Help! encourage aspiring pilots to keep flying

9-PrimingStudentsToPass_850901Help! I have received 40-50 communications so far this year from flight students discouraged with their progress and contemplating quitting.
(See example comments following my learning plateau blog entry.)

What could we do to provide a better support system for aspiring pilots so they know they are not the only ones facing challenges on mastering landings, steep turns, etc?

One method I currently use is to connect frustrated students with others who have recently succeeded in becoming pilots after overcoming obstacles, and are now enjoying the fruits of being aviators. That works well, but requires one-on-one followup.

How can we better support and encourage rank-and-file flight students to weather the bumps through to becoming private pilots, and beyond? Comments? Suggestions? Help! Greg

©2009 Gregory N. Brown

10 thoughts on “Help! encourage aspiring pilots to keep flying

  1. If it is a big, giant learning plateau, then I find that two things work really well: Knock off the hard training for a while, and do a fun flight. The second thing is to send them up with another instructor — or even another pilot just for a fun flight.

    Of course, those things are not really new to flight instructors.

    But, when those two things don’t work, I often drag the students outside of the flight environment and over to their favorite hangout — usually their favorite restaurant far away from the airport. When they stop seeing me as much as the “gatekeeper” or “wall” to their progress, and instead as a mentor, their enthusiasm for aviation seems to lift.

  2. What a big topic. A few questions of my own come to mind. Are we dealing with common problems experienced by students across generational lines, or is there a different kind of frustration depending on whether one is older or younger? The root of my question derives from the observed differences in learning methods and abilities of younger people today. What works for one end of the spectrum may not work for the other. More on that in a bit…

    That said, I would start with the existing systems we have in place, and find out what works. Of course, this often begins with the instructor, unless the student is especially motivated to seek help independently. Is the student a member of AOPA or EAA? I would begin there. I have not experienced the AOPA mentor program first-hand, but one-on-one assistance is usually the most effective tool. Get with a group, In Real Life if possible, and talk it out.

    Personally, I had the best luck (in no particular order) with:
    – Flying with a different CFI a couple of times.
    – Trolling the blogs and miscellaneous websites — some favorites:
    – Reading non-instructional books (like Inside the Sky, Yeager, Fliers, or Forever Flying). It’s inspirational and motivating to read about challenges faced by legends like Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover — they had their own plateaus to overcome.
    – Keeping a journal of my own lessons (in blog form) to look back on and assess my progress. This is especially helpful, since every flight provides a good lesson, even if you don’t master your “problem maneuver”. Look back and realize that you’re moving ahead, if not in a straight line.
    – Comparing notes with – and flying with – another pilot friend of mine (only a couple hundred hours ahead of me).

    Returning for a moment to the generational issue, one important point (especially for younger students) is that you can’t perfect your crosswind landings by reading books or blogs. There is so much information online and in print that it seems logical that there would be a “silver bullet” somewhere out there. And many millenials depend on the online universe to solve many problems and obtain feedback. While economical, it just doesn’t work for flying (mostly).

    Flying is a combination of mental and physical skill – and a difficult one at that. Young folks can beat the pants off most of us when it comes to mental acuity and reflexes. Quick learners armed with a PC flight simulator can go a long way. But art and science must come together in the air, with a dependence on fine-tuned motor skills that simply aren’t exercised in any other environment.

    Sometimes it may just take the realization that many hours are required to make it look easy. Even if it takes you 100 hours to get the license, you’re still only 1% of the way to those 10,000 hours needed to make that airplane dance with you (or rather, allow you to dance with it).

    1. Hey Jason, Some great analysis you’ve shared, and terrific reference web sites. Thank you! I hope you’ll do your CFI sometime. Your future flight students will be fortunate to have you! Greg

  3. I thumbed through the FAA PRACTICAL TEST STUDY GUIDE and it horriefied me to think that i will have to know all that stuff. I have only had 5 flying lessons and was starting to have 2nd thoughts about all this. Then someone on ASA referred me to this site: FLYING CARPET.

    1. Fear not! It does seem daunting at first, but I have found that by breaking it down into manageable chunks, it makes more sense. In fact, my own checkride incorporated everything in a pretty straightforward fashion…as if all the maneuvers were just part of a normal training flight. I found this resource to be helpful (you have to register, but it’s free, and there’s lots of other good stuff as well):

      While it is important to keep the test standards in mind, flying is not amendable to “teaching to the test” as many classroom lessons can do (and as you may be doing for the written portion). You need to make sure you stay on track, but it is much more important to simply build on each prior lesson. Know that you are learning every time you get in the airplane, and don’t get discouraged – especially this early – by being too focused on the end result. If you take it one step at a time, the pieces will come together. A lot is going on in your brain as you build those new neural networks. It’s not always apparent, but it’s like magic when it all “clicks”.

      In short, you’ll do fine.

  4. I too, am a “late” learner. I am 50 yrs. old. I started my flying lessons Sept. 17, 2009. Right now, i have 19 some odd hours. I know my solo will be this month, just not sure when. I have threatened to quit about 3 times. The flying part isn’t so bad, just the dang big book. Alot of that stuff i have read just went thru one brain cell and out the other. 2 weeks ago i got my 3rd class medical certificate to get ready for the solo. I have since decided, i won’t quit, it will just take me longer to finish than these other young whipper snappers who are students. My CFI is very patient, thank goodness!! When i solo, a friend is gonna video it for me and i will put it on Facebook.

  5. Thanks, just now getting your reply. Didn’t receive an email telling me i got a reply from you. Still trying to figure this out. I bought a FLIP ULTRA camcorder and set it on the dashboard of the plane on 2 lessons last week. Am saving to my PC at the moment, then will try to put on Facebook. Only problem, they are a tad over 30 mins. long. One is touch n go’s and the other is a slow taxi, staying on the yellow line…my Facebook is under Theresa Harper.

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