A friend of mine is a successful business owner who flies a number of airplanes, including a single-pilot Cessna Citation. I ran into him at a recent NBAA event, and of course, the conversation focused on flying. At one point, he said, “Someone should tell the FAA that the workload in a single-pilot turbine aircraft is a lot higher than it is for two-pilot flight crews. ATC in the Dallas area has been giving me a lot of unpublished holds when the weather’s bad or the traffic load is high. It’s a lot of work to figure out a holding pattern, program it into the FMS and couple the autopilot when I’m doing everything else necessary to fly the airplane.”
My first thought was that I agree – controllers indeed should know the workload difference between a corporate or airline crew and a single-pilot operator. On reflection, however, I realized that setting up and entering an unpublished hold is a skill we all had to demonstrate in order to earn our instrument rating. Instead of a campaign to revise controller procedures, my friend’s statement was really a call for him to practice flying unpublished holds in his next recurrent flight instruction. He had identified a deficiency in his current IFR skill set. This identification creates an opportunity for him to relearn those skills as they apply to a high-speed, turbine airplane – or to target his training to reviewing a specific task, customized for his needs.
I believe many pilots feel recurrent training is a waste of time and money because they never get anything new out of it. But if you design your own recurrent training and actually learn something, not only will you be a better pilot for doing so, you may even want to train more frequently because you perceive that recurrent training is valuable.
Many piston-twin and most turbine pilots are required to receive some type of specialized flight or simulator instruction every year. Usually, we go to a training provider or a “personal trainer” type of flight instructor and fly the same mix of normal, IFR, abnormal and emergency procedures every time we train. Some training programs have FAA-approved syllabi that must be followed. Even with Part 142 operators, however, there is normally still some flexibility to target your training to your specific needs in the context of the approved scenarios. But it’s up to you to request the specific topics or tasks when you schedule your training. So, how can you target your training to remove any deficiencies in your skills?
The best way to identify your weak areas is to take a few moments after every flight to debrief your performance. No one knows better than you what goes on when you are alone in the cockpit. Was there anything you did particularly well? Was there anything you missed like a radio call or a checklist step? Did you find yourself fumbling with the avionics, or have a hard time dividing your attention between programming the boxes and flying the airplane (including monitoring the autopilot)? Did you ever ask yourself, “What’s it doing now?” when flying with the autopilot coupled? Did you make any blatant mistakes?
If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably identify a few tasks you could have done better every time you debrief a flight. If you find any serious gap in your skills – such as the inability to easily do something that was part of your instrument rating Practical Test or your most recent type rating or check ride – it is a clear indication you need to hone those skills. Have you installed some new avionics or equipment that alters the way you fly (or monitor) the airplane? Do you detect a trend in the type of mistakes or oversights you make on successive flights? These are indications you need some task-targeted flight (or simulator) training.
When the time comes to schedule your next training event, talk to your instructor about the syllabus beforehand. Then, ask to include the practice of any tasks you’ve identified from your debriefings as needing work. Without a plan you’ll likely end up with a standard, abbreviated repeat of the same maneuvers and procedures you covered last time you trained. That’s good to an extent – the industry has a pretty good idea of what most pilots need, at least in general. But you have the opportunity to significantly enhance your training experience by targeting your training to your demonstrated need.
Designing Your Review
When planning your recurrent training, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there something new I want to know?
- Is there a skill I’d like to improve?
- Is there something I’m afraid of?
Something I Want to Know
One of my single-engine clients had heard a lot about slips to a landing, mainly in the context of correcting for being too high to make an emergency landing field in the event of an engine failure. He demonstrated slips for his private pilot check ride many, many years before, but had not practiced the technique since. My client mentioned this to me during the scheduling of his recurrent training, so I built a few steep slips into his training, both for engine-out landings (his was a single-engine turbine) and for landing in a strong crosswind. Our ground training included his check of the Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) for his airplane to ensure no limitations existed. We then discussed slipping technique as well as engine-failure procedures, then went out and practiced slips in the traffic pattern, engine failures and slips at altitude, and finally a simulated traffic-pattern engine failure including a slip to a designated touchdown point.
In addition to the standard turns, stalls, takeoffs and landings, this was a solid instructional session on a task the pilot wanted to know more about. More importantly, he designed a portion of the training event, leaving it up to me, the instructor, to come up with a way to best present what he wanted to know. He came away far safer as a result.
Something I Want to Improve
Another student flying a piston-twin wanted to learn more about his airplane’s single-engine performance and handling. At that time, most of his experience was in a much-less-powerful piston twin. The additional thrust of his current airplane meant better single-engine performance, but it also means things happen much faster and may be more difficult in handling.
When we talked about his upcoming training, the pilot told me he was confident in his ability to handle most emergencies, but he really wanted a “wringing out” on single-engine handling and performance so he would feel much more confident taking his wife and daughter on trips. So that’s what we did. Again it was the pilot, not the instructor, who designed the targeted goal of the training event. The instructor’s role (mine) was to help the pilot achieve that goal.
Something I am Afraid Of
I’ve found it’s common for pilots in high-performance airplanes to avoid practicing stalls or approaches to stalls. They may have never practiced stalls in the airplane they now fly at all. One of my clients admitted he was concerned after reading several accounts of stalls in the traffic pattern and during a go-around. He’d also heard the term “accelerated stall” without really knowing what it means – only that it sounds even more frightening. Wise enough to realize it was fear of the unknown that was preventing him from feeling comfortable in his aircraft, he asked me to focus on stall recognition and recovery, especially accelerated stalls, in his recurrent training. After a thorough review of approved flight manual guidance on stall recognition, including indicating systems and warnings, we practiced some incipient stalls and recoveries in a simulated go-around done at a safe altitude. We followed up with a couple of go-arounds in landing condition from short final and even during the landing flare to remove the mystery. The pilot was able to design his flight training to cover something that, in this case, he was afraid of. Focused training on the requested task removed his fears and reinforced good habits he now uses to recognize and prevent stall-inducing scenarios.
There are many ways to meet regulatory and insurance training requirements. No matter how or where you train, ask your instructor to include scenarios that cover some of the skills you’ve let atrophy, or that you never really had command of in the first place. You are the pilot-in-command, even on a training flight. Work with your instructor to design targeted training that is relevant to the way you fly, but that is also designed to improve your skills and eliminate bad habits. Based on your post-flight debriefings, ask yourself what you’d like to know, what you’d like to improve, and what you are afraid of. Make those things the focus of your next instructional session.