Many times, when a new pilot receives their temporary certificate from the examiner, the examiner will say something like this: “Here is your license to learn.” When I received my temporary certificate, the examiner said, “You still have a lot to learn,” and he was right.
Of course, we all still have a lot to learn. I’m sure we all have heard the saying: “A good pilot is always learning.” This is not limited to aviation, but in just about everything we do. Graduation is only the beginning for any courses we take, but no other activity I have ever been involved in has been as intensely demanding as aviation.
Unfortunately, much of the continued learning is not what your instructor taught or wished that you had learned. Just as in driving automobiles, we learn from our friends or family. When taking driving lessons, we learned to come to a complete stop at every stop sign. After passing our driving test, we learn to almost stop, and then glide through the intersection, traffic permitting. Or, maybe we learn that it is OK to drive 5 mph over the posted speed limit. If you do either of those on your driving test, you’ll be back for another test later on!
The same things happen in aviation. We learn from others that the traffic pattern at a non-towered airport is “only a suggestion,” and that you can make straight-in approaches, traffic permitting. You may also learn to announce that you are “Lining up and waiting,” with traffic still on the runway at a non-towered airport. That is a procedure that is only used at Control Towered airports, issued by a controller. I don’t know any instructors that would teach these things. You have to learn these after passing your check ride.
A good pilot is always learning. Sometimes learning is a necessity. After getting my Private Pilot License, I quickly realized that in order to use aviation more efficiently I would need an Instrument Rating. That is when the real learning began. I found so many more things about VFR flying and the Air Traffic Control system that I never knew before. Then I had to learn to control the airplane by reference to instruments only. Navigation and knowing where you are at all times was much more important.
An instructor friend in Pittsburgh said that all pilots should be instrument rated. I disagreed with that. Who wants another regulation? And, many pilots just don’t need to fly IFR and are perfectly safe pilots. However, VFR into IFR conditions is still a deadly activity.
Advanced ratings are a great way to keep on learning. There is no doubt that getting that Instrument Rating will make you a better pilot, even if you never actually fly IFR. Another way to keep learning is to get other aircraft endorsements, such as getting that tailwheel endorsement, or a complex or high performance endorsement.
Flying clubs are great for keeping members current and for advanced learning. Join a flying club that has several airplanes and get checked out in each one of them. It was one of the best early learning experiences for me. The club had a Cessna 150, a Cessna 172, a Piper Cherokee 140, and a Cherokee 180. Almost all of my training had been in a Cessna 150, but the club insisted that I take a check ride with their approved instructor, and I learned more. Then getting checked out in the other planes was a lot of fun and also a great learning experience.
Let us not forget the WINGS program. This program has evolved over the years. Thirty years ago, you attended one safety seminar, and got 3 hours of dual instruction from a CFI. The 3 hours were always the same: 1 hour of take-off/landings, 1 hour of maneuvers, and 1 hour of simulated instrument flying. That would get you a phase of the WINGS, but you could only get one phase of the wings per year. Now you can do the seminar portion on line if you wish or attend a safety seminar. The flying part is mostly at the discretion of the instructor but will include important features to improve flying. You can do more than one WINGS per year, and each one resets the clock for your requirements to have a flight review, as required every two years. Don’t forget to check with your insurance company to see if belonging to the WINGS will get you lower insurance rates. That would be a good reward for being a pilot that is always learning.
The ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION is also involved in learning and safety. There is a safety seminar somewhere in the state each month. Check the website for locations, times, and subjects. As always, don’t forget to “Bring Your Wingman.”