Ten Things Your Flight Instructor Wishes You Knew

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Sure, your flight instructor is trying to teach you all the ins and outs of flying, but there are some things -- not officially in the curriculum -- that would make the training go faster, easier, and more enjoyably. And these apply to recurrent training, upgrading, and new certificates too.

We all want to get through training as quickly and efficiently as possible. Yet some student pilots fly through training (no pun intended), and others end up spending a great deal more effort, money, and time to reach the same levels as our peers. What's the difference? Though frequency of training and personal learning styles can have an impact, removing only a few common roadblocks from your training can reduce the hurdles encountered in the process. It will also help those responsible for your training give more thorough and concise guidance all around. Here are ten things that will undoubtedly make you stand out as one of your flight instructor's favorite students.

1. Look Outside!

With the proliferation of "gizmos" in general aviation aircraft -- tied so closely to the rapid expansion of the computer and electronics industries in the past few years -- every pilot has had to grapple with the temptation to fixate all of his or her energy on the latest technology. Student pilots in particular have a great deal of difficulty keeping their attention outside of the cockpit, since all of the instrumentation in the cockpit (even the relatively simplistic stuff) is new to them. However, any pilot who has just trampled through the instrument rating will confirm that it's a lot easier to precisely control the aircraft by looking outside, and most of the things that will hurt you in an airplane aren't found inside the cockpit. If you feel like you're having trouble, ask your flight instructor to cover up some instruments for a few lessons to force your attention outside the cockpit. Remember: A lot of airplanes don't have attitude indicators, radios, or GPS, and their pilots do just fine.

2. Be on time

In fact, be early if you can. Getting ready for the flight (preflighting the aircraft, getting the weather briefing, etc.) before your scheduled time with your flight instructor allows him to concentrate the bulk of his attention on teaching new things or working on the areas that need the greatest amount of review. As it turns out, though, students often show up on the scheduled minute of arrival, spend half an hour getting ready to fly, and then have to hurry through a particular lesson to ensure that the aircraft and the flight instructor make it back on time for the next student. Sometimes the aircraft may not be available if you arrive early, but at the very least you can spend 20 minutes looking over the maneuvers you were supposed to know when you arrived. Speaking of which ...

3. One hour of studying at home can save two hours of training in the airplane

Most people fly for the fun of it, and studying hasn't generally been regarded as the most enjoyable of all activities. Particularly for those with busy schedules or who haven't been in a classroom for a while, study habits may be downright poor. However, students who progress most quickly through training (and folks, the most fun stuff comes after you get the Private Pilot Certificate) are generally those who spend at least an hour intimately close to the books between flight lessons. In particular, knowing the procedures for the next lesson's maneuvers and radio phraseology saves a tremendous amount of training time. Ask yourself if you could do any of the maneuvers you've done with your instructor on at least three occasions from memory and without help; if you can't, you're probably spending a lot of time with your instructor in the airplane going over the procedure step-by-step, when you should be working on the execution of the maneuver itself.

4. The checklist is required

The Practical Test Standards, the "cheat sheet" for check rides, couldn't possibly be more clear when it comes to the subject of checklists. Nearly every Area of Operation listed requires that the applicant "completes the appropriate checklist." Yet with many student pilots, proper checklist discipline falls short, and it typically results in things consistently getting missed. Is your landing light on when it should be? Forget to turn on the transponder again? Mixture not rich for landing? If you're using the checklist, that should never be a problem.

5. Asking questions makes a CFI's job easier

Anyone who's tried to teach anything to a person who refuses to participate in the process knows how frustrating it can be to determine the degree of understanding gleaned from the lecture. Yet many students, even those who are normally active and outgoing, act like a tree whenever the instructor asks, "Does that make sense?" If it doesn't, say so. Say it again if you have to. If you make learning an interactive process, you will pick up the material more thoroughly and more quickly than someone who take notes that only somewhat make sense to them. Often flight instructors find new ways of looking at things themselves through the questions that you ask!

6. A weather briefing is a necessity -- even on nice days

It's a clear blue sky outside, visibility unlimited, and the winds are calm. Who needs a weather briefing? You do! It's not only a legal requirement (see FAR 91.103), but in this day and age of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), airports across the country constantly under construction, communication frequency outages, and aging navigation facilities, it's an absolute requirement that you get the full standard briefing. Either call the Flight Service Station or connect to DUATs. (If you don't know how these work, this would be a great question to ask at your next lesson. See #5).

7. Safety, precision, smoothness

In that order. Students often try to be the next ace when they're learning a new maneuver, and smoothness is a requirement for being considered ready to take the practical test. However, at some times, there are things more important that being soft on the controls for the sake of the hypothetical people in the back. Concentrate first on doing a maneuver safely (which means looking outside for other traffic!), then within the altitude, heading, and speed requirements, then work on doing both gently. You're expected to be a little rough at it first, but with experience, you'll find your corrections will get smaller and the "smooth hands" will follow.

8. Fly it like you own it

At first, every one of us needs to be walked through a new procedure, maneuver, or operation, because, quite frankly, we haven't ever done it before. Loosening the leash after that can be a difficult task for the instructor, and most students aren't sure what they're allowed to do on their own -- they wait until they're told to put out the flaps, or reduce the power, or run the checklist, or call the tower. Take the initiative and ask your flight instructor if you can try doing a maneuver without his help, and have him critique you after you've completed it. The more responsibility you take on, the more comfortable an instructor will be letting you tackle the aircraft by yourself. When you do this, though, you have to ...

9. Keep your instructor in the loop

One thing that every flight instructor hates to hear after giving an instruction to a student is, "I was just about to do that." It can be difficult for an instructor to predict what a student will do next, and sometimes a flight instructor has to assume that the student has forgotten a step or needs to be prompted for a particular action. When you tell your flight instructor what you plan to do and when, he can tell if you've forgotten, because you haven't done what you said you would do. This allows him to give you more responsibility to make decisions on you own, and short circuit a plan that may not work for one reason or another before you are in the midst of executing it.

10. Keep your eyes on the big picture

The most important thing that any flight instructor wants to see in a student is safety. Most student pilots tend to evaluate their performance on how softly they land, how precisely they execute a maneuver, how accurately they memorize procedures. In the real world of flying, though, poor decisions about weather, equipment, or pilot skill are generally what cause accidents -- not a bad steep turn or a firm landing. Make your goal to be a conservative, current, and well-informed pilot, and the rest will fall into place!