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Build Experience in Aircraft Type and the Armchair


Radial Skybolt Builder: 220.45% completed
Supporting Member
Aug 21, 2006
Reaction score
South Jersey
Received this from this FAASTeam Safety Tip and thought it appropriate for a lot us builders putting more time in on our builds than our flying. I'm sure they wouldn't mind me posting it here.

FAASTeam Safety Tip
by Max Trescott, author and 2008 National CFI of the Year

Build Your Experience in Aircraft Type and in the Armchair

It’s a common myth that the performance level that pilots (and athletes) attain is determined by some innate inner talent. One study dispels this myth by showing that it’s not talent or strength that determines performance, but rather having the proper mindset and focus. Another study shows that the number of hours of practice is the primary factor that differentiates performance levels. A separate study of F-15 fighter pilots showed that fully 92.5 percent of the variability in their situational awareness scores was attributed to the total number of hours they flew in F-15s.

As a pilot gains experience and accumulates hundreds or thousands of flying hours, it’s easy to assume that this brings with it a cloak of immunity from accidents. Statistics reveal, however, that accidents are correlated more with the number of hours of experience a pilot has in a particular aircraft model and not with his or her total number of flight hours. Accidents tend to decrease after a pilot accumulates at least 100 hours of experience in the aircraft he or she is flying. Thus when learning to fly or transitioning into a new model, your goal should be to concentrate your flying hours in that model, while perhaps getting additional dual instruction, until you reach 100 hours of experience. If you fly relatively few hours per year, maximize your safety by concentrating those hours in just one aircraft model.

Another major category of experience that counts but may get overlooked is “armchair flying.” I often tell my clients to practice armchair flying when they have a few quiet moments at home. Why? I recall reading years ago about a study in which three groups of basketball players were tested on their ability to throw baskets at the beginning and the end of an experiment. Group 1 was told to do no practice between the tests, Group 2 was told to actively practice shooting baskets, and Group 3 was told to spend time imagining they were shooting baskets. The results? Group 2 improved their performance the most, but Group 3 improved almost as much.

A similar study showed that successful Olympic athletes did more mental practice in the final stages of their preparation than less successful competitors did. I tell my clients that, when they’re practicing at home in an armchair, they should do more than envision themselves flying a perfect approach to a perfect landing. They should also visualize deviations and the corrections they would make in response. For example, imagine that you notice you’ve blown to the left of the runway and then visualize using a sideslip by lowering the right wing and pushing on the left rudder until you return to the centerline. From the armchair, you can just as easily fly an entire instrument flight by visualizing getting the ATIS, briefing the approach, flying the procedure turn, adding power to level off after each descent, and so on.

Whether in the air or from the armchair, when you fly, concentrate your hours by building experience in a particular aircraft type and by mentally practicing flying from an armchair to accumulate even more experience. Both kinds of experience will make you a more proficient pilot.

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