One of my favorite parts of training at a large Part 141 flight school is being able to safety pilot for friends on their solo flights. Having a good-sized class of 30 students taking instrument ground together during summer meant that there were plenty of people getting through their lessons quickly. This is great because for any solo flights when we want to fly simulated instrument “under the hood” we have to take a safety pilot. This means anyone who knows other people in the course gets extra flight time.
It’s a weird mix of VFR and IFR flying, since we’re talking to approach the entire flight and shooting instrument approaches, but technically neither private pilot is instrument rated so we’re not allowed to file a flight plan. This provides an opportunity to get a lot of free PIC time in (since you’re required crew), and it’s always more exciting to fly with friends. We still have lesson requirements to meet, but it’s a much more relaxed environment than when you’re with an instructor, and it gives us a chance to plan more interesting flights.
Two weeks ago a friend was doing one of his cross-country flights with a requirement for 3 different airports, so we planned from KBTL – KSBN – KBEH – KBTL. Additionally it worked out that it was a towered Charlie and an uncontrolled field, and we got to stop and hang out at the FBO at South Bend. I’ve only been to an FBO twice before (both times with an instructor), so I enjoyed getting to go somewhere on my own. Atlantic Aviation has a fancy lounge and above average ramp service, and it was fun chatting with a few of the guys that work there. It was almost empty when we flew in, but they said it definitely gets crazy busy when all the Notre Dame alumni fly their business jets in for football season.
Besides an actual lesson with an instructor, flying as a safety pilot is one of the best ways that I have found to practice instruments and specifically, scanning techniques. From the right seat all the regular instruments are in a different location than what you’re used to, so it forces you to concentrate on the scan and interpret what you’re seeing. As a new private pilot, I also enjoy the chance to fly with someone on an “equal” level. It’s basically my first exposure to practical applications of crew resource management. One person is always on the controls and in charge of actually flying the plane, but the other person is also PIC. They are just as responsible for the safety of the flight, and it’s their job to scan for traffic and advice about any altitude/direction changes to avoid clouds. A safety pilot can also help assist with smaller tasks such as tuning in frequencies or going through normal checklists; it’s just important to specifically agree on each pilot’s responsibilities. You want to avoid a situation where the pilot flying becomes too reliant on the other person to help with regular tasks. At the same time, the safety pilot shouldn’t be taking the controls or giving unnecessary instructions. It really helps to find the right amount of cooperation between crew members, and it’s great training for later commercial flights.