Essential Skills Missed in Pilot Training!

Using the ACS testing standard as a training manual leads to many missed opportunities in primary pilot training. Essential skills like fueling or tying down a plane are critical to safety but often ignored in the “rush for the rating.” How exactly can you be a pilot if you don’t know how to add the “blue juice” that makes a plane go or secure the aircraft after a flight? Here are 10 ideas developed by the SAFE Faculty Lounge – please add your comments below!

"The First 50 Hours" by Budd Davisson offers a syllalbus on how to safely expand your skills as a new pilot; the "Missing Manual!"

1) Every pilot needs to know how to fuel a plane and also correctly operate a self-serve fuel pump – this is a safety-of-flight issue! But since many pilots learn at larger academies, there is often no opportunity to gain this essential skill. Fly to a local non-tower field and work with the local line crew to learn this skill (tips and donuts accepted!) Flying with friends at a local club or EAA chapter is a great method to learn skills like this (and also experience some different planes!)

2) Every pilot should be able to tie down an aircraft securely (and apply the chocks). The basic knots are simple, and most super-fun fly-outs (like SnF, OSH) require this skill. Once you “leave home” as a pilot this is usually *your* job.

3) Taking off and landing on real grass runways (dual first please) is an exciting and skill-expanding experience. Suddenly a whole world of new airports is available for learning and exploration. And every new experience as a pilot improves all your other flying and makes a safer pilot. Remember, survivable emergency off-field landings require these skills with obstacles, terrain and surface conditions. Grass fields are also the first step toward a tailwheel signoff or a seaplane rating.

4) Grab a competent CFI and build skill with crosswinds and wind gusts. Every pilot should be able to comfortably handle a 10K crosswind and most initial training never gets this far. Every pilot will experience this as soon as they are “out in the world” – guaranteed. And 60% of accidents happen here so better wind skills are required immediately.

5) If you learned at a tower field, it is necessary to build your non-tower chops. If you are only comfortable with unicom, go practice in a Delta until you are comfortable. We are all victims of our initial training and it limits our capabilities for safe flight in the larger world. Master flight following and get comfortable with ATC services for safety.

6) Keep building the skills above by working up to a busy airport in Class C or B airspace. Taking an experienced friend or knowledgable CFI is a good idea to make this a fun “learning experience” (not terror). Many pilots never even fly in these airspaces. Until a pilot develops the skills and confidence to handle busy airspace with traffic and ATC, they are handicapped as a pilot. Pretty quickly, the rapid pace and busy comm. become second nature. This is a critical step toward an instrument rating and allows access to more airports safely and comfortably.

7) Master stalls with ballistic recovery (no power) straight ahead and turning. You will have to find a CFI who is comfortable with this area of flight, but once you see how easy recovery is (unload) a lot of fear melts away and all your flying will improve dramatically with the confidence at the edges of the envelope.

8) Following on the above, practice dead stick landings (no power) from various points in the traffic pattern – you should always be able to get back safely from the pattern (and in emergencies, just figure out how to get to your custom “pattern.”) This used to be considered “essential knowledge” in every basic flying guide but is rare in pilots today. Your energy management will improve dramatically (as will all your flying). Some training in a glider or tailwheel aircraft will help these same skills; look what happened to “Flight Chops” when he discovered tail wheel.

9) Fine-tune your pitch and power management so you can minimize pitch and power changes transitioning from climb to cruise to descent. Study and memorize all the standard configurations and “know your numbers.” Aim for greater precision in all your flying. All smooth flying is a series of increasingly smaller corrections to the desired performance.

10) Fly in some “Ugly VFR” that would be “personally unacceptable” weather so you can calibrate how lousy 1sm really is to fly in. (Do this safely with an IFR current CFI and IFR-legal plane) Then bore some holes in real clouds on a clearance without a hood and see what real clouds look like. It is truly valuable to experience real “VFR into IMC.”  Currency with real cloud flying will prevent panic and save your life.  Local ATC can usually approve block airspace for maneuvering.

Finally, put all these skills together, flying with flight following to a field >50nm away. Fuel and tie down the plane, and learn how to borrow the crew car. Maybe get some IFR on the way back home and buy lunch for your CFI. Thank this important person for showing you all the diverse and fun ways to use aviation and to continue learning. Pilot certification is just the beginning, we learn every day in aviation. Fly safe out there (and often!)

Thanks to all the participants in the SAFE Faculty Lounge for the ideas in this blog. If you are a reader here check out this (tightly curated) FB group.

Join SAFE and get great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight!) Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.

%d bloggers like this: