Five common student pilot mistakes

5 min read

1. Underutilizing at-home study and being under prepared for the lessons

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Don’t waste money and time by forgetting the lessons and covering the same topics over and over.

Learning to fly is almost like a full-time job. It requires a lot of study outside the airplane. One of the mistakes we see students making is coming to the lesson under-prepared. The last time you thought about flying should never be the last time you met with your instructor. You’ll end up taking more time relearning the material than you’ll spend making progress toward your goals. I highly recommend going over the lesson once you get home for 20 to 30 minutes at least. Your brain has time to unwind after the lesson on your drive home, then, if you peek back into the material for half an hour it does wonders for your memory.

Another great tool for at-home study is the 2023 Learn to Fly Course (now $50 off). The video lessons and review quizzes make tracking progress easy and covering topics fun. You’ll be able to go over the lesson you just did and then start looking forward at the next topics your instructor is going to cover. You can even invite your instructor to follow along with your progress in the course. They’ll be able to see the videos you’ve watched and the quizzes you’ve taken so they know what to cover with you.

Don’t waste money and time by forgetting the lessons and covering the same topics over and over. Just use your own time wisely and you and your instructor will be happy you did.

2. The iron grip and over controlling.

pilot flying

The airplane wants to fly, just let it be and relax.

When you first get in the airplane and take the controls it’s difficult to manage everything that’s happening around you. There’s more gauges, more controls and more room for error than probably any other vehicle you’ve controlled. When I was a student, I had a terrible time with over corrections. I’d lose 100 feet of altitude and suddenly find myself climbing 500 feet per minute. Or I’d get lined up with the runway and drift a little left, only to over correct to the right.

And let’s not forget one of the causes of this issue, the iron grip on the yoke. My instructor put it plain and simple for me, “The airplane wants to fly, just let it be and relax.” You’re just there to keep things running smoothly when you think about it. Flying is about grace and finesse. I promise that if you relax, your flying will improve.

3. Not having a mentor.

There are a lot of barriers to entry when it comes to getting a pilot’s license but most can be overcome with the help of a mentor. The first time you get to the airport can be daunting enough. Engage someone who can show you the ropes. You should never feel unwelcome. It’s a friendly atmosphere when you get to know the pilots. The more you get involved with aviation, the more questions you’ll have. Choosing the right mentor can help for years to come.

4. Buying a cheap starter headset

The most often used item when you begin your flight training is a headset. You’re going to quickly find what details and features matter. I’d warn against the bargain bin used headset to save a few extra dollars. Too often we see students opt for something cheap (not the same as inexpensive) only to upgrade to a higher quality headset a short time later.

Think of the headset as an investment in your flying career and, most importantly, your hearing. If you plan on flying with this headset every time you get in the airplane, it needs to be comfortable and quiet. Only the higher end headsets come with active noise reduction technology (ANR) that actively dampens the noise around you so you don’t hear as much cockpit noise. ANR makes for a more enjoyable flight and also saves your ears from too much high frequency noise which can damage your eardrums.

Another benefit of a higher quality headset is comfort. Wearing a tight headset with noticeable clamping force for a long cross-country flight is a problem. Your head will be screaming for relief. It’s unpleasant to say the least.

Other features you’ll enjoy are soft leatherette ear seals, adjustable clamping pressure, swivel ear cups, adjustable head pads and thicker ear seals. 


If you can dedicate three lessons per week, you’ll be able to knock this out with the least amount of time and the least amount of money.

5. Not flying often enough.

If you can dedicate three lessons per week, you’ll be able to knock this out with the least amount of time and the least amount of money. If you’re only flying once per week, it’s going to take a year to earn your license. To put it simply, Go! Go! Go!

With the right amount of dedication and a little luck from the weather you’ll be certified in only a matter of months. The more often you fly, the better you’ll retain the material.

As a wise older pilot once said, “Once you become a student pilot, you’re always a student pilot. You never stop learning.” We think there’s always a lesson to be learned with pilot training. That’s why we share our stories on Flight Training Central and why we encourage you to share your stories as well.

What are your thoughts on student pilot mistakes? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and let us know.

15 replies
  1. Ayad says:

    Can someone recommend good and affordable headset?
    Plus any advice is appeeciated as my checkride is in 3 weeks.

    • AFSOC 1st Sgt says:

      I bought a Crazed Pilot CP-1 headset 3 years ago when I first started taking lessons. Less than $100 (so, yeah, I guess you could call them cheap, but I prefer to say “inexpensive”), and they’ve been great. Gel ear cups and head pad are very comfortable, flex boom mic, great sound. After I got my PPL I bought a second set for pax. No complaints.

  2. Mark says:

    All of these are absolutely true. It takes a while to gain the confidence to loosen the white knuckle grip on the yoke. I didn’t relax until after I had soloed. Also, it will definitely take more hours to earn your license if you only fly once a week. You’ll pick it up faster and build on your experience better if you fly more often than once a week.

  3. Reg Darmoni says:

    I’ve heard two POV’s on over-controlling the plane: 1) as in the article- ‘relax your grip/ the plane wants to fly so let her’ and 2) be more aggressive with the plane! Don’t “accept” what it’s giving you -make it do what you want! We need the 2nd to master the test expectations and we need the 1st to get thru the demands of initial learning!

  4. Dick Kruse CFI / ASEL / ASES / TailWheel says:

    I have always recommend that my beginning Student Pilots buy themselves a good but inexpensive started headset and then award themselves the “good one” for completing their Private pilot Check Ride… they are going to need a second headset for their first passenger

  5. Douglas Tomlinson says:

    I have been very happy with the Flightcom headsets with $13 fleece headpads replacing the rubber. Passengers happy and I am happy they are still good after 20 years!

  6. Billy Simmons says:

    three things—–never hurry—and always use your checklist—and if it doesn’t seem right –it probably isn’t. PPL Bremerton Wa.

  7. Neil says:

    I was recommended a David. And Clark headset. It was a little expensive as a student but as the writer says. A little extra money went a long way. I also recommend doing what I did. Reward yourself for each significant step you make. As a solo student I bought a new flight bag. As a private pilot I bought a brand new David and Clark headset. As I passed each commercial exam I would treat myself and my wife whose patience is never ending. We would have a weekend away where she wanted to go. Gaining my commercial licence I bought my ANR David and Clark headset. With my very first commercial passengers I bought my iPad to use in the aircraft which was one of the best thing ever. The biggest thing I would recommend which is identified here is a mentor.
    My mentor was a surgeon I worked with. James allowed me to fly him to country clinics, and would take me and a close group of surgeons out in his piper Mohave and I would get practice with planning, in flight navigation,and experience flying in all weathers and light conditions. Having a senior pilot beside you allowing me to fly him in a single and doing the grunt work when he flew the twin was so helpful and I believe helped me get through my exams, and flying tests. As a mentor I could ask him any questions even If I thought they were stupid. I never felt judged. A mentor is, I think, the most important aspect of learning to fly and I have taken this role for other students.

  8. Rick Baron says:

    Review is important. When I began, and finally passed, my instrument training I couldn’t believe how much I had to re-learn from my private pilot days. You can bet I won’t let that happen again. After you pass the private pilot check ride, sign up and take another private pilot ground school course and get with a flight instructor at least every 6 months. Not because you have to but because you want to be the best and safest pilot you can be.

  9. Sam Johnson says:

    In 1961 we did not use headsets when taking lessons. We shouted at each other and the instructor had to repeat himself constantly. I understand those who buy more affordable headsets. I did it for years. My suggestion is to try one of the latest noise cancelling headsets while flying in an airplane. Bring your headsets along and start with then first. Then change to the NC headsets. Do not try to rationalize the cost difference. Just use them and be honest with yourself which is better. Then save your money, buy the NC set and you will be happier and less tired after your flights for the rest of your life.

  10. Jeremy Thompson says:

    I like how you mentioned that the more the student will fly, the higher the chances of them being able to graduate faster. That is a very helpful piece of advice as I’m planning to have my son attend a pilot school for him to be able to become a pilot as he would want to. I’ll be sure to save up enough money so that I can be able to get him to fly as often as possible. Thanks!

  11. Mike says:

    “If you can dedicate three lessons per week, you’ll be able to knock this out with the least amount of time and the least amount of money.” Yes, good advice as time and money go together, but unlikely for the average starter. When you have the time, you don’t always have the money – and when you have the money, you don’t always have the time. A student may start flying because they have had the interest and now have the initial amount of money and just want to get in the air as soon as possible. Three lessons a week? That adds up fast to take away from (little to no) savings and dipping into the weekly paycheck that is already going toward general living expenses. Waiting until you have all the funds delays for too many years. Coming to a lesson unprepared from lack of home study just adds to the problem with too much extra paid instruction and refresher time needed. It is hard for a newcomer to GA to learn what is best and will work for him or her.

  12. Alan J Gabor says:

    I was a CFIIM with over 4,000 hours dual given.

    Number 1, and 5, are the most important. I would suggest getting a cheap flight simulator and go through the maneuvers.
    5. There are a lot of flight instructors that would love to take your money by repeating lessons. Besides the time, it is the experience. Have all or most of the funds ready before you start to fly….

  13. Stephen says:

    Buying an expensive headset is a waste. My DC-10 is still going strong after 1500+ hours.

  14. John says:

    I took a middle road: bought a good used David Clark headset thru craigslist, then added a DIY noise-canceller to it. Works great in flight to hear that unexpected call from ATC, although a bit on the heavy side. If you’re comfortable running a few wires and using a soldering iron, it should only take a few hours to do the conversion.

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