Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Be A Great Pilot!

Top tips for all aspects of flight

The sheer enormity of the subject is a little intimidating. You probably could name several thousand characteristics of a “good pilot.” But how do you summarize those attributes in 2,000 words? You can’t. Entire books have been written on the subject; I won’t try to describe those efforts here. Over the years, however, I’ve known or interviewed many folks who I’ve considered indisputably “good,” some with names you’d recognize (Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Patty Wagstaff, Duane Cole, Rod Machado), and many others you probably never heard of. Someone once said (or should have), “You’re always either the beneficiary or the victim of your sources,” and I consider these sources to be impeccable. On reflection, their suggestions often were far from conventional, more typically the result of experience than formal training. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the benefit of such excellent tutelage. Here are a few of their comments for various levels of flight. Make no mistake—these are only a very small sampling of the procedures practiced by “good” pilots.

Flight Planning
With the extraordinary proliferation of GPS, pilots often consider flight planning to be little more than jumping into the airplane, pressing the “Go To” or “Direct” button, entering the destination’s identifier and committing aviation. While it’s true the shortest distance between two points is a great circle (unless you happen to own an earth-boring machine), intelligent planning may demand other considerations. If the terrain below is especially intimidating and you’re flying a piston single, you might consider routing above a major interstate highway, if one is available. If you’re flying over mountains, should you plan to cross the low passes rather than fly direct?

Similarly, pilots tempted to use GPS as the ultimate shortcut should consider restricted airspace. While the GPS probably will warn you of possible incursions, it’s smarter to plan around them in the first place. MOAs also are a factor in flight planning, especially when flying on a weekday. You can fly through them, but you’d be wise to route around them if possible, or at least plan to check on their use before entering.

Preflight Plus

Too often, it seems pilots consider that only the airplane needs a preflight inspection. All aviators have had preflight procedures drilled into them since their student pilot days, but how many appreciate that the pilot and passengers also need a certain amount of attention?

Pilots should be especially aware of their own physical state, particularly regarding anything that affects the sinuses. A partially blocked sinus can cause a major distraction during descents, and the demands of piloting an airplane should include a minimum of distractions. Hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar) is another major concern for some pilots. I once flew in a new airplane with a check pilot who complained that he really needed to eat something, then proceeded to pass out halfway through the flight. Fortunately, he came around before we landed, I fed him lunch and he was fine. Passengers deserve the same attention. A nervous passenger might best be seated in the copilot’s seat where he or she can watch what the pilot is doing (in turn, the pilot can more easily observe the passenger’s reaction).


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