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!


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