How Much Flight Time Is Enough?

by William S. Lawerence, Colonel USMC (Retired) on December 6, 2010

in General Aviation

I sold my trusty Bonanza.  Guess that’s it.  First, I couldn’t justify the expense.  But more importantly, I would get in the air and say, “Geez, I forgot to …. (fill in the blank).”

Seems that I’m investigating an increasing number of aviation crashes where the pilot at the controls had minimum (a) experience, (b) training, (c), recent flight time, (d) all of the above.  Am I just catching on, or is this a trend that is becoming more common?

In the good ole days, Bonanzas were called “Doctor killers” because only folks on doctor’s salaries could afford them and doctors were so busy they didn’t have time to study, practice basic airmanship, learn new things, re-enforce the things they had learned, plan their flights, or even to fly.  Ergo, when they flew, they were, by and large, unsafe.  So-called professional pilots were safer because they flew more hours and were more comfortable in the air.  What I realized was that because I was not flying the number of hours I had been flying, I was forgetting basic things, like trimming out the engine and fuel, tuning backup navaids, switching fuel tanks, and the list goes on.  I was busting altitude restrictions, forgetting to roll out on course, and letting my attitude get away from me because my scan was breaking down.  Get the picture?  Have you been there?

When the engine in my car quits because I forgot to get gas, I am embarrassed, I pull over to the side of the road, and I call AAA.  When the engine quits on the trusty Bonanza, there is no side of the road.  Barring a lot of coincidence and serendipity, it’s going to be a bad day at best.Look a global look at your aviation experience.  I’m not saying it’s absolutely true for everybody, but most of the time figures don’t lie.  If you have less than 1,000 total flight hours, you are more likely to have an accident.  If you fly less than 100 hours a year, you are more likely to have an accident.  If you are a low time pilot flying less than 10 hours a month, try to take someone with you who has more experience.  Spend more time on preflights.  Sit in the cockpit before you launch and go over your checklist procedures.  Be prepared!  The life you save absolutely will be your own.

The really important thing is to recognize, as a fact, that the potential for an accident is greater … not because you’re dumb or all thumbs … but simply because you aren’t spending enough time in the air.  For your own sake, build a preflight checklist of extra steps to ensure you are as well prepared for the flight as you possibly can be.  Then BE SAFE!

Colonel William Lawrence is a retired Marine Corps experimental and engineering test pilot with logged flight time in over 130 different types, models, and series of helicopters, fixed wing, gliders, and other airborne devices.  His interests and experiences have led him to be self-employed in aspects of aircraft design, accident investigation, piloting, mechanical, and aerodynamic consulting, and the representation of various international aviation interests.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

James Crouse December 6, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Col. Lawrence’s words of wisdom aren’t only for pilots—they are also for passengers in general aviation aircraft—for aviation consumers. If you have a friend, or a business associate, or if you are tempted by one of those “see Omaha from the air” opportunities, ask the hard questions before you get in the aircraft. Don’t be bashful!

Make sure your pilot is safe by asking the questions that Col. Lawrence suggests in this post. Friends don’t get into airplanes (or helicopters) flown by friends who are well-intended but under-qualified.


Ben R. Coleman December 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I’d like to ping off Bill Lawrence writings above with a “here here”. I personally go for months without flying my airplane. Not out of neglect or money….I am just not around. Being the primary mechanic for the old girl too, when I am home for a few weeks between breaks from the tour in the middle east, momma has chores for me that DON’T include pulling an inspection on the Maule so I can go flying….

I love to fly, and I have thousands of hours, but I am an accident waiting to happen! If I approach flying this little airplane with less than an agressive and confident attitude, it will swap ends on me! Things happen fast in the little franklin powered ‘rocket’. My safety net is to go over a preflight briefing with the same attention to detail as an air carrier post maintenance initial test flight following an annual inspection type preflight and asking every question of myself that I have ever posed to someone else in this situation…getting current. If realistic, I will grab a neighbor that is current to either ride with me, or drill me.
At some point we all will slow down to the point where we really don’t belong being the sole manipulator of the controls. As many say, we all have different thresholds for safety, but if we, professionals, ever become negligent of our own well being, we make a mockery out of being a safety professional….that would be too embarrashing to even consider. That keeps me safe. I can work for you, too….


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: