Learning to fly is so much more than just learning how to push and pull on the yoke, talk on the radios, and trying to look cool. During my flight training, I was taught early on that to be a professional pilot you need to acquire and stay proficient in three areas of expertise: airmanship, knowledge, and judgment. If you only have two of the three at your disposal, then you’re not reaching your true potential as an aviator. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Airmanship is essentially your “stick and rudder” skills. Let’s make it very clear that these skills do not mean you’re an aerobatic daredevil, pushing the limits of your aircraft’s flight envelope or doing anything that may be considered foolish. What it truly means is that you can safely operate the aircraft throughout its entire flight envelope and within any aircraft limitations.
A stiff x-wind doesn’t seem as intimidating when you know that you are highly trained, current, and proficient with taking off and landing with them. Always strive to be more precise with your flying. Learn to set goals for yourself. “In that last steep turn, I only lost 40ft! On the next one, I’m gonna try for +- 20!”
Knowledge is equally important. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can regurgitate your aircraft’s operating handbook word for word. Rather, having an extensive knowledge of all things Aviation will prove to be a great asset to you. Understand that we never reach a point where we know it all.
The one skill that truly impresses me the most in a pilot is when they will openly admit that they don’t know something. This may sound silly, maybe even a little backwards, but it’s truly amazing to me to see how many pilots out there will start to invent new concepts when they’re asked a question outside their realm of experience.
That mindset is extremely dangerous.
As pilots, it is so incredibly important that we approach aviation humbly. In fact, the more that I learn about Aviation, I realize how little I actually know. During every flight’s debriefing, make it a point to ask yourself, “What is one thing that I learned from this particular flight?” Always be looking for opportunities to learn!
I hope at some point, you’ve all heard the saying “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that would require the use of his superior skills.” Sounds simple enough, right? Well, how can we properly learn to have good judgment? And as an instructor, how can we teach good judgment?
Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. Does this mean we have to make mistakes in order to move forward? The FAA has been pushing scenario based training now for quite a while, and if anyone has gone through a Part-141 flight training program, you’ve already seen how this works.
In the past, your flight instructor would tell you to put on your view-limiting device and then try to disorient you to practice unusual attitudes. These kinds of exercises are great; however, the student quite often finds themselves wondering “How is this applicable?”
In scenario based training, the same lesson would start off by the instructor briefing the student that they were flying a friend around so that their friend could take pictures of his business. Your local airport was reporting the ceilings as overcast at 1,500AGL when you departed. You figured that you could safely make the flight and took off only to find that the forecast was incorrect. Before you even realized what happened, you just flew into a whiteout. This adds more realism to the situation and the application to real life helps the student build judgment from day one.
I learned early on that judgment is one of the hardest things to teach a new pilot.
As pilots, we simultaneously take on the role of “risk evaluator” when we’re flying. Every action we take has an associated risk. When you’re flying an airplane, you always have to be in what I like to call the “What-If Mindset”.
What this means is that you are always thinking ten steps ahead of the aircraft and can anticipate and cope with anything out of the norm should anything abnormal occur. I tell my students to “always have an out”. For example, one of the great “gottcha” moments is when a student pilot is down low, practicing ground reference maneuvers (usually during checkride prep), and the instructor pulls the throttle back to simulate an engine failure.
The student 99% of the time has been focusing so hard on the task at hand, that they have completely omitted any available reserve brain power to find a suitable landing spot in the (very likely) chance of an engine failure at low altitude. Don’t ever let an airplane take you anywhere your brain didn’t arrive at ten minutes prior.
These three skills are your foundation as a pilot. They are your greatest assets. Great care should be taken from day one to develop each of these skills so that one day your years of experience, knowledge, and decision making skills will set you apart as a true professional.
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