11 Flight Training Rules Your Instructor Wants You to Follow

Check Your Ego at the Door.

Photo: Getty/XiXinXing

Flying takes you out of your comfort zone. (If it does't, it probably should!) It can be a risky business if you’re not careful, and it’s not for everyone. But how you handle that discomfort will be important. If you’re terrified, you won’t learn much. If you’re overconfident, you’ll try to skip over the most basic steps as if you already know them. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll be hesitant to admit that you’re not perfect, and you might not ask questions that you should ask. But in flight training, it’s so important to check your ego at the door. Every pilot has a lot to learn, even your instructor, and once you recognize this, you’ll be better able to maximize your learning. 

Show up Sober

drunk pilots
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Most of you won’t show up drunk. But many of you will show up hung-over. And occasionally, one or two of you will show up still a little drunk. Don’t do it. Just call your instructor and tell him or her that you had too much to drink. They’ll understand. And even if your flight instructor doesn’t understand your affinity for alcohol or partying, they’ll completely understand - and even applaud - your devotion to practicing risk management. It might help if you offer to pay them, or at least buy them a drink sometime, because depending on how short-notice your cancellation is, they could be out of some cash. 

Use the Checklists!

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Your memory might be good, but it's not perfect. Many students underestimate the value of checklists, especially when they first begin flight training. It’s so important to use a checklist - which is why every airplane has one. And it’s why we instructors are constantly nagging you to use them. They work. It’s a fact. It doesn’t matter how perfect you are, you’re still an imperfect human being, and you’re just as likely to forget to take the tie-downs off than your 90-year-old grandfather is. You’ll probably see proof of this in your first lesson or two, when you forget something significant even though you used the checklist! 

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate (in that order)

Airline Pilot

Sounds simple, right? Fly the plane first, then try to figure out where you are, and then talk on the radio. It is a simple little rule, but one that’s very difficult to follow at times. Like when someone on the radio at a non-towered field asks you a question as you’re executing a go-around. You add full power, respond to his radio request, and then wonder why your airplane isn't climbing, only to realize you’ve left the flaps at 30 degrees. It’s that easy to crash. So as instructors, we’re always preaching this “aviate, navigate, communicate” thing. It’s easy to do, but it’s really easy to forget to do, too.   

Watch your Airspeed. (But don't fixate!)

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If there’s anything a student remembers about flying from his instructor, it’s “watch your airspeed!” But then you look at your airspeed and you pitch up and pitch down to chase it and try to get it where it needs to be, and your instructor says, “Don’t chase the airspeed!” You can’t win. All you can do is try. And once you understand that you can “watch your airspeed” with a very quick glance inside and still look outside 90 percent of the time, you’ll get it. But it does take a lot of practice. Hours and hours and hours of practice. 

Speak up if you are Feeling Sick.

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The earlier, the better. This is one of those things where you’ll have to get over being embarrassed and tell your instructor when you’re feeling queasy - as soon as you’re feeling queasy. Your instructor knows of a few tricks that might help ease the nausea, but he also know how it feels to be airsick. You don’t learn a thing about steep turns or spiraling descents when you’re about to vomit. And then there’s the fact that nobody likes to clean up vomit. So do everyone a favor and don’t wait until the last second to tell your instructor that you’re sick. And don’t be embarrassed - we’ve all been a bit nauseous in the airplane before. 

Don't Compare your Progress to Anyone Else's

comparing flight training
Image: Getty/Eric Dreyer

This is so, so important. Many students become worried about their progression when they find out that their buddy who started at the same time has already soloed. Or they become overconfident when they’re that buddy who has already soloed when you haven’t. This happens often at large flight schools where students have the opportunity to hang out together and talk, and they compare notes and compare instructors, which is all good. But you have to remember that every student's flight training progress is so different, and it has little to do with skill.

One student might have no trouble with the first part of the course, and will nail the landings right away. But he might struggle with navigation later in the course, and will fail the written exam the first time. Another will struggle with basic aircraft control, but will get 100 percent on the written exam and already knows everything there is to know about flight planning and air traffic control. One student might have had to cancel six times because of bad weather or scheduling conflicts, and another might get lucky with the early morning calm wind time slot he was assigned and soar through the first stage of training with no delay. One student might battle air sickness. Another might have financial difficulty. Yet another might not mesh well with their instructor. Another student may seem to soar through their training, working well with their instructor, nailing the landings and soloing at 10 hours. This student will seem to succeed in every way, until one day he runs off the runway, and the rest of the students secretly laugh to themselves while his instructor scratches his head. That’s just how humans work. So stop comparing. Just don’t do it. 

Don't Compare your Personal Minimums to Others

Risk Management
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Personal minimums are minimums that you set. For yourself. They’re yours, not someone else’s. You should not be tempted to go out in winds that exceed your own personal 12-knot limit just because your buddy will. (He’s the one that will probably run off the runway, while you’re on the ramp, eating a Snickers.)  

Do Not Apologize for your Lack of Skill

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The airplane doesn't care if you're sorry. It just wants you to fly it. Don’t apologize for every mistake you make. Just fix it and move on. You can apologize to your instructor all you want, but he’ll just tell you to fix it and move on, too. 

Respect Mother Nature

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Ever face off with an opponent you know you’ll lose to? It’s sort of like this with aviation weather. If the winds are gusty, you might want to back down. If the ceilings are low and getting lower, you might want to pour a cup of coffee and call it a day. We’re not saving lives here (well, a few medical pilots might be, actually... but the rest of us aren’t!) so just count your blessings and use the time to study or sit around and hangar fly with the rest of the people who have personal limitations of some sort. In the meantime, you’ll see pilots go out to the airplane and fly, and then you’ll see them come back and reinforce your good decision-making with their stories about close calls they had. It’s best just to respect Mother Nature. Sort of like your own mother. 

Never, Ever, Ever Give Up

Never Give Up
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There will be struggles. There will be frustrations. And you’ll feel like quitting. But nothing good ever came from quitting. You might take a break here or there. Life will get in the way. But if you keep coming back, you’ll be rewarded. Becoming a pilot is the best feeling in the world.