Lessons Best Learned from Mistakes

20We’re all human, right?! Today, because I am human, I am ranting – at least sort of.

I was doing a flight in a 182RG with a CFI candidate the other day, we also had another CFI candidate riding along in the back. The guy in the back was a big know-it-all, and I had been ignoring his outbursts of “knowledge” injected into our lesson here and there but he finally crossed the line.

If you’re an experienced CFI (or student for that matter) you know there is NOTHING more valuable than learning from a mistake – if it can be done safely of course.

My moment with the CFI candidate was approaching.

We had just finished our turn onto final after flying an extended downwind and he was talking about something other than what we were doing. We were a little under a mile out with several hundred feet left to go – but I was convinced I had him where I wanted him.

It was then that the obnoxious guy in the back blurted, “Don’t forget the gear!”

Come on dude, really? Okay…so I’m not completely heartless…I get it, I really do. BUT, what may have been an innocent gesture on his part completely sabotaged my lesson. There would have been sufficient time had he waited and really been worried.

There could have been nothing more valuable to this CFI student than getting the go around call from me as we nearly committed to a landing. Granted, he could have possibly done his final check like he had been doing on all the other patterns, and realized the gear was indeed not down. We won’t know. We can’t know. I won’t ever know.

It would have been a great learning experience either way, whether he had committed to the landing in his mind (and never noticed the gear) or whether he caught how close he was to missing the gear with a final check. Either way, it could have been a learning experience, really, of a lifetime.

If anyone disagrees, it probably hasn’t happened to them.

I love those opportunities because I know from personal experience how valuable and changing they can be. I was doing my MEI training and had moved the gear lever into the down position. I called “gear down and locked” and did so again on short final, as trained. At about 100′ AGL my instructor called for a go around. I was a little perturbed, my approach was looking great, and I was excited to nail the landing.

“Why’d you make me do that?” I blurted.

“Are you sure you were ready?”

I didn’t get it until he pointed out I had never obtained three green. To his credit, he had pulled the circuit breaker on me. I had called “gear down and locked”, yet not ONCE did I check for the three green I was supposed to check for.

I have NEVER done that again, and I have always been grateful to him for teaching me that lesson…nobody else had. I was at, what I thought was the height of my flying career, I was training for my MEI! Big leagues eh?

I learned several valuable lessons:

  1. I needed to lose the attitude.
  2. I needed to realize and admit I didn’t know everything and I wasn’t perfect.
  3. Check for three green…always, always, always… essentially, don’t ever be robotic.

There is probably more I learned from that, but this was the lesson I so wanted to give to this future CFI.

On the bright side, I had a chat with the “guy in the back seat”, and told him how it could have been a great learning experience. Hopefully, he can teach one of his students the same lesson down the road and not all will be lost.

Don’t be “that guy”.

Check your bottom!

Up in the Air

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Weaker Moments as a Flight Instructor

You’re fired!!

Those words have never been said to me but in a roundabout way, I’ve said them. Not to an employee either. To a student.

Not my strongest moment.

We’ve all had our frustrating students. The ones that won’t study. The ones that show up late (so habitually that you can show up late and actually appear to have been on time!). The ones that just don’t seem to get it – not flying, not ever.

5 years after I was handed that temporary certificate – that license to teach someone else – and I still feel like I’m the student.

I sat there in that debriefing room staring at my frustrated student. With all his wrinkles, gray hairs, and past military experience and here he was looking to me – a 25 year old instructor “whippersnapper” – for wisdom, for advice, for knowledge, for feedback. I didn’t have any more to give. He was frustrated, I was frustrated.

12Our relationship had begun roughly a year earlier. I took him over after he was dissatisfied with a previous instructor. After nearly 70 hours he finally soloed and promptly headed off to Florida for the winter.

He was back now, only with him he now had a Sport Pilot License. All we had to do was check him out in the airplane. For the life of me though, I could not get him to land the plane safely – consistently. He had his random one or two good ones, and as soon as I thought “he’s good to go”, he pulled something out of nowhere.

Overshooting the runway. Undershooting the runway. Side-loading. Flaring high. Flaring late. Not flaring. Blasting down final at 90 knots. Blasting down final at 90 knots 500 feet too high. If there was something we didn’t do it was making it to the moon.

The key here is that it wasn’t his fault. Hence my frustration. He felt it was his fault. Hence his frustration. I felt like I had exhausted all possibilities, so finally, I told him to finish up with another instructor.

I hate not seeing things through. I’ve had students I’ve sent to another instructor for a couple lessons to iron out some un-ironable kinks, but never completely dumped a student.

Moral of the story? There’s still so much for ME to learn. There’s still so much for YOU to learn. Should I have fired him? Maybe, maybe not. But it was all I could do, with what was available to me, to help him progress at the time.

THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE TO LEARN – AND IT WILL USUALLY, IF NOT ALWAYS BE LEARNED IN OUR WEAKER MOMENTS.

So live up to those moments. Don’t let them fester but don’t forget them either.

But who am I to say it…you probably already knew it! Have you fired a student? What was one of your weaker moments and what did you learn from it?

Time for Change

A lot has happened this past year.

I lost my medical. AGAIN.

My husband and I bought a house. FIRST TIME!

We had a baby. THE FIRST!

We’re learning all the ins and outs of owning a 60-year-old home. ONGOING.

We’re dealing with job insecurity. COMES-WITH-THE-AIRLINE PILOT-TERRITORY.

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It has been a heck of year, stressful would be to say the least. But I’m not here to complain. I’ve decided this blog needs a little bit more. I’ve found it hard to stay motivated to write through it all. I was writing the other night when I realized I was missing something. I think I’m missing the personal aspect. What good am I doing writing something when you know NOTHING of the person writing it?

The best student-instructor relationships I’ve had (both as a student and as an instructor) have also been the ones that were meaningful on a personal level. I knew more about them, they knew more about me. We didn’t have to be close friends, but having a better understanding of each other is always beneficial. It’s easier to teach someone when you know how they tick, what motivates them, what they are struggling through RIGHT NOW, what can they handle. The same goes in reverse. It’s easier to respect someone, for example your instructor, when you know where they’ve been, where they’re going, where they want to be.

Any thoughts? Do you agree or disagree?

Up in the Air

Student – Instructor Relationships: Ones That Soar

One of my students earned their Private Pilot License today, making me so proud! He texted me this evening, it went something like “thank you for all your help, I was well prepared and owe it all to you.” Wow. It’s great to get a thank you and feel appreciated but really as an instructor we are only part of the equation.

To students:

  • Work hard and know that it wasn’t just your teacher that led to your success.
  • Your hard work and dedication is what will ultimately lead to success in your endeavors. No amount of pure instruction will lead to it. Read what you’re asked to read, study what you’re asked to study, and pay attention!
  • If you don’t care, your teacher probably won’t either.
  • Be thankful for a great teacher.

To instructors:

  • Know your shtuff (…and yes I meant shtuff), no person ever knows EVERYTHING.
  • Provide the tools for your students. Go the “extra mile”, I say go two. Or ten. Or one-hundred. Make your job a labor of endurance: just when it looks like you’re reaching the finish line, push a little harder.
  • Give your students all you can, they won’t care if you don’t.
  • Be grateful for a good student.

I will be the first to admit I am nowhere near perfect. Heck I probably don’t even pass as average (if that could be measured) and I think many instructors often lose sight of the real picture: We are students. I’m not the one who always thinks myself a student. I have to have those nudges that push me along or remind me who I really am so my pride can take a step back. This leads to my last (little) blurb: Please thank one another – it really does feel good! It’s always refreshing as an instructor to receive a thank you, and it helps us “keep at it”. It feels great as a student to know that your instructor appreciates the time and work you put into accomplishing something, anything! Plus, it inspired this post!

So let your relationship soar! 🙂

Do you have any stories of a great student or instructor? What made the difference? I’d love to update the two lists above to help others and I’d love to hear it because it helps me improve too!

To our studies,

Up in the Air

Is there a RIGHT way to change the runway?

I’m stubborn…very stubborn.

I flew into a non-towered airport today with two runways. It was mid-morning, so the wind had shifted at some point from calm to out of the south. The runways were 10/28, 18/36. Winds shifting between 170 and 200 at 6-7 knots. There were a couple other airplanes in the pattern for 1-0, and I imagine they had been there for the past hour or so since they were using that runway. And here I come, out of the Northeast, looking to set my struggling student up with the fewest worries. No tower, calmer winds, and so on. We set up the way we should for runway 1-8, calling inbound, saying our intentions to cross mid-field and enter back on a right 45.

One of the instructors already there jumps on and tells me “a couple aircraft are already using 1-0”.

What do I do? Of course this had to be on an off-day, a day I’m not in the greatest of moods (a whole blog could be made into why no one should fly in a bad mood!)…So I reply “Winds are at 1-8-0, at 7 knots, I’m trying to switch it up to the more favorable runway”…and I bluntly add in, “go back to [insert home airport here] airport and get your crosswind practice there!” Shouldn’t have said that, I know, but again…not off to a great start for the day.

“The wind is barely noticeable, you’ll be okay.”

Now we’re attacking my skills? “Just trying to teach my student right, trying to use the right runway.”

Eventually the couple of planes switched over and continued on as if nothing happened.

So I have a question today…did I take the right action?

I could have easily entered the pattern for runway 1-0 and dealt with the light crosswind/tailwind and gone on with the day. But at what point do we say there needs to be a change? Winds were forecast to be out of the south for the entire day, so at what point does someone finally say “let’s make a change!”

Whether my actions were right or wrong (disclaimer: I’m still learning, as everyone should be, especially when it comes to flying!), should someone be met with an angry voice on the other side of the mic? Is that really constructive? I guess with every “family” there are going to be confrontations, I’m just sad to hear it when everyone is learning. My student, his student, everyone.

I’ve had the reverse happen to me. Being at an airport, winds changing, and someone else coming in and changing to the new runway. It’s inconvenient, yes, but since when is an inconvenience a bad thing in aviation? Only when you don’t accommodate for it?

Please, opinions are welcome, I’m open to new or better ways to handle situations! We are only able to make decisions to the extent of our experience, training, and the experience of others! So…what would you have done?

To more learning experiences!

Up in the Air

Originally Written: April 20, 2012 // Rewritten: April 29, 2012

Why the Rules?

Astounded. Frustrated. Concerned.

So many feelings running through my brain, and yet not one of them could I verbalize! What is there to do when the person whose life is entrusted to me calls the rules stupid?

Just as I think I can call myself an “experienced” instructor, I get a wake up call! Nothing really prepared me for what I heard, but perhaps out of stress from his impending checkride or perhaps out of honesty, my student exclaimed in the middle of our pre-checkride ground session, “These rules are stupid! Why do I need to know these rules? I did not study for my driver’s test, why do I need to study these rules for flying? What about the Pilot Operating Handbook? What is this? Why do I need this chart, and why do people need to know this?! I do not even know the horsepower of my car…” and so on.

It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had so far – to sit there and look at someone with the desire to scream at them, to yell something, anything that would make them see the light and not being able to. Not able to form the sentences nor the words needed to convey the important response. I wanted to smack myself! Okay him too…

This is my best attempt to answer, from the comfort of my computer chair:

Before I dive in, I’d like to take a side-road for a moment – if you lived where I live right now, you’d know that the remark about the driver’s license test/rules doesn’t mean much. Half the people don’t have a license and the other half seem like they neither like driving nor spend much time doing it…perhaps myself included?! Okay, whew I feel better…I hate days like these.

Yes, driving has it’s rules and often the importance of following these rules is undervalued. They of course should be followed, but to stay on topic…

Most, if not ALL Federal Aviation Regulations (the “rules” as my student so eloquently put it) relate directly to safety! To make it perfectly simple (and how I wish I could have put it for my student), not following the rules will kill you! In addition, knowing them and ignoring them is just as much of a problem as not knowing them. It scares me, more so saddens me, to think of the people that do not respect the rules. The rules are there for a reason, and they were created from the blood of others. They would not be there otherwise.

When I was first learning to fly I used to have a “competition” with a classmate in my ground school. We sat right next to each other and always compared our scores on our tests (he always seemed to do better!). He usually had a score in the high 90s, a very bright, smart young kid…he apparently “knew his stuff.” He went out one December night, on a night I vividly remember as blizzard-like, and went flying (some of us already had our licenses before attending this ground school). The next day in class he was not there and we all found out from the professor that he had gone flying the previous night – both him and a buddy of his were killed. What happened? This smart, knowledgeable classmate had killed himself and his friend. He would have been the last person I expected that to happen to. He knew the rules, he knew what they meant….why did he go? He couldn’t have gone…

But it did happen to him, and it can happen to anyone with or without the knowledge of the rules. With this knowledge there needs to be respect, and by respecting the rules one respects flying, and when one respect’s flying, one respects his own life and that of those who would fly with him.

I wish I had a good answer for every question – I know it will come with experience. Until then…

Flying can kill, but in my opinion a respect for ourselves and what we do is the #1 antidote. Knowing and following the rules is all part of it.

Fly safely,
Up in the Air