The fall and fast-approaching winter weather has brought on many challenges with flight training. My commercial rating is so close to apprehension. The written exam has been successfully passed. The flight maneuvers have been practiced over and over again. My final stage check availability has been submitted. Now, there is waiting. There has been some business and personal travel within the last few weeks which has created less training and flight time. We all experience the constraints of managing time and the conflicts of life. My flight lesson conundrums are completely relatable to everyone reading this. Hopefully, my memory will preserve all that my instructor and I have worked on over the past few months and once the weather and time allows, I’ll be completing my check ride.
Must Do: Compartmentalize
This is something that most pilots should be very good at it. For me, flying is an escape. It is an opportunity to forget all the trials and tribulations of my personal life. That requires compartmentalizing. Compartmentalize is a verb with the following definition: divide into sections or categories. That means forgetting your “to do” list temporarily.
For me, compartmentalizing begins when driving to the airport. It starts with music. Music is a huge part of my life and always has been. My mother and her family are all talented musicians, singers and songwriters. My exposure to music began at a very young age. We had all kinds of music playing consistently at our home or if it wasn’t playing from the record player, we were singing and making our own music. There isn’t anything that can change my mood or help me focus more than music. There are a variety of playlists to pull from on my phone, laptop or iPod to help motivate me for whatever task is facing me at that moment or down the road.
Rocking the Preflight
Typically, by the time my hangar door is opening, the car tunes have me feeling ready to chart new territory and grease any landing, on any air field that ForeFlight can place in front of me. 🙂 The weather may be sweltering hot or frigidly cold. Admittedly, the cold can put me in a foul mood and debunk all of the myths Guns ’n Roses previously led me to believe about my flying capability!! Cold temperatures turn me into a grouch.
If all goes well in the ten minutes of preflight, my mind is blissfully at peace and looking forward to the flying tasks at hand. My instructor joins me as I’m pulling my plane out of the hangar and fills me in on todays lesson agenda. Some days he asks what we should work on and some days he tells me what we’ll work on.
Ground Lesson Days
My commercial ground lessons have been covered but due to disagreeable flying weather lately, we’ve opted to prepare for the oral portion of my upcoming commercial check ride on these “unflyable” days. I’ve read the Oral Exam Guide from cover to cover multiple times. There are many notes on the pages and in the margins. Even if you feel you’re ready for the oral exam, I’d suggest paying for some extra ground lessons and go through a trial run with your instructor a time or two. Sometimes, the questions can be asked in a manner that forces you to dig a little deeper than you would if you are just answering yourself with a rote response. Just do it.
Limits Reached: Admit It
One of the more challenging things to do is admit defeat or admit the inability to function with 100% focus. Can you possibly still be safe if operating on less than 100% brain power? Probably. How safe or fun is that, honestly?
My relationship with my instructor is pretty open and honest. That may be one of the best ways to stay safe and keeps me from wasting money. You and I both know that if my mind is completely sidetracked by something else while flying, my time in the cockpit trying to learn something is probably not optimized. In other words, it’s a waste of my time and money.
Trey knows quite a bit about my personal life. My heart is on my sleeve. That’s an odd way of saying that I don’t hide my feelings well and openly show my emotions. There have been many times containing the tears in my eyes has proved impossible! He can look at me, read my expression, and guess, fairly accurately, if I’m feeling capable of a successful lesson. My recommendation for you is that you also wear your heart on your sleeve for the benefit of safety. Let your instructor know when you’ve got some pressing issues on your mind or are dealing with personal trials or struggles. His life is in my hands and it’s probably really frustrating for instructors to give lessons only to find out later that the student learned very little or nothing. The whole lesson will likely need to be repeated. Yes, most instructors want to earn time so they can move on to the next big job. However, if repeating oneself becomes commonplace, the respect for the student will diminish and frustration levels will rise. That can’t be good for the student/instructor relationship.
There are setbacks (due to weather, vacations, etc.) and there are SETBACKS. The latter referring to more personal struggles. Sometimes, life is a challenge. There are times when it seems everything comes crashing in at once. Things that are out of our control create stress. Life-altering decisions must be made. Your brain is filled with thoughts and worry. Heartache is the worst, all-encompassing setback of all. There’s no way to ignore it. These are all things I’ve dealt with more recently. There are many of you dealing with these things too. The messages in my “Inbox” make me aware of the ebbs and flows of life had by all. My flying time has diminished, by choice, significantly. I know I can’t be a good pilot right now. Am I giving up? No way. This is a difficult season of life for me. We all have those times. “This too shall pass.”
Recognize current setbacks as temporary. They are! Even if you can’t find the brain power to practice flight maneuvers in an airplane, you can still chair fly or keep your mind focused in small increments by reading your study guide or reviewing your notecards. The progress may have stalled (pun intended) but don’t allow yourself to fall into feeling deflated. You are still on the journey, the pace has just slowed a bit.
For your safety and mental health, know when to step back from your lessons. There are times when music can’t drown out our problems. Being unable to “push through” is not a weakness but a sign of mental clarity and maturity that makes you an awesome pilot!