Never Stop Learning

First printed in Aeronotes (the Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 36 No 4 (December, 2014) as a guide for student pilots, instructors and examiners.

Do you approach every flight as an opportunity to learn something new? Maybe it’s because I’ve only put 24 entries in my logbook since getting my “license to learn” but it sure seems like every flight is giving me a chance to learn something new (or at least reinforce something from my training). Some of these lessons were learned as I flew “hare & hound” behind older & wiser pilots while for others I was doing my own thing.

Some of my lessons have been rather comical when you look back at them but others have been a little more hair raising. In some situations I reacted as I’d been taught to resolve the issue but there have definitely been a couple where I dipped into my “bucket of luck” in order to add to my “bucket of experience.”

During one flight I was trying to get just the right landing spot and wound up taking three goes to get into an open space, making use of low-level box winds to do “circuits” before getting it right. On one of the attempts, I learned the hard way about falling out of an inversion at low level when I discovered the false lift over the top of the balloon had let me get colder than I expected, leading to an embarrassing “touch n go” as I failed to round out in time then bounced back into the air. Ooops. Perhaps the most embarrassing part of this “learning moment” was that one of the people watching on the ground used to be my Chief Flight Instructor when I was learning to fly Cessnas many years ago. Oh well, I can now claim to be one of the few (if not the only) balloonist to have done circuits at his airfield :)

Then there was the time I was following some commercial pilots and realised I was flying myself into a bit of a corner as their target field was a clearing where the fields beyond were covered in thick fog. Things got “interesting” when the fog started to break away and stream down onto the landing field just as I was getting close. Fortunately I’d had a good look at the field as I approached and was able to navigate by the blurry grey tree tops in the fog but it was still a rather puckering moment as I lost sight of the ground.

Another flight let me experience the “joys” of task overload as I didn’t just get behind the balloon, I also got completely disoriented in my navigation. After attempting to drop a marker on the target then land, I wound up flustered and making a hash of my approach into a field where others were landing. I then elected to go on and despite flying towards the morning sun with a land mark on my right, I was sure I was south of that land mark. Fortunately it ended well but it was an eye opening look at how task overload can lead to confusion & mistakes.

The training I’d received on the perils of power lines was reinforced one time as I was flying low over fields, trying to ride surface winds to get the direction I needed. I was keeping an eye out for obstacles and power lines but still had a bit of a surprise thanks to some trees hiding the poles. As I approached a gap in the trees, I realised there was a road running across my path on the other side of the tree line. Given the likelihood of power & telephone lines following roads, I started a climb as a precaution. Sure enough, there were power lines crossing the gap that had been looking otherwise safe. I think I’m going to re-read that power line safety booklet every couple of months just to be sure I don’t forget those warnings :)

Yes, every flight so far has had a “learning moment” contained within it. Some of the moments have become apparent when assessing the flight after landing while others have been clear and in my face as they occurred. Maybe once I’ve clocked hundreds more hours I’ll reach a point where every flight is no longer an educational experience but, you know, I hope that never happens. I get the feeling that if I stop learning on every flight, I’ll either be just about to learn a very painful lesson or I’ll have stopped challenging myself to improve on every flight and where’s the fun in that?

First printed in Aeronotes (the Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 36 No 4 (December, 2014) as a guide for student pilots, instructors and examiners.

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