One of my responsibilities as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Avemco Insurance Company is to review our claims reports each month. I’ve seen a trend of accidents recently, that can be traced back to pilots who are starting to fly again after long periods of inactivity due to the pandemic. Many pilots don’t realize how far their skills have deteriorated until it’s too late. I asked a friend of Avemco’s to share his story of how he is regaining and maintaining his proficiency while adding purpose to his flying. Jim Gorman is a 2,000-hour pilot and a Bonanza owner and advertising agency CEO.
READ THIS BEFORE YOUR NEXT FLIGHT
I’m not a CFI. Or a professional pilot. I’m just a guy who, like you, loves to fly. And possibly, like you, doesn’t do enough of it even when a pandemic hasn’t turned the world upside down. Perhaps my experience can provide some suggestions to help give you a smoother re-entry into the cockpit than I had.
Between a particularly nasty Michigan winter, an airplane that was down for refurbishment, and a coronavirus lockdown that lasted for-gosh-darn-ever, I hadn’t flown for more than six months when I climbed back into the plane this past June. I knew I wasn’t ready to fly an IFR approach to minimums, but I also wasn’t ready for the shock of just how rusty I had become. It was a beautiful day with light winds, so I certainly didn’t think I needed an instructor to remind me how to fly. And, frankly, I didn’t want anyone sitting so close to me anyway. There is no worse place to social distance than the cabin of a small plane. The ventilation is crummy, and you’re nose-to-nose with somebody 18” away.
Reality is a harsh teacher. I couldn’t remember how to program the GPS. I was confused about which HSI knob-controlled heading and which was course. I caught myself reaching for the mixture instead of the throttle. Those distractions caused me to miss a radio call and dial in the wrong heading. I was very happy to get back on the ground with a truly lousy landing that fortunately only damaged my pride and nothing else. I really didn’t think I’d lost my edge to the extent I had. That’s when I reversed my decision and called my CFI.
Suggestion #1: Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way.
Happily, it only took a couple hours with my CFI to regain my confidence and enough of my skills to feel safe again. I dealt with my concern about the virus by suggesting we both take a COVID-19 test before we flew together.
Suggestion #2: Use It or Lose It. Again.
It seems to me that the best way to regain your flying skills is by flying. A lot. But so much of why we fly has been impacted by the pandemic. Saturday hamburger flights are fewer and farther between because a lot of airport restaurants are closed. If you fly on business, Zoom calls have often replaced in-person visits. And many people don’t feel comfortable taking passengers for joy rides and possibly exposing either themselves or their passengers to the virus.
Suggestion #3: If You Don’t Have a Good Reason to Fly – Find One!
I found a good reason to fly and a worthwhile mission at the same time. Pilots N Paws is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteer pilots to transport rescued animals to fosters or forever homes, often from kill shelters or abusive situations. Some pilots fly their planes. Some rent. Depending on the length of the rescue, there could be a relay of two, three, or more pilots. These are all cross-country trips, challenging me with new airports to visit, new scenery, and new experiences. And all the money I spend on gas is tax deductible. I’ve flown almost 70 hours in three months. That’s more than I flew all last year before the pandemic. And given my aversion to sharing the cabin with another person these days, my passengers are all cute dogs or cats. I almost flew a pot-bellied pig, but the flight was canceled due to weather.
Suggestion #4: You Don’t Have to Fly to Become a Safer Pilot.
Of course, there are many ways to make yourself safer without being exposed to the possibility of getting sick. Bonanza & Baron Pilot Training offers a series of virtual clinics with optional in-aircraft training you can take whenever you feel comfortable flying with an instructor again–even if it’s not till some time in 2021. The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program is a great way to sharpen your skills while sitting in front of your computer. And a quick plug for Avemco, both Bonanza & Baron Pilot Training, and FAASTeam WINGS will qualify you for reduced insurance premiums through Avemco’s Safety Rewards Program.
Garmin and Avidyne both make trainer and simulator apps for their navigators so you can refamiliarize yourself with your advanced avionics while sitting at home on your iPad.
And there are tons of safety webinars and forums you can find when searching the Internet. For example, MzeroA, Gene Benson, noted speaker and safety advocate with over 15,000 hours, from his YouTube channel, and PilotSafety.org.
The important thing is to realize that flying a plane is not like riding a bicycle. It’s not going to all come flowing back to you the moment you climb into the left seat. And the consequences can be a lot more severe than a skinned knee. The reason most of us took up flying in the first place is that we thought it would be fun. And I think you’ll agree that flying is a lot more fun when you can keep the airplane…and yourself…all in one piece.
Jim Gorman is an instrument-rated commercial pilot with glider and seaplane ratings and more than 2,000 hours in the air. He flies a Beechcraft F33-A Bonanza and is the owner of Gorman360, Inc., an advertising agency. When not busy making sure his plane is in tip-top shape, he volunteers for Pilots N Paws and other humanitarian organizations.
Articles and news items provided by Avemco are not intended to provide technical or legal advice. Content is for general information and discussion only and is not a full analysis of the matters presented. The information provided may not be applicable in all situations, and readers should always seek specific advice from the FAA and/or appropriate technical and legal experts before taking any action with respect to any matters discussed herein.