Rethinking Recurrent

A few days ago I took some recurrent training in a JetRanger from an instructor who runs a flight school nearby. I’ve known him for years, but this was to be our first instructional flight together. In addition to teaching regularly in a JetRanger, Don often flies charter in the type, whereas I’ve been flying one too-infrequently lately, and only give dual instruction in it when I do.

Don started with a little chalkboard time, asking me questions about the limitations of the ship. His first question was: What are the doors-off speed limits of the JetRanger? I couldn’t pull those limits from my foggy brain to save my butt; I remembered that there were different speed limits with the front or rear doors removed, and I took a stab at it, but my answer wasn’t correct. I have never flown a JetRanger with the doors off — the owner of the aircraft that I fly doesn’t want it operated that way. Yet Don regularly does, and often bumps up against these limits, so it was important to him that I know what they were.

This raised a question in my mind: Is it important that we know all the numbers in our aircraft’s limitations section?

That would spark a lively debate in most pilots lounges. I could take a position and argue for either side. On the one hand, a pilot should know all the limitations of the machine he’s flying. On the other, if he never runs doors-off, as in my case, why does it matter? And if he is familiar enough with the limitations to know that he needs to check the book when he intends to do something that has an “unfamiliar” limitation, wouldn’t that be enough?

One would hope.

Are there limitations you should know about the machine you’re flying – regardless of whether you think you’ll ever run up against them? Absolutely. Temp limits on turbines would be a good example. You just don’t have time to look them up when you are pushing those limits. But what about the many other limitations in our books? Is it necessary to know the minimum pressure of the tail skid strut on a 727, as I was required to know for an airline I once flew for? Um…no.

We tend to fall into a groove (some would call it a “rut”) in our flying. We repeat certain operations with the machinery, go to certain airports, fly only in certain weather conditions, all the while striving to make things comfortable for our machine and for ourselves.

But recurrent training isn’t about being comfortable; it’s about being asked to dig a little deeper, to get out of our comfort zone, think about things we rarely consider, and in the process, learn something new. Recurrent is also about dropping the ego, saying, “I don’t know.” If we do that, the doors to new learning swing open and new ideas, thoughts, and knowledge come pouring in. Often, there’s something in this “new” that we hadn’t even thought about, perhaps a connection to what we do that is quite relevant.

One of the true gifts of recurrent training is perspective. We ask another pilot to show us another way to view our world that has become so familiar, to encourage us to consider other ideas about ways to operate a machine that might be helpful, or to offer a different perspective that we’ve possibly never thought about.

I really enjoyed my session with Don. Recurrent training is not about answering every question perfectly; in fact, it’s better if you don’t. I’d rather not know “everything” than have a perfect score, because a good instructor will then go to work to supplement and flesh-out the gaps in your knowledge. And let’s face it, we ALL have those gaps in our knowledge.

Next time you have recurrent training to accomplish, view it as an opportunity to “not know,” to be a beginner at something, to be the one who doesn’t have all the answers. And your recurrent experience will not only be more enjoyable, but you’ll learn something. Guaranteed.

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