Every pilot has experienced a flat spot on the climb to perfection, or at least to solo. The learning process takes the weekend off, maybe a week, and sometimes longer. It’s frustrating to all concerned, and it’s a fact of learning to fly. Just can’t get that last 10 feet to work out.
We put a lot of stock in soloing. There’s a subtle and real pressure to get it done, but this is a performance activity and not one to be rushed. One of our staff members has been struggling with landings and stopped by for some “counseling.” The last 10 feet turned out to be as elusive as ever. Her instructor, a very seasoned professional, was patiently working her through the plateau and coaching as well.
The student and I talked through the final approach and how things were supposed to look. She knew exactly what to do but couldn’t time it quite right. Offhandedly, I asked about her depth perception. She said it was fine, but an appointment with her optometrist for an unrelated issue a week later turned up an interesting twist. When she related the discussion to him, the doctor asked if she wore polarized sunglasses. She did. The doctor explained that polarization messes with depth perception and not to wear them. (They also create interesting patterns on the windshield.) Voila! Two lessons later, the shirttail was cut and the solo mountain was climbed. Now begins the equally long journey of becoming a pilot. Too often people quit because they’ve achieved one goal.
A few thoughts come out of this:
1) We probably put a bit too much emphasis on solo, and students might do better with the idea that solo happens when it does and should concentrate more on the total flight skills package rather than just one part of it. That is a complete upending of the “normal” training methodology, and there will be conflicting thoughts on the tried and true versus a new approach.
2) As instructors and pilots, we should be sharing our difficulties and solutions. It’s good to talk through, get a second opinion, and problem solve together.
3) It would save countless hours and hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel if someone developed a cost-effective light-aircraft landing simulator. When I think back on the thousands of landings I’ve coached people through, with marginal effectiveness, to let them ultimately reach the “aha” moment—there’s GOT to be a better system.
What do you think?