This post is inspired by “Big Pistons Forever”, a member of the AVCANADA forums. We should all, as pilots, strive to be the best and most professional we can be when dealing with our responsibilities as a pilot. Here are some tips that this poster shared that I would like to share here as well. I won’t go into great detail, but I will offer a few thoughts.
Each and every flight has a certain element of risk attached to it. Flight planning allows us to mitigate the risks and provide valuable feedback to assist with a “Go-No Go” decision.
Proper flight planning includes route planning, reviewing NOTAM’s, reviewing weather, determining weight and balance to ensure your aircraft is going to be operated within safe limits, and reviewing aircraft performance to ensure that a safe takeoff is possible.
Flight planning should be done before each and every flight. There are many tools from trusty paper charts to online planning software/apps available to pilots to make proper planning seamless.
Take the time to conduct a thorough pre-flight inspection of the aircraft you will be flying. Take the time to ensure the proper documents are onboard for the flight and that they are for the aircraft you are working with. Ensure that the cabin is in good shape and that there is nothing that will restrict the proper movement of the flight controls.
Outside of the aircraft, take the time to make sure that there are no cracks that require attention. Make sure that the control surfaces are free of contamination. On small aircraft, check the tires and brakes to make sure nothing will cause you any trouble. Check the propeller(s) for cracks and nicks that will affect performance. Most importantly, dip the fuel tanks to verify the amount of fuel onboard.
The anticipation of getting into the air makes it difficult to avoid complacency. However, make sure that you aren’t just going through the motions prior to going flying. Your life may depend on it.
You should adjust your speed to suit the conditions you are faced with when taxiing your aircraft. Follow the yellow line and pay attention to signage. Don’t assume you know where you’re going; especially at an unfamiliar airport. Slow down when making turns, speed up when on the straight sections and always make sure that you deflect controls to adjust for wind conditions on the taxiway. Slightly release pressure on the brakes when coming to a stop to avoid bouncing all over the place on the taxiway or when lining up on the runway.
Visibility is important when operating an aircraft around an airport. Position lighting should be switched on when electrical power is applied. Your rotating beacon should be activated prior to engine start. Use your strobe lights when crossing runways or entering the active. Finally, activate your landing lights when cleared for takeoff or starting your takeoff roll at uncontrolled airports. Turn them off after landing and taxiing in.
The run-up provides the pilot with important information about the performance of the aircraft. Pick an appropriate spot (run-up bay if available) to perform the run-up. The run-up should ideally be performed with the aircraft facing into the wind. However, if wind speeds are not a factor, consideration should be given to conducting the run-up in a position that avoids prop wash striking nearby aircraft.
Follow the checklist, it is there for a reason. The process on the checklist is the most effective way to conduct the run-up. Take care when checking each item on the checklist. For example, when checking the mixture cutoff, slowly lean the fuel and allow for adjustments rather than just yanking the knob right out to cutoff. When the engine begins to run a little bit rough, slowly push the knob back to full rich.
Perform a formal pre-takeoff brief prior to each takeoff. Cover off published departure or noise abatement procedures and immediate action drills in the event of engine difficulties or failure. Whether you have passengers or not, establishing the routine will allow the necessary information to flow smoothly when you do have them.
Don’t takeoff until you and your aircraft are ready to go. Ensure that the aircraft is lined up on the centerline and keep it there throughout the takeoff roll. Advance the throttle slowly and steadily. Verify that all of the gauges are in the green once full power has been applied. Rotate the aircraft at the published speeds. The aircraft should leave the ground in a nose-up attitude and not all wheels should leave the ground at the same time.
Work to achieve a liftoff that allows you to hold a consistent pitch attitude at the briefed speed. Track the centerline after takeoff until you are moving to your next phase of the circuit or clearing it. Climb out at an airspeed that allows for effective cooling of the engine. Finally, look around you! Check to make sure that you are not in conflict with any other traffic. Particularly at an uncontrolled airport.
Allow the aircraft to accelerate to cruise speed before setting the cruise power and trim when transitioning from climb to cruise. Once your cruise speed is established, then you can start working with the flight planning materials to ensure a smooth flight.
Keep your cockpit neat and tidy. Do not leave items lying around and ensure that everything is within reach of you so that you can get to it when you need it.
Keep an eye on your grounds speed. Small changes in wind can have a significant impact on your flight time and fuel consumption. Consider changes in altitude to establish efficient speeds that will allow you to reach your destination with appropriate fuel quantities. Flight navigation software/apps and GPS are fantastic tools to assist us with navigation. However, I believe it is important to know how to use and to keep paper charts available should technology fail us.
Carry water and snacks with you to ensure that you are alert and have the ability to make efficient flight planning decisions while en-route to your destination.
Try to plan your descent for a maximum of 500 feet/min. Do this by determining how many feet you have to descend to circuit altitude, double that number and then start your descent when that number equals the amount of time you have left to your destination. For example, if you have 10,000 feet to descend, start your descent 20 minutes out. The most efficient way to descend is to remain at cruise RPM and trim for 500 feet/min descent.
Plan your route to minimize the track miles en route to your destination. Make sure you pay attention to the direction of controllers or know the procedures to join the circuit at your destination to allow for a safe landing.
Use proper radio procedures while you are out flying. It allows you to sound confident and professional while you’re out flying. Think about what you want to say before saying it. Practice saying it out loud or in your head if you have to so that you know what you’re going to say. After you change frequencies, pause for a few seconds to make sure that nobody else is talking.
I hope these tips can help us all become better pilots. As I said before, these words and the framework for the post were inspired by a member of another site. But I think we can all learn from these and applying them in our daily flying lives can only make us better and more informed.
Thank you for reading!