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Training and Safety Tip: What’s next?

It first became ingrained in my flying during training flights for my instrument rating. During each flight, my instructor would repeatedly ask me three questions: What are you doing now? What will you do next? What will you do after that? He would ask me to respond to each out loud. For example: “I’m descending to 3,000 feet. After that, I’ll level off and contact approach on 118.25. Then, I’ll prepare for the GPS 26 approach.”

This was ideal for instrument flying, with the precision it requires and the routine series of steps and procedures that are clear, making the next steps easy to anticipate. But I’ve found that the technique can easily be applied to any type of flying and I’ve also added a fourth question: What if you can’t?

On your next flight, think about those four questions as you prepare for departure and practice by answering each question out loud. At a nontowered airport, you may answer something like this: “I’m holding short of the runway. When the Skyhawk on short final is clear of the runway, I’ll announce my intentions on the radio and taxi for takeoff. I’ll rotate at 60 knots and climb out at 74 knots.” Lastly, run through your procedures for what you’ll do if a normal takeoff is not possible. The procedures will vary depending on whether you’re on the runway or airborne (and at what altitude, if airborne).

Once in the air, you should periodically answer those four questions to ensure you’re planning ahead and staying mentally sharp. If you’re on a solo visual flight rules cross-country flight, for example, the answers may be: “I’m flying direct to Laconia Municipal Airport (KLCI) at 4,500 feet. I’m going to contact Boston Approach and request flight following. After that, I’ll put the KLCI frequency in my standby comm. If I can’t contact Boston Approach or obtain flight following, I’ll continue to Laconia without flight following and will monitor the approach frequency and then Laconia’s frequency.”

If you find yourself sitting idly in the left seat just enjoying the view, remind yourself of those four questions to get your mind back in the game. It may become a habit for you, too, and result in safe and enjoyable flying.

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