The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has kept many of us pilots on the ground. The usual flying activity has been interrupted, and so has everyone’s routine. Let’s talk about what you can do to get rid of the dust that settled on your skills.
From the viewpoint of aeronautical decision making and the PAVE-model, you should realize that you might have gotten a bit rusty. Realizing this and knowing your limits is a professional attitude towards flying. A pilot’s attitude probably has the most influence on safety, when looking at overall competence. Sure, skills and knowledge are important. But your attitude determines if you take action, be it in the cockpit or for your recency. By the way, that’s what future commercial pilots learn in the new EASA subject of Area 100 KSA (knowledge, skills, attitude).
So now that we know it’s time to hone our skills, let’s get back in the air.
Shed off your rust your way
Think about how you would like to get going again. Maybe you are comfortable flying on your own, maybe you want to take an instructor along or possibly another pilot. This isn’t about legal currency, this is about doing whatever you feel is best to get your recency back.
Exercises to hone your skills
First of all, this is probably somewhat dependent on your personal socialization as a pilot. Generally, I would recommend exercises that you learned in your private pilot training. This is about recency and not about new skills, so get going with things you know or knew inside out. Your exercises might be totally different to mine, as I have learnt to fly in America and you have possibly somewhere else.
Secondly, make sure the setting is right. Take your time getting the plane ready, don’t be under pressure. Have a plan of what you are goito do on your flight.
Third, always make clearing turns, look for traffic, talk to flight information.
On every flight you will fly behind the power curve, on take-off, on landing, or maybe during a go-around. In the region of reversed command you should feel comfortable, knowing what’s going on. Pulling on the yoke slows the airplane down. To maintain altitude at a lower speed, more power is needed.
Slow down in increments, consciously aiming for 80 knots, 70 knots, 60 knots… when you need more power to slow down, that’s when know you entered slow flight. If you like, you can slow down to stall speed, with the stall horn constantly blaring. Focus on coordinated flight and make very shallow turns. After puttering around for a while the smooth air will suddenly change, as you’re hitting your own wakes. To recover at any time, reduce your angle of attack, by moving the yoke forward. Speed awareness and angle of attack awareness is key to safe flying.
Bonus: Become familiar with the term defined minimum maneuvering speed, DMMS (see video below). Calculate it for your airplane. Review your speeds for your ground reference maneuvers and landing patterns.
Rolls on a heading: Coordinated flight
Many pilots sometimes get lazy feet. Meaning, we forget about using the rudder during aileron inputs. Let’s remember adverse yaw. Adverse yaw happens because of your aileron down-deflection. There, the down-deflected aileron produces more lift and thus, more drag. As you roll to the left, the nose goes right (because the right aileron “pulls” the wing back), and vice versa.
Any aileron deflection should be accompanied by a rudder deflection, be it ever so slight. Even in straight-and-level flight during turbulence: If you don’t use rudder for coördination, you will add a pilot-induced yawing to your bumpy ride. You’re better than that.
Watch the video below and try it out in your airplane. Keep that nose on an imaginary point while establishing a bank.
I like to think of it as being an Ercoupe. That airplane has mechanically interconnected ailerons and rudder. Chances are you fly a different plane and the aileron-rudder-link must become natural with your feet. Be an Ercoupe.
The steep turn is another exercise that helps in getting back into the game. Try flying with smooth control inputs. First, establish the bank, then add back pressure.
If you unintentionally climb, use a bit more bank or release some back pressure. If you unintentionally descend, use a bit less bank or add some back pressure.
Do steep turns in succession to the left and right. During transition, when rolling on your target heading, do not let the nose come up. Release some back pressure during the roll into the other steep turn to avoid ballooning.
When you feel a bump after a steep turn, you’ve hit your own wake. Congrats!
Ground reference maneuvers: S-Turns / Turns around a point / Eights around pylons
The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (chapter 6) is a great ressource to get back into ground reference maneuvers.
The S-turn along a road can be a great exercise to practice your mantra: Be coördinated, be an Ercoupe! Also, in case of strong winds it can become challenging to adjust the bank angle… all the while you are aware of your airspeed (DMMS). For commercial pilots, this maneuver can be progressed to Lazy Eights at a higher altitude. By the way, watch this video about the Lazy Eight to learn the easiest way to fly it. If only I had known this during commercial training.
For turns around a point, begin at 1’000ft AGL. Adjust your bank to maintain an even circle. Divide your attention between the ground reference and your instruments.
When you are comfortable with that you can always progress further to the eights around pylons or, if you are familiar with commercial maneuvers, the eights on pylons at the pivotal altitude.
- Attitude. Realize it when you should hone your skills.
- Take it easy, take your time. Think about if it’s best to fly solo, with another pilot or an instructor.
- Fly maneuvers you know. It’s time for recency, not for new skills.
- Have fun! Do just a couple exercises per flight. The skills come back with each flight. No need to get a 10/10 from the start.