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One thing that I’ve realised over the last year is how easy it is to slip into a personal comfort zone. Over the past months I’ve been struck by the number of qualified pilots who have said to me at some point “Oh, I haven’t done that since my Skills Test!”.

It set me wondering if there isn’t some way for each and every one of us to do something positive to expand the envelope of our flying experience and skills. After all, I’ll bet that we all started flying because we relished the excitement and the challenge of it. It seems a shame to see those qualities leached out of it over time.

So, here’s Challenge to you all. Run your eye down the list of questions I’ve set out below and give yourself an honest tick in the box at the side if the statement applies to you. And if it doesn’t apply then give yourself a hearty pat on the back!

“In the last 24 months, or since my Skills test,….

….I haven’t done any stalling
….I haven’t done any steep turns
….I haven’t been out of the circuit
….I haven’t done a practised forced landing
….I’ve not practised steep gliding turns
….I’ve not practised diving-off height
….I’ve  always recovered at the first sign of the stall
….I haven’t practised recovering from a wing-drop in the stall
….I haven’t practised stalling in a turn
….I haven’t practiced stalling on the climb-out
….I’ve not called for a practice fix on 121.5
….I’ve not flown further than the local area around Old Sarum
….I’ve not been above 5,000’
….I’ve not been above broken or scattered cloud
….I’ve not been above a layer of solid cloud and found my way down
….I break off any practice forced landings at 500’
….I have not glided to a touchdown from high over an airfield
….I have not flown at night
….I have not flown with the visibility less than 5km
….I’ve not flown in cloud
….I’ve not fixed my position using only radio navigation aids
….I’ve not practised the drills for a fire in the air
….I’ve not practised a rejected take-off
….I’ve not practised an engine failure after take-off
….I’ve not landed at another airfield
….I’ve not flown to the Continent
….I’ve not practised holding a course with an unserviceable DI
….I’ve not flown over water
….I’ve not flown over mountains
….I’ve not practised flying with a simulated blocked static vent or iced-up pitot
….I’ve not done a full weight and balance calculation
….I’ve not calculated the take-off performance for my aircraft
….I’ve not recovered from a spin
….I’ve not experienced basic aerobatics
….I’ve not flown a leg of more than 150nm
….I’ve not flown through controlled airspace (a MATZ doesn’t count!)
….I’ve not flown close to London and under the London TMA
….I’ve not used the listening squawk system
….I’ve not practised a bad weather circuit
….I’ve not practised a precautionary landing
….I’ve not been above 10,000’
….I have not practised low-level navigation
….I have not done an overnight land-away
….I have not leaned the engine
….I have not practised side-slipping
….I have not practised a flapless landing
….I’ve not really understood how to do a Met Assessment
….I’ve not practised a short-field landing
….I have not flown when the wind is above 20kts on the ground
….I have not taken off or landed with a cross-wind of more than 15kts
….I have not practised a kick-off (crabbed) cross-wind landing
….I have not practised a wing-down cross-wind landing
….I have not practised tracking to/from a VOR beacon
….I have not practised tracking to/from a NDB beacon
….I have not flown into a busy (non GA) airport
….I have not crossed Salisbury Plain Danger Area
….I have not crossed through Solent CTR/CTA
….I haven’t practised what to do if the engine runs rough but doesn’t quit
….I have not carried any passengers
….I have not practised an in-flight diversion
….I have not filed a flight plan
….I have not downloaded a narrow route brief on the AIS website
….I have not rehearsed ditching drills
….I have not flown quadrantals
….I have not flown in formation
….I’ve not practised an approach to land with the ASI, Altimeter or Tacho blanked off
….I have not practised recovering from unusual attitudes
….I have not used a Traffic Service from ATC
….I have not used the local Flight Information Service (London Info)
….I have not flown a complex aircraft (retractable u/c and CS propeller)
….I have not practised the emergency undercarriage extension drill
….I have not flown a tail-dragger
….I have not seen the world from upside down
….I’ve not practised maintaining altitude whilst flying at the slowest possible airspeed
….I have not taken an aeroplane up to its VNE

And for those IMC-rated pilots amongst us:

“Since my last skills test or revalidation…

….I have not flown an ILS approach
….I have not flown an NDB approach
….I have not flown a PAR approach
….I have not flown a VOR/DME approach
….I have not practised establishing and maintaining a Hold
….I have not practised a ‘circle to land’ and/or a poor weather circuit
….I have not practised recovery on instruments from unusual attitudes
….I have not practised limited-panel instrument flying
….I have not practiced recovery from unusual attitudes on limited panel
….I have not considered how to descend through icing conditions if caught above cloud
….I have not flown a cross country route in IMC
….I have not flown in IMC at night

Now I know that I could tick quite a few of these boxes myself. So, if you’ve ticked a few then set yourself a 2011 New Year Challenge. You don’t need to knock them all off this year (!) but why not aim to be able to un-tick, say, five of those boxes by this time next year?

Don’t worry if some of them lie outside of your current level of confidence or skill, or that some may lie outside your current licence privileges. Just ask at the desk and one of the instructors will be only too happy to help you expand your experience. And who knows? It might lead you to decide to do a night rating, or an IMC rating, or to learn to do some aeros, or to fly yourself somewhere new for the weekend, or just to do some more interesting and rewarding flying in 2011.

So, don’t let yourself sink into your comfort zone now that you’re qualified. Get out and try something new. There’s plenty there. Whittle down that list of ticks!

David Wood

To download this document, please click the link below.

2011 Challenge