How to avoid three big time-sucks


Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

ANOTHER click-bait title, but honestly, this is good stuff. Why does primary flight training sometimes take longer than it should? In this post I identify three traps that students fall into, each one of which sucks time and energy out of the training process, making progress take longer and cost more than it should. And these are three things under the control of you, the student, so the good news is they are all in your hands to avoid, or fix.

Watch the horizon more and the instruments less

This advice is aimed at novice pilots. Lots of us got into flying because we were mesmerized by the sight of the gauges, switches, levers and buttons in a big airplane flight deck (I certainly was) and all those indicators and numbers are a magnet for the eyes. I mean, if you weren’t supposed to look at them, why are they there? And in all those pretty colours, too…

The truth is that the instruments are there to help you measure aircraft performance, not to control it. Subtle but important difference. You have to control the aircraft by fixing its attitude (“orientation relative to the horizon”, remember?) and the way to do that is to watch the horizon. The sooner you sensitize yourself to finding, controlling and interpreting the position of the horizon in the window the sooner you can progress on in your training. That’s why it can be a time-suck – you can’t progress until you do.

Memorize the recipes

Somewhere around half way through your training period you’re going to be working hard to master a bunch of airwork manoeuvres – things like entering and exiting slowflight, and demonstrating and recovering from stalls in a range of scenarios. Show me slow flight, says your instructor, and … your mind goes blank. Where to start? Do I reach for the throttle? Isn’t there something I need to do first? Do I need to make a radio call? Pretty soon you’re back into another teaching session on HASEL checks, and another demonstration from your instructor, and another few minutes of air time has flown by. Literally. And you have fallen into a time-suck.

We all want to be the kind of pilot who can fly a manoeuvre naturally, without thought, hands and feet effortlessly flying (there I go again) to the right controls and moving them just the right amount so the plane appears to dance to your tune. But the only way to get there is to learn the recipe – the words – for what you want to be able to do. When you’ve been taught a manoeuvre get home and write out the recipe the way your instructor taught it. Or ask him or her to write it down and email it to you. Then learn the words off by heart: 1. HASEL check 2. close the throttle …. etc. etc. When you next want to fly the exercise teach it to yourself by repeating the words as you perform each action.

Sure, it’s going to take you a little while to get each action right, but if you get the rhythm of the exercise correct very often the actions fix themselves. And a sure way to get the rhythm wrong is to be struggling for what to do next with your hands and feet. If you’ve learned the recipe, you’ll already know.

Learn the flight test standards

This time-suck traps students towards the end of their training, when they’re going out for solo airwork practice. The purpose for a solo practice flight is to work, unsupervised, to make, and detect, and fix your own mistakes. Skillful piloting in your future will depend on constant self-analysis and correction so this is a really important part of learning to be a pilot. So you have to be absolutely rigorous at knowing what standard you’re trying to reach for every part of your flying so that you get the most out of your (hopefully, few) hours of practice.

If the purpose of your practice flight is to prepare for your flight test then those standards are written out for you by Transport Canada in the relevant flight test guide. You fall into a time-suck when you fly dual with your instructor, demonstrate a manoeuvre, and then are unable to enumerate whether you met the standard or if not, where you fell down. If you’re able to determine for yourself what’s good enough and what needs work – then you’ll power through solo practice sessions towards your test in record time. If not, you’re likely to be wasting hours in the air flying what doesn’t need to be flown and avoiding what does.

So there you have it – three time-sucks to avoid: looking too much at the instruments, not learning your recipes, and not knowing the flight test standards. Avoid all three and get your flight training done faster.

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