Preparing for a flight lesson

During your first couple of lessons, you will be drinking from a firehose. There is so much new information to absorb; the airplane’s controls are very different from a car, the ‘dash’ has so many more gauges, buttons and knobs, and the ‘ride’ is so very different with movement along three axes and less-than-smooth air. Your actual flight time during any given lesson might only be an hour, not much time to both review previously learned skills and start to learn a new one. So, what can you do to get the most out of precious flight time?

The structure of a typical flight lesson starts with preparation days before you arrive at the airport. Your instructor will have assigned you a lesson in the syllabus, which will include specific preparation instructions. During many of your first flight lessons, you will be learning how to perform the pre-solo flight maneuvers, including slow flight, stalls and ground reference maneuvers. Before you climb into the airplane you should have already studied the fundamentals of these maneuvers so that you understand the purpose and procedure for these maneuvers. You might be using a maneuver guide, such as this one by Jeppesen, or an app-based guide such as Sporty’s Learn to Fly course

No matter which type of learning resource is assigned, you are not limited to just using the assigned resources. There are many other approaches that you can use to prepare for flight lessons. According to the National Training Laboratory Institute Pyramid of Learning, we only retain 10% of knowledge that we acquire through reading. To better prepare for flight lessons, consider using more effective learning techniques, such as audio visual, practice doing and teaching.


While not everything you find on YouTube is high-quality flight training material, the University of North Dakota and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University both have excellent video series that cover a wide-range of topics including flight training maneuvers, aircraft systems, emergencies and navigation. If you are currently using books to study for flight lessons, supplement this with video to improve your ability to recall this newly-learned knowledge.

practice with a Flight Simulator

Even the most basic of flight simulator setups can be very helpful in preparing for flight lessons as its gives you a very inexpensive learning environment to practice many of the skills needed to fly an airplane.

For literally the cost of a flight lesson, you can build a simple flight simulator setup that even includes an intelligent tutor that will coach and critique you through many of the flight maneuvers. I’d suggest this setup paired with a PC built in the last five years.

come prepared to teach

Flight lessons begin with a discussion of the maneuvers and scenarios to be worked through. When your instructor asks you to describe one of the maneuvers to be introduced that day, for example ‘Slow Flight’, you could explain the maneuver, its purpose, the aerodynamic principles the maneuver is designed to teach, and the procedure to execute the maneuver in the training airplane. You aren’t likely to be able to pull this together off-the-cuff; you’ll need to have prepared. Before the lesson you can have record yourself (most phones now include a voice recorder app), and listen to the playback. When you can confidently explain a maneuver including the airplane-specific procedure you will have reached a very high level of retention.

invest in yourself

Learning to fly is rewarding and challenging. The more that you invest in preparing for lessons, the quicker you will progress through your training program and reach your goal of becoming a pilot. If you’re unsure of how you can better prepare for any given lesson, maneuver or skill, ask your instructor for suggestions. They are your coach and guide through flight training and will be happy to provide tips to pilots who demonstrate an interest in being well-prepared.

So, you’re thinking of earning a pilot certificate?

“I’ve always wanted to learn how to fly”, “I’ve wanted to learn how to fly since I was a kid” and “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time” are some of the more common explanations I hear from people when they visit my flight school expressing an interest in earning a pilot certificate.

While these reasons may seem reasonable on their face, I’m grow concerned when these are the only justifications proposed by someone who is exploring the process of earning a pilot certificate. Why? Because I fear that these motivations will not be sufficient to sustain the effort that will be needed to both earn a pilot certificate and maintain proficiency post-certification.

When a potential pilot’s reason for earning a pilot certificate is business-related, perhaps to reduce the time required for a long-commute or to be able to work with clients further afield, I’m more assured that their underlying reason for obtaining a certificate will help get them through justifying the investment of time and money required to earn a pilot certificate.

Perhaps this is just another example of the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. So, what if you’re interested in becoming a pilot but you do not have a business-related reason for doing so? I’d suggest spending some time identifying how you will use the utility of a pilot certificate before you start the journey of earning a pilot certificate. Are you an avid outdoorsman or backcountry hiker and want to spend less time in the car getting to your next adventure? Do you have children attending university along the West Coast and want to be able to visit them more frequently and conveniently?

Whatever the reason, its best to determine this before you begin your training journey and for your flight instructor to understand your motivations. Your flight instructor can help to keep you motivated through a tough patch during your training by reminding you of your motivations and taking a break from the syllabus with a ‘fun’ flight that lets you experience your personal reason for flight.