Are you sometimes frustrated in your flight training? Does it feel like the more landings or instrument approaches you practice, the worse you get?
We’ve all been there – you feel like the harder you practice to get it right and the more repetition involved, you still plateau, or worse, you regress. Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing you can do about it but keep spinning your wheels. However, there are some steps you should take to reduce these frustrating moments that are inevitable.
There are many possible distractions that can bring about a learning plateau. It can happen at any time during your training and for any license or rating sought. Perhaps stress from work, school or at home prevents you from coming to a flight lesson prepared to learn. Or you could be stressed because you’re not progressing as fast as you had been before. What can you do? Keep trying and hope for best? Take a break from training? No, you should take a proactive approach and there are some things you can do.
Examine Your Debriefings
First and foremost, examine your debriefing after each flight. Is there a debriefing? This critical time to review your performance while it’s still fresh in your head is very important. It’s almost as important as the flight itself. It should be detailed enough so you have all of your questions answered. If your instructor isn’t putting forth the effort or the debrief seems short and vague, ask him if you can conclude your flight lessons ten minutes earlier than normal to allow enough time for more constructive review.
Ask for Specifics
Ask for specific suggestions to help you improve. Ask your instructor to write down, while flying, anything they think is important to address in the debriefing, so nothing is forgotten. This alone will help prevent your training from becoming stagnant.
The next step is to make sure there is a pre-flight brief. This should begin the day before your flight. You should know exactly what to expect on the next flight. If you’re unsure, ask your instructor to tell you. It seems like I’m placing all of this responsibility on the instructor to keep you engaged; however, this is your responsibility too.
Pre-flight briefings should include studying associated material, “chair” flying at home and “tie-down” flying in the airplane. Sitting in the airplane (with permission) when it’s not being used is a fantastic way to practice. Leave the master switch off and just simulate everything in your head. Then when you go flying, your hands know right were everything is. Understanding what your instructor expects of you before every flight, and a thorough debrief, should help prevent most flight training frustrations.
Another step you can and should frequently take is to HAVE FUN! Remember why you got into flying in the first place. Are you doing this for a hobby or for business travel? Maybe you are interested in a career?
Try something fun to remind you why you’re making the investment in a pilot certificate. Try something new to rekindle the attraction. For example, if you’re having trouble with pattern work and landings, try a change of scenery. If you practice at a non-towered field, ask your instructor to take you to a towered airport for multiple landings. Even if you’re not ready to handle ATC communications just yet, your instructor should be more than happy to assist. It will be fun to be at an airport with bigger, faster aircraft to see.
If you train at a towered field, do the opposite. A non-towered field with a shorter runway will challenge you and help you hone your aim-point on landings. If you’re having trouble with cross country flights or VOR and GPS tracking, fly with your instructor to an early breakfast. You can takeoff and track east before sunrise so you can see it easier from the air. Or maybe fly west to dinner to watch the sun set. While this may sound like a digression from your training syllabus and an extra cost you didn’t plan on, it’s not. The time and money you spend to have some fun while flight training will guarantee a return of knowledge, skill and retention. Because only you know what is fun for you, don’t be shy about offering some ideas.
It’s also good to fly with a different instructor every now and then. Even if your instructor is very good, and you have been progressing well, a different instructor can offer a new perspective. A new instructor may say things just a bit different or offer more knowledge from his own experiences.
Your flight instructor will do everything he can to reduce frustration, prevent learning plateaus, and motivate you. You should meet them half way and take steps to ensure you’re getting your questions answered and leave no doubt about what is expected before each flight. If you feel like progression is slowing down, be creative and do something to have fun!