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The Co-Pilots Help Guide

The Co-Pilots Help Guide, September 2014If you’re a co-pilot and/or companion to a general aviation pilot, there are many things you can do in the right seat to help the pilot manage his or her duties and improve the safety and enjoyment of the flight. Here’s a help guide of co-pilot responsibilities, courtesy of the July/August issue of FAA Safety Briefing.

Job 1: Read checklists
One important way a co-pilot can help is to read checklists for the pilot, and then watch and check off as the pilot completes the required safety checks. In addition to helping the pilot and improving the safety of all aboard, monitoring the checklist will also help give a co-pilot a better understanding of the aircraft. Start with the pre-flight inspection, then move on to the passenger briefing checklist, and complete any other smart safety checklists.

Job 2: Watch and report on sky traffic.
Another way a good co-pilot helps is to keep his or her eyes open for other plane traffic, especially in busy areas such as airports, and let the pilot know about them. You can also offer to listen to an ATC frequency and report on traffic calls that the controller makes, and try to identify the aircraft by sight.

Controllers use a plane’s clock position, distance, and altitude to determine it’s position relative to yours. For example, “I see a plane at twelve o'clock, three miles away at 5,000 feet.”

Job 3: Read and monitor progress.
Even though we live in a technological age with GPS and map navigators, there is no substitute for human situational and positional awareness.

If you don’t already, learn how to read paper charts, tablet navigation apps, and/or panel-mounted moving map navigators. At all times, you should be able to determine where you are, and where you are going. Follow the progress of the flight, and make verbal callouts when you see the aircraft crossing a named navigational point.

Also learn to read key instruments, including the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, heading indictor, RPM and/or manifold pressure gauges. After a while, you’ll be able to look and determine what looks right and in order, which is an invaluable skill to offer the pilot.

In an emergency

In the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency, a co-pilot will need to stay calm and help in a stressful, possibly scary, situation. Good emergency training is crucial to staying calm and collected. Here’s what to do in an emergency situation:

Stay in control. You should be familiar with how to control attitude, airspeed, and altitude. If you haven’t already, get some hands-on right seat flying training before you actually need it.

Know how to navigate. If you don’t already, you should know basic navigation skills and functions, such as how to determine and set the course of the aircraft. On every flight, practice with the pilot, and at minimum, know how to set the moving map navigator to take you “directly to” the nearest airport.

Know how to communicate. In an emergency, set the communications radio to 121.5 — the “911 of the sky” — and make a mayday call. Set the transponder to code 7700, which makes your aircraft very visible on the ATC radar screen. Again, learning and practicing basic functions on routine flights will increase your value to the pilot, and reduce your personal stress level.

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