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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Motivation... Be a Master of Your Life

There is a direct correlation between desire, passion, and the ability to learn. 
An equal relationship exists between performance and practice. 
To be a master of anything you must have desire, passion, and do it.

Today, be a master of your life!

The question of the week: 

What is more important, experience or recency?

Everyone knows the power of experience. But is that experience more important than being current? Especially when flying planes. 

Will a pilot with 10,000 hours of flight time who gets checked out on a new plane and doesn't fly it, be as proficient as a new pilot with only 1000 hours, but 500 of those hours are in type?

There are a few variables. If the new type was on a Boeing and you've been flying Boeings your entire life then experience will help. But what if you've been flying a Boeing but you're checkout was on an Airbus, and then you don't fly it for six months. Is it possible to stay proficient from the ground? 

The FAA has mandated 3 takeoffs and landing in the previous 3 months. But is this enough? Most all International flights have augmented (extra) crews to give the pilots breaks. It's very likely that a pilot has been flying for 3 months, but hasn't received a takeoff or landing because of seniority. Taking a trip to the sim for a takeoff and landing is a good thing. But what about the reserve pilot that sits at home and doesn't fly? Is filling that square of legality enough?

  • How long can you stay out of an airplane until you feel unproficient? 
  • At what point does your level of performance decrease?
  • Is safety an issue with a reserve system that keeps pilots on the ground for months at a time? 

I would love to hear your thoughts. All pilots included. Thank you!

Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene


  1. Hi Karlene. I believe the two go together. Chuck Yeager was once asked why he was so good, he said something along the lines that it was no natural gift or the like, he just flew every opportunity he got in as many different planes that he could. This is also apparent in the Robert Olds story, again he flew every opportunity he could.

    I came to learn early in my flying training that flying was a lot like golf, to be any good at it you had to be doing as often as you can and as regular as you can. Things like the runway sight picture etc tend to fade over time. A very experienced pilot once said to me during my training that for every week you don’t fly you'll loose at least 20% of what you learnt in your lesson.

    The more you fly the more you think about it as well. If you are a private pilot that fly’s weekly, you are constantly thinking about the weather, about you planning, about how you are going to conduct the flight and the constraints that you will impose on it. You build a discipline around your flying. If your not flying often you are not going through this process.

    Here in Australia the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has similar currency requirements as the FAA. Personally, I find that these are not stringent enough. I feel comfortable with my currency if I fly at least twice a month, double the legal requirements. I'm currently not flying due to a broken hand, I will be booking an hour with an instructor once the plaster comes off before I would get back into the left seat on my own.

    On the experience issue, I can't say I'm comfortable with the trend developing here in Australia with the discount airlines and that started in Europe with the Multi Crew licensing that puts FO's in the right seat with well under 1,500hrs. Its those hours built flying the small piston twins etc in outback Australia that includes the inevitable, "that was a stupid thing to do" moments that get etched into the personal POH that form a important basis. Flying the sim is not like doing the real thing, you have no "skin in the game". Screw it up and the reset cleans up the mess of virtual aluminum for you!!. Sim time is great for procedures etc but does not make up for the variety of situations your experience gained whilst building hours towards your ATPL license.

    The bottom line is, fly as much as you can as often as you can and as disciplined as you can not matter whether your a private pilot or CPL. Nothing beats experience or currency. As my instructor would say, “what doesn’t kill you make’s you stronger”.

  2. Fascinating, Karlene. Thanks for another important post.

  3. Good morning,Karlene san.
    I am one of the students who eager to become an airline pilot,but not from pilot view(because I have never experienced flying for long hours.)
    .so I am sorry if my comment is crazy.

    Is it possible to stay proficient from the ground?
    I think the person having confidence without thinking worries whether it is possible to stay proficient or not could fly with proficiency.
    But I am sure that gaining confidence is from experience not from books,people(friends),so if I don't fly for six months,I surely have no confidence.

    but I imagine that even if I fly a lot of hours and gain confidence,getting used to flying and flying with not having concentration would not good.

    Is safety an issue with a reserve system that keeps pilots on the ground for months at a time?

    No,I don't think so.I am thinking if i were not drive car for months,I would not drive for my friend,because I get nervous.
    so airplane? Absolutely I will get nervous and this means that I cannot provide 120% safe flight.

    thank you for sharing.I am sure from this topic,I can learn something important:))

    You have a great day!!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Email from Captain Danny Burke... unable to post himself from Jeddah:

    I can only imagine the stress that someone as motivated as you feels, when locked away from the controls by seniority, or schedule. I remember when we were supplying a major European airline with our airline's pilots, to get their B747 operation started, the proficiency went right down the toilet because of the long hauls, the Captain's wanting to stay legal, and the Company wanting it all done on the automatic pilot.

    The upshot of that deal was that each pilot had to go in the Simulator every 90 days for landings, current or not. And as they say, a good landing in the simulator is like kissing your sister (or in your case, like kissing your brother...).

    In the simulator, no autopilot was used, just hand flying for about an hour for each pilot. Takeoffs and Landings were to full stops, no easy touch and goes, and the last one was to minimums, hand flown ILS to minimums. It helped the flying proficiency, but still the legality issues prevailed.

    This European airline started running some of their B747's on shorter flights, and forced the long haul pilots to also do these, mostly to increase their landing proficiency beyond the just legal 3 in 90.

    Your concerns are well founded, especially in changing from the Boeing culture to Airbus... get a quick hundred hours and then sit on Reserve, and never get to fly.

    You are quite ambitious, Karlene... (rhetorically), can you find a job teaching the Airbus near you, or is Seattle all Boeing? The many years of experience that you speak of, speaks well for you, too. I would think that they would be over the moon to have someone of your calibre join the instructor ranks on the side of sitting on reserve. Plus, we need your calibre of instructing, too. And it's a way to learn, a way to stay proficient, and a way to gain even more experience.

    I remember five years ago, when we were in Denver with my friend, trying to convince him to come to the B747. His remarks have stayed with me, and now with your comments, even more. He said, "I'll never get enough flying in the B747 that I will ever be comfortable enough to take our billionaire passenger into Bedford on a snowy night, with the cross-wind blowing at 20 kts."

    And with that, he turned down the training on that magnificent airplane. You know, and I know, in our hearts, he is correct. And this is coming from a 25,000 hour Captain. Currency is so important. Currency is very important to him.

    At my job in Riyadh, for those 16 years, the Prince encouraged us to take the airplane out and not only exercise the airplane, but exercise ourselves in currency.

    When you are only flying 40 hours a month, and splitting the sectors, there is always the chance of going illegal in the 3 in 90. This was especially true with our month on - month off rotation schedule. By taking the airplane out to Gassim, or Riyadh King Khaled, and doing 3 or 4 or even 5 landings a piece, we constantly kept up our currency.

    Our experience is what got us that high level VIP job with the Royal Court, but the currency is what kept us in the job.

    Well, I've rambled on here. You do need very much to maintain currency.. and not just the bare minimum. Quality currency! Would you want a doctor that does about 9 hip procedures a year to do your hip replacement? Or would you want a doctor that does 9 hip replacements a week? It's the same thing. It's currency that keeps experience at its top level.

    Again, I was just writing to a friend and mentioned all this, and told him that his comments were based on experience speaking about currency.... That it takes experience to recognize the lack of currency. This is what you are also recognizing. And that you care about it. Keep pushing. You make progress that the rest of us dream about.

    Good luck with your challenge!


  6. I'm in two minds about this one. On one hand, I have to give a nod to the FAA (especially with my CFI checkride looming!) and say that proficiency is important. And for those of us who are not professional pilots, difficult. Fortunately, once I could afford my own airplane, that became less of an issue, and even in mostly cloudless Texas I can keep IFR current by choosing low ceiling days and going up to play.

    On the other hand, in my own personal experience, I find I loose very little "edge" with a long lay off. I didn't fly at all from 1998 until 2003, and I passed my BFR on the first shot. And he didn't go easy on me either. But when I'm not actually flying I'm thinking about it, the same way that athletes run through their drills mentally. Perhaps because I'm NOT a professional, flying is my affectation, muse and lover, always in my mind (to quote the great Willie Nelson).

  7. Danny, Thank you for your great comment. Ironic that you and your friend were just talking about this, but I think with long haul flying, it is the nature of the beast.

    Your comments of his 25,000 hours of experience, as having the experience to know better... and turning down the job, were well taken. He did know better. I am looking into instructing options... but the challenges are many with the new regime, and they look for local instructors.

    Your Prince was very insightful. But then again, he was the passenger and understood reality.

    There really is only one solution, to get out and fly the plane. I'm going to kiss my brother next week. Last time there was only touch and goes. This time I'm going to respectfully plead to for full stops between each takeoff and landing.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  8. Capt Daggs... I'm not sure what happened to my comment to you, but here it is again. Out of the mouth of Chuck Yeager! "Wisdom"

    The only way to be good at anything is to do it. The more you do it, the better you become. We cannot fight that.

    I also loved your comment on the experience issues. Your situation in Australia is worldwide.

    So... we know the lack of experience is an issue. My concern is that when those lack of experienced pilots are more proficient than the senior pilots...

    Then the stars align and the moon drifts behind a cloud, the holidays arrive, and senior pilots stay home to enjoy festivities with their families... Reserve Captains and First Officers are paired up in the most challenging flying of all year, and they may not have been in the plane for 6 months, and visited the simulator once to kiss their sister...

    This is a great discussion. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment!

  9. Thank you DB! What you're doing... always thinking about it is the only way to maintain any level of performance. That is the power of the mind.

    Check out this post on the power of visualization.

    The mind is powerful. How many pilots can do this? Not sure. But discipline is the key to that! Thanks for the great comment!

  10. "Be the master of your life," I love that Karlene! Thank you for the great motivation. This one hits close to home, even though I don't sit in the pilot's seat. ;)

  11. @KarlenePetitt Currency is required to keep the FAA "happy." Proficiency is required to keep my pax and myself alive. #AviationSafety

  12. Kar, I hated not "feeling" proficient. Time off is great, but too much time off made me feel behind the eight ball.

    That said, it never took me as long as I thought it would to feel comfortable again in a position I had flown for a few years. Like riding a bike, it came back.

    So, when I felt rusty, I would get time in the simulator, even only as an observer.

    However, in a brand new position/airplane, flying is the only way to get proficient, in my book.


  13. Heather you are the Master and taking control... and flying in the right direction too. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Hi Jun, you are so right about your assumptions on safety and proficiency. I think awareness is a great thing...and keeps you safe. I love the correlation with a car. We who drive daily take that for granted. But skills dissipate if you don't use them.

  15. Hi Karlene, love the simplicity and interactiveness of your blog. In my understanding recency is more important than experience. No matter if you a 200 hr pilot or a 10,000 hr pilot, the recency requirements are still the same!

  16. Dharamjeet, Thank you for the nice comment! Your wisdom speaks volumes... Recency is still the same, and important.

  17. Karlene, the quality of time in the simulator doesn't even start to compare with the quality of time you get in the actual airplane. I've got over 9 years now flying the line in the 474-400 for Northwest and now Delta. Maintaining currency in the airplane is an uphill battle. Being many of us can't average one takeoff and landing per month, we're required to go to the sim periodically to stay legal.

    When the day comes to jump in the sim to get your "bounces", you have to put your video game hat on. If you want to perform at the highest level, it helps to look at the sim as an arcade game. I say that because there are certain techniques you can use to fly a better sim than you would use in the aircraft. On one hand, the sim is an excellent tool to learn or practice procedures like system failures, but it really falls short when tasked with training us how to deal with stalls, unusual attitudes, and for the feel of the actual airplane. Yes, we can learn the mechanics, but the sim will never be able to fully replace what the airplane can teach you.

    I personally believe the US military trains the best pilots in the world. To do that, they justify the time and expense of training their pilots in the actual aircraft (in addition to sim time). Stalls, spins, no flap approaches, engine out approaches, and many other maneuvers, all in the actual aircraft. This with the goal of producing a pilot that can perform at the highest level. A pilot who can operate the aircraft at the edge of the envelope.

    The airlines hire the best pilots they can find, and then try and strike a balance between maintaining the minimum standards as established by the FAA, and running a safe operation. I'm afraid the cold reality of economics precludes training to a higher level.

    I'll be the first to tell you I don't have the proficiency I once had, or that I would like to have. What I count on though, is not pushing the envelope, operating with a wider safety margin, and using the others in my crew, to accomplish a safe and uneventful landing after a 12 hour crossing.


  18. Pat, Thanks for the comment... and the extra effort to post it. Well worth it, and I am going to put my video hat on next week. Getting landings is a challenge, but I think being in the plane through the process helps. Too much time away is the killer.

    So... I like your idea of training in the plane. Could you imagine? Take good care of my favorite plane. I am wishing I were there more often than not these days.

    Happy Landings on that short runway in NRT.

  19. How long can you stay out of an airplane until you feel un-proficient?
    Well, I guess that depends. You touched on this in your blog. Recently when I was instructing in the military, when the students returned from their 2-week Christmas break, we gave them one or two currency flights. In fact, we, as instructors, would take at least one flight (2 instructors, no students) until we felt we were proficient. I know occasionally flying with a great student I never really flew the jet except on radar downwind, while he/she briefed up the approach. However, I often would “steal” an approach from student, giving them a (probably) needed break. This was a great exercise in checking my instruction (wow, these x-winds are more difficult than I thought).

    At what point does your level of performance decrease?
    Again, I’d say it depends. As far as I’ve seen/experienced, there seems to be some correlation to years of flying experience, and time spent in that specific jet. Some people are just better at flying a certain procedure than others, and thus their performance level drops off at different rates. I’m sure someone has done a masters thesis about this subject.

    And for your last question, having never been in a “reserve system,” I can’t really say. But from first look, unless you are maintaining currency in the jet, or a sim, it seems like safety would have to be an issue. In my experience, before each flight we filled out an ORM worksheet (operational risk management) which was broken down into 3-main areas, Environmental Factors, Mission Profile & Human Factors. We “took points” if an instructor was out of the jet for >1 week, >2 weeks. Also, we took points if the student has had >5 flying events in 5 days…

    Great post


  20. Ric, Thank you so much for the great comments!!!! 2 weeks...brilliant. I love that. Also the fact you jumped in the seat.

    You know, I would love to do a masters thesis on this. Maybe I will get my Ph.D. two masters is enough. lol Personally I think paying attention during your time off. Maybe I could get funding and do the research.

    I love the idea of an ORM! You wouldn't still have a copy would you? I think this does need some research. Thank you!!!


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