Regardless of what they fly, where they fly, or how they feel about flying, there is one thing all pilots have in common.
We have a restriction that says we have to fly with a flight instructor now and again to demonstrate our proficiency. Most people think of that proficiency requirement as having to do with the ability to control the aircraft, exclusively. I’ll challenge that notion.
Having the capacity to smoothly control the aircraft through all phases of flight is a good thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. It’s what we strive for. At least it’s what most of us strive for.
But there’s something even more important than having a knack for hitting just the right pitch attitude, or the exact power setting, or nailing an airspeed. In fact, the proficiency I’m thinking of may be the most important aspect of flying all together. I am referring to the closely associated abilities to think and reason.
Left to our own devices, humans don’t think or make decisions particularly well. As proof, I offer the following. Go to YouTube.com and search on virtually any topic followed by the word “fail.”
You’ll be surprised at the volume of video evidence that shows the average man or woman to be something less than brilliant in their thoughts or actions. Hair fail, bicycle fail, kitchen fail, golf fail, exercise ball fail. Yes, definitely take a look at exercise ball fail. There it is. Evidence of just how dumb we are when unsupervised and bored.
Think about that for a second. Unsupervised and bored. How many times have you had that exact experience in flight? No matter how much you love to fly, you’ll have to admit, it happens.
Our insurance against becoming fodder for a YouTube expose, or worse, an accident investigation, is the flight instructors we interact with during our flying career.
Whether you’re a hobbyist or a seasoned professional, CFIs will have crossed your path from the first day of your aviation adventures to your last. They’re our safety valve, our secret weapon, the best insurance we’ll ever have against doing something catastrophically stupid in or around an aircraft.
Of course, that assumes you’re dealing with good instructors who take their role in the system seriously. Like every other profession, CFIs are pulled from the ranks of the human population. Some of them are exceptional. Some are absolutely competent. Others are…less so.
One of the most challenging issues I’ve ever faced as an instructor was the flight review. Not mine. No, I mean flight reviews for people who knew me and felt that alone was a sufficient connection to warrant an endorsement. Seriously.
Over the course of my career I’ve had several people suggest that I sign them off just because we know each other. One lamented when I told him that wasn’t going to happen, “Okay, I guess we can take it around the pattern once or twice before you sign me off.”
To this day he and I have never flown together. My signature won’t be found in his logbook, either.
At the coffee shop this morning I ran into a friend who just completed his flight review over the weekend, working with another instructor. He’s a fairly high-time pilot who flies a high performance single under IFR almost exclusively. Consequently, his flight review involved three hours of approaches, holds, diversions, and systems issues. He used the autopilot sparingly, hand flying most of the time. “That’s what I wanted,” he told me.
Good for him. Even though he could find someone to work with who would have given him a less challenging flight and completed the ride in the minimum, one hour of flight time, he’d be the poorer pilot for it. He knows that, and so he willingly works with instructors who are going to help him become a better pilot.
Today, after his flight review, he’s a more knowledgable pilot than he was last week. That being the case, he’s at least incrementally a safer pilot, too.
On the other end of the spectrum is the pilot like my former acquaintance who just wants a pencil-whipped endorsement that pretends to meet the requirements of a flight review, but in reality means nothing. In fact, it is worse than nothing because that superficial level of involvement allows the recipient of the endorsement to keep all their bad habits, to hold close their misconceptions and continue to act as if they’re true, and it reinforces the belief that the regulations have no real value to us on a day-to-day basis.
Be a conscientious consumer. Find a good flight instructor who’s a real pro and make it a practice to work with them from time to time, whether your flight review is due or not.
Make your goal to learn, to improve, and to be both more confident and competent when you fly. In the end, you’ll enjoy your time in the sky more and take greater pride at having earned your pilot certificate.
Or you can go the other way. But remember, that short-cut may come pre-packaged with a high risk of being a featured performer in an Internet video that carries a title which includes the word, “fail.”