By Mike Bliss
One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of flying is that no two flights are ever the same. It is not only the destination and scenery that changes but there is the changing weather that requires constant attention. There are different kinds of airspace encountered, each having its own requirements and challenges. There are various means of navigation that must be used, even on a single flight. There is the matter of gaining experience in various makes and models of aircraft. These are only a few of the things that keep flying so interesting and enjoyable.
Of course, the level of enjoyment will depend on how prepared you are to handle these variables, especially when the unexpected happens. The primary method of preparation involves flight training, both initial and recurrent. It is important that the goal of your flight training is more concerned with making you a competent pilot than simply passing a checkride.
How do we do this? One of the most practical means is to give the student experience flying in the same conditions they will encounter while exercising the privileges of their pilot certificate. If training only takes place when there are clear skies and light winds, we are robbing the student of the real-world experiences they need to be the competent pilot they need to be.
One such example would be not to cancel a dual training flight because of crosswind conditions. The best possible experience we could give our students would be if they were exposed to crosswinds on dual flights rather than avoiding them. I very well remember my instructor calling me at home and insisting that I come to the airport because there were strong (but manageable) crosswinds, and I needed the experience. I learned how to handle crosswinds on that day and have had many opportunities since then to be thankful for that experience.
Likewise, for instrument students, the best experience is flying in actual instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). You might argue that you can shoot more practice approaches in the same timeframe when in visual meteorological conditions rather than in IMC, but there is no substitute for the confidence booster of breaking out of the clouds with the runway directly ahead. When IMC exists, that’s the time to get that valuable experience.
The same can be said of flying in both winter flying weather and the challenges of flying when the possibility of thunderstorms exists in the forecast. When facing these weather challenges, the most important thing you must do to make good decisions is to have a thorough understanding of the weather situation. You must look at the weather products yourself and not just listen to a briefer’s description. You need to have an overall understanding of the total weather picture before looking at reports and forecasts. Then you should compare the trends of reported weather to the forecast to determine the reliability of the forecasts.
The other thing you must always do is to make sure you have a way out of bad weather. You must know the direction of better weather, the nearest location of above freezing temperatures, etc. If you prepare yourself properly, you will be able to safely enjoy flying in a much wider variety of situations.
Finally, just because you have earned the pilot certificates and ratings, doesn’t mean you should stop honing your skills. Make it a habit to get with an instructor for an hour or two when conditions exist in which you have not had recent experience, or to practice maneuvers you haven’t practiced for a while, such as partial panel, emergency procedures, etc. Flying is much more enjoyable when you know your skills are up to the challenge.