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When do you lose the ability to fly your aircraft?

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When do you lose the ability to fly your aircraft?

Old 20th Mar 2022, 20:14
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When do you lose the ability to fly your aircraft?

For one reason or another I find that my flying hours have dropped to very few over the last 2 years. What with covid lock downs, airfields being slow to re-awaken, fighting the neighbours from hell and moving house my logbook shows that last time I committed aviation was in September 2021 (1 hour) and the time before that was last April (3/4 hour). Before that I did my biennial flight with an instructor in November 2020 on the day before another lock down. All of these flights have been taken in my own aircraft, incidentally a kit built aircraft from a Ukrainian company.

So I waited for conditions to be ideal for the sortie, wind down the strip, vis good, plenty of time. I had been to the strip a couple of days ago and checked the aircraft over, fetched the battery back for charging etc then today I fetched fuel in jerry cans and went out to the strip feeling a little apprehensive......... On arrival at the strip I removed the aircraft covers, fitted the battery and put the fuel in. At this point I noticed that the pitot tube cover was missing and was not to be found close by so probably ot removed by the recent winds. I popped in the nav aid, headsets and hand held radio and grabbed my check lists. A thorough pre-flight check and I was as ready as I would ever be but still apprehensive.

The engine started on the second press of the button, the carbs don't always fill after the system has been drained until the engine mechanical fuel pump gets going. I warmed the engine whilst keeping a scan of the engine instruments, all as expected. Mag drops good, max rpm good, intercom working, nobody responded to a radio check request (on Safetycom) but I did hear a bit of chatter so I knew Rx was working. Controls all free and trim set so I taxied out and lined up.

No excuses now so I opened the throttle. As I got up to speed a final glance at the instruments looked good, As the ASI reached 45KTS I pulled back a bit more on the stick and was airborne. It was as if I had been flying every day for weeks.

During the climb out I noticed the ASI was all over the dial. Odd. My perception of the airspeed agreed with the Airspace Aware give or take a bit for the headwind and everything else was good. So, the strip I fly from is not known for it's excessive length. so I didn't fancy going back in a little hot and the last thing I was going to risk was a SLOW approach while feeling the aispeed, on a day when the winds are light so I diverted to another strip a few miles away, one twice as long, twice as wide and on the same heading (into the wind today) where I made a perfect landing. It took me twenty mins to disconnect blow the water from the pitot tubes and then normal service resumed. The remaining local area flight and landing back at base was uneventful.

I do wonder how long being away from the cockpit needs to be before you lose it?

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Old 20th Mar 2022, 21:25
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Impressive. I've never made a perfect landing...

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Old 20th Mar 2022, 21:29
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One hour a month left me with poor landings, even if I did some T&GS.
Nobody else local current on type.
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Old 20th Mar 2022, 23:16
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I would suggest it is not a yes-no answer to the question of how long until you lose it. Instead it is a continuum with the loss of ability to deal with abnormals and emergencies and more demanding conditions occurring first.

Obviously the OP handled his abnormal well but that was helped by flying on a day with benign conditions. Personally I find that it takes about 10 minutes to get comfortable again after a significant break from flying. The challenge, of course, is will I be able to effectively deal with a major emergency in that 10 minutes ? I like to think that there is enough residual competence that the answer is yes but make a point of not doing anything sporty until I am comfortable again.

I would also note that flying a very different type after a long break can be just as challenging as not flying at all.
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 09:57
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"If I don't practice for a day, I know the difference; if I don't practice for a week, the critics know; if I don't practice for a month, the public knows"

Artur Rubinstein - probably the greatest concert pianist of his time.

Skills erode with time and there's only one way to get them back.....
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 10:05
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rans6andrew - I think the fact that you are asking the question is the best indicator that you are still safe - it is those who just crack on regardless without considering skill fade who are the dangerous ones.

I think flying is like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it but the processing of the information can slow down with lack of practice, advancing age or both.

Your experience level is important as the longer you have practiced a skill the more likely it is to be retained.

I retired after 40 years of helicopter flying at the end of last year and have converted to 3-axis microlight - I have flown about once a month and each time worry that my skill level for landing might had dropped right off as I have very few hours on FW - so far I have been pleasantly surprised that it hasn't deserted me.

Hopefully you will get more time in the air as the weather improves but never stop questioning yourself, it is a healthy attribute for a pilot.
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 10:07
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BPF. I'm not flying as much for virtually the same reasons as rans6 and, as you mention, it's the EMC situation that concerns me most.
I usually try to fit in a PFLWOP if I get the chance and then realise that I'm not as good as I thought I was ! Pattern's OK but so many variables that I have forgotten.
At the moment the aeroplane is in for it's annual so even more delay AND missing all this fine weather. Maybe it's time.... ?
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 10:22
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Originally Posted by rans6andrew View Post
I do wonder how long being away from the cockpit needs to be before you lose it?

It all depends. Operating a very simple aircraft out of a deserted strip in benign conditions is not the same as recommencing flying in something more complex out of a busy controlled Airfield.

Even your minor emergency would have escalated at a busy Airfield as they would have alerted the Airfield Fire and Rescue services and you may have been given priority and other traffic so advised. It is easy to see how things could escalate.

Good decision to land at another quiet strip and sort things out!

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Old 21st Mar 2022, 10:50
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These days I even forget what I’ve had for breakfast…..
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 12:32
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I (PPL) once didn't fly for something like 9 months, then went for a practice flight, including some touching and going. All felt good, and the first landing was one of the better I've ever made, then it went downhill from there. I have no idea how my brain is wired ...
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 19:50
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Read the latest Air Accident Investigation Branch reports about blocked pitot systems on Big Jets. Very revealing. They also have other recent reports where they highlight lack of recency as a causal factor. Everyone from magazine articles to CHIRP to GASCo to the new CAA Safety Dissemination outfit are going on about lack of recency.
You can do worse than follow John Farley's checklist.
I think the time to pack up isn't when you feel apprehensive about taking flight, but when you can no longer be bothered. A friend and flying buddy of mine describes it as 'you gotta have the love' and I think he's right.
The other evening, I'd finished a day's flying in the Club aircraft and sitting outside was the C150 I share with him. So, I put the Club aircraft away, did the debrief and the paperwork, then went back to do 30 mins in it. Ah, bliss!

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Old 21st Mar 2022, 20:01
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It is all about keeping checked and up to date.

If you have a spare hour or two each week, just read through any notes you have, watch some Youtube videos or if you're really desperate, read the POH.

Just keeping your brain updated every week or so with checklists, flows, emergencies etc can really help you stay fresh. Obviously XPlane or the new FS2020 can too with regards to navigation and procedures.

For sure some time away from the cockpit will erode some skills but if you are proactive on the ground then it will be like you never had a break in the first place.

Some airline guys didn't fly for months during the pandemic. Most still took advantage of keeping fresh on the ground.
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Old 21st Mar 2022, 23:38
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My gliding club near Calgary shuts down when the snow comes (usually October) and starts up again when the snow is gone, the runway is dry and it’s warm enough to be out in the open (usually about now).

As a consequence, most of the members have had a six-month layoff, so we have spring checkouts for all our pilots, which besides general handling and circuits, includes stalling and spinning.

In my experience, the first few flights are a bit like skiing or bike-riding, after a long delay. It all feels familiar but my skills are not as sharp as they should be. After a few flights, it all comes back and I’m grateful I didn’t have to manage any emergencies during those first flights!
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Old 22nd Mar 2022, 00:39
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I spent an involuntary seven months off flying a few years back. I expected to be rusty, so booked an hour with an instructor. It was like I'd flown the plane three hours the day before, it fit like an old glove. Similar to India Four Two, float flying in seasonal here. My last water landing was in October, my next will be late April or May. And water landings or less forgiving of error than on a runway. So, I'm always extra cautious for my first few water landings, as checkouts are really difficult to get around here.

If you're attentive to possibly being rusty, that's an excellent first step. Another worthwhile habit, as India Four Two says, is to fresh up on not only flying, but airwork as well. Too many pilots I fly with admit that their last airwork was many years ago. It should be months, or at very most within a year ago, not many years ago!
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Old 22nd Mar 2022, 19:46
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Every spring I spend a few hours doing a full review of the BGA Safe Winch Launching web page and videos.
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Old 22nd Mar 2022, 19:59
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I think the right question would be "when do you loose the ability to fly your aircraft with an acceptable degree of safety?"
A standard flight could be managed by many even after quite an extended period of not flying. But could they still handle an in-flight engine failure? Sudden and unforecast inclement weather?
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Old 26th Mar 2022, 03:55
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In my experience, the first few flights are a bit like skiing or bike-riding, after a long delay.
Following up on my previous post, I did my Spring Check today, in a Bellanca Scout.

It went well, in fact better than I expected. I did three three-pointers and two wheelers, with nary a bounce.

I reported that I was current again, on my club’s Slack channel.

The Chief Tow Pilot, who I don’t think follows PPRuNe, responded: “Like riding a bike?”
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Old 28th Mar 2022, 18:32
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Being current is important. Getting the feel of the controls usually is best done with some pilot proficiency exercises at a safe altitude in a safe practice area . Going through a drag demonstration can help , slow flight exercise is one of the best exercise to increase pilot control feedback during changes of airspeed . The aircraft goes through the slow flight range twice in every flight during take off and landings . Most accident occur in the take off and landing phase . Their is a tendency to rush through the slow flight handling characteristics of aircraft in trying to get to the faster more comfortable parts of training . It has been my experience when training pilots that have difficulty landing that I go out and practice slow flight . The difference after is night and day .
Landing the airplane at different air speeds can be fun as well , some pilots try to hold it off the runway until they have no energy left , sometimes you need a lot of energy in the aircraft to have any control . I like to always fly it onto the runway with extra energy to prevent a gust of wind making me look stupider. To much energy can cause a bounce if you get the timing of the transfer of the weight of the aircraft from the wings to the wheels wrong . Timing of that transition improves with pilots familiar with the control pressures and movements during different speed ranges .
The economic benefits of basic aircraft control during the slow flight transition in creating smooth landings show up in tire wear .
Once a pilot learns how to kiss it on the runway , those tires will last a long time , assuming they land with their feet off the brakes

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Old 28th Mar 2022, 19:30
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Originally Posted by fitliker View Post
I like to always fly it onto the runway with extra energy to prevent a gust of wind making me look stupider.
Really? In that case you're starting off looking pretty stupid. It would take quite a lot to make you look stupider.
FTAOD you should always land at the minimum airspeed you can, even if you need full control deflections to keep your line. If you can't do that then find another runway.
Flying it on with extra energy is one reason why there are landing accidents. Because the aeroplane still has sufficient energy to fly, even though you've planted the wheels on the ground, the transition to rolling on the wheels with the wheels supporting the weight is even trickier to manage.
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Old 28th Mar 2022, 19:56
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When you can and when you should are two completely different things.
Same as being legal doesn’t equal being safe.
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