Skilled airmen are those men and women who are especially proficient at handling their aircraft on the ground and in the air. They understand the capabilities of their aircraft. They stay within their own limitations, as well as those of the aircraft they are flying. Their proficiency comes from their understanding of aircraft performance, careful planning of flights, and constant vigilance at their aircraft’s controls. As good airmen, they understand the concept of airmanship. What follows are some basic tips that make them what they are.
Know your airplane, and know its flight performance parameters. Understand your aircraft’s flight performance charts, and check them every time you fly. Know the layout of your airplane to such a degree that you can reach for any control, switch, or knob, without even looking at it. Ensure that your aircraft’s windows are clean before any flight. Don’t obstruct your view outside: charts, plotters, navigation rulers, writing utensils, handheld electronic devices, airport directories, sunglasses cases, etc., don’t belong in your line-of-sight. If the seat next to you is vacant, fasten its seatbelt to prevent the seatbelt buckle from hitting you if you encounter severe turbulence.
Wear sunglasses on bright days. If left unprotected, prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause long-term damage to the eye. Eyestrain can also accelerate the onset of fatigue, tiring you for the most critical part of your flight, (i.e. the landing), as well as sometimes provoking headaches. (A migraine is not what any pilot needs when setting up for final approach after a long cross-country flight.)
Plan your flight for a time when other air traffic is minimal. When airborne, ensure that you’re flying at the correct altitude for the heading that you’re on. When flying cross-country, maintain your planned route to enhance your chances of being found by Search and Rescue (SAR) should you happen to be involved in an accident.
If you’re flying VFR, stay clear of clouds. If you’re flying IFR in VFR conditions, be aware that VFR traffic may be flying at your altitude.
Before starting a turn, always check the airspace around you. If flying a high-wing, lift each wing prior to banking to ensure the wings aren’t obstructing your view of another aircraft, especially one in the direction towards which you’re turning. If climbing or descending, do a couple of clearing turns to check that your intended flight path is clear of other aircraft.
Always keep a lookout for other aircraft in your airspace. Scan the sky regularly. If you see another airplane, keep track of its movement, but don’t forget to remain vigilant for other airplanes in your vicinity. If you have passengers, give them something to do: task them with looking for other airplanes in the sky.
Listen to radio calls and take note of position reports from other aircraft. Report your own position accurately, especially when closing in on other airports, regardless of whether it’s your intention to land or simply overfly. When VFR, use Flight Following (i.e. en route radar surveillance service) whenever possible.
If you’ve accepted an ATC clearance, you must follow it. If you can’t follow it, inform ATC and ask for other instructions. Don’t acknowledge an instruction you haven’t fully understood. If asked by ATC to report while overflying a specific point, call at that precise point, not five miles to either side of it.
When arriving within the airspace of your destination airport, be especially wary when joining the circuit. Know airport details well in advance of your arrival, such as circuit height and direction, radio frequencies, and runway orientations. Keep a careful watch for other aircraft when turning for final approach. And, make sure you’ve arrived at your destination with plenty of fuel, (and the legally required amount), to spare.
Close your flight plan after you’ve landed, not before. Keep your airplane well maintained, for each and every flight.