All too often pilots earn their wings, take flight and never look back. Then comes the letter from the FAA, an angry controller or a WAY-TOO-LONG flight review. Any of which could be avoided if the pilot had continued learning instead of assuming they knew everything there was to know or that they knew as much as they needed to.
Driving down a country road on the way to the airport one morning I was approaching a four-way stop, complete with a flashing light. I began to slow down and much to my amazement as I rolled to the stop line and looked right, an SUV zipped by from right to left at high speed. Strange I thought, maybe a distracted driver or someone that was unfamiliar with the area that simply missed the stop sign to the right, stop line on the road and the red flashing light above… No harm no foul, as I checked right and left before proceeding through the intersection. A couple of weeks later, I approached the same four-way stop and a very similar looking, based on my memory SUV flew through the stop sign again! My point here is not to provide a driving lesson, it is that the driver clearly believes they can continue through the intersection at full speed because they assume that everyone else will stop, see them and give way. Does this work? Apparently, the sides of the SUV weren’t caved in (yet), but is this the RIGHT thing to do? NO!
In Massachusetts once you earn your driver’s license, you can continue to operate a motor vehicle for years having to do no more than a basic renewal every few years, purely a paperwork formality. This allows drivers to develop bad habits that go unchanged or years unless an accident or a very close call makes the errant drivers reevaluate their practices… Well the same is true for pilots. Bad habits set in, which is why it is good to fly with an instructor more than once every two years for the FAA-required flight review activity.
Simply going up with a flight instructor may help a pilot’s crosswind techniques but it does little to help the gaps in their aeronautical knowledge. As a flight instructor I am an advocate of the theory that you don’t have to know everything, but whatever you know you don’t know, you better be able to find it in a reference, quickly! However, some things should be known, things such as airspace requirements, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR’s) and traffic pattern procedures just to name a few. The other thing is that you have to know what you don’t know…
An example is the tire pressure in the C-172S that I commonly fly for instruction. When the tire looks low, I pull out the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) and find the desired tire pressure then fill up the tires. I view memorizing this pressure as useless. I fly various models of aircraft and I’d much rather remember more important things such as maneuvering speeds or best glide speeds than tire pressures. The key though, is that I know exactly where to go to find the information that I don’t have memorized.
Every spring and every fall one of the things that I look forward to at KING Aviation-Mansfield is the new crop of ground school students. Typically, “Learn to Fly” Private/Sport Pilot ground schools are filled with presolo students looking to gain the required knowledge to complete their presolo written exam or students closing in on their checkrides that are looking to brush up for the oral examination with a designated pilot examiner.
Every now and then the course is filled out with already certificated pilots. These are my favorite ground school students, generally because they ask informed questions and can aide in the instructional course of class meetings. But, there is more than that. The idea that these individuals realize there is always learning that can occur illustrates that they are some of the smartest pilots out there. Rather than falling prey to the idea that they have a license, so they know everything they need to know, these individuals go out of their way to try and increase their aeronautical knowledge.
As a flight instructor I enjoy teaching ground schools because it is a reason to review certain topics and make sure that my knowledge level is sufficient to be able to teach the topics and answer the questions posed by the class. Similarly, I participate in the FAA WINGS program to make sure that I am consistently learning too.
Granted to a certificated pilot a lot of the content in a “Learn to Fly” ground school may seem like needless review, but the value is tremendous. You likely don’t realize what you have forgotten until you are reminded of the subject areas. This in addition to the normal effects of disuse and the forgetting that happens as a result of simply not exercising previously learned knowledge means that joining a “Learn to Fly” ground school offers a great deal to pilots of all levels; student through airline pilot, flight instructor through fighter pilot too!
Every ground school will cover proper traffic pattern entry procedures at non-towered airports. This is one of the easy ways to tell who is continuing to learn and who is rolling through the aviation STOP signs, so to say. When a pilot does the right thing, such as flying a 45-degree entry to the downwind, which is actually 45-degrees from the downwind, you know they know their stuff and understand the rules. Then there is the pilot that is the equivalent of the driver that blows through the stop sign. This pilot flies straight in to a LONG final approach to the runway causing aircraft in the traffic pattern to alter what they are doing so this VIP pilot can make their straight-in approach unbothered… Is this specifically against the rules? No, but do you want to be known as the airport jerk? I didn’t think so…
Similarly, there is NO pilot out there who wouldn’t benefit from a lesson on Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM). We all need practice with this, even FAA inspectors could benefit from an ADM course! As I’ve said many times, either you want to take a ground school course because you want to learn more or you don’t want to take a ground school because you don’t think you need to. If you fall into the latter group, then I recommend you find a course to join, there is NO way it will have a negative impact on your knowledge, you can only benefit…
-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9