There are a lot of things in life we have to learn, some which we don’t see the immediate value in or have an interest in, such as learning rote math facts or the difference between verbs, adverbs, and dangling participles. Other things that we learn are the result of optional endeavors, such as learning to play an instrument, painting, and flying. Those optional endeavors are not necessarily easy to learn, but because we choose to do them, they are either fun to learn, or “easier” to learn, because we are motivated to learn them.
Let’s face it. Some parts of learning to fly are easy, and some parts are downright hard. Learning the FARs is rote memorization, and much of it is common-sense stuff: Don’t fly too low over houses and highways; stay out of clouds; and get a good weather briefing. All of these are pretty simple.
Other stuff is much more work-intensive and more difficult to learn, landings being the most obvious one that comes to mind. Everyone has more trouble learning to land than anything else because you simply can’t replicate the same approach (or even the same control inputs and hand-eye reactions) on each attempt. That’s also one of many variables that make teaching landings so challenging.
Every student has certain maneuvers they struggle with more than others. I recall one who was absolutely terrified of steep turns, but had no trouble with stalls and slow flight. Another—a teenager, no less—had so much trouble learning to taxi that we spent an hour one day just following yellow lines and working on using his feet to turn. Talking on the radio comes naturally for some, but creates stage fright for others.
As a student, it’s possible that you will complete your certificate and possibly never take another organized lesson again outside of a flight review.
The CFI, on the other hand, must master not only the private syllabus, but also those of the commercial certificate and the instrument rating. Further, the CFI must also be able to fly and teach these maneuvers all from the right seat, which can be a challenge.
Learning the various maneuvers is one thing, but being able to break down all the material into bite-sized chunks that students can digest is something else. We’ve all had instructors who were better than others, whether it was because of patience or the ability to convey the subject in terms that student can understand. Having had it both ways, I think that learning to fly is more difficult, only because you are getting your initial exposure to so much. You need to learn the terminology, the acronyms, the skills, and so much more. Teaching flying forces you to slow everything down, but at least you already have (or should have) a basic grasp of the material.
Of course, it would be more accurate to say that one of the bigger challenges is learning how to teach people how to fly. Unfortunately, the first several students become the guinea pigs, and the airplane becomes the lab.
What are your thoughts?—Chip Wright