Hitting a Wall

And Breaking Through the Lesson Barrier

Intercoastal

Intercoastal

What a view!Connie Sue White

Deciding to break from my normal schedule of one flight lesson per week (or sometimes only every two weeks), usually on a Saturday or Sunday, I headed over to Vero/FlightSafety for three days last week. I ended the last of my three flights, let’s say, deflated. Really deflated. I had hit a wall (figuratively, of course…the instructors prefer to call it “reaching a plateau”). Just when I thought I had the maneuvers we had been working on down pat and had been making progress the prior two days — even with radio work — my mind basically froze and I confused the power-off and power-on stall procedures (the recoveries I completely get, but I crossed wires on the setups). My performance for the rest of the lesson was less than stellar. I was so bummed and disappointed with myself. Admittedly, I was tired. I hadn’t slept well the two nights before and, at this stage, flying three days in a row was in some aspects like taking three big tests in a row. To be honest, I wouldn’t have left the ground that day if I had been on my own, even with lots of experience and hours logged (the bright spot here is at least I know my limits and am very conservative with decisions like this!). But still, I couldn’t help thinking, “How was I ever going to solo at this rate?”

FlightSafety follows an accelerated flight lesson plan, and understandably so. (It’s an academy for those seeking professional careers in aviation and students from all over the world attend the school.) That day I finished Lesson 6...I’ve about 8 hours in the logbook. When Lesson 10 rolls around, it’s time for a pre-solo. Reaching it could take four flights from now or six or eight, depending if we finish each lesson within one flight, or if I have to repeat any. At any rate, during the presolo, the student flies with another instructor who serves as a second pair of eyes and wants to make sure the student’s regular instructor is doing his/her job. It includes an oral test, a written and then a check ride with this guy/gal. If you’ve been performing ideally up to that point, that’s about 15 hours logged. If all goes well, Lesson 11 is the day: After a warm-up with your instructor — to make sure your mind hasn’t gone blank (!) — and that you can perform certain maneuvers and landings, he gets out and you do your first solo, performing three landings, staying in the pattern. I’m estimating completion of Lesson 11 will mark about the halfway point to earning my private license (that’s including the time to complete the 10-day ground school and taking the written).

So, after the flight at the post brief, when I told Seth how disappointed I was with how I performed, he first reassured me that it wasn’t that bad and that there is no question in his mind that I can safely land the airplane. But he then pointed out that it’s at about this stage in the process where students will have days like this and I should remember that we are being inundated with a ton of new info. “Off” days, where the info becomes “lost,” are normal, he says.

And after having shared my experience later with a few of my veteran aviator colleagues, they said the same thing. Their words helped, but I’m my worse critic. And that day I felt so far away from Lesson 10, never mind Lesson 11. Since then, I’ve been itching to get back in the air to set things straight. It will have been 10 days by the time I get back to Vero. But I have taken heart and regained sight of the big picture: While writing my PiperSport blog and reviewing some of the pictures that I’ve taken since my re-entry into flying, I remembered some of the reasons why learning to fly is so cool: the views, the people and the challenge. Lesson 7 here I come.