Your first few airplane flying lessons are some of the most important and memorable you’ll ever have. Here’s how to make the most of your pre-solo airplane flight training.
You learned to walk by walking. You learned to drive by driving, and flying is no different. It takes hours upon hours of hands-on experience to learn how to fly safely, so don’t let your flight instructor hog the yoke. It can be very helpful to have something demonstrated to you before trying it yourself; in fact, good instruction will require demonstrations. However, one example is usually enough and then it’s your turn to fly again. Even when your instructor is flying, you should follow along with them on the controls to feel how they are maneuvering the aircraft. This builds positive muscle memory and leads to good habits early on. It helps to know what type of learner you are too. Some people like more demonstration than others, but the point is to learn how to fly an aircraft by yourself so the more stick and rudder time you get, the better off you’ll be.
You are training to become a pilot under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This means that the majority of your time should be spent looking outside and not at the flight instruments. Younger students who grew up looking at screens and digital distractions tend to rely on their instruments too much early on in their training. There is no need to depend on the artificial horizon on your attitude indicator when you have the real horizon right out your windshield. While flight instruments can be very helpful, they are to be used primarily to validate what you see outside. In fact, the FAA recommends “90% of the time, the pilot’s attention should be outside the cockpit.”1 Keeping your eyes outside not only increases safety for everyone in the air, it also leads to better piloting skills all throughout any course of training you set your sights on later. Plus the view is just the best!
At this point in the game, almost everything is going to be new, so try and absorb as much of it as you can without feeling like you’re drinking from a fire hose. Your CFI will love how engaged you are in your own learning and do everything they can to answer your questions in ways that make sense to somebody new to the complex world of aviation. If the lesson is focused on landings, try and come prepared with a few questions on power settings and airspeeds. If you’re learning about stalls, read the appropriate chapter in your textbook the night before the lesson and take notes on what you don’t yet understand. The more prepared and knowledgeable you are before a flight, the more you will take away from your time in the air. This leads to less repeated lessons and better overall comprehension of aviation and flying technique.
This is what my initial CFI would ask me every time we got back to his office after a flight to start a debrief. Getting a thorough debrief from your CFI is vital to retaining what you did right, and examining what can be improved upon for next time. Take notes and actively participate with your CFI to get the most out of their critique. Instructors want you to succeed just as much as you do; working closely with them and taking their suggestions seriously will help you become the best pilot you can be.
It sounds silly but similar to flight simulator training, chair flying will save you so much time and effort in the long run. Ask any professional athlete how they practice and they will almost all tell you they practice with the same focus they have in the game. Practice only makes perfect if the practice is perfect. Do yourself a huge favor and practice checklist usage, stall recovery procedures, or radio calls on the ground where it is a low-stress environment (and where its free too).
If you get stuck in a rut knocking out lesson after lesson, go for your first $100 hamburger or fly over your house or the nearest scenic landmark (at a safe altitude of course). Training can be stressful at times so it’s perfectly acceptable to do something with your CFI that will be memorable and remind you why you wanted to become a pilot in the first place.
When everything is new and exciting, your first airplane flying lessons can fly by without you realizing it (pun intended). If you come prepared, are open to new experiences, and take charge of your own learning, then you’ll be enroute to becoming a private pilot in no time.