Native American teen reaches for the sky

Those who read my February AOPA Flight Training column, Navajo Pilot, about young Tyler Allen of Window Rock, Arizona, will appreciate the the wonderful EAA News article that appeared online today regarding his attendance at EAA Air Academy camp. Read Ric Reynolds’s inspiring article, Native American Teen Reaches for the Sky. Good goin’ Tyler!

Photo: Tyler Allen with Adriel Heisey’s FlightDesign CT at Window Rock Airport. (Adriel Heisey photo)

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

Greg’s March column, “Airplane for sale,” and additional photos

How many people put off their dreams of a lifetime as they get older, and as a result, never attain them? And how many others get discouraged during the process of pursuing those dreams, and quit?

Idaho pilot Phil Role waited later in life than many to become a pilot, and overcame challenges to achieve that goal. A dozen years later, after encountering serious bumps in the road of life, he looks back to assess whether it was worth it.


Above: Phil Role flies his beloved Piper Comanche over southern Idaho. Click here to see additional photos. ©2010 Gregory N. Brown

Postscript, June 11, 2010: Sadly, Phil Role passed away this morning of complications of his condition described in the column. We had hoped to fly to Sandpoint next month to meet him and Mary Catherine in person. Goodbye ol’ buddy. Hopefully there’s a cream-puff Piper Comanche for you to fly up there…

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

Greg’s February column, “Navajo Pilot,” and additional photos

Click here to read Greg’s Flying Carpet column, “Navajo Pilot,” and click here to see additional photos.  

This is the story of young Navajo pilot Tyler Allen, and of our associated travels to see the terrific Diné Photographers Exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum, in Window Rock, Arizona. The museum is only a short walk from Window Rock Airport and there’s a restaurant next door, so you Southwest-area pilots should definitely check it out.

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

  ©2009 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

Discouraged? See Greg’s student pilot pep talk

fc-cover-photo-smThe most rewarding activities in life are often challenging to master, and that certainly includes piloting. No wonder I often receive emails and blog comments from discouraged student pilots wondering if they should quit.

The good news is that although learning to fly is difficult, it can and will be mastered by virtually everyone who sticks with it. Are you the only one having a tough time mastering flight? No! These learning challenges affect literally everyone who pursues flight.

Rather than write a pep talk of my own, I thought you might be encouraged by hearing from some other formerly-frustrated flight students who overcame challenges of their own to fly, and are now enjoying the benefits. Is it worth the hassle and trauma to become a pilot? Read what others in your shoes have to say on my new Greg’s Student Pilot Pep Talk! page, and then you be the judge! ©2009 Gregory N Brown

(Join my new Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group.)

remembered for a lifetime!

DSC00390dxo-eOur neighbors had family in town last month, and I offered to show them some local sights from the air. We spent a pleasant Sunday morning circling the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and touching down at Sedona. Don’t you love turning non-pilots on to flying? This young man will remember the experience for a lifetime! See the photos they took, here. ©2009 Gregory N. Brown

August “First Flight” column, photos, & Jonathan’s essay

GregBrownFT809_DSCN0675eMy column this month is about a multi-talented young man named Jonathan Messiers. His flight instructor, Dorothy Schick, owner of Oregon’s Takewing Aviation, was so taken by the description Jonathan wrote of his first flying lesson that she sent it to me, inspiring this month’s column.

All of us pilots agree that flying is something special, but few can capture that magic in words the way Jonathan has. See additional photos of Jonathan’s adventure, and read his entire unedited essay.

Read my August AOPA Flight Training column about Jonathan and Dorothy here.

©2009 Gregory N.Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

choosing a good flight instructor

FC Cover Photo-smThe single most important factor in good flight training is lining up an excellent flight instructor (“CFI”). Since flying is largely taught one-on-one, the right instructor will greatly enhance your quality of learning, your safety and competence, and your ultimate enjoyment of flying.

Good training can be found at flight schools of any size — quality should be your key factor in making the decision. Start by asking acquaintances who fly locally if they can recommend a good instructor or flight program. Good referrals always mean a lot. The next step is to visit several different flight schools at nearby general aviation airports, and interview flight instructors at each one. (While you’re at the airport, approach some pilots you see operating light aircraft, and ask if they have any instructor or flight school recommendations.)

To evaluate each instructor you interview, ask him or her to:

  1. Detail the process for completing your training, and for a few thoughts about her or his instructing philosophy. There will be overlap but it will become clear who is organized and who is not.
  2. It’s also wise to ask for explanation of a technical point or two, like “What exactly are these stalls I keep hearing about?” and “How does a plane turn?” You want an instructor who can explain things clearly and concisely in terms you understand.
  3. Ask about approximate completion date to earn your pilot certificate. If you have some date objective in mind, say next summer’s vacation, share it and ask if that’s possible and what training schedule would be required to attain it. You want someone with a syllabus and agenda to get you finished promptly and cost-effectively.
  4. Ask each to share realistic flight-time and cost estimates to complete your certificate. You will need a ground-study program and pilot supplies, plus few people earn a pilot certificate anywhere near the FAA minimum hours. Knowing ahead of time what to realistically expect will be invaluable for your time and budgetary planning, and in comparing instructors and training programs.

Along with being knowledgable, your instructor should be patient, calm, and thorough, someone who listens well to you, and has a relaxed sense of humor. After all, you’re going to spend lots of time together in close quarters, so you’d better understand, respect, and like this person! ©2009, 2016 Gregory N. Brown


Pilot learning plateau? Don’t get discouraged!

Do you ever feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your flight training? That on some maneuvers your skills seem to be sliding backward rather than progressing? Perhaps you’re suffering loss of confidence as a result. Well if so, you’re not alone. Every pilot-in-training runs into such problems — excelling at times while frustrated at others. Unfortunately, few student pilots hear about the challenges their peers experience, so they often assume that only they are having problems.

Your flight instructor will tell you that every student faces training setbacks, but virtually everyone who sticks with it goes on to become a competent pilot. In fact, what you are facing is so common it has a name: Learning Plateau.” The phenomenon is formally taught to CFIs because it occurs with every aspiring pilot — the student progresses rapidly for a while, then hits a learning plateau with no apparent progress. Once overcoming the plateau it’s back to rapid progress again!

Here’s a graph of the learning plateau. To quote directly from the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, “…in learning motor skills, a leveling-off process, or a plateau, is normal, and can be expected after an initial period of rapid improvement. The instructor should prepare the student for this situation to avert discouragement. If the student is aware of this learning platform, frustration may be lessened.”

There are several approaches for overcoming a learning plateau. Step one is for your instructor to tackle the challenge in a variety of different ways. Each of us learns differently, so several approaches may be required to find the one that works best for you. If you feel that you and your CFI have “tried everything” with no results, schedule a lesson with someone else you respect, like your school’s Chief Flight Instructor. A fresh perspective will likely put you back on track.

Finally, if you find yourself getting discouraged take a break from stalls and steep turns and make a pleasure flight — to remind yourself of why you’re learning to fly in the first place. For fun! For adventure! For relaxation! Assuming that you don’t come from an aviation background, your piloting experience is probably limited to an intro flight followed by a series of high-intensity lessons. Other than craning our necks for traffic, not many of us get to relax and enjoy the view prior to solo cross-country. But few pilots learn to fly because they love practicing stalls and steep turns.

That’s why, even though it’s not on the syllabus, a casual “pleasure flight” is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself. Ask your CFI to schedule an extra “brunch lesson” to fly to an hour-away airport. If you want to make the flight educational, visit a nearby Automated Flight Service Station or radar approach control facility for a tour. Or go to a pancake fly-in. (Fly-ins are great places to learn collision-avoidance techniques!) But wherever you go on this trip, make it long enough for you to do some relaxed flying, and allow time at the destination to kick back with your instructor, relax, and talk.

Your “pleasure flight” objectives are to get some positive feedback on skills already learned, and to remind you of why it’s worth the headaches to become a pilot. Such adventures break the pattern of stressful lessons, and give you the opportunity to realize, “Hey, I may not have stalls perfectly nailed yet, but look at how far my piloting has come! I just flew an airplane comfortably for a hundred miles, all while holding my heading and altitude within Private Pilot practical test tolerances, handling the radios, and having fun to boot.” Imagine doing that a month ago!

Finally, keep in mind that the number of hours it takes for a pilot to earn a Private certificate doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the pilot’s skills when done. If anything, those who rush through training are often poorer performers. So keep chipping away at those learning plateaus, knowing you will indeed overcome them, and if necessary, take an occasional pleasure lesson to reawaken your excitement about being a pilot. You will never regret it!

©2009, 2017 Gregory N. Brown

(See also my Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group.)

For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition, available in print and ebook.

May “Flight of Two” Sedona Airport column & photos

I have posted additional photos from my May, 2009 Flying Carpet column, “Flight of Two,” which appears in AOPA Flight Training magazine, about a memorable family journey to Sedona, Arizona, where the airport perches like an aircraft carrier on a mesa overlooking town.

What made this flight special in addition to hiking and flying Sedona’s Red Rock paradise, was the use of two airplanes to transport family and guests. Check out the additional column photos here.

©2009 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

favorite aviation books

Here are a few of my favorite aviation books. Let me know when you are ready for more!

Fate is the Hunter, by Ernest Gann. Perhaps the greatest-ever pilot adventure book — as relevant to today’s piloting joys and challenges as when it was written, decades ago.

Wind, Sand and Stars, and anything else by Antoine de Ste. Exupéry (except maybe Flight to Arras). No one beats Saint-Ex for capturing the magic of flight.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, first person to fly solo westbound across the Atlantic. Suspenseful, inspiring, and wonderfully written. (Note her tie-ins to the movie, Out of Africa.)

Listen! the Wind, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Any pilot who has ever waited out weather will appreciate this eloquent book.

North Star over My Shoulder, by Bob Buck. Bob set the junior transcontinental speed record in a Pitcairn Mailwing in 1930, taught himself to fly instruments from a 25¢ booklet, and crowned his career as a jet captain. Experience the entire history of modern aviation through the eyes of this exceptional pilot and writer. (I had the privilege of meeting Bob several years ago. He died just last year at age 90.)

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, by Jimmy Doolittle. What Doolittle accomplished in one lifetime is astonishing – the first outside loop, the first person to make an instrument landing, leader of the first WWII Tokyo bombing raid (flying B-25 land bombers off an aircraft carrier)… the list goes on and on.

The 91 Before Lindbergh, by Peter Allen. That’s right. Some 91 people flew the Atlantic before Lindbergh did. That should get your attention!

Antoine De Saint-Exupery: His Life and Times, by Curtis Cate. If you want to know more about Saint-Ex and the pioneering days of aviation, read this terrific book. Did you know that in the earliest days of European airmail, the planes were so unreliable that routes were flown by two airplanes, one full and one empty, so if one went down the other could complete the mission? And that over Saharan Africa airmen who survived crashes were often captured, tortured, and if they were lucky enough to live, ransomed back to their company by hostile Arab tribes? Although heavy on philosophy in sections, much of this book will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Hindenburg: an Illustrated History, by Rich Archbold. Don’t let the coffee-table-book format fool you, nor the title limit your expectations. This profusely illustrated work introduces the entire history of rigid airships, including fascinating coverage of the WWI Zeppelin bombing raids over England, the breathtaking Shenandoah break-up and crash over Ohio in 1925, the epic round-the-world flight of the Graff Zeppelin and of course, the Hindenburg. Did you know that Zeppelins made dozens of accident-free scheduled “airline” crossings of the Atlantic in the 1930s?

Some of these titles may be out of print, but you should be able to find them through the provided links. ©2012 Gregory N. Brown