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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to take it to a new level this year

Hello world! The holiday hiatus is over at Keyboard & Rudder, and it's time for the new weekly posts to start rolling. Here's hoping your year is off to a great start!

As a side note before we begin, I spent the time away from the blog doing what many of you probably did: with family, having a big dinner and opening gifts. However, l've also been absorbed in writing a book; a project that has now become so large it will probably end up as two books. To that end, I've been reading piles of books and scientific papers on learning and expertise, taking a free online course called "Learning How to Learn" through Coursera, and using some of the material I've been poring over to use myself as a guinea pig and see if the research actually works.

It has taken up a lot of my writing time and energy, but I think it will lead to an exciting start to the year's posts. The first portion of the year will cover a large amount of material on how to get started learning to fly and how to make the process more effective and efficient (meaning cheaper) for you.

Since the beginning of the new year also brings along resolutions to break, let's begin with some suggestions on easy things to do (or do more of) throughout the year, broken down by pilot level. Pick and choose as many or as few as you like, and keep this year rolling strong!

All levels (including non-pilot, just curious, or haven't started yet)

Learn to use a flight simulator (Microsoft Flight Simulator X, X-Plane, or something similar). There are a lot of people who say that flight simulators don't teach you about flying. They are wrong. I could write a book about how much you can learn from simming—in fact, I'm writing just that book right now.

Read Fate Is the Hunter: A Pilot's Memoir. The best collection of one person's flying stories ever written.

Read North Star over My Shoulder: A Flying Life. Almost tied with Fate is the Hunter for best aviation writing ever.

Student pilot

Read Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying. It's never too early to read the book that's so good this blog is named after it!

Sign up for the FAA's free WINGS program. If you request it, they will email you when a pilot seminar is coming to your area. You can earn a real set of wings to pin to your lapel by completing different topics in different phases, and your private pilot checkride earns you them all at once! (I got a gold set of Master wings myself when I completed my ATP checkride.)

Two excellent, free resources are the weekly pilot tips email from and Tom Turner's Flight Lessons Weekly. I am working on a short weekly email as well (details to come soon).

After a lesson, review what you've done by doing it in a flight simulator. Combine the sim with the Airplane Flying Handbook section covering what your lesson was about. If you really want to make fast (meaning cheaper) progress, follow along with the book Microsoft Flight Simulator X For Pilots Real World Training, which is the best book on the market (until mine gets done!) for blending the sim and the real worlds.

Private pilot

Re-read Stick and Rudder.

Solidify a "maneuver of the month". Pick something that you had to do for your checkride and practice it whenever you go up until you can meet double the standards you had to meet for your checkride.

Add a rating or different type of flying machine like a glider. I'm planning to get a seaplane rating this fall. I will never use it, as there are no seaplane bases in the state, but it is something that will get me away from the routine flying environment I spend every day in and make me stretch my skills. That last part alone makes it worth it, even if I never touch anything on floats again. Do something that makes you stretch your skills.

Go somewhere you haven't been.

Spend 30 minutes a week memorizing the boldfaced items in Section 3 of your POH. Most pilots make it all the way through their checkride without ever finding out that the bold items in the emergency section are supposed to be done from memory before even reaching for the POH!

Volunteer with Pilots & Paws, Wings of Hope, etc. There are dozens and dozens of organizations that would love your help, and you get to fly for a cause! Fortunately, to make it easy to find the one that is right for you, the Volunteer Pilots Network has compiled a list of all of these organizations.

Instrument pilot


Spend 90 minutes a week (just a half-hour three times a week) reading the Instrument Procedures Handbook. You can download it for free from the FAA's website or buy a printed copy on Amazon.

Once you've finished the Instrument Procedures Handbook, use those 90 minutes to make your way through 8260.3B - United States Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS). It's dry and technical, but you'll become a better instrument pilot by making it through it. Your instrument training taught you how to fly instrument approaches. The TERPS manual teaches you why those approaches are the way they are.

Use the sim to practice two approaches per week. Over the course of a year, that adds up to over 100 practice approaches! That's almost as many instrument approaches as I fly in a year (although if I'm shooting an instrument approach, it's because we're in actual IMC that day), but it costs you nothing.

Don't just shoot random approaches, however. Pick two different kinds of approaches. Do one of them several times over several sessions, and do a new one every time, too. In other words, do something like this:

And so on.

Pick an ILS that has a DME arc into it, as that will really keep your scan moving. If you use a rotating schedule like the one above, you'll end up doing more ILS approaches than anything else. There are two good reasons for this. First, the ILS approach is the one you're most likely to encounter in real life. Second, the ILS approach is one of those things that is easy to understand, but hard to master.

In the near future, I'll devote an entire post to what makes a good practice approach, how that weird-looking interleaved schedule works, and why it looks like that.

Commercial pilot

Re-read Stick and Rudder. Seriously. I re-read this book every even-numbered year, and I still learn something new about flying every time I go through it.

Volunteer with Pilots & Paws, Angel Flight, etc. or any of the dozens of other worthwhile organizations.

Teach yourself something new. (Especially if you're planning to become a CFI.) Don't just read it, learn it! Next week's post goes into learning how to learn, so you won't want to miss that one.

You had to learn how to do chandelles and lazy eights for your checkride. Use the Airplane Flying Handbook (free from the FAA or buy a printed copy on Amazon) and break down those maneuvers into their smaller components. Focus on getting each of those smaller components absolutely perfect and you'll understand why you had to learn them instead of just mechanically performing them.

An example of something you can teach yourself is a concept that most pilots don't understand even at the commercial level: what manifold pressure actually is. Research it until you understand it (it's the opposite of what many pilots think it is), then explain it to someone else.

If you're planning to go to the airlines, absolutely read The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual. I wish I had known about this book before I started ground school at my airline.


By this point, you already know what skills you need to improve (because everyone has something they could do better). Figure out what it is, make a goal to improve it, and achieve it.

However, the biggest thing you can do at this level is to give back to the aviation community. Mentor student pilots, talk to children about flying to get them excited about aviation and how they can become pilots themselves, answer questions on forums (and not just the airline pilot forums where everyone complains about how bad their company is), volunteer to take kids on Young Eagles flights.

The most important thing you can do with expertise is to share it, and if you've reached the ATP level, you probably have a passion for aviation that needs to be shared with others.

Next week, I'll get into more details about "Learning How to Learn", which is an excellent class that costs you nothing that may help you throughout this year and beyond. See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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