What Pilots Can Do to Help Their Non-Pilot Right-Seaters
There is plenty the pilot can do to make it easier for the non-flying companion, even for those who have never taken a Pinch-Hitter style course. (This article is intended as a companion to Doug Ritter's other article, "The Pilot's Incapacitated — Now What?")
It almost goes without saying, and most of us ought to do it by habit, but make sure the aircraft is always trimmed. Obviously, this makes it much easier when something untoward happens.
The flying skills they have learned, and their confidence in those skills, will atrophy quickly unless they are allowed to practice regularly. This does not mean allowing them to land the aircraft, unless you are a CFI, and even then it is probably best to let someone else do it with them, not you. It does mean you should give them the opportunity to fly straight and level as well as make turns and climbs and descents on a regular basis as you go about your way. Just remember, they aren't yet a pilot. Cut them some slack, be patient and always provide positive reinforcement to maintain their confidence.
Radios are a good area where their training can be a help to you. This can range from simply setting the new frequencies to actually handling all or part of the communications, just like the pros do it. Certainly, setting the transponder is simple enough. Other tasks require a bit more coordination and training. How much or little they do is up to you. But, it can be a real help to get them involved.
Most of us now fly with headsets, but how many of us have a push-to-talk switch for the right seat? It makes it easier for them to help us and in an emergency it sure beats reaching over to the pilot's yoke or stick or working with the mic, which also may not be that convenient. If you still use a mic instead of headsets, make sure it, or another one, is handy to the right seat.
The Pinch-Hitter students are encouraged to follow your progress on their own chart. The suggestion is that you should quit throwing out your outofdate charts and give the old charts to them to use. Once they get good at it, you could do as I do, and let them do all the VFR navigating. Even if you usually file IFR, make sure you have the appropriate sectionals or a WAC chart for them to use. Again, it's something they can learn pretty quick and when you work out a good system between you, it makes your job easier. In an emergency these skills will really come in handy, but unless they practice, it will be difficult.
We all keep track of fuel burn, each in our own fashion. The important point from our companion's perspective is how much fuel or time remains. It's a good idea to come up with a system that keeps them informed of how much fuel is remaining, because that could have a significant impact on their decisions in an emergency. That will also be one of the first questions a controller will ask.
The Pinch-Hitter rules about autopilots are simple. If it's on, leave it be. If it's off, leave it be. That's all well and good as a general rule, but many of us can do better. While some aircraft autopilots are complicated beasts which really should be left alone unless one is fully checked out in their intricacies, others are simple to use if the pilot sets things up correctly in the first place. If, when not in actual use, you always leave the autopilot set to "heading" and set the bug on your current heading, then all the "emergency pilot" needs to know is which button(s) to press to engage the autopilot in that mode. This is generally only one or two buttons so it's not very difficult. This can be a real boon in an emergency because it means they can concentrate on other things, such as a radio call for help, without worrying about having to concentrate so much on actually flying the aircraft.
The Pinch-Hitter course includes basic instruction in VOR navigation. Not a bad idea, but many of our aircraft are now equipped with Loran or GPS with a database. These can be pretty complicated at first glance, but they really aren't all that difficult to learn to use. If your companion knows how to use it, it sure beats using the Nav. Since these units are usually closer to the right seat, it makes sense to let that person do all the work and it will really make your flying easier. Starting with the basic navigation knowledge received in the course, with only a little practice they can master the basics of these units. Once they understand how to use it, then in an emergency all they need to do to do to find an airport is to look on the chart, set the unit to the identifier from off the chart and fly the built-in CDI. That CDI is invariably closer to them and much easier to read than trying to keep an eye on the CDI way across the cockpit.
Having invested in the training, it only makes sense to make the most of it and give them every edge you can. Having a competent helper in the cockpit can be a real asset. But, like all cockpit resources, it must be managed. The most important point is to communicate and keep the lines of communication open in both directions.
Finally, here is a checklist adapted from ASF's Pinch-Hitter Checklist, which you might want to put within sight or easy reach of the right seat (modify as necessary to suit your aircraft and equipment):
Emergency Pinch-Hitter Checklist