Category Archives: Learning to Fly

Kneeboard Notes: The Traffic Pattern

Hello everyone!

I’m working on developing some easy-to-use resources for pilots that I’m calling “Kneeboard Notes”.  These simple resources allow students to personalize the information covered in ground school to their particular airport and situation. 

This first installment of Kneeboard Notes concerns the traffic pattern.  It helps students think through not only the idea of what a traffic pattern is, but prompts them to think of the altitudes and settings needed in their aircraft, at their airport. 

I hope you find it helpful.  If you have feedback on this or if you have ideas for future Kneeboard Notes, please drop me a line at:

Download “Kneeboard Notes- The Pattern”


Episode 8 | The myFlightCoach Podcast

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Fun show! This is a Q&A episode!  I take this episode to answer your questions on flight training.   Here’s a sample of some of the questions covered:

1.)  What should I look for in a flight school or instructor? What’s the most important thing I should do to be a good student?

2.)  What do you think is the most neglected skill in flight training?

3.)  I’m a student pilot and I’m working on my solo XCs.  While on a recent flight clouds started forming at my altitude.  I wanted to go above them, because I knew it was clear at my destination.  I chose to go below them, a little tight but do able.  Was this the right call?

4.)  I’m not going to be able to start my lessons for about 6 months, but I want to start studying.  What books do you recommend?

5.)  How do you recommend studying for the written exam?

6.)  I feel like I’m on a plateau with my landings.  I’m not getting any better and I’m worried I just can’t get it!

and several more…..

I’m going to be doing these Question and Answer sessions fairly regularly and would love to have your input.  Please email me at or call the brand-new number (anytime 24/7) at: 615-669-2fly  (615-669-2359)

Resources from today’s show:

Chris Holub’s “In the Pattern” Podcast

Karlene Petitt’s “Flight to Success” Blog

The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual

Jepessen’s Guided Flight Discovery Private Pilot Manual

Gleim’s Private Pilot Written Exam Software

And my book You Can Be A Pilot (shameless plug, I know) can be a good resource for answering many common questions about flight training.

Flying Costs Got You Down? It Could Be Worse.

In this month’s AOPA Pilot (Feb 2011) the “Pilot Briefing” column provides us with some sobering statistics from across the pond.  I recently did a podcast talking about the price of learning to fly in the U.S.   I commented that while the cost is high to many pocketbooks, it isn’t likely to decrease and I offered some ideas on reducing the cost of training.

But compare American aviation prices with that of our English counterparts and you begin to thank your lucky stars you’re learning to fly in the States.  Check out these prices:

A Cessna 172 (simple 6-Pack) $164/hour.   PLUS

VAT (Value Added Tax) of $36 PLUS

A per-circuit (touch-and-go) fee of $12.21 PLUS

Full Stop Landing Fee of $36.84.

And fuel is $9.75/ gallon.

Therefore the hourly cost with one touch-and-go is…. $268.64

Instrument students?  An ILS has a fee of $78.  So just an approach to a full stop is $114.84 and you haven’t even paid for the plane (and all those fees) and your instructor.

While it’s not “cheap” to learn to fly….hey, it could be worse…a LOT worse.



First Things First

When you first begin flying you may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you encounter.  It seems like there is so much to learn and much of it sounds like a foreign language!  You’ll hear your instructor and other pilots talk about things like: Class B, ATC, VSI, Static Port, Asymmetrical Thrust, Nimbus, ATIS, and the Pattern.   In the air the radio will crackle with odd sounding phrases that seem only vaguely related to English.  A lot of students feel overwhelmed early on.  That’s why we must keep “First things first.”

The knowledge required for the Private Pilot Certificate is extensive.  But it is something you learn over the course of your training and not all at once.  No one expects that by your second lesson that you have mastered the material in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK).  Nor will you be expected to perfectly execute turns around a point or fly a flawless pattern.  For now, you need to simply begin stretching your wings and you (and your instructor) needs to give you time and space to learn. Here are a few suggestions:

On the Ground: Begin reading today!  It is important to build your knowledge base.  Yes, there is a lot of studying to do.  Most syllabi begin by having you learn about aerodynamics, systems, and the flying environment.  Check out the online PHAK, chapters 1, 4, 5, 6, 7.   Again, you don’t have to have this done by your 2nd or 3rd flight, but it will greatly help your training process when you take the time and effort to read all you can while on the ground.

In the Air: You’ll likely begin with the 4 fundamentals (Straight & Level, Turns, Climbs, and Descents) and then move into combinations of these.  Soon you’ll be doing slow-flight, steep turns, and stalls as well as being introduced to ground-reference maneuvers.  These are the building blocks of your flying.  You’ll spend a lot of time in the practice area doing these drills and learning emergency procedures.  You may get a little tired of the repetition, but I find that students generally enjoy getting better at these maneuvers (they see their progress).  And of course we begin learning to land also!

I think the important thing is to not let yourself get overwhelmed early on.  Sure, there is a lot of material, but attack the material at a steady pace and not all at once.  In flying, each learning event builds on the next so as you master one thing, the next thing comes naturally.  Focus simply on the learning and flying your instructor is showing you.  You’ll be surprised how much you learn and how fast you learn it.  Most importantly –have fun and fly safe!


Pinch Hitting

Melissa and I pose for the camera after our flight.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of doing the first part of a “Pinch Hitter’s Course” with a friend of mine’s wife.  This type of instruction is for those who are not pilots but who fly frequently with family or friends who are pilots.  They may not want to take lessons or earn their license, but they would like to learn to satisfy their own curiosity and do what needs to be done “in a pinch”.  In many ways knowledge is power, or in this case knowledge is peace.  Understanding the basics of the plane’s operation and systems gives a good bit of peace to these frequent fliers.

Melissa, my friend’s wife, has been flying with her husband but always experienced a good bit of anxiety.  It’s not his flying, I’ve flown with him and he’s a very good pilot.  He’s proficient, safe, and methodical.   But as I talked with them both, it seemed that what she really needed was an instructor to talk her through the basics and give her the information and experience of seeing for herself what flying was all about.

I spent some time in the cockpit with her going over the basics of the instruments and the radios.  We took off and the first thing I demonstrated was stability.  A trimmed-out airplane is remarkably stable and when I removed my hands from the controls she seemed concerned for just a moment.  Then I saw it register with her that the plane was doing just fine, flying along quite nicely.  I then demonstrated how even if I push on the yoke, the plane will try to return to level flight (dynamic stability).   And it did.

At that point I showed her straight and level flying and basic turns.  That was the last time I flew the plane!   She flew it for the remainder of the flight until we came back into the pattern for landing.  It was exciting to see her go from being reluctant to touch the controls to holding straight and level and making turns to headings on her own!

The next day her husband sent me an email which said:

“We’ve created a monster.  Melissa is actually excited to go up again and start phase 2 of her pinch hitter course.  You are a great teacher and have the right level of patience to feed information at an appropriate rate. She’s definitely  going up again (her words).”

That’s what it’s all about  –sharing the gift of flight!  I can’t wait to fly with Melissa again and see her grow more and more comfortable with flying.   It is great to see how this ‘flying family’ can really share the joy of flying together.


Planning Your Descent

In this month’s Flight Training Magazine (1/2011) there’s an easily overlooked tip that I think many people would find helpful.  When teaching new pilots (or even working with some experienced ones) I often find that there is some confusion in knowing how to plan a descent.  This results often in arriving high into the airport area and having to dive into the pattern –which we don’t want to do!

So what’s a good way to plan your descent?

Use the “Rule of Three”!

To do this, multiply the number of feet you have to lose by three.

If you are cruising at 6,500 feet and you have to descend to a traffic pattern that is 1,500 feet, you need to lose 5,000 feet.  Now multiply 5 x 3 and you get 15…start your descent 15 miles out.

Now what should be your rate of descent?

The folks at Flight Training Magazine recommend taking half your groundspeed and multiplying by 10.   So if you are cruising along at 120 knots GS, divide by 2 (=60) and multiply by 10 which gives you 600 feet per minute.

A little number crunching can make for a much more comfortable and pleasant ride into an airport traffic pattern!

MyFlightCoach Podcast | Episode 2

This week’s podcast features a encouragement to fly in 2011! If you’ve been out of flying, get back in! If you need to knock out a Flight Review and gain your currency back, then make that your goal. If you are looking at simply getting started, then there’s no better time than the present!

I recount a recent Discovery Flight with an old friend (I’ve known her since she was in 5th grade –makes me the old one) and I review some of the aviation headlines of 2010 and talk about the FlightPrep lawsuit fiasco adn why we need to think about takeoff techniques.

Listen Online:

Direct Download

Resources from this week’s show:

Lisa’s Discovery Flight Video (may have to maunally select HD)


National Association of Flight Instructors

Jill Tallman’s Best and Worst of 2010

John & Martha King’s reflections on their detainment

Nate Duehr’s Article on the FlightPrep Fiasco

Key’s to Better Takeoffs