Learn from Smarter Pilots

We pilots typically don't like to admit it, but some pilots are smarter than we are – at least on some topics. The aim of the frugal pilot is to learn something useful from more experienced pilots and aircraft owners. Here are my suggestions on how to get good answers:

Ask Good Questions

Sometimes the most difficult part of getting a good answer is figuring out what the best question is. Rather than "What oil should I buy?" a better question may be "How would you advise me to select the best quality oil and filter for my high-time Piper Arrow?" Ask a specific rather than an open-ended question for best results.

Once you've framed the question, consider how to approach another pilot with it. If you want a variety of opinions, offer the clarified question to pilots at your next hangar flying event, social get-together or weekend congregation. For better results, select one or two pilots (see below) and get them into the frame of offering valuable counsel by prefacing your question with something like "I need some help with an aviation question and would really appreciate your advice." That approach appreciates the listener's experience and asks him or her to treat your question with an open mind and best knowledge.

Be Selective

As your flying experience expands, you learn to recognize who are the better pilots. It may be found in what they say, but more often in what they do. Many pilots talk a good flying experience, but flying with them can tell more than any conversation. Do you seem to have the same approach to flying? Would you invite one pilot-friend over another on a cross-country with you? These are the pilots whose knowledge and skills about flying you most respect. These are the pilots who are as smart, maybe even smarter on some subjects than yourself. And they have different experiences from which they have learned. They have something to teach you.

If you're an aircraft owner, you've met others who have more experience with aircraft ownership, maintenance and repairs than you. Maybe you envy their aircraft and the condition they keep it in. Or they have experience in one or two areas where you could use their advice: upgrading instruments, selecting a STOL aircraft or kit, or finding a good mechanic who encourages owner-assisted annual inspections. Identify and note these owner-pilots and their expertise in your Frugal Notebook.

Most pilots join several different aviation clubs and associations over the years, but soon find one or two that focus on their type of flying and approach to aviation. These are the groups in which you would consider a lifetime membership. Maybe it's a brand or model club, a state or regional group, or an association that focuses on aspects of pleasure or business aviation. These are your sources of knowledge, the pilots and advisors who have their own unique experiences from which they have learned valuable lessons.

Listen Well

You've framed a great question and asked it of a knowledgeable person. But maybe the answer isn't coming out clearly. The question wasn't heard the way you thought it would be. Or maybe the listener didn't understand the terms you used. Time to clarify. "Sorry, but what I meant to say was…" Carefully, you can guide the conversation toward an answer that better fits what you need to know.

Once you have a practical answer from your resource, write it in your Frugal Notebook. As you do so, additional questions may crop up and you can get answers or clarifications while you still have your resource nearby. And remember to thank your advisor for helping you.

What does all this have to do with being a frugal pilot? A frugal pilot is one who makes common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar. Some of those decisions are based on what you've learned about flying. They can be enhanced by learning valuable lessons from the experiences of other pilots. The bottom line is: To get a valuable answer, ask a good question of someone who knows.

One more tip: Be a valuable resource to other pilots. Answer clarified questions with as much helpful guidance as you would like other pilots to offer you. Clearly differentiate between what you know as fact and what your experience has developed as opinion. And don't be concerned if the listener doesn't take your advice. Frugal pilots recognize that there are many ways of doing the same thing well.