July 2014- I have one student who uses his plane to go from Palm Beach to Marsh Harbor every other week; another who goes to Asheville N.C., once a month or so. These owner pilots can certainly get there and get back—as long as everything goes normally. My role as a flight instructor is to make sure they can handle things when the flight doesn't go off as planned.
At the Gathering at Waupaca last July I showed a safety video about a pilot who made a mistake that resulted in a crash and caused a fatality. The pilot survived, and told his story. It was sad, but the story serves to emphasize the potential magnitude of even the smallest mistake while flying an airplane.
Practical Test Standard
In the commercial world, we take a checkride every six months. Part of that is to get us to practice things we don't normally do every day, like steep turns; and part of that is to see if we have developed any bad habits that are potentially dangerous.
There is good guidance for this in the form of an 8410 checklist. It specifies a series of maneuvers to demonstrate command of aircraft handling, basic stick-and-rudder skills, as well as instrument procedures.
Some of the instrument work is right out of the Practical Test Standard (PTS). In fact, a few years back, the FAA reissued the PTS and stated that for the purposes of an instrument proficiency check (IPC), the procedures on the checklist were not optional, they were required.
For example, even though you may never fly a circle-to-land approach, in order to get a legitimate IPC sign-off, you would have to demonstrate one. This is why you can't get an IPC in most simulators anymore, because they aren't approved for circle-to-land procedures.
If you were to fly with me, a typical training session would look something like this:
45-degree left and right turns
Minimum controllable airspeed, clean and dirty
Clean stall and dirty stall
Landings, with and without flaps
Simulated engine failure
One precision and two nonprecision approaches (one of which features a missed approach, another would feature a circle-to-land)
Intersection and VOR holds
Another thing I like to throw into the mix is equipment failures. If you're flying a glass panel plane, try flying it black tube—on the standby gyro. In a conventional steam gauge equipped aircraft, try flying an approach partial panel. If we're doing this in a multi-engine airplane, we would do some single engine work at altitude, a single engine approach, and a simulated engine failure on departure somewhere.
I would expect you to be able to fly these maneuvers to the criteria specified in the PTS for the rating that you hold. The whole point of my approach is to get the student to think about what they are going to do when things don't go the way they planned.
There is a lot of published material on the subject of aeronautical decision making. The "I'm Safe" checklist and the PAVE checklist are just a few examples. Being mentally prepared and physically prepared to fly is just as important as having the training and the skills.
This is an area where owner pilots don't always do well. The NTSB reports bear that out. Flying aircraft with known mechanical defects, flying into weather they are not rated for, and exceeding the aircraft limitations on purpose are all common themes in the NTSB accident report database.
I can tell you that from time to time I get a text or a voicemail that says something like, "I shot the approach into Savannah and it was below minimums, so I missed and went to Beaufort. I had my whole family on board and all I could hear was your voice saying, 'Fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the plane.' THANK YOU!"
It's not much, but at least I know that student understands the value of being well trained, and I'm sure I'll see him again.
Make the most of your flight training time. Tell your instructor to push you—hard. Go fly approaches you are unfamiliar with. Go fly at night. Go get some actual IFR.
Renters have insurance requirements for checking out in a rental aircraft every 90 days or so, and they have the flight school or FBO to stop them from going out flying when they probably shouldn't.
As a Piper owner you'll need to be self-motivated about training, and monitor yourself. Take the time to be well trained and most of all, let's be safe out there.
"No Greater Burden: Surviving an Aircraft Accident"
Pilot Safety, Risk Assessment and Checklists