By the time you read this, spring will have come to most of North America and all of us will be clogging the runways and taxiways at our local airports, trying to get airborne after a long, cold winter. And well make mistakes. Hopefully, those mistakes will be small, embarrassing ones, not the kind that bend sheet metal or fracture composites.
I dont know about you, but after even a couple of weeks between flights, Im not as sharp as I was the last time I pushed my airplane into its hangar. My cockpit flow isnt as good, Ill flub a few radio transmissions and I probably wont be as far ahead of the airplane as I should. I might forget to set the DG to the runway heading before liftoff, or fail to spin the trim wheel to its proper setting.
On the rare occasions when Ive gone a month or more between flights-whether for reasons of maintenance, weather and schedule conflicts, or life simply getting in the way-I realize I need a few hours to get back into my groove.
The same things probably true with you. Because aviating is a skill, like pitching a baseball or playing the guitar, any failure to practice means deterioration of that skill. Simply put, we wont be as good as we were when our last flight, season or concert ended.
The thing is, though, that we mere humans tend to find many ways to rationalize away any realization that we need to practice or even bone up on procedures. In many cases-my own, for instance-weve done the same things the same way for so long that we end up discarding any notion that our skills have deteriorated to the point that we might want to consider some additional training.
Instead, we untie the airplane, dig out a few bird nests, add a quart of oil, taxi out and launch. Thats not only a bad idea for the airplane, but it can be a terrible one for the pilot. If you think none of this really applies to you or your bird, take a look at the article on page 21 of this issue for some ideas on how you can make that first flight of spring a safer, more successful one than might otherwise be the case.
Before the first flight of spring, pay close attention to pre-flighting yourself and your airplane. Be sure you can handle that gusty crosswind, the changing weather and the increased traffic levels. Although the days are longer, theyre not that long, yet, and you may well need to brush up on your night landings if you want to carry passengers very far.
Ultimately, this is a good time to renew the relationship with your favorite instructor and go get some dual with him or her. Pick a narrow, crosswind runway for some landings. Knock out an IPC, pick up an easy endorsement or get some aerobatic training with the local acro guru.
Regardless of how you get back into your own groove, acknowledge that you probably need a little extra practice or training before too much longer. If pro pilots need it every six months, and if pro baseball players need it every year, what does that say about us amateurs?
And be careful when you do this. Youll still have to watch out for the other guy, who is probably rustier than you.