What are “quality” flight hours?

Soon after getting your flight certificates and ratings you will want to start building up flight time.  If flying is a hobby, getting quality flight time will not only be fun, but it will make you a safer pilot.  If being a professional pilot and flying for a living is your dream, logging quality time is not an option, it’s a necessity.
But, what is “quality flight time”?  Consider Silvia and Nelson, both have just finished their flight training and are anxious to start getting paid to fly in hopes of becoming airline pilots one day.
Nelson marches himself to the local airport and applies for a sight seeing pilot position.  He gets the job and is soon taking passengers on sight seeing tours in a Cessna 182 showing them the majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon and area around it.
Silvia, on the other hand, starts flight instructing at her local flight school and soon has a couple of private pilot students and an instrument student.
Nelson logs almost 600 hours his first year!  Silvia only logs 430 hours.  Who has the most fight time?  And, more important, who has the most “quality flight time”?
While Nelson may have more hours in his logbook, most, if not all, of that flight time is VFR (Visual Flight Rules) day time.  Nelson probably hasn’t flown in instrument conditions very much (conditions in which you have no reference to an outside horizon and you have to fly and navigate with reference to the airplane’s instruments only).  Nelson also has little night time in his logbook.
Silvia has less total time, but her pilot skills are as sharp as they’ll ever be – student pilots tend to ask tough questions, keep you on your toes, and really test your abilities as a pilot.  Instrument students (students working on their Instrument rating) have kept Silvia’s instrument skills razor sharp.  She’s also been able to log a decent amount of cross country time and night time.
The point is, as in other aspects of life, you should concentrate on Quality as much, if not more so, than Quantity.  Employers hiring pilots know (or should know) the difference between someone who’s logged a lot of VFR day time versus someone who’s been willing to stretch outside their comfort zones in order to keep learning, improve their piloting skills, and really grow as a pilot.
Some of the best lessons I’ve learned as a pilot have come from flight instructing private pilot students or flying as a ferry pilot.  These experiences are priceless, but it required a commitment to seek out opportunities that would require stepping outside my comfort zone.  As a result, I can often hold my own when talking to pilots with a lot more flight time than I, but without as many interesting experiences.
Now, don’t get me wrong, any time you get an opportunity to fly (even as a sight seeing pilot), take it!  VFR day time is still better than no time.  But, make sure you continue to learn and grow as a pilot by seeking out opportunities that stretch your boundaries.
Here are 6 ideas to do just that:
1. If you’re a CFII, take on a good balance of primary and advanced students
Primary students will keep you on your toes and, since they can’t fly yet, will allow you to demonstrate many of the maneuvers before they can do it themselves.  Being a CFI, in and of itself, is a great way to stay sharp as pilot, be sure to check out the FAA handbook for flight instructors on the FAA website (http://www.faa.gov)
2. Attend FAA Safety Seminars
In addition to getting free information to keep you safe and legal, these are great opportunities to network with pilots in your area.  You never know who you might meet.  To sign up for these FREE seminars, visit the Flight Safety website (http://www.faasafety.gov).
3. Join an organization and do some x/c flying
Many airports are home to flying clubs or other flying organizations that will offer you the opportunity to participate on fly-ins and other adventures.  A great way to meet other pilots and gain from their expertise.  Social Flight (http://www.socialflight.com) is a great site that will keep you updated about flying activities in your area. (Social Flite)
4. Participate in a race
There are several air races throughout the year.  Even if you don’t own an airplane, you could join a team and become a involved in a race as a supporting member.  The Air Race Classic (http://www.airraceclassic.org) is one example of a fun race that happens annually.
5. Get an additional endorsement or get checked out in a different aircraft
Flying as many types of airplanes as you can is a great way to gain an indescribable type of experience.  It helps you become more in touch with the machines that you operate as your body and senses start discerning all the different nuances of different aircraft.  For example, the lessons I learned when earning my tailwheel endorsement translated to making me a much better pilot in any airplane I get to fly.
6. Offer to ferry airplanes
When I was building up flight time, ferrying was the bets way to do it fast!  You really have to be on top of your game, since you will be flying unfamiliar airplanes whose history you don’t know much about.  You’ll be flying over unfamiliar terrain, into and out of unfamiliar airports, and it’s almost a given that you’ll run into un-forcasted weather or unplanned mechanical issues.  Visit PilotTricks.com to read about my own ferrying adventures.
In conclusion, make sure to keep you skills sharp, always look for opportunities to learn and, of course, stay safe!
For more ideas on building “quality” flight time, visit: http://www.pilottricks.com/when-it-comes-to-flight-time-is-quality-better-than-quantity

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