Pilots tend to be creatures of habit, often flying the same type of mission every time. Part of the reason is that flying can be complex, expensive and even intimidating to pilots—especially those with low time. Therefore, once we get used to a given mission, we tend to fly it repeatedly because we’re comfortable with it and can manage its complexities. The old adage comes to mind then, which questions whether a pilot with 500 hours really has 500 hours worth of experience or has flown the same hour 500 times. Next time you look in the mirror of aviation, challenge yourself with the same question.
One of the more perplexing things in aviation is figuring out what to do with your hard-won certificate once you’ve earned it. The traditional recreational pilot’s mission is $100 hamburgers, but even those start to get routine after the first few hundred hours. After all, pilots thrive on challenge. A personality study of pilots done by NASA in 2004 showed that pilots have a high need to achieve and score very high on what NASA terms “achievement striving, self-discipline, deliberation, assertiveness and activity” among many other positive traits. This and another study by the U.S. Air Force indicate that some of us are “hardwired” to become pilots and to continually seek new challenges.
Our desire to achieve combined with the vast variety of avenues to pursue in aviation means we don’t need to limit ourselves to hamburger runs and the same “ride loop” with passengers that we always make. The license to learn that’s sitting in your wallet is a license to adventure, a license to achieve, and a license to see and experience things that nobody except pilots will. Aviation has only been widely available for the last 110 years or so, and out of billions of people who have come and gone on this planet, we’re a minute percentage who have the ability, privilege, knowledge and opportunity to fly an aircraft. When you consider that, it seems a crime not to go as far as we can in aviation.
That’s where advanced training comes in. Though most people only think of earning a new rating, advanced training is much more than that. You may not need or want an advanced rating, but you can improve your skills and have a blast while doing it simply by pursuing some of the training options available in our amazing world of aviation. You’ll find that as your skills grow, your confidence will, too. And, you’ll want to share your passion for flight and maybe give back to aviation in the form of Young Eagles, missionary aviation, Angel Flights or any number of useful pursuits. The best part is, you’ll have more fun that you ever imagined.
Simulators And Glass Cockpits
One of the greatest things to happen in general aviation in the last 20 years is the Redbird simulator. Their full-motion sim is an amazing device that serves up a level of realism that’s simply unavailable in other training devices out there. If you’ve never tried one, you need to. FBOs across the country are buying them because they’re affordable, and they’re transforming primary training.
You can drive over to your neighborhood FBO on the rainiest, darkest, coldest, most awful day and not give weather a second thought. Also, the wraparound graphics and realistic motion these devices provide are as near an actual cockpit experience as is possible today. Whereas simulators of yore were weak and limited when compared to the actual aircraft (except for airliner sims costing millions), these are almost like the real thing.
Simulators are also ideal for instrument currency, polishing instrument skills, perfecting an approach, or working on procedures, checklists, flows, communications or any other skill you might be rusty on. They’re especially suited to transitioning into glass cockpits like the G1000, Aspen or Avidyne systems for a fraction of the cost of an actual aircraft. You can make mistakes and learn the intricacies of all the knobs and buttons without getting hurt. Also, you can shoot eight or nine instrument approaches in an hour, whereas you might shoot three in an actual aircraft.
Many in aviation believe that the one way to improve your flying exponentially is to earn the instrument rating. Even if you never plan on flying in the soup or shooting approaches to minimums on dark, rainy nights, the instrument rating will make you a better pilot. The reason is because instrument training teaches you accuracy. In fact, it ingrains it into your brain. When talking about deviations of one or two degrees and altitude accuracy within a few feet, you can’t help but fly with more precision.
Precision in flying is the mark of a professional pilot. Even if you don’t plan on making a living as a pilot, you should fly like one, because precision equals safety. Also, the skills involved in precise flying will allow you to put your aircraft exactly where you want it and when. You’ll have total control of your aircraft, awareness of where you are in space, and a much better understanding of our airway system and air traffic control. The instrument rating gives us the ability to look at weather, understand it and make decisions to avoid that weather while completing a flight safely.
The rating isn’t easy and might be the most difficult one of them all. You can earn the rating at a traditional FBO over the course of several months, or you can opt for an accelerated course, such as those by AFIT, ATP and American Flyers, that condenses the process into an intensive but rewarding eight- to 10-day period. Ultimately, there are few sights more satisfying than breaking out of an overcast just a few hundred feet above a runway and knowing you did it without ever looking outside.
The Cirrus SR22 has been lauded as the most capable and technically advanced general aviation aircraft in production today. Certainly anybody who has ever flown one will agree that they’re one of the best cross-country machines out there, offering speeds of better than 200 knots with the ease of fixed gear and FADEC performance control. Close to 5,200 of the aircraft are out there, and it seems every FBO offers them for rent. Because of their idiosyncrasies and specific procedures, they require a transition course for safe operation.
Cirrus has a global network of Cirrus Training Centers (CTCs) and Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilots (CSIPs) that are dedicated to Cirrus flight training. Most also have Cirrus aircraft available for rental and flight instruction, along with professional instructors to get you the best Cirrus pilot education possible. Though the aircraft is simple to fly, there are things specific to the aircraft owing to its unique manufacturing process and engineering. The airframe parachute is just one of the systems you’ll get special instruction on.
Why learn to fly a Cirrus? For one, many of the world’s top vacation spots are offering Cirrus-only rentals for pilots wishing to fly in the area. For example, Platinum Aviation in south Florida is one of few FBOs that will rent an aircraft to fly to the Bahamas. Their Cirrus-only fleet includes life jackets and everything needed to fly the islands. Other destinations like Hawaii and Europe have similar rental programs. In addition, insurance companies offer discounts for having completed Cirrus transition training.
The multi-engine rating adds multi-engine privileges to your existing private or commercial pilot certificate. Even if you’re not planning on becoming an airline pilot, adding multi-engine capability opens the door to a wider variety of aircraft.
Frequently called the “multi-engine add-on,” it can be accomplished in about 10-15 hours. Some schools such as ATP offer focused, accelerated programs to earn your multi-engine rating in four days for just under $4,500. Local FBOs also offer multi-engine training for varying prices depending on the equipment being flown. One outfit in Tavares, Fla., offers a multi-engine seaplane rating in a Twin Bee, and Sheble Aviation in Arizona offers training in a Beech 18 on floats.
Commercial And CFI Ratings
The Commercial certificate and CFI are also popular next steps for many pilots. The commercial certificate allows you to get paid to fly and opens up a world of possibilities including crop-dusting, aerial photography, banner towing and, of course, flying people or cargo for an air carrier. The CFI certification is often pursued by pilots with family members or friends who have expressed a desire to learn to fly. Few things are more rewarding than watching a student pilot that you trained solo and earn their ratings. The CFI and Commercial certificates make that possible. Though none of these are cheap, they’re worthwhile investments in your aviation career.
I’m admittedly biased in this area because I own and fly a tailwheel aircraft. However, it’s because I used to fly tricycle-gear aircraft that I can tell you that learning to fly a tailwheel aircraft (correctly called “conventional gear”) is one of the best investments you can make in your flying.
Damian DelGaizo at Andover Academy in New Jersey offers tailwheel and backcountry instruction.
Earning your tailwheel endorsement will make you keenly aware of landing straight and making good approaches. The discipline that comes from that and the skills necessary to do that well will translate into all aircraft. Unlike most trike-only pilots, you’ll become hyper-aware of wind and maintaining control throughout the approach, flare, landing and rollout, extending into the taxi. These things will add precision to your flying and will polish some of the bad habits you may have picked up flying tricycle-gear aircraft that require little, if any, rudder coordination or use. The list of ways your flying will improve is quite long.
Nearly every general aviation airport has an FBO with some kind of tailwheel aircraft, or there’s an independent instructor—usually with grey hair—who’d be happy to help you earn your tailwheel endorsement. You can transition in just 10-20 hours depending on your skill level, and those aircraft are usually much cheaper to rent than the whiz-bang, glass-cockpit flivvers gleaming on most FBO’s ramps. It also qualifies as your biennial flight review (BFR).
At Stallion 51 in Kissimmee, Fla., pilots can experience flying a dual-controlled P-51 Mustang. Other aircraft in the fleet include a T-6 Texan and an L-39 Albatros.
There aren’t many pilots who don’t fantasize about flying a genuine warbird. Nothing stirs the soul like one of those great radial-engined beasts from our country’s past. We’re lucky to live in a time where this is still possible and even affordable. Aside from the off-the-charts fun factor, flying a warbird gives us insight into what it was like for the many thousands of pilots who flew them during war. In aviation, warbirds are sort of the “gold standard.”
Though warbirds are exceedingly rare (and expensive), a few schools offer orientation flights and actual checkouts in these aircraft. Another option is the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). Wings across the country operate warbird fighters, bombers and trainers. These can be flown by members (referred to as “Colonels”) after lending elbow grease to the wing, helping to maintain the aircraft, attending meetings and functions, giving tours and paying a yearly “sponsor” fee to help keep the aircraft maintained.
If your interest in warbirds extends to more recent times, several locations offer instruction in vintage fighter jets and trainers. A little searching will reveal schools that train in everything from T-33s to L-39s and MiG-15s. Finally, if you want to experience what it’s like to fly warbirds without mortgaging your house, look no further than the Collings Foundation (www.collingsfoundation.org). They offer reasonably priced rides in everything from their P-51 Mustang to their B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and many more aircraft as they tour across the country.
Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Fla., offers seaplane instruction in a fleet of J-3 Cubs. Students can earn their seaplane rating in just one weekend.
Filed under “more fun than should be allowed,” earning your seaplane (or floatplane) rating is one of the best biennial flight reviews of all time. Seaplanes don’t feel any different in the air, but landing on water is something you have to experience yourself. The sublime sensation of water spraying everywhere combined with the beauty inherent in flying makes for a heady mix. You’ll never be the same.
Earning the rating can be done in a weekend and takes some five hours of flying, so it’s extremely affordable. You’ll learn how to control and “taxi” the plane on the water, all about getting up on “the step,” landing on glassy water (tougher than it looks), and a myriad of other skills and knowledge. Several schools across the country specialize only in seaplane ratings, and it’s recommended you go to one of those. The advantage of a school like Jack Brown’s in Florida is you can earn the rating while attending Sun ‘n Fun. Many lifelong love affairs with seaplanes started with the seaplane rating.
There’s little debate that nothing will improve your confidence and stick-and-rudder skills like aerobatics will. Though the idea may incite immediate queasiness in some, the fact is that learning to fly an aircraft at the edge of its performance envelope is a massive skill builder and a heck of a lot of fun. Most pilots find that they don’t get sick at all if they’re the ones controlling the aircraft, and most say aerobatics are addicting.
Some schools will call aerobatics “upset training” or “spin training,” and though there are slight differences, the net effect is the same: getting maximum performance from the airplane. For many pilots, the lure of aerobatics leads to a desire to demonstrate their newly acquired skills. Aerobatic competition is the next logical step, with the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) sanctioning dozens of aerobatic contests around the country every year. There are five levels of competition: Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available to pilots who want to advance their training to the next step. There are so many skills to acquire and different kinds of flying available that it would take a lifetime to experience it all. Maybe your passions run to backcountry flying, gliders, jets, balloons, blimps, helicopters or ultralights. In each case, there’s much to learn and experience. Remember that your first certificate is just a license to learn, and you owe it to yourself and those around you to become the best pilot you can be. The next time you’re wondering what to do with your certificate, pick something from this list and expand your aviation horizon.
|ADVANCED TRAINING RESOURCES|
|Tailwheel||Andover Flight Academy
Rich Stowell’s CP Aviation
Chandler Air Service
Find a school in your state:
|Cirrus Training||Located worldwide||cirrusaircraft.com/advanced_map|
JetWarbird Training Center
Warbird Training Center
Eastern Bloc Aircraft Services
The Collings Foundation
|Seaplane Rating||Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base
Alaska Float Ratings
Madden’s on Gull Lake
All States (Seaplane Pilot’s Association directory)
|Multiple Ratings||Search by state:
|Aerobatics||International Aerobatic Club directory:||www.iacusn.org/schools/|
|Gliders||Gliders Soaring Society of America||www.ssa.org|
|Backcountry/Bush Flying||Mountain and Canyon Flying Seminars
Mountain Air Dance