahead of the aircraft during water operations. Also, the majority of floatplane trainers are of older design, so they, as in the tailwheel endorsement, teach you to use your feet. This is doable in a few days.

A multi-engine rating is another weekend project that, although not at all difficult, will introduce you to aspects of flight that usually aren't considered. Fortunately, there are a large number of light-twin trainers available, so relatively speaking, the cost has come down in recent years.

Instrument Rating
Getting an IFR rating is going to put precision in your flying and build your situational awareness. In some ways, it's like a 3D video game, in which those who are the best at it not only develop a nimble mind to keep track of the details, but also see the entire situation in their minds as if they're above the aircraft, watching it do their bidding. It's also one of the more useful ratings. This requires a substantial amount of time.

Helicopter Rating
Do we want to talk about challenging ourselves? If so, the helicopter rating will do just that. Although expensive, compared to many of the others, it will put you in touch with every one of your senses like no other training available. It's frustrating at times, but really kicks your skill development in the shorts.

Glider Rating
This is another judgment training course that will make you better in so many different ways. It's also a strangely addictive sport that will teach you a lot about weather, the air around you, aerodynamics and planning ahead.

Commercial Ticket
Getting a commercial ticket is a healthy commitment in time and money, but it's also a gigantic jump up in the skill department. It picks up where the PPL leaves off, and tightens up all the performance parameters, while introducing the pilot to new levels of skill. Whether it's going to be used or not, the new commercial pilot is light years ahead of a new PPL in terms of raw skill.

The plan is to develop an awareness of each judgment and movement we make in the cockpit. Then, we're going to assign parameters that will allow us to accurately quantify both the judgments and their execution. In other words: We'll look at everything we do, measure it against a goal, and assign ourselves a grade when completed. For instance, we're on final and looking at the runway in the windshield. Our goal is to land abeam the third light (you do pick out a spot on which to land, don't you?), and we make a judgment that we're low and need power to correct glideslope. After we've landed, we look back and ask ourselves whether we made the judgment call for more power early enough and accurate enough. And, how close did we come to hitting our spot on the runway?

Our plan will assign goals, measure ourselves against those goals, and then we'll mentally debrief each and every flight after we land, and judge our performance.

Setting The Goals
The goals we're going to set for ourselves can be as lax or as tight as the individual wants them to be. They're a personal representation of how good he/she wants to be. The FAA has set performance minimums in the Practical Test Standards, but they're just that—minimums. And they're more than just a little "loose" in some areas, e.g., pattern altitude being measured +/-100 feet. That's entirely too approximate for a pilot who wants to improve.

The way in which we can approach the task of judging our performance is to make up an actual checklist, which calls out the specifics of each of the major tasks. If we want to be anal about it, we can actually print the checklist, and have it out where we can see it. However, just the act of making up the list is likely to emblazon the appropriate parameters on our brains. There aren't that many of them. Besides, what we're trying to do is create a mind-set, a way of thinking about flying, in which every time we do something, we're conscious of whether we did it better than we did the last time.

Additional "Getting Better" Tricks
Once we've started flying, there's a tendency to do everything the same on each flight. Especially hamburger runs. We'll take off, head over to our favorite burger locale, land and come home, not taking advantage of what we can do to add to our skill/proficiency package.


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