5 Tips to be better prepared as a student pilot (and a CFI!)

Not what you think

This is not yet another article about preparing for a flight or ensuring you have the procedures down cold for an emergency. It’s a lot more pedestrian than that. It’s about showing up at the airport prepared. And I’m not talking just about students! This applies to instructors as well!

What did we do last week?

If this is the first question from your CFI/I at the start of a lesson, warning flags should go up. If you’re a student and you’re wondering the what today’s lesson is going to entail, you’re complicit as well. As they say, it takes two to tango and the relationship between instructor and student should be a collaborative one. Both of you share in the responsibility of knowing where you stand in the training and should these questions arise at the onset of a lesson, it indicates that there has been a breakdown in communication.

Why does it matter?

It matters because collaboration and communication during the training process means that everyone involved is aware of the current state of the training, what needs to be worked on next and there should be a mutual understanding of the outcome. The FAA calls the outcome “Completion Standards”. Imagine for a minute you’re on a cross-country flight and you have absolutely no means of know where you are, you just know that you’re vaguely headed in the right direction to get to where you want to go. Other than that, you don’t know how far it is, you don’t know what to expect at the airport, you have no idea what amount of fuel you’ll need to get there and you have no idea what kind of terrain or weather is between you and the destination. What would this induce in terms of emotions? My guess is that it would cause anxiety, uncertainty, perhaps fear, resignation?

1. Understand that the CFI and Student are partners working towards a common goal

Don’t completely abdicate your training to your CFI! There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to prepare more fully for lessons and to take a lead role in your training. Not feeling comfortable about a particular maneuver? Don’t really understand about lapse rate? Horizontal component of lift have you scratching your head? Ask questions! That’s what your CFI is there for! And CFIs! You’re not off the hook either here. Insist that student show up prepared for their lessons and have a good grasp of what to expect and what their completion standards will be. If your student isn’t so up on the lesson, don’t fly! Send them back to the books and insist they be properly prepared!

2. Get Comfortable with Uncomfortable Conversations

As I was preparing for my CFI rating, an already rated CFI asked what I would to if a 10,000 hour airline pilot who hadn’t flown GA in years, stumbled through his Flight Review and just didn’t seem proficient in our vastly different tiny airplanes, what would I say? That’s an easy one! “We’re going to need another flight or two or more!”. So then the next question: “What if he got indigent? He’s got WAY more hours than you after all?” This is not an overly contrived scenario. Airline pilots have dispatchers that do all the weight and balance calculations, have somebody else looking at weather and routing, fueling the airplane. Heck they don’t even really have to look out the window much! You have to be prepared for the tough conversations and you need to stand your ground, especially when safety is at stake.

Students are responsible for the touch conversations as well! If you see your CFI do something unsafe or is not acting professionally or looking after your best interests, you HAVE to speak up!

3. Manage Expectations and be Clear Where Things Stand

It’s human nature to want to know where you stand. Does it look like you’ll need 2 more flights until you solo or 20? It’s up the both the instructor and the student to assess progress, assess performance and understand where things currently stand and where things need to improve before going on to the next stage or lesson.

4. Show up with your Homework Done – CFI’s that Means You Too!

How many times have you (as a student) showed up to a lesson and the first thing your instructor asks is “What did we do last time?”. Not good! Instructors, you should be taking notes and you should have a game plan ready to go for the current lesson. Now I know this may be an unaffordable luxury at a busy flight school where you spend your time dashing from student to student but you owe it to them to be prepared. It sets expectation and it models the behavior you’re trying to instill in your student.

Students: show up prepared. Know the V numbers, be familiar with the maneuvers you’re going to be expected to fly, in short, do your homework and be prepared! It’s been said before: The airplane is actually a terrible classroom! It’s noisy, bumpy, cramped and hot in the summer!

5. Understand that a Great Deal of Learning doesn’t necessarily Involve Flying an Airplane!

Sure! It’s why we start flight lessons in the first place, right? We want to be in the airplane! That’s all fine and good except that there’s virtue in economy. What I mean by this is that you’ll progress faster if you learn all you can before you get in the airplane! Be patient and spend the time that your not flying studying so that you can make the most use of the time that you do have in the plane!

So those are my thoughts! I hope this maybe puts a fresh perspective on flight training and emphasizes that we’re all in this together, CFI’s and students all!


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