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Training and Safety Tip: Expand your comfort zone

In flight training, everything is new at first, but we grow more comfortable as we learn and become proficient.

AOPA Air Safety Institute
Photo by Mike Fizer.

It could be tempting to stay in our comfort zone, but doing so means there’s no opportunity to learn, grow, and be challenged. It’s also not safe to be stagnant in our abilities. It’s important to have personal minimums, but those minimums change the more experienced we become. As pilots, we need to keep learning in order to be proficient and safe. The key is to fly with a professional flight instructor or other experienced pilot when trying new maneuvers.

For example, primary students learn to take off and land in calm wind conditions, then slowly learn to do so in crosswinds. If we limit ourselves to only taking off and landing when the wind is calm, we won’t fly nearly as much as we’d like and we won’t be prepared for the inevitable time when we will be faced with unforecast winds that require landing in a crosswind. Establish your personal minimums based on your experience, and when you feel ready to expand upon those minimums, fly with a flight instructor. They can ensure safety of flight, provide guidance on how to handle crosswind landings, and help you develop your risk management skills.

With a mix of new and old aircraft flying, you may find yourself pushed out of your comfort zone with technology—in either direction. If you began your training using a glass panel and/or a tablet with an electronic flight bag, you may be uncomfortable with analog gauges and paper charts. Pilots who learn to fly without the use of a lot of—or any—technology will be uncomfortable relying on a tablet, and may find glass panels difficult to decipher. Striking a balance is important. Those using technology need to have backup in case of a failure, and those not using technology do need to familiarize themselves with what has rapidly become the norm in our world to be able to fly such aircraft.

Pilots transitioning to a new aircraft have much to learn, from the layout of flight controls and instruments to handling characteristics and aircraft capabilities. The only way to experience the excitement of moving up—to more capable or more complex aircraft—is to leave the comfort of the aircraft you learned to fly in. Keep in mind that your personal minimums for flying a new aircraft will likely be different than your minimums for flying an aircraft you’re proficient in. Flying with a flight instructor as you learn the new aircraft will provide the safety and instruction needed to be successful.

Life would be so boring if we never tried anything new. Whatever your particular aviation comfort zone is, challenge yourself to move outside of it. The opportunities to do so in aviation are endless, and that’s one of the reasons it is so much fun and rewarding.

ASI Staff
Kathleen Vasconcelos
Kathleen Vasconcelos is an instrument-rated flight instructor and a commercial pilot with multiengine and instrument ratings. She lives in New Hampshire.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight Instructor
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