So now what? You’ve earned the private certificate and are happily amassing flight time with all kinds of aerial adventures. You’ve given every friend, relative, and passerby a ride around the patch, and maybe even flown some interstate cross-countries in a variety of airplanes. You feel more comfortable with flying and are considering increasing your growing skill set. You probably went into aviation because you loved it, and not because you want to make it a career. What’s next?
There are a variety of reasons for seeking advanced training. In an ideal world, all of us would grab an instructor every few months and do all the things that strike fear in us: crosswind landings, over-water or night flying, spins and stalls, short and unimproved fields, mountain flying and some really unusual attitudes. Logic dictates that doing this would make us better pilots—and it will.
But in the non-ideal world, finances and time hold us back from such pursuits. The FAA, however, doesn’t care about either time or money, and mandates that every two years, anybody who wants to continue to act as Pilot in Command (PIC) needs to have a flight review. To comply, many pilots seek out their trusted CFI friend, go for a $200 cheeseburger and call it a flight review. But doing so cheats us out of the opportunity to learn something new. And learning something new is the best reason to seek additional training in aviation.
Whether you need to satisfy a flight review or are looking to become a better, safer pilot, there’s a cornucopia of awesome, useful training that won’t only improve your skills, but will paint a smile on your face wider than the butcher’s-dog grin you had when you soloed. Pilots say there are few things more satisfying than mastering a new flying skill, rating or airplane, and anybody who has ever looked longingly at a seaplane or warbird, or laughed in joy through a loop or primary roll, will vouch for that.
If you plan to fly a pressurized airplane above 25,000 feet MSL, you’ll need a high-altitude endorsement.
Head In The Clouds
Easily the most complex rating, but also the most useful, the instrument rating will make you a better pilot in many ways. The name of the game in instrument training is precision, and the training for the rating will teach you precision like no other. Many pilots mistake the fact that the instrument rating isn’t designed to let you fly in horrible weather, but to enable you to make better weather decisions, and to enable you to get into or out of a terminal area when the weather is less than VFR.
The tried-and-true method of earning an instrument rating is to spend several months to a year or more (the national average is 70 hours) churning through the requirements of the rating until you’ve absorbed all the concepts and can demonstrate the various flying skills necessary to earn the rating. While that method works, there also are a few specialized programs like AFIT, American Flyers and others that offer an intensive, short-duration course (typically 10 days) designed to allow you to earn your instrument rating.
The instrument ticket is so important that nearly all insurance companies offer a substantial discount on premiums because their research has shown that pilots who earn the rating are better and safer, and are equipped to make better aeronautical decisions.
Many pilots call this an “add-on” rating because it’s added to your existing private or commercial certificate. Most people say this is one of the easier ratings because you aren’t necessarily mastering a new skill, but rather, improving your existing skills. The goal in multi-engine training is for a pilot to be able to safely control an aircraft with one (or more) engines inoperable. The training and subsequent checkride will focus on engine-out performance and control.
Usually, the multi-engine rating is offered as a package, and includes all necessary ground and flight instruction required by the Multi-Engine Practical Test Standards. The rating can be done in four to six days and usually entails some seven to 10 hours of dual instruction (depending on the aircraft and pilot’s abilities).
The leader in multi-engine add-ons is probably ATP, which provides more multi-engine flight training and certification than any other flight school in the nation. ATP’s aircraft fly over 8,500 hours each month, and more than 3,700 FAA certifications and ratings are achieved by ATP customers each year. In addition to ATP, most FBOs across the country offer multi-engine ratings, and they can be earned for around $4,000 depending on location, aircraft, fuel prices, etc.
For anybody who’s really serious about multi-engine time, Eagle Jet International in Miami, Fla., has a number of turbo-prop time-builder programs. Pilots with commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings can select from 100-, 200- and 500-hour blocks (or more) of flight time in Beech 1900s, Metroliners, Shorts and more. The program is designed to give pilots enough experience to qualify as a First Officer in turboprops.
As aviation has grown more complicated, regular training has become a critical part of staying ahead of the airplane. The challenge of technologically advanced aircraft is to manage everything around you. The ability to use all that technology becomes a game of balancing information against flying the aircraft. The FAA, insurance companies and even FBOs recognize the need for consistent, repeated training to make sure pilots can manage the myriad of systems feeding them information in today’s advanced cockpits. Regular re-currency training is the answer.
Real aircraft cockpits are horrendous learning environments. Noise, danger and aircraft management tasks get in the way. Simulators, however, allow pilots to hone skills, experience emergencies and perfect procedures without burning fuel and without exposing themselves to real danger, and to do so in a quiet, comfortable environment conducive to learning. It’s for these reasons that recurrency specialists like Simcom, FlightSafety, Recurrent Training Center (RTC) and others exist.
Any pilot who flies multi-engine aircraft or any advanced piston single owes it to him or herself to engage in recurrency training either every year or every six months. Yes, the training is expensive, but the list of reasons why it’s a critical part of being a safe pilot is long. Simulator-based training can reproduce emergency scenarios that are dangerous or unfeasible in a real aircraft. The time savings alone is worth the cost of the training. In a real aircraft, you can shoot maybe two or three approaches in an hour. A simulator affords six or seven in the same time span.
FAA accident statistics support recurrency training. Pilots who undergo regular refresher training are safer than pilots who don’t. Much of aviation—instrument flying, for example—is a mental skill, and mental skills atrophy quickly. Dealing with emergencies is similar, with the mental part triggering muscle-memory reflexes that erode with time. To do either one effectively, recurrency training is key. Insurance companies are overjoyed with pilots who seek recurrency training and offer discounts on premiums because their data illustrates the fact that pilots who seek recurrency training are ultimately safer in the cockpit.
If you plan to ever fly anything that’s pressurized and capable of flight altitudes above 25,000 feet MSL, you’ll need a high-altitude endorsement. FAR 61.31 is pretty specific about the requirements for this endorsement, and it’s included in the same section that describes the complex (retractable gear, flaps and controllable pitch prop) and high-performance (more than 200 hp) endorsements. Like other ratings and endorsements, high-altitude training consists of both ground and flight instruction, with the topics to be covered outlined carefully in the FARs. The key issue in high-altitude training is recognizing the physiological effects of high-altitude flight.
Not all FBOs offer the high-altitude endorsement because the flight-training portion requires aircraft that are usually beyond what the typical FBO offers. Several companies specialize in high-altitude training and typically offer a one-day course to earn the endorsement. Training is typically four to six hours of ground instruction followed by an hour in the air.
The air portion is a lot of fun and works as a confidence builder, as well. It consists of proper emergency procedures for rapid decompression (almost always simulated), normal cruise operations above 25,000 feet and emergency descents. The emergency descent part is the most fun—especially in a light jet. It’s a real kick to crank the airplane on its side while spiraling down and donning your oxygen mask all at the same time.
With more than 5,100 of the airframes sold (and increasing fast), it seems the Cirrus has become to the modern generation what the Cessna 172 represented to an earlier generation. Though the venerable 172 is still going strong, the Cirrus is fast becoming the “It” airplane for an airline-like travel experience at a fraction of the hassle. More and more FBOs are featuring SR20s and SR22s on their rental line, and more pilots are discovering the comfort and utility of this cross-country machine. Certified Cirrus Transition Training is an excellent way to get to know this unique aircraft.
Cirrus’ global network of Cirrus Training Centers (CTCs) and Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilots (CSIPs) are experts in Cirrus flight training. Cirrus Training Centers have Cirrus aircraft available for rental and flight instruction, along with professional flight instructors to get you the best Cirrus pilot education possible. Though Cirrus’ goal is to prod you toward eventual ownership, Cirrus training is quite comprehensive and will get you comfortable with the characteristics of the highly capable airplane.
CTCs and CSIPs have been trained and evaluated by specialists at Cirrus headquarters and follow the same training programs that Cirrus uses during factory flight instruction. In many cases, insurance companies offer discounts on premiums for having completed Cirrus transition training, and most FBOs require it prior to renting this excellent and comfortable cross-country hauler.
Garmin’s G1000 “glass” panel has become the standard in the industry. For those of us who cut their teeth on steam gauges, the idea of the G1000 is daunting. With hundreds of button/knob/soft key combinations and more capability than the average pilot will ever use, Garmin’s do-it-all display is the future of aviation. It’s not if you’ll ever fly the G1000, it’s when. Any pilot wishing to advance in aviation needs to be comfortable with glass cockpits, and the G1000 has become the gold standard.
Sporty’s (of Pilot Shop fame) has come to the rescue once again with their excellent “Garmin 1000 Checkout” course that’s worth every penny (priced under $100). The course even comes with the much-reviewed PC-based G1000 simulator. I used it during glass transition training, and the course saved me at least five hours in the cockpit. I pop it up on the computer whenever I want to try something complex, saving me a lot of stress and knob-turning in the “clag.”
King Schools also offers an excellent G1000 video course. Both are ideally suited to go along with instruction in the aircraft. The transition from steam gauges to glass cockpits can be intimidating, but with proper training, it can open up a whole new world of advanced avionics.
Drag Your Tail
Flying a taildragger is easy. Landing one well isn’t. Taildraggers (or “conventional gear” aircraft as they’re properly called) have a center of gravity that makes the tail want to swing around, so it points forward instead of the nose. It’s what gives these airplanes “character.”
Getting a tailwheel endorsement should be a no-brainer. First, it satisfies the biennial flight review (BFR) requirement. Second, it’s more rewarding than bowling a 300, and you don’t need those silly shoes. When grizzled geezers say that earning your tailwheel endorsement will make you a better pilot, they aren’t kidding. Learning to land and fly a taildragger forces you to learn all about rudder control—and use it. It makes you cognizant of coordination, of wind, of runway centerlines and of the importance of a good approach. Like learning to drive a stick-shift automobile, learning to fly a taildragger opens the world up to you, because if you can fly one, you can fly anything.
Expect to pay for 10 to 20 hours of dual instruction, depending on the model of aircraft you train in. For example, a Decathlon or Citabria is known to be easier to land than, say, a Luscombe. The tradeoff is that older tailwheel aircraft are dirt cheap to rent (comparatively), and can be had anywhere from $60-$120/hour. Make no mistake, once you’ve earned the endorsement, it truly is a “license to learn,” because mastering the sometimes-twitchy little birds is a lot different than just being competent to solo one. But greasing on a taildragger in a decent wind and keeping it on the centerline is one of life’s more sublime pleasures.
Seaplane flying is the about the most fun you can have in an airplane. There’s something special about the combination of water and sky that touches each of us deeply. I can testify that the most enjoyable flying I’ve ever done is dripping wet, hopping from lake to lake in a seaplane. If you fly because you love it, then a seaplane rating is in the cards for you.
The seaplane rating carries some bonuses with it. First, it can be had over a long weekend. Learning the basics of seaplane flying takes anywhere from five to 10 hours of dual instruction, and the companies that offer seaplane rating programs have it down to a science and can get you rated in a couple of days. Second, the rating fulfills the flight review requirement. Finally, the cost is very affordable. Many locations offer a ratings package for well under $2,000, with some Midwest schools offering seaplane ratings for under $1,000.
The added allure of a seaplane rating is that the training will—again—make you a better pilot, especially with regard to paying attention to the wind, and to getting clues about wind direction and speed from geographical features. Seaplane schools dot the country, with the best known being Jack Brown’s Seaplane base in Florida, Adventure Seaplanes in Minnesota, Above Alaska and Alaska Float Ratings. The best place to start is with the Seaplane Pilots Association at www.seaplanes.org.
Nothing in aviation gives a pilot more confidence than learning how to control an aircraft at the edges of its performance envelope. Outside of the awe-inspiring performances seen at air shows, aerobatic training can lead a pilot into many other areas of aviation.
While aerobatic training strikes fear of airsickness in many pilots, the truth is that gradual exposure and the right instructor make all the difference. Both Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager—two of aviation’s finest pilots—both admit to uneasiness with aerobatics at first. But increased exposure decreases any motion discomfort, and many pilots find aerobatics so stimulating, challenging and rewarding that they advance into competing.
Schools across the country offer aerobatic programs, and many have become well known. Make sure you research prospective aerobatic schools and inquire as to their equipment, maintenance, safety record, expectations and curriculum. Pricing ranges widely depending on the type of course, but a realistic 10 hours for a basic program is a good start. Some popular schools include Tutima Academy, Chandler Air Service and Sunrise Aviation. Start your training by going to www.iac.org for more information.
Advanced training includes many more options than can be listed in a magazine article. These include getting jet transition training, earning the commercial certificate, adding a complex endorsement to your logbook, mountain and backcountry strip flying, earning your glider rating, or just getting checked out in another airplane at your local FBO. Regardless of what type of advanced training you choose, the benefits will far outweigh the costs. Since your Private is just a “License to Learn,” get out there and start learning.
RECURRENCY TRAINING AND INSURANCE
|“Recurrency training needs to become part of pilot culture,” says Mike Kerwin, Vice President of Analytics for Avemco Insurance Company, one of aviation’s largest insurers. “And we as a company would be very happy if we could at least get pilots to realize how important regular training is.”
Kerwin mines vast amounts of insurance and accident data to accurately set premiums. His decades of experience have proven that a pilot who undergoes regular recurrency training is a safer pilot than one who doesn’t, and Avemco’s discounts reflect that. In fact, other general aviation insurers have come to the same conclusion and offer considerable discounts for advanced training. As Kerwin explained, Avemco accident data also shows that a pilot who’s out of currency by 90 days has the potential to be just as dangerous as a pilot climbing into an aircraft he or she has never flown. “In both pilot groups,” says Kerwin, “You have a number of small risks that eventually add up to one huge risk.” He gave the example of pilots in the Northeastern United States who frequently sit out the winter on the ground. Kerwin says you can track the number of losses as winter comes to an end and these rusty pilots start flying again. “You’ll see gear-up landings and all kinds of mistakes that could have been prevented with some kind of refresher training,” he adds.
In the case of high-performance or complex aircraft, Avemco is one of many insurers that mandate recurrency training. The skills necessary to effectively manage these advanced aircraft erode quickly, and it’s in emergency situations that expired skills manifest themselves. Most insurers require training every 12 months, though commercial operations often mandate recurrency training every six months.
The benefits—aside from insurance premium discounts—are a deep sense of confidence in the pilot’s abilities during an emergency and the surety that comes with having repeated a task many times under adverse conditions. New instrument pilots are frequently afraid to venture into true IMC because of a lack of confidence in their recently acquired skills. Simulator training can alleviate that, allowing pilots to train in whatever area they feel weakest in. As the ranks of technically advanced aircraft continues to grow, and as glass cockpits replace the previous generation’s avionics, workload increases, even with better situational awareness. Even private pilots should recognize the need for advanced training of some sort. “We all need a good training mindset,” notes Kerwin. “And pilots should realize that the money spent in re-currency training is as important—if not more so—than learning to hit a 9-iron on the golf-course.”