Spring training for pilots


Winter weather leads to a cutback of flying for most of us. Pilots living in areas of the U.S. that are prone to frozen water in the form of sleet, freezing rain and snow find ourselves wistfully looking to the skies out of the iced-over windows of our homes. We think back on a time not so long ago when the winds were warm and skies were beckoning and we still had electrical power in our houses.

When is the power company going to get our lights back on after this ice storm anyway? Should you use your copy of General Aviation News as kindling to get some sort of blaze going in the fireplace?

While you are waiting out a cold and dreary day or night without heat in your house, I suggest you pause before lighting this issue and read the following five suggestions of things you can do to get you through these dreary and dark flightless days.

Sit On It: Modern flight training professionals who somehow lucked out and got a job as professors at colleges suggest that the most valuable part of flight training goes on in your head. This can be simulated by simply sitting in a chair and running the flight through your mind while mimicking the maneuvers by weaving your hands around and imagining you are really flying.

This kind of flying can easily be done in the dead of winter during the most dreary of days.

Here’s how I do it: I simply sit in a comfortable chair and close my eyes. I’m in the left seat of a Piper Aztec E, flying high above the snowy expanses of Middle America. As I sit in my comfortable chair with my eyes closed and my hands moving over my imaginary instrument panel, I imagine that I am suddenly hungry for a $100 hamburger.

I gently imagine a descent, approach and landing at my favorite airport and imagine walking into the diner. My eyes snap open to the real world and I head to the kitchen to make a sandwich.

It is the next day before I realize that after shutting down my Aztec’s imaginary engines that I left the dag-gum imaginary master switch on and now my imaginary battery is as dead as disco.

Catch Up On Your Rest: The FAA Flight Surgeon thinks you are way too fat. Based on minutes of deep introspection and most likely research that included trying to take a nap next to a fat pilot in the FBO’s crew lounge, Dr. Fred Tilton has determined that if you are full-figured, you must snore as well. This means you will most likely drop dead of something next time you fly.

While we all agree that you should be ashamed of yourself and do something to get fit and trim this winter, we can also agree that the chances of that actually happening are equal to the chances of you building an EAA-approved interplanetary spacecraft in your basement.

I have done intense research this winter. No need to thank me just yet, but I have ingested holiday cookies, cakes, candies and sometimes entire turkeys in a quest to see if the FAA’s top medical guy is correct in the assumption that fat people snore.

My wife says that this theory of what we can only call “Blubber Snore Syndrome” (BSS) is true based on her observations and the iPhone recordings she has made to play back to me every morning when all I want is to drink my coffee in peace.

What can we corpulent pilots do during this winter? I suggest we catch up on our sleep by utilizing frequent naps and by “resting our eyes” at least once a day in a comfortable couch or recliner so we will be alert and safe this spring.

Some people may make fun of your winter time habit of snoozing during the cold afternoons when they think you should be outside shoveling sidewalks, loading the dishwasher and such. These people are ignorant of the sacrifice you are making in the name of aviation safety.

Watch It: This is a perfect time of the year to catch up on your aviation education.

Others might suggest you spend your spare, non-napping and eating time by going “on the line” and taking some kind of “interweb” training course in which you learn boring things like how to do a crosswind landing or make an instrument approach.

While I would never say that this is a bad way to pass the time on these dark winter days — at least not out loud — I suggest that your time would be better spent by watching some of the great films about aviation.

My “top 10 list of aviation movies you should not miss if you don’t want to be considered an ignorant cretin” will be released soon. For now, trust your instincts when choosing your own list.

Some films you choose will no doubt be ones you seen many times before. This is okay. It is also okay if you happen to catch up on your sleep while the film is playing. Your spouse might call this lazy. I would call it multi-tasking. An aviation college professor would call it “subliminal aviation cultural training.”

Clean it Out: Take this time to clean out your flight bag.

As you plumb the depths of your flight bag you may find things that will help you learn a few things about yourself as a pilot.

For example, you may discover that you are a pilot who does not eat granola bars. You may have thought they would make a nutritious snack last summer but now they sit there in your bag mocking you with their moldiness.

Cleaning out your flight bag sounds boring, but as you get to the very bottom of it you will find things that connect you to previous generations of pilots — things like charts that are five years out of date and that cardboard E6b you never really learned how to use.

Have Faith: It is hard to believe that it will ever be warm enough for you to fly without pre-heating your engine. These dark days of winter have been such a trying time that you may not think that you will ever get to the upcoming spring and summer when you will no doubt complain about how hot it is and leave your shirt on when you go to the pool because of your courageous aviation “grocery studies.”

You have to trust me when I tell you that someday you will poke your nose out from under your blanket after a lengthy “research nap” to discover that frozen birds are no longer thumping against your window.

You will emerge from your home blinking your eyes in the warm sun and you will realize that spring has once again sprung.

Thinking back on the hard preparation work you have done all winter under the gaze and ridicule of people in your household, you will proudly brush the potato chip dust off of your sweat pants and, grabbing your squeaky clean flight bag, you will head to the airport to charge up your aircraft’s battery and begin yet another great year of warm weather flying.


Kevin Garrison is a retired airline captain, an active GA pilot, flight instructor and pilot examiner. He is famous for simultaneiously losing money in the horse business, the aviation business and in publishing all in the same year. Kevin can now be found napping peacefully in Lexington, Ky.


  1. says

    I’ve been a big fan of chair flying for a long, long time. It’s always helped me, so I’ve always recommended it to students. The good ones use it. The bad ones, not so much. But be that as it may, the genius of this piece is the nap advice. I love it. I’ll take it to heart, implement it at every possible opportunity and dedicate myself to spreading the word. Naps! Now we’re talking.

  2. Richard Warner says

    I’m glad to see that Kevin still has his sense of humor. I was wondering how much he would charge me to give me my next biennial flight review in a chair? I promise I won’t crash if I happen to fall asleep during the review which may be caused by that rare Dr. Fred Tilton syndrome known as snoring. :)

    I see our old company just shared over 800 million bucks+ with their workers. It would have been really nice of them if they had included some of their retirees. I enjoyed your article. Keep on keeping on.


  3. says


    Love the idea of “sitting on it!” Chair flying got me through each of my check rides – and it really helped my flows and procedures. Plus, the wet rate was affordable. And, “watch it” is another great idea. I still break up my day at work with scenes from Top Gun or Memphis Belle…

    But, not every online course is awfully boring – and sometimes they actually make you “do it!” :)

    Cheers to warmer weather and thanks for the article!


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