Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to do several lengthy cross-country flights in GA airplanes. Those trips have been the source of some of my happiest memories, as well as some of the best lessons I could hope to learn about flying. For that reason, I often wish I had taken more time after each of those trips to capture the key points of the personal and professional (i.e., pilot-related) experiences in more detail. I’ve resolved to do better in that area by adopting the Replay-Reconstruct-Reflect-Redirect framework presented in Chapter 5 of the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, which offers a methodical way to make the most of each flight experience. Here’s how it can help.
When you land after a long flight, especially one that involved weather or other challenges, your first inclination is to relax. That impulse is both natural and necessary. Before you allow too much time to elapse, though, mentally replay the flight from start to finish. Use a camera, an app, or even old-fashioned pen and paper to capture your memories and perceptions while they’re still fresh. You might consider listing them in two columns – one for personal memories, and one for pilot-related perceptions.
In this phase, the idea is to identify the key things you would have, could have, or should have done differently in connection with this flight. I can think of a couple of trips that, in hindsight, I would not have taken at all. I can also recall trips in which I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. We pilots tend to be our own worst critics, but the point is not to endlessly beat yourself up. Rather, the goal is to make an honest assessment of gaps in knowledge or skill and make a plan to close them.
As the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook notes, “insights come from investing perceptions and experiences with meaning.” That requires reflection, which is nothing more complicated than asking yourself questions about the experience and answering them as honestly as you can. For example, what was the most important thing you learned from this flight? What part of the experience was easiest? By contrast, what part was the hardest, and why? Did anything make you uncomfortable? If so, when, how, and why did it occur? How would you assess your performance, and your decisions?
This part of the exercise is to relate lessons learned to other experiences, and consider how the lessons learned might help on the next trip you make. Ask yourself how this experience relates to other trips you’ve made. What lessons could you use to mitigate risk, or perform better, in the next cross-country flight? Do you need to adjust your personal minimums? Did this flight indicate a need for deeper knowledge, or for sharper skills? If so, how and when will you take action to close the gaps?
This one is not included in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, but I think it’s an important addition. After each flight, recommit to attaining the highest level of professionalism and proficiency that you can achieve.
And, last but not least, take the time to rejoice in the wonderful blessings and privileges that GA flying offers. I never fly even the shortest trip without a sense of awe and gratitude. Thus may it always be for each and every one of us. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug 2015)