Stop Doing What You Do So Well!

Are you a creature of habit when it comes to flying practice? Maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Anyone who’s seen the inside of a gym can tell you: those with toned arms always have a weight in their hands, and those with killer legs are always squatting, extending, pressing, etc.

And, it makes sense: How else did they get that way if it wasn’t for all that hard work?

But those solid arms are often held up by chicken legs, and those award-worthy stumps are often supporting T-Rex-like upper torsos.

The trouble is, we tend to favor what works for us, whether in the gym or in the cockpit.

If you’re like many pilots, you practice, by instinct, what you already do pretty well. If you’re practicing soft field take-offs all the time, I’ll bet I could rely on you to get us out of the muddy grass. Or, if you’re practicing rapid-fire short approaches until the tower seems annoyed at the repeated request, I’ll bet you’re me.

But what don’t you do well? Chances are, it’s what you practice least. After all, what fun is practice that humbles us, or makes us nervous?
I’ll be honest: One weak link in my aviator skill set is navigation into unfamiliar airports. It’s not that I inherently fear the unknown; it’s just that I prefer to over plan my virgin approaches. I’ll check the charts, check the airport facilities directory (A/FD), ask other pilots, and I’ll even pull up an aerial map on Google—all because I want to know, without question, what I’m getting myself into. (And heaven forbid, when I get there the wind is favoring the other runway!)

In theory, what we see on VFR sectional and terminal charts should be all we need to safely land at an unfamiliar field. At a minimum, the text portion of each airport chart listing shows:

  • The airport name (SCARY FIELD) and identifier (BAD),
  • The airport elevation (666 ft.),
  • The lighting situation (*L – part-time lighting, see A/FD for details),
  • The longest runway length (2600 ft.), and
  • The common traffic advisory frequency, or CTAF (122.7).

We don’t see the traffic pattern altitude, but we can figure that out by calling in on the CTAF, or just assuming it’s a standard 1,000 feet above the field elevation. (We also don’t see information about Internet access at the field, and there’s really no excuse for that, in my ever-humble opinion. Why would I ever land at a field that offers no WiFi if I still had gas in the tanks?)
For me, the information printed on charts is about as useful as a controller who offers progressive taxi instructions by saying, “go that way.” But I need to get over this.

So what’s the one thing I never practice? I never practice flying into random airports, just to force myself to “see” the approach from the perspective of a Third World VFR chart and not a Google map.

And, really, it’s an easy enough thing to do. I live within spitting distance of a dozen or more airports that would each be happy to host me, and I’m sure at least some of them offer WiFi. So, I promise here and now, I will practice this.

What do you promise to practice?

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