How to be a better Pilot in Training (PT)

So you want to get your private pilot’s certificate (aka private pilot’s license (PPL)or some other certificate/rating). Do you want to earn it quickly with minimal cost? If so, then read on and I will give you a few tips that will increase your ability to do this immensely. The minimum hours of flight training to earn a PPL is 40 hours under Part 61 or 35 hours under Part 141 training. The national average to earn the certificate is around 65 hours! The cost for the PPL varies around the nation and amount of training done. Figure from a minimum of $6,500 to $13,000 or more. You don’t have to be average (or below) when it comes to training time needed. What a PT has to do to succeed is be ready to put forth the required effort and use a few concepts/techniques that will set him/her up for success. I will provide you with several ways of being a better PT. Most of these do not apply only to earning your PPL but for other ratings and flying in general.

1. ALWAYS be on time! – Being on time means showing up at least 15 minutes early. There is preparation for you training block to be done before hand. Often you will start getting charged for your time block whether you are resent or not. If you have an emergency, call your instructor to inform him/her.

2. Follow a Syllabus – Training without a plan of attack is guaranteed to waste money and time.

3. Consistency – Avoid gaps in training. Flying at least 3 times per week with regular (hopefully near daily) study is most beneficial. When learning to fly you need repetition without big time gaps between flights. This helps you to retain the motor skills, sight picture, scan, etc. Lack of consistency feels like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step backward every time you have a gap in training (which means slower progress and more $$). Of course sometimes we can’t help but have our routine interrupted by weather, maintenance, illness, work, etc., etc. Its aviation, get used to it. If there is a break in flying, do chair flying (see #6) and study more. This will help make up for the delay getting into the air.

4. Preparation – The more you prepare the less money you will spend. In military flight school if you don’t come to each flight with all of the proper information required for that flight memorized then you may fail that flight before ever going flying! It may sound harsh but the result is PTs are prepared and they get through a massive amount of training in a relatively short time. So do what is proven to work. Show up early for your flights prepared. This means having studied the maneuvers or other events planned for the flight, preferably well enough to be able to explain the procedures to your instructor. If you can talk through the steps and know the airspeeds, altitudes, pitch and bank angles, etc. without stumbling your way through you will get the maneuver down MUCH faster than if your instructor has to walk you through it over and over and over.

5. Preparation, part 2 – A good PT will be largely self-taught, especially when it comes to the academics. If you have to be “spoon fed” everything in ground training then you will not do as well and you will waste a lot of money on ground instruction. Be curious and do your research. Save the ground instruction for stuff you don’t understand or want more information on that maybe isn’t in a book.

6. Chair Flying – This is visualization. Spend time practicing the steps for your maneuvers. Flying the landing pattern is a great example. You can sit in a chair and imagine yourself flying the pattern, making the radio calls out loud, setting power, adding flaps, checking brakes, etc., etc. Another technique is to have a small simulated runway (e.g made from tape or cardboard) in your living room and you walk the pattern around your runway going through procedures and making simulated radio calls. See yourself doing every step perfectly, thinking about every nuance that you can (sight picture, power settings, adjustments necessary, etc.). This really works! Athletes, business people, and winners in all walks of life use visualization successfully.

7. Attitude – More specifically, positive (or proper) attitude. This is important for success in everything, not just flying (Maybe this should be #1 on the list). Your attitude has incredible influence on your performance. Get your mind set so it only thinks in positive terms and you are ready to focus on your flight training. If you cannot focus due to some personal issue then get your mind right or don’t fly. If you make a mistake (you will make many) or repeatedly make mistakes you must avoid any negative self-talk. Getting angry at yourself will cause your performance to drop significantly which increases anger and the vicious cycle continues and learning may cease altogether. Result: time & money wasted. When you make a mistake avoid anger or any negative self-talk (e.g. “I suck”, “I’m stupid”, etc.) and turn it into resolve to focus and do better. If you don’t do better don’t worry about it and move on to something else. We all have bad days. Attitude is everything! Read this excellent article on attitude.

8. Radio Communications – Talking on the radio elicits fear in a majority of new PTs. There is a fear of not knowing what to say and making a mistake on the radio. Guess what, YOU ARE GOING TO MESS IT UP! Accept it now and realize that it is part of learning and it’s ok. Every pilot has made bad radio calls. Have confidence in yourself and do your best on the radio. Practice on the ground so you can get comfortable with the calls before having to make radio calls while also flying your aircraft. First learn what calls to make and the proper format. AOPA has online courses you can take and there it the AIM, books and other resources. Practice making the calls out loud while doing some other physical task, such as driving (be careful that you still pay attention to your driving if you do this!) Making simulated radio calls while doing another task will be similar to flying your aircraft and making radio calls. It’s excellent practice and pays off huge. Unfortunately this is probably one of the least emphasized parts of flight training, yet it is critical for safety. you must learn good radio communications!

9. Understand Aerodynamics – Most PTs (and probably most rated pilots as well) have a very basic (weak) understanding of aerodynamics at best. Take the time to really understand some key basic aerodynamic concepts and you will fly better because of it. A solid understanding of angle of attack (AoA), the relationship of AoA to induced drag (Coefficient of lift & Coefficient of drag curve graph), stalls, adverse yaw, coordination, stability, and the other aerodynamic principles in the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) will serve you well. Take the time to study this subject early and often until you can teach it. Thorough understanding of the effects of AoA is critical as some actions a pilot takes in managing AoA are counter intuitive. Proper understanding means faster learning in the airplane and money saved, as well as increasing safety.

10. Accuracy – strive for accuracy in everything you do. For example, when on final approach you should be lined up on centerline early. Accepting “close” to centerline is not good enough. The same goes for all maneuvers, work hard to be as accurate as possible. Many positive effects come from the desire to be accurate.

11. Manage Fixation & Distraction – This is difficult when first learning to fly as everything is new and you are learning where to look, what to do, etc. Chair flying will help. If you can, sit in your training aircraft and memorize the position of every switch, button, lever, item possibly needed in flight. Practice going through checklists (this is a type of chair flying) as this will make you more proficient and reduces fixation issues dealing with the aircraft. Train yourself to not stare at any one thing for more than 3-4 seconds and you will be better and safer while flying.

12. Get Your FAA Written Exam Done Early – All too many students procrastinate on their written exam. Getting your flight training done and then delaying your check ride because you have to get your written exam done is very inefficient and costs you money. The earlier you get the written done the more knowledge you have of aviation and the more time to focus on your flying skills. Set a goal for yourself to get your written done before you solo and develop a plan to make it happen.

13. Read the ACS – If you are in charge of your own training then you need to know what standard you are training to. The Airman Certification Standards is what your checkride is based on and it tells you what you need to know and do. Get familiar with this document early on in your training, definitely after you have soloed.

14. Fix Your Mistakes – Mistakes are guaranteed. Knowing what mistakes you made and fixing them is not. You should run the flight debrief and discuss what you did well and what mistakes you made. It is difficult at first but improves with practice. After you list your mistakes then the instructor should discuss what he saw and fill in any gaps you missed. By doing your own debriefs your awareness and recall of the flight will improve.

15. Mentor – Get a flying mentor if you can. A mentor can provide motivation and guidance. Your instructor should serve as a mentor to some extent but you can also have another one who you are not training with. Teaming up with other PTs is useful as well. Study together, motivate each other, and supporting each other is useful and helps improve retention in the training program.

So here you have 15 guidelines to help you do better in your training. Take them to heart and apply them with vigor. I have seen the differences between the motivated PT and the unmotivated PT many times. The difference is dramatic. With adequate motivation and a good plan to accomplish your goal, you can get your PPL (or any other certificate) with minimal flight hours and minimal expense, and you will be a better and safer pilot because of it!





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