Fly, The Easy Way
It can be as easy as
When I think back to the
time I was learning to fly, memories of instructors who just
didn’t share my enthusiasm come to mind. A young person aspiring
to be a pilot is anxious to learn the skills, practice the
procedures and get on with the process. But it always seemed to
me that the instructors dragged their feet, prolonging the
learning and most of all, cutting short the lessons just as I
was beginning to master the particular item of the day.
Flying circuits is a good
example. We would fly for about an hour, round and round the
pattern. Every time around, I would mess up on some maneuver.
Determined to get it all right, we would do it again. But almost
every touch-and-go ended with something less than perfect. I
would roll out on final and be lined up wide of the runway, or
the speed would be too fast, or the descent rate too high. That
was usually the point where the instructor would end the
So, with great
disappointment, I’d finish up the paperwork and go home. On days
when I just couldn’t get it right, quitting seemed the wrong
thing to do. Any time we fly, much can go wrong, but if we
conclude with a good landing, we feel much better about the
Maybe I’m a slow learner,
but it was several years before the process of taking small
steps, then letting the brain do the rest, finally sunk in.
Learning professionals have absolute conclusions that point out
how the capacity of the brain is governed by volume and time.
You can force a lot of skill and knowledge into your head at
once, but what happens with it after that depends on the time
you give the brain to sort it all out.
A good example of this can
be observed by going back to those one-hour sessions in the
circuit. The determined student pilot thinks that the longer he
practices, the better his techniques will become. Of course that
is true, but when you stop the physical practicing and let the
brain then work it out, the learning actually comes much faster.
Twenty four hours later, after a rest, the landings are much
better. That’s because the brain needs the rest, the time to
sort out all the learning it’s been force-fed. Call it digestion
if you like, because in basic terms, it is a similar process to
what happens to all the food you eat. The processing of
knowledge and skill can be compared with the processing of food.
Eating doesn’t extract the calories from the food. That
procedure is what comes later as the digestive system takes over
and it takes time to do it’s work. The brain has a volume
capacity, as does the stomach.
It’s a bad example of a
similarity, perhaps. But you get my point.
Another example of good
learning is experience, which has often been touted as the best
teacher you can have. It all starts during the time before the
flight tests. Creative instructors devise situations that give
the student a few moments of terror, a time when the he must
make quick decisions and take the responsibility for them. Some
instructors will shut off the fuel supply, pull a circuit
breaker that disables the radios, stick a piece of tape over a
couple of instruments or put you under the hood in mid flight.
You just flew into IMC! There’s no question that situations like
this will cause you to learn very fast, and learn the way out
much better than sitting in on a lecture about engine failures,
radio procedure, partial panels and getting out of the clouds.
Learning is nothing more
than a matter of forming memories. And memories come from the
brain filing the skills and information in the proper framework.
For that to work, the brain needs rest, time to sort the
material. Without enough rest, the information doesn’t get
properly encoded in the memory, and we haven’t learned anything.
I know a fellow, who
happens to be learning to fly at the age when most pilots are
retiring or leaving the cockpit. His enthusiasm is remarkable,
and he often stays in the cockpit with his instructor for hours
at a time. Still, the learning curve is proving to be very
steep. If all this information is true, he might be much better
off spending less time in the airplane and more time sleeping!
Learning the written
information in ground school is similar. Students will
frequently attempt to learn the content by reading the text
several times. That may help in passing the test where the
multiple-choice answers are word for word of what’s in texts
books. But all the research points to the technique of reading
and comprehending the information to a point where you could
actually teach it to someone else in the near future. Good
instructors have plenty of real-world experience to draw from,
ways to illustrate the points the student must learn. Reading
alone can result in the student focusing on extracting facts but
failing to link what he learns to retention.
Much of this is my own
experience-based observations. It’s what works for me after many
years of giving the brain time to work it all out. And if you’ve
not figured it out by now, that means a lot of time spent
napping, sleeping or just plain and simple relaxing. During the
years I spent in broadcasting, I came in contact with the theory
that “we LEARN only a small amount of what we read or hear, more
of what we see, and a greater amount, maybe half, of what we see
and hear together. If we then go on to consider what we
experience, the retention is higher yet. And hopefully, we
understand and comprehend about 95 percent of what we teach to
someone”. I doubt the scientific accuracy in specific cases, but
experience shows there’s a lot of truth to it.
Now if I’m learning a new
skill, in flying or in anything else, I remember those first
instructors who made me practice for an hour, then leave it
alone for the rest of the day. When I come back to it, somehow
magically it all falls together as it should. It’s also helpful
if there’s an opportunity to teach the new knowledge to someone
else. That way, I need to have it right.