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On Recovering from Rustiness

Making Resilient Resolutions to Restore Proficiency

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
7 min readDec 28, 2020


by Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Editor

Photo of a cockpit.
Photo courtesy of Garmin.

Don’t make resolutions without an action plan. The secret to success is right in your hands. — J. Allen Shaw (author)

For those who live in places plagued by snow, ice, and/or bitterly cold temperatures, winter is typically the time for both pilots and planes to huddle inside and await a more clement climate. Before I moved west, I did my share of shivering through preflights, engine preheats, and hoping the airplane’s rudimentary heating system would keep my teeth from chattering. I vividly remember a night when, having ferried a new Civil Air Patrol airplane back to Virginia, my co-pilot and I emerged into a gusty, icy wind. As we struggled to secure the bird, my co-pilot was grimly muttering something like “I love aviation . . . I love aviation . . . I love aviation.” But no matter how much you really do love aviation, those of us who fly for pleasure often conclude that it would be far more pleasant to save our flying money and time until spring.

As we move into a new calendar year and look forward to the brighter days of spring, many may find that the rustiness from the usual winter hiatus is compounded by the persistent impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency. While that particular challenge hasn’t abated at the time of this writing, it’s still important to plan for the time when both weather and health conditions permit us to emerge from hibernation.

Magazine cover graphic.

New Year, New Challenges

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. — Thomas A. Edison (inventor)

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Milton Berle (comedian)

Earning a new certificate or rating is the most obvious opportunity to add to your base of aviation knowledge, skill, and experience, so you might productively use the winter to decide on your next aeronautical challenge and make a plan to achieve that goal. Interested in drones, more formally known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)? Check the FAA’s UAS portal for information on getting a remote pilot certificate. To get started, select which type of drone user you are and click to get information on the rules and regulations that apply to your specific situation. You can then begin researching where it is safe to fly and when you need approval to fly.

Looking to upgrade your current pilot certificate or rating? Start by researching the requirements in the appropriate part of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR), available in numerous apps and online sites like e-CFR (electronic Code of Federal Regulations). To get acquainted with the certification testing standards, go to the FAA’s Airman Testing page to review the applicable Airman Certification Standards (ACS) or Practical Test Standards (PTS) documents. Winter is a great time to complete any requirements for ground school and aeronautical knowledge testing (commonly called the “written” exam). You might also consider putting any money that you would have spent on flying now aside to help you respond financially to the new challenge.

Another option — usually somewhat less demanding in terms of time and money — is to pursue a new endorsement on your existing pilot certificate(s). An endorsement attests to the completion of ground and/or flight training required for specific operating privileges, for airman certification testing, or for recurrent training such as the flight review or instrument proficiency check. The range of possible endorsements is as wide as the world of aviation. Just a few that you might consider adding include spins, high performance, high altitude, complex, and tailwheel. Of these, I had the most fun — and learned the most about basic flying — from earning my tailwheel endorsement in a Citabria several years back. The tailwheel endorsement training also provided my first opportunity to operate on grass. Even if you can’t take aeronautical action just yet, you can determine what you need, start the mental preparation, research possible training providers, and save at least some of the money you’ll need when you do start flying.

Photo of an airplane on a snowy ramp.

You Might Also Consider These …

Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality. — Eliyahu Goldratt (businessman)

Not every opportunity to add experience requires a certificate, rating, or endorsement. A new aviation challenge could be just the ticket to making you a more polished aviator. The opportunities in this category are nearly boundless, but one that allows for a productive winter response is glass cockpit familiarization training. Though many pilots now start and finish their training in glass cockpit aircraft, this technology may still be unfamiliar to others. Even if you plan to fly your favorite round dial airplane forever, you might find it both interesting and useful to sample from the glass cockpit menu. There is a lot you can — and should — do to learn the basics of the system you want to master long before you approach the actual airplane. There’s an app for almost every system nowadays, and you can learn a great deal from working through menus and programming planned trips without pressure from passengers or the pricey progression of the Hobbs meter.

Two final ideas: First is to use the “down” time to take up work on a new phase in the WINGS pilot proficiency program, and/or take advantage of the growing number of online seminars that aviation organizations like AOPA and EAA are developing in response to the challenges COVID-19 poses to currency and proficiency.

A second is to improve your aviation communication skills. You can use an aviation band radio — the kind you might have in your flight bag as a back-up communications option — or any of the many apps or programs that let you listen in on ATC communications. While most general aviation (GA) pilots will not be operating into some of the nation’s busiest airports, it is nevertheless instructional (and sometimes very entertaining) to tune into the ATC frequencies around New York and Chicago.

These are truly challenging times — but aviators always rise to the occasion. Make it so!

Photo of an airplane on a snowy ramp.

Certificates, Ratings, Endorsements

Certificates: The basic document that the FAA issues to a pilot is a certificate. There are several different levels of pilot certification, depending on the extent of training and testing required. These include student, sport, recreational, private, commercial, and airline transport pilot (ATP). The FAA also issues instructor certificates, such as flight instructor and ground instructor.

Ratings: Except for student and sport pilot certificates, pilot and instructor certificates have associated ratings that specify what, and/or how, the pilot is qualified to fly. The most common form is the aircraft category and class rating, with the typical rating on a private pilot certificate being “airplane single-engine land.” An aircraft specific type rating is required to act as pilot-in-command of any aircraft that is more than 12,500 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight or of any turbojet. Ratings are also added to a certificate when the pilot qualifies for a certain operating privilege, such as an instrument rating.

Endorsements: An endorsement attests to the completion of ground and/or flight training required for specific operating privileges or for airman certification testing. Endorsements are used to provide operating privileges and limitations to student pilots since they do not yet have an aircraft category and class rating; to attest to an applicant’s preparation for an airman knowledge test or practical test; to certify completion of recurrent training requirements such as a flight review or instrument proficiency check; and to attest to completion of training and experience for certain aircraft characteristics (e.g., tailwheel, high performance, complex, high altitude).

Susan K. Parson (susan.parson@faa.gov) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.

FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/
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FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. The magazine is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).