How to Solo in 6 Hours & 25 Minutes

I couldn’t taxi. Off onto the grass, back across the taxiway and into the weeds. My instructor could barely suppress his laughter. I must have looked like a drunk.

When I got home, I couldn’t let go of it. I kept reliving each embarrassing moment. I pictured myself helplessly charging into the grass and weeds, stomping on a rudder pedal with no effect then suddenly, unexpectedly turning too far too fast in the other direction.

How could I ever hope to realize my lifelong dream of becoming a pilot if I couldn’t even drive with my feet? I can still feel the frustration and humiliation. Mentally I was in the cockpit feeling helpless. I visualized everything in such detail that I smelled the propeller chopped weeds. I kept asking myself, “What did I do wrong? How do I keep from making a fool of myself?”

Then I started visualizing a rudder pedal stretching a tail wheel spring. Ah ha! The spring would pull the tail wheel then, as the airplane rolled forward, the tail wheel could swing over releasing the spring tension. There was a lag from pedal movement to tail wheel movement.

Then I knew what to do. In my mind I was compensating for the lag. Once the nose started to reverse direction, I eased up on the rudder pedal.

Next lesson Paul said, “I can’t believe you’re the same student that I flew with last time. You’ve got taxiing down to a fine art.”

Let’s compare that taxiing episode with my first flight. Paul did the taxiing. He took off and gave the controls to me on climb out. He pointed off to the right and said, “Turn that way.”

I did.

“How many hours do you have?”

“None. This is my first lesson.”

I had made a ball-in-the-center, constant-airspeed turn. – Something that I would come to realize as a flight instructor that new students just don’t do.

I soloed in six hours and twenty-five minutes.

How? … What’s the difference? How could the student pilot who was so pathetic that he couldn’t keep on the taxiway be so adroit that he could hold constant airspeed while making coordinated turns… first try?

The answer is that I had studied flying, daydreamed flying, visualized flying… but not taxiing. As a result I knew exactly what to do in the air and knew almost nothing about what to do on the ground.

I didn’t realize it until years later as a new flight instructor that I had stumbled onto Study – Fly – Visualize. I had been trying to understand why my students were struggling. I had soloed quickly; yet my students were averaging 15.1 hours – well over twice what I had needed. I was feeling pretty dumb.

SFV is the fastest and most cost-effective way of learning to fly. You get the added benefit of learning to fly to very high standards. It is not the easiest.

The idea is quite simple. Study – Learn everything that you can about each flight before you fly. Fly – Go up with (later without) your instructor. Visualize – Review the flight in your mind. How could you do better?

Mentally, put yourself in the cockpit. Visualize doing it properly. Hear the roar. Feel the forces on your body. Monitor the horizon and the instruments. Move the controls, flip the switches and twist the knobs just as you should have. Things start to work for you.

This final phase, Visualize goes by many names: mental practice and muscle memory imprinting are the most common. This technique is used in everything from professional baseball to ballet and platform diving. It works very well in flying.

This is what the Air Force and Navy do in their flight schools. They spend many more hours in classroom training than in cockpits. Students are expected to memorize emergency procedures and all of the essential data about the aircraft they fly. After flying, they have extensive debriefings. The military instructors use models extensively to help their students visualize.

The results are spectacular by every measure of effectiveness from hours needed to reach high levels of competence to the results of life and death aerial combat. A 90-hour Air Force pilot graduates from flight school flying to higher standards than a 250-hour civilian pilot taking the commercial pilot checkride.

SFV is guaranteed to work for you. No matter where you are in your flying career there is more to learn and more skills to polish.

Here’s just one possible situation: Before you check out in your next airplane, get a copy of the manual. Memorize all the airspeeds, weights, etc. Get the keys. Sit in the cockpit by yourself and familiarize yourself with every instrument, radio and control.

You can accomplish more in an hour in the cockpit on the ground by yourself than you can in an hour of flying in an unfamiliar airplane. You will find this time very well spent.

If you want a PDF copy of this, click here.

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