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?

To Fly or Not To Fly: How Much Did Your Car Cost?

IMG_3750I’ve talked about some of the benefits of flying as part of a decision on whether or not to fly. If you haven’t read To Fly or Not to Fly: The Benefits, give that a read at some point.

With the economy still down in the dumps, fewer people are learning to fly. If you’re one of those that says you think it’s too expensive, I urge you to give it some more consideration.

If you’ve done your homework, you know realistically how much earning a pilot’s license is going to take from your pocketbook.

These days, when all is said and done (training, books and materials, exam fees, etc) earning your ticket to flying will probably run between $12,000 and $17,000, give or take a couple thousand.

The cost has gone up since my Learn to Fly post, but it is the current and most accurate number…after all, you probably don’t live in my city, so I’m not trying to reel you in as a customer! Be wary of those places that are, they will often quote the cost at the minimum training time and will many times leave out examination fees and costs of books and other materials – but that’s a side note.

Let’s just say learning to fly is going to set you back $15,000. Although you may be the exception, chances are your car, truck, or SUV COST MORE! These days, it’s easy to spend $40,000, $50,000, or more on a vehicle, I wouldn’t, but you certainly could, and many do (perhaps even you). Whatever you spent, you’ll probably buy another one in 10 years or less. Check out my other posts to compare costs of operating a car versus a plane (The Benefits).

Flying just isn’t that expensive.

If you spent $40,000 on your car, and plan to buy another in 10 years, you’ve just spent roughly $4,000/year for just the car itself (not counting fuel, oil changes, maintenance, and so on).

With disposable incomes seemingly dwindling, we certainly do what we can to have a nice car. Why can’t you do the same for flying? Now I’m really biased, because I LOVE flying, but if your budget is open enough to buy an expensive car but too tight to do much else, spend less on a car. Pay less for luxury and more for what you need to get from point A to point B. Or, if you’re one that still has plenty left over but couldn’t seem to justify the cost of flying (for whatever reason), I hope this changes your mind.

If I’ve offended any one, I can’t really apologize. I’m an aviation enthusiast and have been flying since I was 17. I was fortunate enough to not have to pay for the first $10,000 of my training, but I am paying now. I don’t drive an expensive car and I live well (my needs are met, I have cable TV, Netflix, a flat screen, a desktop and laptop, an iPhone (don’t judge), and I’m not starving!), but I’m paying for $80,000 or so in my aviation education costs. I haven’t gone on vacation since 2010, but I can justify the cost a little easier because it is my career.

Yet, for a fraction of that, and a fraction of what you spend on your car, you can fly too (for pleasure, for business, or both!). Think about it. How much is your car really worth and how much is the experience of learning to fly and earning your PILOT certificate worth? I can assure you, there are few things, if any, that are more challenging and more rewarding, both intellectually and emotionally.

I urge you to check it out. Do Something Magical: Learn to Fly!

To that first flight,

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

First time flying experiences are always the best! This is flying from the perspective of fresh eyes! 🙂

theThinkingArnold

I had the privilege of flying yesterday morning over the city I currently live in, Santa Barbara. And this has been possible thanks to my good friend Julien Lecomte, who just had his license.

After a night of bad sleep, I got up at 6 AM, packed my photo gear and drove to the Santa Barbara airport, where he was waiting for me. After sneaking in the airport (you just open a small door with a card and you are in. I wish you could do that at LAX too!), we prepared the airplane (especially me), filled it with fuel and took off. By the way, don’t go to refill you car at the airport, it’s more expensive…

It was an amazing experience that everybody should try at least once in their life. Plus, I always wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid, and even if I…

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Flying into a Bad Decision

It doesn’t matter how good you are. Poor decisions will lead to poor results.

Ahh frustration…the deceiving villain that always seems to lurk in the recesses of the mind of a student pilot (pilots too I should say!)…Not very conducive to learning and it always seems to come up when you least expect it.

Weather had been holding my student and I back from completing our cross country for some time. Finally a day came that we thought we could get it done. Weather was reported to be fine, good VFR (Visual Flight Rules) weather.

About half an hour into our flight we came across an ever thickening layer of clouds. Perfect scenario.

“What should we do?”

I was no help. “What do you wanna to do?”

We contemplated back and forth but ultimately he made the right decision despite his desire to continue on. Did his mind let him believe that? Maybe the frustration, as it crept out from between the cracks, wanted to sabotage a perfectly sound decision.

I could tell he was feeling pretty down and I wanted to help cheer him up. “You want to do a little landing practice before we head in?” Like a little more frustration would help…I wish I could go back!

“Sure,” was the not so sure reply.

We changed course to an airport near our home base. 10,000 feet long. How can you go wrong?

  • We overshot final. Three times.
  • We did a go around. Twice.
  • We climbed out on go around 20 knots too fast. Every time.

This was my star student! What happened?… Well partially, I happened.

He was frustrated. I later found out he missed a gathering with friends the night before so he could make the flight at 7am. He had really wanted to go to the party. But that doesn’t matter. As an instructor it’s my job to tell when someone is just not ready for learning. This was bound to be “one of those days” from the moment he decided not to go out the night before. That part can’t be avoided. Had the clouds not been there we probably would have continued on not knowing how close the flight was to a mental disaster.

We flew back to our home airport as if someone had just died; Tip toeing our words around each other for the benefit of the other. No fun. If anything was learned we both learned how quickly things can go downhill.

There was a lot I did wrong on this flight.

  • While the weather reports pointed to good weather I failed to make sure my student was ready to go (as much as I could).
  • I took us from one frustrating event and put us in a situation that can often be the most frustration-producing …landing.
  • I overestimated my students abilities to cope with frustration.
  • I tried to make him feel better (at his expense)…

Remember, as an instructor it’s not our job to make a student “feel” better, it’s our job to show them what they did well and what they need work on. Positive is good but a healthy dose of reality is key. Most of all take responsibility when it’s due…I completely own up to the fact that I alone screwed up the remainder of the flight.

For the students out there:

  • Things will not always go your way, be prepared for it and realize that it’s not just you…and like everyone else you will need to keep working at it.
  • Don’t let frustration get to you, yes I know that’s why it’s frustration but don’t let it own you. Even once you have your license there will be frustrations and you’re going to need to be able to handle them…

Did I miss anything? Let me and everyone else know your thoughts! Comment below and you’ll be helping both me and others improve. Thanks!

Fly safely,

Up in the Air

The Aircam

The Aircam was originally designed for National Geographic – to fly low and slow (and have an extra engine for safety!), while at the same time providing easy visibility to the outside. A few years ago I had the opportunity to fly one. Very fun, probably the most fun I’ve had in an airplane!

 

I was able to catch some video too! Do you ever wish you could go back to that moment in time and just experience it again? I do!

(Make sure your speakers are down, the wind is a little loud!)

Cheers!

Up in the Air

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