Confidence

 

Iíve been flight instructing for twenty years and given thousands of hours of dual, towards almost every fixed-wing permit, licence and rating for aeroplanes in Canada.

 

In that time, many times Iíve noticed that the biggest problem that people learning to fly have, is often themselves.

 

When people encounter a difficult task, such as learning to land during Private Pilot training, or learning to keep a tailwheel aircraft straight during the rollout on the runway, people often simply give up. They erroneously conclude that because theyíre struggling with it right now, they canít ever master it, so itís time to give up and buy a boat, or take up golf.

 

Not that I have anything against boats or golf.And I rather like boats, but Iím just not old enough to play golf, and donít have the right pants for it anyways.

 

What I find surprising is how quickly people often give up when they encounter a task which is not easy and quickly mastered.In this day of instant gratification and easy loans, everyone wants it NOW, not tomorrow.Unfortunately, thatís not the case in aviation.Flying isnít like plumbing Ė you simply canít learn it all in one day.Or even a year.Sorry.Iíve been flying for 40 years and I still learn new things every day, which I find is one of the attractions of aviation.No one knows it all.

I find that nearly everyone is disappointed when they discover that they are not some kind of extraordinary phenomenon, that doesnít need to be taught (or practice) a difficult skill.This is incredibly unrealistic.

 

How many people would expect to learn a new language in one evening, and be fluent in it the next day?How many people would expect to pick up a guitar, and play Carnegie Hall that night?I hate to burst peopleís balloons, but itís going to take some practice if you want to play at Carnegie Hall.Or fly an aircraft.

 

I can honestly say that in all my decades of flying, I have never met a ďnaturalĒ pilot.This creature simply doesnít exist.Some people naturally learn faster than others, and some people eventually attain a higher level of skill than others (and incidentally, the two often are completely decoupled) but I can honestly tell you that all of the best pilots worked long and hard at learning their craft, even if you didnít see them do it.

 

Learning to fly an aircraft is actually about building human capital.You canít see it, but you have a bank account of pilot knowledge and skill that comes from experience.And unfortunately putting knowledge and skill into your pilot bank account isnít always fun and easy.

 

Putting money in your real bank account isnít always fun or easy, either.At least 99% of people donít like their jobs, and I can prove it Ė stop paying them, and I guarantee that over 99% of them would stop showing up for work.

 

Transport Canada, in the Flight Instructor Guide, talks about the Learning Factor of Effect, which means that the student has a positive feeling at the end of his lesson.This may be the case in civilian flight training, where if you are unkind to the customer he wonít come back again.But in military flight training your instructor is your superior officer and couldnít really care less about your feelings.If you donít perform, youíre Cease Training (CT) and out the door, and the next eager young fellow quickly takes your place.

I wish that every flight lesson could make the student feel good about himself and his performance.Unfortunately thatís not always the case.In fact, I privately suspect that the less he enjoys the lesson, often the more he learns.

What I have seen, time and time again, is that someone has a horrible lesson.He doesnít damage the airplane, but his ego is severely damaged due to his poor performance or challenging circumstances.As a Flight Instructor, you have to ensure that you donít throw too much at your students, to avoid wasting their time and money, and crushing their egos at the same time.

 

For example, letís say you have a student who just went solo yesterday for the first time, and the wind today is 90 degrees across the runway, at 20 gusting 30 knots.Obviously you arenít going to send him solo again today in that wind.I wouldnít even bother giving him dual in that wind, because heís not going to be able to keep up with what happens.He isnít going to learn much, and heís going to waste his time and money, and at the end of the lesson heís going to feel bad about his performance.Donít do that.

 

However, if I had a student about to go for his PPL flight test, I would take him up in that wind, because it would be good experience for him.He might not be able to master the wind Ė remember the instant gratification thing Ė and he probably wonít enjoy it very much.But it would nicely work on his crosswind landing skills.And the next day he might do better with (e.g.) a 10 knot direct crosswind because of his experience the previous day.He wouldnít learn much on the second flight, but he would feel good about himself, because he had an ego-flattering experience.Sigh.

 

As I said before, I suspect that learning and gratification are often inversely proportional.If you feel great about a flight, odds are you didnít learn very much during it.

 

When someone has a difficult flight, the important thing to tell him is that plenty of people a lot stupider than he, have mastered this flying thing.Hang around some pilots for a while and you will see what I mean.What he has to do, is give himself a chance to learn something difficult, and not fail himself by quitting.

 

I learned a lot at University.Unfortunately I have forgotten 99% of the Engineering and Mathematics I learned in the 25 years since then, but one thing I did learn at school was to not quit, no matter how bad things look.I took a very challenging undergraduate course which was ego-bruising in the extreme for some of the very brightest people in the country.Many of them quit when the going got tough, and thus failed themselves.

 

What I learned is to hang around, and make them fail you.Donít leave until the security guards toss you out the front door, post your photo around the building and warn you that you will be charged with trespassing if you show up again, which is pretty much what happened at my last place of full-time employment, but thatís another story.

 

Thatís the kind of spirit and pig-headed determination that is required to accomplish something difficult.For every professional, there was once an amateur who simply wouldnít quit.

 

As one of the most intelligent people on the planet once told me, decades ago:

 

ďIf it was easy, everyone would do itĒ.

 

Flying an airplane isnít always easy.Give yourself the time to learn how to do it.Donít fail yourself.

 

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acboyd@gmail.comSept 2011