Learning the most from your flying lessons

You walk inside the flying school and your instructor notices, with a quick “You’re here, let’s go fly”, and off to the flightline you walk.  It’s great that your instructor was finished with the last student, and you have his undivided attention.  You even get to buckle in whilst he does a quick walk around, and he trusts you to start whilst he adjusts his own headset, seat and finally closes the door. Five minutes later you are airborne and your instructor starts talking about steep turns.  In between your efficient lookout, listen out, and the poor communications over the intercom, you might make out fifty per cent of what he’s saying.  Then you remind him that today’s lesson was meant to be climbing and descending.

If that’s the kind of experience that you have at your flying school, then consider getting a new instructor – or even finding a new flying school.  Your aircraft costs hundreds of dollars per hour, and you are paying for an instructor on top of that, so you deserve value for money.  You are the customer, and they are lucky to have you – and they should be making you feel special indeed.

Related – how to become a pilot

Of course, you shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed, and you also have to turn up with a required level of knowledge. There’s a SIX P’s saying that goes something like “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance.”

It’s not Brain Surgery

I often relate being a pilot as compared to being a specialist surgeon. Apart from bandaging a few fingers after topping up the oil (don’t ask), my medical experience is rather minimal.  However, I’m pretty sure that when they learn their craft, they don’t begin in surgery with a live specimen and a knife, wondering where to cut.  Nor do they have a Three Epauletted instructor Doctor holding their hand, as they dig out a heart. I’m pretty sure that they’ve done a bit of study in theory, and with dummy models and computers and reading tea leaves and all that other stuff too.

So how do you best prepare for your next flying lesson?

At the end of your last flight debrief, ask your instructor what the next flight’s objectives are. Let’s say that STALLING is next in the syllabus. Yikes – STALLING? That sounds scary.  They say that knowledge dispels fear, so the best thing you can do to prepare for your next flight is to study.

Pull out the theory book and read up on the Stalling Chapter. Take some notes.  Remember what you can, and if something doesn’t make sense, then add that question to your notes.  Also look through the Pilot’s Manual for the aircraft you fly. That could provide information on the aircraft’s Stall Warning system, and also provide data on Stall Speeds, and Limitations. Note the Pre-Manouevre checklist, and run through it a few times until you have it memorised. If you are learning checklists, rather than rote learn and memorising them, sit in front of a cardboard cutout of the cockpit, and learn where to look and what to touch as you repeat the checks.  The combination of speaking, looking and moving in a relevant manner, will make your learning more effective.  

On the day of the flight, hopefully, you are booked in to brief with your instructor at least 30 mins prior to your flight lesson.  A relatively quiet briefing room with a wide board and markers is the very least you need, but a computer, model aircraft, a strong desk and maybe a stronger cup of coffee would all assist.  Put down your phone – and better yet – put it on silent, and pay attention to your instructor.

Why a good flying instructor is important

A good instructor isn’t there to regurgitate all of the knowledge (if so we would learn via youtube), but should also draw some of the answers from you, and check your understanding along the way. Since you covered this yourself at home in the last day or two, then most of what you are being told isn’t new. The repetition of seeing and hearing it again, will also reinforce your knowledge and memory.  If your questions from your private study isn’t answered, then go ahead and ask now.  A good flying school may even have some cockpit footage on video to show you what to expect inflight, and you can again see and hear the checks, main points, flying attitudes, recovery actions, without the stress of actually being in the cockpit. More reinforcement!

Now once you are zooming around in the flying training area with your instructor, he/she doesn’t have to teach you everything from scratch, and possibly be misunderstood. They will demonstrate, you will follow through, and you will finally get to do the activity, with gentle corrections and a few big smiley thumbs up from ‘him in the right hand seat’.  Chances are that you didn’t actually have to learn much at all during the flight, but that 90% of the learning was done before you even strapped on the aircraft that day.  This is more about experiencing it yourself, and it gives you a chance to better understand the procedure.  And don’t feel bad when your instructor takes control whilst he explains things – you are more likely to actually listen when you aren’t busy flying. 

Debriefing after your flying lesson

After landing, a short debrief is worth it’s weight in Avgas.  The instructor will point out the main points, perhaps make some suggestions, and you can again ask them to clarify any misunderstanding you might have, and again take some notes eg “Stalls – note the light then heavy buffet, keep ball centred, reduce Angle of Attack AND add power!”   This will give you a chance to think it through properly before you next fly a similar sequence.  Then of course ask your instructor what other new items are on the syllabus for your next lesson.  Read the notes again, and practise ‘desk flying’ to help cement your new skills into your brain.

Don’t forget to throw your old cardboard coffee cup into the trash can before you leave.

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Flying Instructor


Michael Jorgensen is a specialist formation instructor and Australia's premier air to air formation action photographer, based in Sydney, Australia. Jorgo has a wealth of experience, stemming from his career as a military fast jet pilot, and heavy air-to-air refuelling tanker pilot flying for both the New Zealand and British Air Forces. Find out more

Jorgo has 23 posts and counting. See all posts by Jorgo

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