Most of us are not commercial pilots nor do we fly as our profession, so it would be very easy to immediately move to the next article in Air Facts thinking this article doesn’t apply to us. I would argue that flying like a professional does matter. Instead of thinking that professional flying is for those with lots of hours or ratings, I want to encourage you to approach your flying with the attitude of a professional. From Merriam-Webster: A professional is characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.
Here are three reasons why I suggest you think this way:
- The feeling of accomplishment. It is a proven fact that when we approach things thoughtfully, with purpose and a plan, we are much more likely to succeed. Isn’t that we all want? The feeling that comes from a flight well planned and conducted. I think we would all answer yes.
- The safety that will result. Flying is serious business and there are many ways to end up hurting ourselves or the airplanes we fly. If we’re more deliberate about our flying – as the pros are – we are much more likely to emerge from flights safely and that’s a requirement if we want to continue to enjoy this privilege, we all have.
- Our reputation and the example we set. Like it or not we’re being watched. Other pilots at the airports we visit and encounter en route, air traffic controllers, people standing at the airport fence and people that watch our ADS-B data are all aware of what we’re up to. Each of us have the opportunity to add to or subtract from our reputation as pilots on every flight. It is important to fly well whether we are being watched or not.
It is said that exhortation without education that leads to implementation, produces frustration. With that in mind I will share two things that will help us become better pilots:
Being aware about our skills today. We need to know where we are beginning our journey to have the best chance of getting to our desired destination. Improving a skill like flying is no different. How are we flying now? What are we most pleased about our skill level today? What do we think we need to improve? Have we had a close call recently? Is there an aviation concept that we don’t quite get? The answers to these questions are all clues that a good detective can use to assess today’s reality. By the way, we all have areas like this. Bob Gawler, a legendary CFI and DPE in my area that I greatly admire, told me once that when we stop learning (and improving) we should hang up our headset!
Becoming intentional about growing. There are so many ways to grow as a pilot. Perhaps this topic is best divided into activities we can do on our own and those we can do with others.
We can learn so much from credible sources like Air Facts, AOPA, Flying, and the FAA, along with many others. For those into podcasts I particularly like Max Trescott’s. All the FAA pubs including the textbooks that many of us used to prepare for the private pilot written and practical tests (e.g. Airplane Flying Handbook and Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge) are available as PDFs for no cost. Most airports have a bookshelf full of classics like Stick and Rudder. Anything by Richard Collins or Robert Buck is worth reading. Ask your flying pals for recommendations. So many resources, so little time! The nice part about the individual approach is the “what and when” are up to you and your schedule. For those of us who are limited by the winter months, we can “fly” while enjoying our favorite chair, a nice warm fire and a great flying book while the snow flies.
Learning in a group can be a powerful classroom. Consider signing up for FAA Wings and AOPA seminars held in numerous venues in your area, where other pilots come together to learn and discuss. If your flying club meets to discuss proficiency or “lessons learned,” join in. We can learn from each other. Consider a flight with a local CFI to work on an area that you identified above. Crosswind takeoff and landing practice anyone? Joining Civil Air Patrol is a great opportunity to learn flying techniques in a group setting and enjoy a great level of camaraderie as you serve your local community.
Whichever method(s) you choose, keep a journal of what you’re learning so you can periodically go back and review.
All of us can get better when we approach our flying with the attitude of a professional. Please be safe up there!