Do you get anxious in the cockpit? You aren’t alone. Even experienced pilots feel uncomfortable at times.
This past week I flew the Q400 again after 6 weeks off.
Have you ever come back to flying after 6 weeks off? It’s not pretty.
I was “behind the aircraft” most of the flight. I had tunnel vision and fixation. I also had a slightly uncomfortable feeling the whole time. To be clear, I was never unsafe, and I remembered about 90% of the procedures I was supposed to. Had the FAA been in the jump seat, I would have passed no problem.
But, I felt a little out of control and I wasn’t able to get far enough ahead of the aircraft to feel comfortable.
Have you guys ever had this feeling?
Actually, what I really want to know is: have you ever NOT had this feeling?
I have a sneaking suspicion some of you have probably never felt completely comfortable in an aircraft. I want to offer a couple of suggestions for anxious pilots.
Fly four days in a row.
That’s right, I want you to schedule some time and make it a priority to fly four days in a row.
By the end of the four days you will feel like a million bucks. You will finally understand what it feels like to be comfortable in the aircraft.
If you nickel-and-dime your aviation training you will feel perpetually anxious and overwhelmed.
I want you to know what it’s like to fell calm in the aircraft and flying multiple days in a row is the only way to capture that feeling. If you never feel comfortable in the aircraft, you probably won’t stick with aviation.
So, do yourself a favor and go fly as many days in a row as you can. You need to know what real proficiency feels like.
Where the anxiety comes from:
I argue it’s not your hour level that creates anxiety in the aircraft, it’s lack of currency.
You see, I have almost 400 hours in the Q400. I have flown over 500 hours in the past year, and I have over 2500 hours. I don’t have a ton of time, but I am a fairly experienced aviator.
But, I still got anxious on that flight after 6 weeks. I was rusty and slightly out of my league for that first and second flight.
I want to destroy the myth that your hour level makes you feel comfortable, it’s not.
It’s currency in the specific aircraft.
Don’t get me wrong, experience is important. But, all it does is reduce the amount of time it takes of feel comfortable after a break.
I also want to point out that it’s not whether you have flown, because I flew the King Air in that six-week period, it’s whether you have flown in that particular aircraft.
The NTSB lists the number of hours accident pilots have in the aircraft they crash. I noticed when high time pilots crash it is usually in aircraft they have very little time in.
So again, hour level doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a lot of experience and currency in that particular aircraft.
I also have another suggestion taken right from Army regulations: if you go more than 60 days without flying, your next flight needs to be with an instructor pilot.
The airlines let you go 90 days before you have to go back to the simulator, but I prefer the Army’s regulation:
60 days no flying=proficiency check.
Yeah, I know, this is expensive, but so is crashing an airplane.
You should also set a six month and yearly hour requirement. The Army mandates around 48-55 hours every 6 months. This is our minimum to maintain proficiency and I think it is spot on.
As a GA pilot you could probably get away with 30 hours every 6 months. If you fly anything less than 30 hours in 6 months, you can expect that anxiety to stick around for a long time.
Also, if you have gone more than 30 days you should consider your “risk level” to be substantially higher. Make sure you aren’t doing anything difficult on that first flight.
Go shake the rust off and then carry passengers.
No, this isn’t an FAA regulations, this is just Sarah’s opinion on how not to crash an aircraft.
In the Army we have to fill out a risk assessment sheet every flight. Lack of currency by the Pilot in Command always drives the risk level up. Sometimes the lack of currency gets so high we can’t do the flight and the PIC has to do a separate flight before we can do the mission.
If you can’t afford to fly that often, then your only option is to fly with an experienced co-pilot. It doesn’t have to be an instructor pilot either.
Flying with another pilot is a phenomenal way to alleviate stress and anxiety. Two is always better than one in the aircraft!
It is so helpful to have someone double-check your work and catch those radio calls you missed.
Let’s face it: even experienced aviators will get the willies flying alone when they have spent their career flying with a crew (like me). Over time that goes away as you gain more experience and stay current.
I hope these suggestions helped. Go put them to good use, but more importantly go fly often!
Let me know if flying multiple days in a row works for anyone out there (I know it will, but I want to hear from you)!
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