I’m a student pilot who forgot what the most important thing was

I think sometimes the pressure I put on myself works against me. I am the type of person who wants to get it done right the first time, every time. Other competitive people understand you can’t turn that off most times. But I would caution against this type of mentality when it comes to flight training and here’s why.

My first solo with my instructor Stephen (left).
My first solo with my instructor Stephen (left).

I can’t help but feel the pressure to earn my license as fast as possible. There are plenty of reasons to keep that goal in mind, such as the cost to fly, the time commitment and peer pressure from other students that are also trying to earn a pilot’s license. Now I’m not at all suggesting that you ignore those motivators but remember this too: flying an airplane is an experience like nothing else in this world. Flying is thrilling and challenging as well as breathtaking – and almost therapeutic. I made the mistake of forgetting that during my flight training this winter and it stalled my progress (couldn’t resist the pun).

“The older you get, the busier you get; it’s just a fact of life.” My boss once told me that and he was definitely right. Example: have you tried flight training over the holidays? One thing gets in the way of another and suddenly you’re putting off the non-essentials, which for me was flight training. A week turned into a month and a month turned into two months and then three went by.

I was to the point where I was dodging my flight instructor’s texts and coming up with excuses as to why I was too busy right now. It’s embarrassing because I know I’m better than that. I was worried that I’d forgotten everything I’d learned and I’d be back to square one. I felt defeated when I thought about flight training because I was so off course. My actions were clearly causing a lot of stress in my life.

Back in the flying zone
Back in the flying zone

I mentioned how I thought flying was therapeutic; well the first lesson after my hiatus was like a relaxation treatment. I felt great after getting back in the plane. As soon as those wheels left the ground I was right back in the zone. Airspeed’s alive, 55 kts and rotate then climb out to 1800’ and depart the pattern to the east. I hadn’t felt so focused on one thing in months.

My work life and personal life had disappeared, emails to respond to and errands to run were nowhere in my mind. I was running my cruise checklist and maintaining 3500’ with a heading of 120, which was all I cared about. My mood had completely turned around about flight training near the end of the lesson and I attribute that to me making one of the best landings I ever have. Something about flight reminded me being comfortable and confident with yourself behind the yoke is key to being a successful pilot.

Another mistake I made this winter that held me back was avoiding my flight instructor. The instructor wants to help you, so let them. That goes for inside the plane and out. Everyone has had a busy schedule at some point that took over – your instructor understands that. Keep open communication during your training so that you don’t end up slipping behind schedule. If you have slipped behind: Do Not Panic.

No one can tell you how fast you should be taking to the lessons. Let your instructor help you excel in your training. Focus on making things right and they’ll end up being easier too. If you’re having trouble maintaining altitude, work on your power settings and trim. It is so much easier performing a maneuver when you’re not fighting the airplane to stay where you want. Pilots develop their skills over a lifetime, not a training period. So keep in mind that even if your fellow students have progressed a little further than you, everyone is working toward the same goal and it’s not a race.

Flying is a rare and challenging learning process. The first couple times you fly will be the most enjoyable lessons you have. After a while though, the depth of the material can start to wear at your desire for a license. I urge you to persevere and remember that this is, what we all consider to be, the most fun you can have. Nothing beats a good day of flying.

If you think you’re getting in a rut or starting to lose the passion, talk to your instructor or fellow students about it. Maybe what you need is a relaxing day cruising around and perfecting the skills that are your favorite. Personally, I love steep turns. A 45 degree bank will make me smile any day of the week and it’s so satisfying when you roll out right on heading and hit your wake. I like to think of that as the plane’s way of high-fiving you for being basically Top Gun ready. The point isn’t to waste flight time doing maneuvers you’re already comfortable with but to get your mindset in a place of confidence. A little confidence goes a long way when you’re working toward a long term goal such as flying.

Wherever you are in your training, remember that your flying skills are not going to be acquired overnight. Learning to fly is a process that I don’t think ever stops. So it’s okay to take a little time to get it right and ask for help along the way. Just don’t forget why you started your journey in the first place – to do something you love. Flying is an incredibly rewarding experience. So anytime you start to feel overwhelmed by your training, reach out to a buddy, your instructor or any pilots you know. There isn’t a more inclusive community than pilots. Once you’re in the club, you’re a member for life.

-Keep Flying

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I'm a pilot and part of the Sporty's Pilot Shop team in Cincinnati, OH. I'm also a University of Cincinnati alumnus. I've been flying and working on airplanes with my Dad since I was old enough to hand him a wrench. I've worked at Sporty's for more than 8 years and love every minute of it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others or worry about how many hours you take for each level of achievement. We all learn things differently and at a different pace. If you find yourself uncomfortable with an instructor talk to them about it. They might not be the right one for you. It is not the CFIs ability you need to question, it’s your ability to understand or communicate effectively. A good instructor will coach you to another more in tune with your personality, pace and comfort level. That will save you many hours on the plateaus of flight training. If you still love it at 5 hours then commit from the beginning you will not quit. I’ll admit I was over 100 hours for my private check ride. Unusual, but it happens. It was more the 3 instructors than any other factor, but starting at 60 certainly added some challenges. You can derive encouragement from everything.. “get it on the centerline”, or “what is the runway heading” to “your too old” or “why would take chances like this”. It is a matter of perspective… yours !! For me, 35% of training was flying the airplane, the rest went deep inside to adjust myself on how to think and prioritize. You will be surprised how becoming a pilot will change who you are.

  2. I started training last year at the same time as another student. We both had the same instructor. After a while I became concerned with what I felt were safety issues. Shall we say, a laissez-faire attitude. ‘Sure I know you’re not supposed to land on the threshold but I say it’s ok’. The instructor also talked badly about the other student behind his back to me. Even maligning the car he drove. No maneuvers were recorded in my log book and ground school was ‘Just read.’ Yes, the instructor could probably get me through the check-ride, but would I have received the best training possible? Would I be a safe, knowledgeable, competent pilot? I thought not, and moved on. Now I’m on my fifth instructor at 51 hours but feel I’ve finally found an instructor that I know will help me become the best pilot I can be. I study hard, not to memorize, but to comprehend. I’m a member of AOPA, attend FAA Safety seminars and subscribe to Aviation Safety Magazine. The check-ride is probably a few months away and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it. And my fellow student? He passed his check-ride last week, although he said it was nerve-wracking and not without some glitches, which the examiner called him on, and I have to say, it bother’s me. Not that he got there first, but that it makes me wonder how many other badly trained pilot’s there are, flying in my airspace. But most of all I feel bad for the student. Because he deserves to be the best that he can be, and that was never offered to him, and he in his innocence never knew what he missed.

  3. Excellent article. Sometimes many people do not realize that been a pilot takes about the same time as conquer a beautiful lady. It is take a lot of work and sacrifice, but it worth the time and challenge. Because in the end of the day you will reach your goal to fulfill your dream that no many people can reach. As I learned long time ago: The one who is strong never stop, fight. Also becoming a pilot after that lot of work you will never forget that we learn as we live, and a good pilot never stop learning. As Richard Collings used to say: The next hour it is the more important. GO FOR IT!!!!

  4. Great story! Looking back over 22,000 PIC hours, I can recall my first orientation ride. I was completely lost, as the earth beneath us was covered with snow. I couldn’t even find the home field, five miles away. Learning was not much fun for me, but I vowed to stick with it until I had earned my private ticket. Then, I promised myself, I would quit that foolishness. Once I had my ticket, I tried to quit, but a host of friends all wanted to go somewhere at one time or another. I still didn’t like it much.

    At around sixty hours, I went to the airport one morning and, instead of climbing aboard the little airplane, I just slipped it on like an old jacket. From that day to this, I just decide to go somewhere, and the airplane has no choice but to follow me along. I hope that same transition happens to you . . .

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