So I just got home from my first deployment as a pilot, and it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t necessarily what I thought it’d be like, in a good way, so I ended up learning a ton of stuff. After the three-year-long process of training and getting qualified in the MC-130J, it was enormously relieving to finally do my job for real and not for training. As many of you know, and while it is imperative to progression, training can get real old, real quick if it’s all you do. While reflecting on this aspect, I remembered why training is so important: you train constantly for that one time in your flying when it really matters.
While military pilots train for a slightly different set of flying than any civilian pilot, the requirement for training is still there. We all train for emergencies, and normal operations, alike. If you’re instrument rated, you do practice approaches (down to minimums, I hope) for that one time you’re flying cross-country and your destination is socked in. You practice crosswind landings, again, for that time your destination only has one runway with a crazy direct crosswind. And of course, you practice emergency procedures for that time where your engine(s) fail and you become a glider. The point of practicing and training until your eyes bleed is so that if you need to use those skills, it’s a virtual non-event. In some situations, things should be so instinctual that when it’s over you question how all of it happened so automatically; that you didn’t even have to think about it. Events such as stalls, engine failures, pitch and power changes, and for those that fly multiengine aircraft, engine-out landings/go-arounds are some of these more-or-less automatic reactions. Many pilots have the mentality of “It could never happen to me,” but I promise it can. All it takes is the slightest inattention to your flight regime before your airspeed bleeds off and you’re hearing the stall horn. Or you’re cruising back home, but you get bad gas at a tiny FBO in the middle of nowhere, and then all of a sudden your engine just stops. Those reactions need to be 100% automatic, so that your situational awareness can handle additional things to get you back on the ground safely.
Obviously, it’s essential to practice all of these things in the airplane so you know what your hands and feet have to do in order to live and fly another day. But backing that up and providing a foundation for those physical skills, should be knowledge: knowledge of your aircraft systems, capabilities, and limits; what the law allows for; what is expected of you from those on the ground and air; and so many other things. Constant study helps to build this foundation. You will rarely have time to “stop” a situation so you can look up a regulation, a procedure, or a limit while you have a handful of airplane, while trying to navigate, while trying to talk to ATC, and maybe while trying to handle scared passengers too.
The more you take training seriously, the better things go when you’re doing it for real. And don’t stop at the easy stuff. Constantly challenge yourself to see where you’re own personal limits are. Don’t just simulate an engine failure in the traffic pattern; fail it in the middle of nowhere so you have set yourself up on a highway, road, or field. Limit how much altitude you have to lose when you practice stalls, and see how little you can lose before you’re recovered and climbing again. Don’t just practice 5-10 knot crosswinds. Go up when it’s 20 gusting 30, ninety degrees off. Getting outside of the comfort zone now, when you can handle it, makes the comfort zone during the real deal seem a little closer.
-Fly Safe, BRomanUSAF