Maintaining Your Skills as a Pilot

What are you doing to maintain and improve your piloting skills and knowledge? All of us who have spent any time flying know that the skills and knowledge are perishable and you have to work at keeping yourself sharp and proficient.

There are numerous ways to maintain and improve you aviation knowledge. Many don’t cost anything like the short online self-study courses offered by AOPA’s Air Safety Institute and the FAA courses offered at www.faasafety.gov . You don’t have to take them all, just the ones that are relevant to the flying you do. These courses are topical so you’re bound to find something that sounds interesting to you. You can probably also find local seminars on flying that don’t cost anything. Keep your aviation brain engaged in what’s going on. The FAA changes things often enough that you can get into real trouble simply for not knowing current information.

There are also several ways to maintain and improve your flying skills. You can fly with other pilots to watch them or have them watch you. This could be a problem if you happen to pick an undisciplined pilot. A better thing to do is fly with a flight instructor occasionally. It’s a great opportunity to try flights or maneuvers you don’t want to do for the first time by yourself or something you haven’t done for awhile like a really deep set of stalls or even spins. Maybe you’ve never flown to Catalina and have heard that landing there can be a challenge. Take an instructor to lunch and have a really great day. A bigger commitment to improving your flying skills would be a new rating like instruments or multi-engine.

If you’re going to invest time and effort in this you might as well get documented credit for it and that’s where the FAA Wings Pilot Proficiency program comes in. If you are taking any of the online courses you can get credit for them in the Wings program. Same with proficiency flying with an instructor or getting a new rating. In fact, if you complete three courses and three profiles that can be done on one flight, you can get credit for a flight review through Wings and have a permanent record of all the courses take and proficiency flights you fly. Insurance companies love that and some will give you special consideration on your insurance rates. And, if you ever have to visit with an FAA inspector for an alleged ‘mistake’ on your part, one of the first questions they have to ask is if you participate in the Wings program. The interview can go much more smoothly if you are able to say that you are enrolled in Wings and show them your Wings record.

I’m a Wings advocate but I am pragmatic enough to know that not everyone wants to participate. Whether you do or not is your choice but, do make an effort to be a competent, capable pilot and have some sort of personal continuous training program. You and the people who fly with you will be glad you do.

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About Rich Martindell

Instrument flight instructor (CFII), rated airline transport pilot (ATP), former military instructor pilot in F-4s and F-15s. Aircraft accident investigator and flight safety consultant. FAA Safety Team Lead Representative.
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