Good instrument skills--a must
If you could pick one piloting ability that ranks above all others in importance, which one would it be? Super-smooth landings might be up near the top because they're nice for the ego, but when it comes to keeping you alive and well-employed, I'd vote for outstanding instrument flying skills. Every phase of your aviation career can benefit from thorough learning, continual practice, and ongoing application of your IFR abilities.
Learning the basics in a slow trainer with one radio helped me to perfect my skills at a speed I could keep up with and saved me money as well. Later, when I was ready to handle a faster ship, I moved up to a Cessna 172, which was--and still is--one of the best instrument-training platforms available.
I spent many evening hours in a Frasca simulator flying holding patterns as well as the FAA's infamous "A" and "B" patterns. Fortunately, it cost a fraction of the aircraft's rental rate, allowing me to practice climbs, turns, and descents repeatedly until they became second nature. With those skills perfected, I could then divide my concentration among navigation tracking, turning, timing, and, yes, the extremely important skill of talking on the radio.
Pay close attention to the basics. They're the key to your future success and will be tested throughout your flying career.
Be sure your early training includes some type of simulator training, from a basic desktop model on up. One certainty in any professional pilot's working life is a proficiency check every six months; it is almost always done in a motion simulator. Indeed, some type-rating training on new generation aircraft is now accomplished solely in simulators; the pilots never experience a real airplane until they begin their first revenue flight.
As you move up the career ladder, maintaining your IFR proficiency will be an ongoing necessity. Pretend you've got a checkride looming and challenge yourself to keep up your instrument proficiency. Many an airline or corporate job has been lost for lack of a good sim ride.
Staying proficient is much easier than trying to remove the IFR rust once it has accumulated. The penalty for rusty instrument skills can be disastrous. Sharp IFR skills can take you to the top and keep you there throughout your flying career.
Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S. airline and author of Flight Guide for Success--Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot. Type-rated in the Boeing 757/767, MD-80, and Lockheed JetStar, she is an FAA aviation safety counselor who holds ATP and Gold Seal flight instructor certificates. Kahn is rated in gliders, seaplanes, and helicopters. Visit her Web site.