AOPA Access

Training tips and techniques

September 1, 1998

Every pilot is a student, whether you are a low-time student — say, with six hours under your belt, trying to learn landings — or a seasoned veteran flying the line with several dozen completed logbooks, trying to relearn landings in a Cessna 150. All good pilots are always learning and, therefore, are students. As an aerobatic and tailwheel instructor, I have had the pleasure of flying taildraggers with all types of pilots from beginning students to ATPs with thousands of hours. All flew the same — mostly uncoordinated. Seriously, the logbook hours made no difference whatsoever in this type of flying. AOPA's Taildragger Transition information packet is available to interested members by calling 800/USA-AOPA.

The following tips are offered in the hopes that you might be able to use one or more in your flight training or your general flying.

The AOPA Pilot Information Center

Call the AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, at 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672). Information is available on aircraft buying and selling, titles and liens, regulatory interpretations, FAA enforcement actions, medical issues, preventive maintenance, international flight operations, and flight training, among many other subjects.

  • While on downwind, take into consideration runway length and your piloting abilities. Pick a comfortable point on the runway to serve as the "go-around" point. If you are not on the runway when you reach that point, execute a go-around. It also makes a good initial aiming point for simulated forced-landing practice.
  • On short final in a retractable-gear airplane, if your instructor asks whether the wheels are down and locked, be able to answer with certainty — without looking at the indicator. This means that you have developed good gear-checking procedures. Extend the gear and immediately verify they are down and locked. "Touch the lights until they are all green" works well as a reminder.
  • Look at each flight in this manner: Every takeoff may lead to an abort and every approach may lead to a go-around. It will get you thinking about possible emergencies at low altitude.
  • Tape-record a flight-training session. You may learn a lot about your communication ability.
  • Because beginning pilots have a hard time judging roundout altitude and the sight picture, have your instructor take the controls at that point and fly the airplane down the runway at that altitude. Since you are not concentrating on flying, you can absorb that sight picture.
  • Instructors teaching crosswind landings can consider letting their student "have" one or two controls at a time. For instance, have them use the rudder only to maintain directional control while you land. Practice a few times, then switch. Since your student is not juggling all of the controls, he or she will start to see how each one factors into the crosswind landing and will learn more quickly.
  • On preflight inspections, pilots tend to concentrate on one area of the aircraft at a time. After completion, step back and look at the airplane. You'd be amazed at the simple things that can be overlooked, such as oil doors left open and tiedowns still tied.
  • The immediate-action items to accomplish in an emergency should be committed to memory; the others can be done by referring to a checklist. The worst time to study emergency procedures is when you have one in progress.

Instrument training

Every maneuver has at least one pitch and one bank instrument that is more appropriate than the others. Scan and interpret the appropriate instruments rather than just looking at all of the gauges.

  • Think of an ILS as flying down a funnel to the tip. The closer you get, the less tolerant the needles are of large control inputs. Moral: Keep the inputs small, but make them immediately.

Multiengine training

Remember "dead foot, dead engine." AOPA offers an information packet, "Multi vs. Single," that might also help your training.

  • When an engine fails on a conventional twin, thrust from the remaining engine is no longer applied to the center of gravity. This creates adverse yaw, which explains why an airplane rolls and yaws into the failed engine. Make sure you understand basic multiengine aerodynamics.
  • Remember that the purpose of a Vmc demonstration is not to get to Vmc; rather, to recognize loss of directional control as the airspeed deteriorates. (The Vmc demo is pretty useless if your twin gets into an unrecoverable situation.)

A multitude of informational booklets are available from AOPA on various aviation subjects, from Mountain Flying to Reducing the Cost of Flying. We also have more than 175 information packets that are available free to members just by calling the Pilot Information Center. The subjects address many areas of interest to students at any level. The new METAR/TAF weather format, ramp checks and what the pilot must provide to the FAA, carburetor ice and its effects, and VA benefits for the student pilot are a few examples.


Craig Brown joined AOPA in August 1997 after 10 years as a full-time flight instructor.