Good Students Know Their Weaknesses
I mostly make my living as a flight instructor, so I often fly with ten or more students in a week. Not all are “student pilots” in the FAA sense of the term, but they’re all flying with me to get instruction of some sort. They're seeking new certificates, instrument ratings, tailwheel transitions or they're rusty pilots, doing recurrent training, new aircraft checkouts, remediation, etc. Some of my students, I adore. I’d feel bad taking their money, but for the need to feed my family. Others not so much.
Why do I enjoy flying with some more than others? It’s great if they’re thoughtful, pay promptly, don’t smell bad and show up on time, but I’ve realized I will bend on all of these in exchange for one particular behavior.
I want to fly with students who tell me the ways in which they suck at flying. When you tell me, “I was too flat at touchdown” or “that was way outside of ACS limits for steep turns” or “my SA in the pattern was super low today,” it brings a tear to my eye. I can trust these pilots to keep learning on their own. When I sign these pilots off, they’re going to come back in six months for recurrent training in better shape than I left them. The other guys come back to me in six months flying worse because they’re forced to by the safety office after getting caught doing something stupid.
The “other guys” are always trying to sell me on how well they flew, which creates a handful of problems. First, my job is to help you improve at the things you’re not good at. If you don’t admit that these things exist, we’ve got a problem. (Some people think my job is to sign them off to rent airplanes without an instructor, which is an awkward collateral responsibility.) Second, I’m going to have to break the news to you that you’re not as good as you say you are, which isn’t fun for me. I don’t care to hear about the magnitude of the sucking. I don’t want a mopey, “I’m a terrible pilot. I’ll never amount to anything.” I need specific things you recognize as a problem with a credible prospect for improvement.
If you’re having a painful moment of introspection and wondering if you’re one of the “other guys,” keep your chin up. We’ve all tried to minimize our mistakes to an instructor whose approval we wanted or needed. Your next lesson is a new opportunity to be the kind of student your instructor adores. I'm a student sometimes too, and I still have fight the urge to minimize my mistakes every time I'm on the receiving end of a training flight.
In retrospect, this should have been obvious to me years ago. A great pilot isn’t one who doesn’t make mistakes. A great pilot recognizes and fixes his or her own mistakes before anyone else notices them. It’s obvious then that a great student pilot is one who calls out his or her mistakes and the fix before their instructor.