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In "Chain of Command Part II", we have this exchange

LAFORGE: You know, this trip into the nebula's going to need someone who can do Titan's Turn in their sleep. These mines need to be laid within two kilometres of the Cardassian ships. But the particle flux from the nebula will blind all the sensors except for this proximity detector. You're going to need one heck of a pilot to pull that off.
JELLICO: Is that you?
LAFORGE: I could do it, but truthfully, the man you want is Commander Riker. He's the best there is.

Of course, the needs to the plot required Jellico to attempt to emulate contrition and make up with Riker, to some degree at least, to gain him some sympathy and to demonstrate that Jellico's priorities are only with the success of the mission and the good of the Federation (above the good of Picard).

Is this the first indication (Season 6!) that Riker might be the best pilot on board the entire Enteprise? Or are there any previous indications?

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    I just assumed it was LaForge throwing Riker a bone. This was just a few episodes after he met Scotty who taught him the importance of an engineer lying and inflating reputations. ;) – starpilotsix Apr 10 '18 at 20:36
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    @starpilotsix: If that were true, that sheds a whole new light on the whole thing because while Jellico is motivated only by the good of the Federation, it would mean that LaForge is differently motivated. That is not good. I don't want to entertain the ramifications of that conclusion. – ThePopMachine Apr 10 '18 at 20:39
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    @ThePopMachine: That's not necessarily true. Geordi could have plausibly believed that the disunity under Jellico was endangering the ship's mission, and therefore the Federation. – Kevin Apr 10 '18 at 21:11
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    @ThePopMachine: "it would mean that LaForge is differently motivated. That is not good." - I don't think this is about LaForge pretending Riker is a piloting ace when he knows Riker is actually an abysmal pilot. But LaForge considering both Riker and himself to be sufficiently good pilots doesn't seem problematic to me, nor in conflict with achieving "the good of the Federation". – O. R. Mapper Apr 10 '18 at 22:07
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    @HarryJohnston Commander Data has the processing power to outperform virtually any human being, including Riker. This is demonstrated often throughout the series, and so I would think it reasonable to conclude that Data is the best pilot on the Enterprise. – B.fox Apr 10 '18 at 23:04
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I can find no other references to Riker's alleged exceptional skill as a pilot. However he does have prior experience as a pilot, having served as conn officer aboard the USS Pegasus.

Riker is more often noted as being an exceptional tactician as opposed to a pilot. From TNG: "Peak Performance":

DATA: I have several examples of Commander Riker's battle technique. At the Academy, he calculated a sensory blind spot on a Tholian vessel and hid within it during a battle simulation. And as a lieutenant aboard the Potemkin, his solution to a crisis was to shut down all power, and hang over a planet's magnetic poles, thus confusing his opponent's sensors.
...
Only twenty-one percent of the time does he rely upon traditional tactics. So, the Captain must be prepared for unusual cunning.

Hiding within a Tholian vessel's sensor blindspot might be an indication of piloting finesse, depending on the size of said blindspot. But I admit it's a serious stretch.


Furthermore, there is some evidence before season 6 that directly supports the conclusion that Riker is not the best pilot on the Enterprise.

There are at least two occasions on which the Enterprise required a superb pilot in order to safely navigate a dangerous situation. In "Booby Trap" (season 3) the Enterprise must navigate out of an asteroid field littered with dangerous radiation fields. Simulations show that the ship's computer isn't good enough to reliably make it out without the crew dying of radiation exposure, and Geordi concludes that only a human pilot could get them out safely. Despite the enormous risk, it is Picard that takes the conn, not Riker.

In "In Theory" (season 4) the Enterprise is stuck in a nebula littered with dark matter pockets that produce dangerous spatial distortions when they collide with the ship. They decide to use a shuttle craft to scope a safe path out of the Nebula, since its small size lets it change direction more responsively. Once again, it is Picard that pilots the shuttlecraft. Riker objects due to safety concerns, but no one ever asks who's actually the better pilot.

PICARD: I believe our best chance of escaping this situation is for me to pilot the shuttle. It's my ship, Will. I've got to do this.

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    @NKCampbell No he didn't, he oversaw the operation while other officers piloted the ship. I don't remember who the pilot was (I'm guessing Geordi since season 1) but I do remember Riker telling the conn officer to "watch [their] role angle" while standing behind them. – ApproachingDarknessFish Apr 10 '18 at 20:59
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    There's also the bit in Insurrection where he pilots the Enterprise-E using a 1980s PC joystick. But that's obviously after the incident in the question. – Jontia Apr 10 '18 at 21:24
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    ACCESS MANUAL STEERING COLUMN – ApproachingDarknessFish Apr 10 '18 at 21:28
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    It could be that Picard is a better pilot than Riker. I always thought that LaForge meant that Riker was the best available pilot at that time - i.e.: Picard off the ship, and other crew rotations having moved presumably better pilots out. – Tim Apr 10 '18 at 22:46
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    @Tim: There is the episode with the pockets of null space, where Picard goes out in front of the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft to guide her. In that one, Picard is made out to be an excellent pilot, but the reason he takes it on is out of responsibility, not necessarily because he is literally the best. – ThePopMachine Apr 10 '18 at 23:16
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In S01E01 "Encounter at Farpoint", Picard tests Riker by having him manually attach the saucer to the drive section after those were separated:

DATA [OC]: The saucer module is now entering orbit with us, sir.

PICARD: Acknowledged. Commander Riker will conduct a manual docking. Picard out.

RIKER: Sir?

PICARD: You've reported in, haven't you? You are qualified?

RIKER: Yes, sir.

PICARD: Then I mean now, Commander

And in the movie Insurrection, Riker pilots the ship in manual mode to perform what - according to Geordi - will later be called the 'Riker maneuvre', where nebulous gases are scooped up with the Bussard Collectors, then exhausted towards the enemy ships and ignited.

All in all no conclusive evidence that Riker is the best of the best, but he at least seems competent.

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    Ruler performs no actual piloting during saucer reconnection. He conducts the operation by giving instructions to the actual pilots, but at No point does he himself actually touch the controls. – ApproachingDarknessFish Apr 11 '18 at 17:50
  • @ApproachingDarknessFish Indeed - justr rewatched. I can clearly remember Riker handling a stick to fly though. Any idea what episode that was? – steenbergh Apr 11 '18 at 17:58
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    Probably Star Trek: Insurrection. See the comments on my answer. – ApproachingDarknessFish Apr 11 '18 at 18:32
  • @ApproachingDarknessFish: I'm not sure that because Riker didn't push the buttons himself that it should be dismissed. He's essentially ordering someone else to push specific buttons in sequence since he's commanding the ship(s) in that instance. It's not obviously the clearest piece of evidence for his piloting skills, but it's still relevant. – Ellesedil Apr 11 '18 at 23:29
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Was there a junior officer aboard with superior piloting fundementals? Probably. But the mission required someone who could perform under pressure, and Riker had the experience and demonstrated he could.

Secondly, You have to suspect that LaForge used this as an opportunity to get Riker out of the dog house. He had already once gone to Riker privately for help in dealing with Jellico's new command style.

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