One of the ways in which the FAA strives to reduce the number of airplane accidents is by requiring a 90-day currency rule. For VFR daytime flight, FAR 61.57 states that a pilot in command intending on carrying passengers must have made at least 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days in an aircraft of the same category, class, or type, and/or 3 full stop landings for the tailwheel pilot, or one seeking currency for night flying.
When weeks of bad weather makes flying impossible, a pilot oftentimes finds themselves sneaking up on that 90-day mark without the wheels ever leaving the ground. We have all stalked the weather apps in hopes of finding a clear day for flying, but it’s when you only have time for a currency flight each every time you fly that a pilot becomes less and less proficient.
In “What Does a Proficient Pilot Look Like,” Sabrina Houston states the proficient pilot flies a lot, is curious, compares him/herself to other pilots, desires to be better, constantly advances skill level, knows his/her limitations, and seeks out training opportunities.
There are many ways in which to maintain our proficiency, and even though you may be thinking that flying an airplane is “just like riding a bike,” we all know it’s not that simple. Every pilot should find more than one way to keep proficient, but a good pilot will aim toward constantly advancing their skills. That said, I hope you will find the following list useful for maintaining your proficiency in the pilot’s seat.
• Fly Often
This decree is one we have all lived by as student pilots. Unfortunately, this philosophy oftentimes ends up shelved alongside all of those study aids as soon as the PPL is achieved.
In order to maintain proficiency while in the pilot’s seat, it’s imperative to dedicate enough flight time to keep your brain in the game. One way to do that is by scheduling flight time just as you would a doctor’s appointment. Just make sure you keep your appointment!
If the weather isn’t cooperating, get your butt in the seat through one of the many YouTube flight videos available. It’s amazing how your brain starts working through the flight as if you were there in the captain’s chair.
Another way in which you could clear the cobwebs is through the use of a flight simulator. Although a more costly method, a flight simulator offers a safe way to try one of those maneuvers you’ve always wished to experience… like maybe a barrel roll? There are several computer software programs available, or you could locate an FAA approved flight simulator and schedule a training session.
• Review the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH)
Remember being tested on the POH when you were a student pilot? How would you do on that same test today?
Reviewing the pilot’s operating handbook should be a regular task, but some POH’s can be an intimidating read besides throw your back out when you try to pick it up!
Honestly, I thought ‘handbook’ meant it was a handy book. Not a behemoth!
That’s why we invested in one of those quick-flip POHs. They are available for most any aircraft as a quick reference and are so handy to keep in the side pocket of your aircraft. Buy an extra copy to keep at home for a convenient study guide when the weather is nasty.
• Be More Than a Fair-Weather Flyer
When your 90 days is close, do you scour the forecast for a calm morning to achieve your 3 landings without the hassle of a crosswind? Do you plan to practice your emergency procedures next time only to realize that your 90 days is up AGAIN?
Before you know it, when you google the term “Fair-Weather Flyer,” it’s YOUR picture that comes up next to the definition in Wikipedia.
Becoming a fair-weather flyer is an easy habit to fall into because, and let’s be honest… who really likes flying in turbulence or a nasty crosswind?!
To combat this tendency, try performing at least one other specific exercise each time you go up. By repeatedly performing the FAA’s Practical Test Standards, you’ll not only take the necessary time to practice your crosswind landings, you’ll be a safer pilot by keeping proficient in the basics.
• Recite Emergency Procedures
Do you remember what the acronym CABC stands for? What about the Pilot’s personal checklist: I’M SAFE? (Answers at the end.)
Using acronyms is an effective way to recall important procedures while in the air. Reciting them prior to every flight maybe the one thing that helps you to maintain your cool during an emergency situation.
Remember back in 2009 when Captain Sully Sullenberger crash-landed an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River after a flock of geese took out both its engines? It was through his repetitive emergency practice that Captain Sully was able to stay calm and choose the best course of action to get the airbus down safely.
The LA Times states that for a pilot, “staying calm under fraught circumstances requires both conscious effort and regular practice.” Planning ahead for such an event maybe j In order to be prepared, the FAA offers three keys to success in handling an emergency.
1. Plan what you would do in an emergency.
2. Review your plan before flying.
3. Practice scenario-based training (SBT) with a flight instructor.
• Ask Your CFI To Tag Along
Sometimes knowing that you’re meeting the private pilot standards is just a matter of asking your CFI along for the ride. Practicing aircraft performance procedures with your instructor in tow is not only beneficial for assessing your current skill level, it’s safer! Especially if you know you’re not proficient. And let’s be honest… we all KNOW when we are NOT proficient.
Don’t let pride get in the way of being a safe and responsible pilot.
• Wings Program
One way the FAA helps pilots develop a good proficiency plan is through the Wings Program “which includes numerous forms of training media such as online programs and recommended topics for pilots to review with flight instructors.”
Having participated in this program, I have found the webinars are filled with pertinent information, and the follow-up quizzes are thorough, yet easy to complete to earn WINGS credits towards maintaining your proficiency. It’s a great program, but like scheduling time to fly, one needs to schedule time to participate in this program.
• Sign-Up for the Monthly VFR Challenge Through Pilot Workshops
Although there’s no substitute for frequent flying, another method that may prove helpful in maintaining confidence and proficiency in the cockpit is worth a look.
The monthly VFR challenge offers its subscribers:
1- a video scenario to evaluate
2- choosing an option for what you would do
3- seeing how your choice compared with other pilots
4- get an instructor’s view with a step-by-step video
5- listen to a roundtable discussion from the experts
6- finish up with a members-only forum to continue the discussion with both pilots and instructors.
Try the first month VFR Challenge for FREE. After the first month, it’s only $14.00 a month, and you can cancel at any time.
In closing, it is most important to know your personal minimums before leaving the ground. Don’t let anything pressure you into flying when you know you shouldn’t.
SO… What steps are YOU taking to maintain your proficiency?
CABC = Carburetor Heat, Airspeed, Best Field, Checklist
I’M SAFE = Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotions
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AOPA, Pilot Skills: Currency v.s. Proficiency, https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/active-pilots/safety-and-technique/currency-vs-proficiency
Benenson, Tom, January 19, 2007, The Strategy of Staying Current, https://www.flyingmag.com/strategy-staying-current/
FAA, April 30, 2018, Advisory Circular: Currency Requirement and Guidance for the Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check, https://www.faa.gov/documentlibrary/media/advisory_circular/ac_61-98d.pdf
FAA, Emergency Procedures Training, https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/2018/media/SE_Topic_18_03.pdf
FAA, June 2018, Practical Test Standards, https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/media/private_airplane_acs_change_1.pdf
Lehrer, Jonah, January 17, 2009, Sully’s ‘deliberate calm,’ https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-jan-17-oe-lehrer17-story.html
Pilot Workshops, VFR Mastery, https://pilotworkshop.com/products/vfr-mastery/
Houston, Sabrina, September 12, 2016, What Does a Proficient Pilot Look Like, https://landing.redbirdflight.com/posts/what-does-a-proficient-pilot-look-like