The Feeling Of Learning The Ropes

Today was my fourth real-world flight lesson, and it was a day of slow flight, stalls (power on, power off, and turning), and pattern work. In fact I did seven takeoffs and landing today across two different fields. Today was a great experience, but I would not characterize it as “fun,” and compared to earlier lessons, today felt more like hard work. But I think this is a good thing. My instructor was definitely pushing my learning, especially with the pattern work (six routes of the pattern in about 30 minutes), and we had a nice 7-15 knot quartering crosswind to boot which introduced a whole new level of things to figure out. So I learned a couple of things today:

  • Take the time at the start of the flight to get settled. Get comfortable with your seat position etc. because the start of the flight is the only really good chance you’ll have to do this (at least in a lesson).
  • I finally got comfortable with putting the nose down when moving abeam the numbers and trimming for landing. On earlier lessons and in the first run of the pattern today when turning from downwind onto base I’d feel like I was driving the airplane downhill and it would freak me out a bit (especially at 500-700 AGL). In fact, I am driving it downhill, because it’s the only way to get down and land the sucker. But there is plenty of speed and plenty of altitude if I’m flying the pattern right, so I don’t need to let it freak me out.
  • My overall pilotage is pretty good for this point in my instruction. I made good decisions on the pattern turns (which my instructor left entirely to me) and crabbed the aircraft on final with no instruction to do so …
  • … but there is still a lot to learn about crosswind landings, and in particular, how to manage the flare. I feel like I will be learning these things for quite a while.
  • Little differences in power matter on descent. There is a real difference between 1,500, 1,400, and 1,300 RPMs. I need to find what’s best for me in how I fly the 172 to landing, and work with it. Based on today I think it’s probably 1,400.
  • Time away matters. I’ve been away from the simulator and real-world cockpits for more than a week, and I could feel my regression. I’m assuming this will feel less pronounced as the routines of flying the airplane become more automatic (it was the ground work where I felt most behind the curve), but staying current clearly matters while I’m learning.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Building new skills takes time, and when you’re really practicing deliberately, it feels like hard work. There’s a bunch of research about deliberate practice and how it builds expertise, and I’ve read a good portion of it, and today’s practice was definitely deliberate. It had many repetitions, was designed by a professional, had immediate feedback, was difficult and tiring, and frankly not a ton of fun in a traditional sense. But I feel like I learned a ton, and that’s the point.

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