The Private Pilot check ride is the final glorious moment in our basic training. You have just finished your check ride, and the examiner hands you your Temporary Certificate. Wow! What a feeling!
Now I can take my family members or friends for a flight and demonstrate my newly acquired skills and knowledge. I am a Pilot!
Confession time: When the examiner handed my temporary certificate to me he had this to say: “I don’t think you will kill yourself, but you still have a lot to learn.” I can still hear him, even to this day. He could not have made a more profound statement or impacted me more with any other words.
He didn’t say, “Congratulations, you are now a pilot!” or even, “Nice job, keep up the good work.” It was…….. “You still have a lot to learn.”
He was right. I knew enough to pass the FAA written, and had enough skills to pass a check ride, but that was about all. I did take family members for a short ride around Monroeville, PA, one at a time in a Cessna 150, the only plane I was checked out in. Soon I got the club instructor and checked out in the Cessna 172. I had flown with an instructor in a Piper Warrior once, but that was the extent of my experiences in anything with more than 2 seats and more than 100 HP. The 172 was a wonderful airplane, at least to me. It was a full IFR airplane with an intercom. The club also had a Cherokee 140 and a Cherokee 180. The C 172 and the PA 28-180 were both IFR airplanes, while the Cessna 150 and Cherokee 140 were VFR airplanes. As soon as possible, I checked out in each aircraft. I learned more during each check out experience. Yes, there was still a lot to learn.
I quickly learned that if I was going to use aviation like I really wanted to, I would need an instrument rating. In those days you needed 250 hours as PIC before you could go for an instrument check ride, but you could build that required time during instrument training.
Not everyone goes on to an instrument rating or any other training. Even though I had joined AOPA while still working to become a private pilot, I had never heard of “The Wings Program.” When attending an AOPA safety seminar in Pittsburgh, I noticed that many pilots had small wings pinned to their hats or jackets. I asked about these, and learned that you could earn a phase of the “Wings” by attending a safety seminar, and getting 3 hours of dual instruction from an instructor and send in a card to get your wings.
That sounded like a good idea to me and I set out to earn as many “Wings” as possible. None of the instructors I knew at that time knew anything about the “Wings” either. So I found other instructors that did know and started working on my “Wings” credit. You could only earn one phase each year, and the flight maneuvers were the same each time, but at least I was learning something new each time.
The same examiner gave me my instrument check ride 2 years after my Private Pilot check ride, and this time he did tell me that I had learned a lot in that 2 years. Just as in the Private Pilot Certificate, the Instrument check ride was only the beginning and I knew enough to pass the written and the check ride. The real learning started then, and hasn’t stopped, and never will stop. Instrument flying is like that. You can never know enough or too much.
What does surprise me is the number of instructors, even today, that don’t know about the WINGS program. We all know that a Flight Review (formerly the BFR) is required every two years. Any phase of the WINGS will suffice as a Flight Review. You still have to attend a safety seminar and fly with an instructor, and now we can do our applications on line…..no mailing in cards and waiting. The best part is that we DO learn a lot. However, not all pilots are involved in the program, and not all pilots want to continue learning. Those are the pilots that WE learn from, after reading the NTSB reports on accidents they had. Sadly, the truth is that pilots that don’t continue to learn are the ones that have accidents.
Fred Gibbs, who also writes for the APA, and I have had discussions on how do we get to those pilots that never come to a safety program? Fred is the inventor of the “bring your wingman” idea. We all have pilot friends and some of them never come to a safety program. Maybe if we could invite them to come along, we would be doing our part for aviation safety. Remember, a good pilot is always learning! Look for your next aviation safety program presented by ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION. And, don’t forget to “bring your wingman.”