From Van Halen to Steep Turns: The Learning Curve

Eddie Van Halen ca. 1977 via Wikipedia

by Chris Findley, CFI, CFII

Pilots are perfectionists –the good ones anyway.  They’re the ones you want to fly with.  I mean really, do YOU want to fly with a lacsadasical, whimsical, “don’t give rip” pilot?  Neither do I.

Pilots are hard on themselves –the good ones anyway.  They want to do things right and they want to improve.  They want to grow in their skills and knowledge.

But when you are a student pilot, there is a tendency toward perfection that outstrips your skills.  That is, you may see your instructor do steep turns or make a crosswind landing and you recognize the skill.  You recognize that the maneuver was done well.  What you often forget is that you’re not there yet!  Instructors have typically been flying for a while and have practiced and observed these maneuvers for hundreds or even thousands of flight hours.  Often students despair that in their 3rd or 4th hour they still haven’t mastered a skill.  What they don’t realize is that flying skills take time to develop.

I think this taps into our modern impatience with learning.  We are so used to things moving very quickly and at a fast pace, that we find processes difficult.  We want to know now what someone else has spent a lifetime learning.  We pick up the guitar and if we aren’t playing like Eddie Van Halen in a few weeks, we give up. (If you don’t know who Van Halen is, stop reading, slap yourself, and research him in google)  Likewise, if we decide to write and within a month or so if we haven’t created the next literary sensation we become depressed.

Flying is much like art.  There is a feel, a groove to it, that you have to develop.  There is a learning curve that develops over time.  So if you are a student and not moving as fast as you think you should be, relax.  The key is sticking with it.  The learning occurs in the mistakes, in the flubs, and in the bounces, slips, and stalls of flight training.  Just engage the process.  Push yourself for sure, but allow the learning to unfold.  Develop the skills and the excellence will come –as you stick with it.

Besides, when Eddie Van Halen first started playing guitar, even HE didn’t sound like Eddie Van Halen!

mFC Podcast | Episode 14 | Night Flying, Changes to the FAA Written Exams, ATC Update

Night flying over north Nashville...

Direct Download >>>

Feedback: or call 615-669-2359

This week’s mFC show is all about night flying!  For many students this is a time of excitement.  They can’t wait for this new experience.  Others it seems are pretty anxious about what awaits them after dark (cue scary music!).  Really, night flying is a blast and it is a lot of fun.  So I offer some basic considerations about night flying and some things to remember as you enter this phase of your training.

I also talk about the changes happening with the FAA written exams which are already being seen in the ATP, CFI FOI, and Instrument pilots tests.  While it is good that we’re moving away from a “memorize and go” approach, I think it would be helpful if the FAA would assist instructors as to the types of changes occurring and offer some input on best ways to prepare students for the exam.  I don’t think it’s right to completely overhaul the test and just surprise people.  (Which is what is happening.)

I also talk a little about the recent instances of Air Traffic Controllers falling asleep on the job.  There’s a great commentary on this over at JetWhine and I’ve linked a couple of articles up as well.  Obviously, there are some changes needed (and I don’t think firing the head of the program was necessarily the best move, but I digress) in scheduling and workload management.  But I also appeal to us as pilots to support the controllers, the vast majority of whom are conscientious, courteous, patient and professional.   So hopefully the FAA can make the changes needed in order to make an already great air traffic system even better!

Resources from Today’s Show:

Virgin Galactic Looking for Pilot-Astronauts

FAA Revamping Knowledge Tests

Test Scores Affected by FAA Changes

JetWhine: Controllers Need to Wake Up

Changes to Controller Scheduling

Preparation Key to Night Flying

“Night Flying” from Flight Training Magazine

New Site Coming Soon!

A screen shot from the new version of (click for larger image)

Hello everyone!

I’ve slowed up my posts to the blog in order to dedicate myself to working on a new edition of  I think the new site will be much more visually appealing and have more features than before.  I’m going to have a gallery of resources including iphone and ipad apps as well as programs for your computer.  I’ll have descriptions and links to the best ones!

The podcast and stories will all be integrated as well.  Not only do I hope to offer resources, but I want to BE a resource for you.  Obviously my book You Can Be A Pilot in print or ebook format will be there.  But I also am going to be sharing ways I can work and teach you guys directly and be an an encouragement for you in your flight training.

So thanks everyone for visiting the site and I’m going to keep the podcasts rolling and working on the new site.  Stay tuned for updates and everyone fly safe!  For now enjoy the teaser image above!


The myFlightCoach Podcast | Episode 13 | Interview with Karlene Petitt

Karlene Petitt, airline pilot for Delta, author, speaker, and advocate for women in aviation.

Direct Download >>>

Feedback: or call 615-669-2359

I’m so excited about this week’s show.  Karlene Petitt is a remarkable pilot with an extraordinary story.  This interview is about so much more than flying, but about perseverance, tenacity and pursuing your dreams.

She is an Airbus A330 pilot for Delta and has flown for 8 airlines, has 7 type ratings, and 2 masters degrees.  She has recently finished her first novel.  Additionally, she is an enthusiastic champion of women in aviation.  This conversation was a lot of fun to record and I think you’ll find it both informative and inspiring.

Please be sure to pass this show along especially to any women you know who are pilots or aspiring pilots.

Resources from Today’s Show:

Karlene’s Blog “Flight to Success”

The Airbus A380:  The plane Karlene flies for Delta

Women in Aviation

The Ninety-Nines

The Women of Aviation International


What Will You Remember?

Sunset west of Nashville, 4/2/2011

Yesterday I was flying with a student and we were privy to an awesome Tennessee sunset.  The air was smooth and had calmed remarkably from the gusty conditions early in the day.   In those few minutes I thought about the privledge of flying and how, were I not a pilot, I would never see such an incredible view.

I recalled a student who had just finished a solo cross country.  I was at the airport when he landed and I was a bit impatient.  He was running later than I’d hoped and I had been pacing in the FBO as I watched the sun begin to sink.  Finally I heard him announce his position and enter the pattern.

When he landed he was practically ecstatic.  As I helped him push the airplane into the hangar, he talked about all he had seen and experienced on his flight.  He talked about how freeing it was to be in the plane, navigating and flying with confidence.  I smiled as I remembered his first few flights and how, like many students, he had struggled to manage all the tasks of flying.  Moments like that are just gold to me as an instructor- seeing the undeniable progress of a student.

As the hydraulic hangar door closed, I mentioned to him that for me flying is an adventure every time I leave the ground.  I was glad he was finding that to be the case also.

I thought about these 2 experiences as  I drove home last night and how someday, years from now, when I’m old and my flying days have long since passed, I’ll remember the feel of the controls in my hands.  I have no doubt I’ll smile when I recall the first-solos I’ve seen and the satisfaction of a well-made landing.  Undoubtedly, my heart will race remembering shooting an ILS approach and breaking out of the clouds as the runway appeared through the haze right where it should be.

In the twilight of my life, of all the experiences I may have (with the exception of my family) I think I’ll treasure the hours spent flying the most.  And of all those hours I think I’ll always treasure the sunsets.

What will you remember?

25 Things You May Not Know About Me

Taking up the challenge from Justin at, I’m listing 25 little-known facts about me.  –Chris

1.  From the time I was 6 to the time I was 16 I was heavily involved in karate.  I won 6 state championships during those years.

2.  I really became interested in flying and shifted my focus from karate to flying in my late teens.  I soloed (flew by myself for the first time) when I was 16.

3.  I went to Auburn University on an Army ROTC Scholarship and majored in Aviation.  I spent 6 years on active duty in the Army, eventually being honorably discharged as a Captain.  I was known as a “Jack of All Trades” because of the variety of positions I held.

4.  I could eat Chinese food three times a week and not grow tired of it.

5.  My wife and I went through several years of infertility treatments before we adopted our boys. One of our favorite things to do is tell the story of how our family was formed through adoption.

6.  I read about 4 books a month.  Most on business or personal development or faith.

7.   I was an Episcopal Priest for a little over 5 years.  I went to seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.  When I came back to Tennessee I served as a Church Planter (one who starts new churches).

8.  I left the priesthood in 2007 and, along with my family, became Catholic.  I decided not to pursue the Catholic Priesthood even though there is a special provision that allows for married Episcopal clergy to become priests.

9.  I still have a lot in common with, and a great respect for, Christians of all stripes and want to help be a bridge-builder in this area.  I believe there is much more than unites us than divides us.   These days, we need each other.

A sample of my BonJovi collection.

10.  I grew up on 80′s pop/rock/metal.  I still LOVE Bon Jovi and Def Leppard.  My wife took me to see Def Leppard on my birthday in 2009.  The crowd was sure older than it was when I saw them in 1988! (So were we!)

11.  I am an active Flight Instructor and fly 2-3 times per week…usually more.

12.  My creative brain usually comes up with more ideas than I can pursue.  I’m definitely an ideas guy.

13.  The part of ministry that I really have missed is having the opportunity of regularly contributing to people’s lives in a meaningful way.   That’s part of why I love instructing and coaching.

14.  When I’m driving, I’m constantly talking to the other cars.  I get irritated easily in traffic.  This is something I’m working on.

15.  Our 6-year old has pretty strong food allergies.  Presently we’re having to be a gluten-free house.  Most everything that I like (liked) to eat had gluten in it.

16.  In addition to the music in #10, I like good, non-cheesy, honest, Christian music.  No fluff please. I LOVE Skillet.

17.  I don’t watch much T.V.  I typically have one or two shows that I really am committed to.  Some of those shows have been:  Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica (new version), and Medium.

18.  I’m a Star Wars geek.  I pretty much love science fiction.  I think that genre easily blends philosophy and religion and morality together and comes up with some interesting dilemmas.

19.  Re: #17, I hate TV shows that try to be meaningful but only come up with an emotionally manipulative storyline.  For example, I can’t stand the “Christmas Shoes” movie that runs constantly in November and December.  I don’t cry at Hallmark commercials.  Now “BraveHeart”…THAT brings a tear to my eye.

20.  I continue to learn to be very intentional about time.  We either manage it or it will manage us.

21.  I was born in raised in Mississippi.  Went to college in Alabama.  When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I lost most of my southern accent.  It was a necessity when learning to speak publicly (i.e. preaching).

22.  Being a Dad is awesome.  But it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ve learned loads about me and much of it has brought a good dose of humility.

23.  I have a great passion for missions work.  My wife Sheryl and I worked at a missionary home office when I was in seminary. Mission Aviation Fellowship blends my love of flying with missions really well.  I’d love to fly for them.

24.  I’ve been able to visit a number of countries.  I’ve visited England, Ireland, Wales, Italy, France, Turkey, Greece, Ecuador and Spain.  Ireland is probably my favorite.

25.  Between being in the Army and being in ministry, I had a 15 year hiatus from flying. Coming back into it was a thrill and I enjoy helping others find their way back into the cockpit too.

The Problem with Laser Pointers

It sounds like a simple and goofy prank.  Shine your laser pointer into the sky and see if you can “hit” an airplane.  Your chances are probably slim, but if you live near an airport you may just succeed.  And what the heck, huh?  Sounds almost harmless.

But it isn’t.  In fact it can be very dangerous.

Recently a friend on Twitter who is an airline pilot talked about getting hit by a laser while on final approach the other night.  I had never really paid much attention to this phenonmena, so I thought I’d look into it. 

Turns out a USAToday article in Janurary reported that over 2,800 pilots reported being targeted with lasers.  This is a doubling of these incidents from 2009 and represents a 10-fold increase since 2005. 

The problem is that these lasers can blind pilots in critical phases of flight, namely takeoff and landing.  As pointed out in a NYTimes article, laser beams diffuse with distance, but the intensity remains.  What that means is that a beam 1/25 of an inch wide can be 2 to 3 feet wide by the time if arrives at an unsuspecting pilot’s cockpit.  And yet, it’s just as brilliant and blinding as it is at 3 feet. 

The risks are obvious.  Laser pointers continue to increase in size and power and the damage they can inflict. Recently a 15 year-old student burned his retina and damaged his vision when he got an eye full of a powerful green laser he was using to try and pop balloons. 

Click for scientific details behind these picturesThis photo and it’s related article are a great and scientific analysis of what happens and why.  You can clearly see the blinding effect the laser causes on this simulated night flight.  The flashes simulate the effect of having repeated “hits” because most people can’t steadily hold the laser on a moving aircraft.  Therefore, pilots often get hit several times in a row.  See this article for more information. 

It’s not a joke at all.  Please let people know this is dangerous.