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Training and Safety Tip: Until the job is done

Pop quiz: When does your flight end? At touchdown? When you clear the runway? When you complete the engine shutdown checklist? Or when you chock or tie down the airplane?

Photo by Mike Fizer.

R. A. “Bob” Hoover famously said to fly the airplane into the crash as far as possible during a forced landing. It was his way of saying that for maximum safety on a bad day, you should never stop being pilot in command, and always remain in control until the flight is fully over. I’d argue that this same mindset should apply to all our flights.

So back to our pop quiz: At which point does your flight end?

Actually, none of the above answers is correct, because there’s one piece left in motion as the engine makes those pinging cool-down noises and the gyros cease whirring—and that’s your mind. Once the airplane is secured, the flight still isn’t over, because your mind isn’t secured.

And to “secure” your mind, you need to complete your postflight debrief. It’s a key part of the learning process: reviewing what went well, considering what could have gone better, and planning what you will do differently next time. On dual flights, your CFI will guide you through this process, but on solo flights, you’ll need to self-debrief. And this isn’t just a student thing. After four decades of flying, I still do it after every flight.

So, before you leave the airport, while the flight is fresh in your mind, debrief it. Think about it. Review it. Log it. Me? I like to sit in my hangar, relax, and reflect on the flight. I use a flight-tracking program to review the flight’s track. On cross-country flights, I use a diary-style logbook to write a more detailed record of the flight beyond the short note that fits in a standard logbook block.

Only then, with your debrief complete and your mind at rest, has the last part stopped moving. The flight is over, and you can stop being the pilot in command. Until next time.

William E. Dubois

William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight School, Student
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