For all you new aviators out there, here’s a simple tip that can instantly make you a better pilot while simultaneously impressing your flight instructor: Learn to relax.
When they’re starting out, most new pilots tend to concentrate so hard on a particular flight maneuver, whether it’s a stall, a steep turn or approach and landing, that they tense up to the point that their fingers will actually start turning white as they tighten their grip on the yoke. Breathing becomes shallow and the student’s body will visibly contort, twisting from close to perfect posture to something more closely resembling a flying pretzel.
Many student pilots probably aren’t even aware of their death grip on the controls or that they’re leaning in strange, new directions. They’re too busy just trying to maintain altitude, airspeed or bank angle to worry that that they look like a deranged hunchback, pulling levers and pushing knobs and hoping for the best.
Usually the tension will show on your face, too. That’s not a good thing. There’s nothing quite so unnerving for a passenger than to be sitting beside a pilot who looks like he’s working harder than he should be – or worse, that the safe outcome of the flight is in question.
What can you do to correct these bad habits? It’s easy. Be aware of your breathing. Be aware of the tension in your muscles. Be aware of your posture. Sit upright in your seat relative to the horizon. Relax your shoulders. Hold the wheel lightly and make smooth control inputs. Lean with the airplane when banked in a turn.
Not only will all that unwanted tension make it difficult to fly with the sort of smoothness your instructor expects, it’s also fatiguing. You’ll actually tire yourself out, and that will manifest itself in sloppy aircraft handling toward the end of the lesson because you’re exhausted.
So if you want to a simple way to improve your flying, add the following words to your action-item checklist: Relax, breath, don’t worry, be happy.