While I was on the treadmill this morning I listened to a couple of the podcasts in my subscription list. One had a discussion about the utility of getting a tailwheel endorsement. The bottom line was that, if you can find some way to do it you should – it will make you a better pilot. Why?Cessna training aircraft.

My opinion – you will be a better pilot because it will make you pay attention to what the airplane is doing and it will develop your ‘airplane sense.’

Some of you who frequent this site probably know that I retired from professional flying last month. I was an airline pilot for 22 years, most of it spent flying international routes.  But was I really a pilot? No, not really.

It took lots of flying experience to get the job, but the job itself required very little flying. Most airline pilots these days – especially the ones flying international routes- is far more a systems operator sand crew managers than hands-on-the-controls pilots. On a 12-hour flight the pilot might manipulate the controls for two hours – including taxi time.

Some pilots will hand-fly the plane from applying take-off power until 10,000 feet while others will engage the autopilot at 300′ on take-off. Some airports require the autopilot to be engaged in order to guarantee a specific sound-reducing ground track. On arrival most pilots will wait until the aircraft is in the final landing configuration before taking over manually. Others will wait until 500′ agl to take over.Piper tailwheel aircraft.

Now more and more of our general aviation aircraft are being manufactured with glass panels with integrated GPS navigation and autopilots. Add to that the ease of landing and ground maneuvering associated with the nosewheel configuration and you have a perfect breeding ground for systems operators.

Most of us fly less than 100 hours a year in our general aviation aircraft – that’s almost 2 hours a week all year long.  The general aviation accident rate – and the types of accidents we are having indicates that we are trending toward being systems operators rather than pilots. You don’t increase your skills (or even maintain them) by pulling the plane out every couple of weeks, programming it, driving it to the end of the runway and then watching the autopilot take you to your destination.

We, as a pilot group, need to spend more of our time flying and less time programming. On the surface all the fancy new glass panels, GPS navigation and integrated autopilots are great safety improvements – but the person in command has to be a pilot with real piloting skills. In my opinion the best glass panel on the market is the clear one above the instrument panel that lets you look outside and see what the plane is really doing – and it leaves you enough brain computing power to actually feel the plane move around you. Try it – you’ll really like it.