Category Archives: Sharing the Gift of Flight

Learning to Fly: What’s the 1st Solo Like?

by Chris Findley, CFI

First solos are amazing.   You will remember it for the rest of your life.

Me with 397 in 1988

I remember mine.  Cessna 172.  Tail number 80397.  July of 1988.  I had been flying for 2 years and was anxious to turn 16 so I could solo.  My parents were excited too and planned a post-solo party for me.  It was a humid July afternoon and as usual I was worried about pop-up showers forming.  None did.  The wind was calm.  This was it!  My instructor told me to do three touch-and-gos on my own and I couldn’t wait to get in the air. It was amazing, especially for this 16 year-old kid from Mississippi.  The landings went well and soon I was walking back to my friends and family as I hummed the theme from “Top Gun”. 

On the day of the solo you will most likely start out with a discussion reviewing the material you have been learning as a part of your training, much of it will probably focus on procedures.  Once in the plane your instructor will probably have you do a few touch & go’s and you may sense that the solo is near.  You’ll be concentrating to make these landings some of your very best.  As you make each landing, you may notice that your instructor is unusually quiet.  My students often ask me if I’m ok when they don’t hear me in their headset.  Generally in flying this is a good thing.  As you get better, the instructor has less to say! 

After a few landings your instructor will tell you to taxi to the ramp and may have you shut down the engine.  Then he will take endorse your student pilot’s license and your logbook and you’ll know that the solo is finally here!  With a smile and a handshake your instructor will tell you what he wants you to do, “Make 3 full-stop landings and then taxi back to the ramp.”

Some instructors then walk inside for a cup of coffee.  Others, like me, will stand to the side of the runway with a handheld radio and watch your landings. They  aren’t there to intimidate you, but to celebrate with you.  It’s a big moment for your instructor also.  

You’ll taxi out to the runway on your own for the first time!  Out of the corner of your eye you’ll notice the vacant chair next to you and it will hit you- you’re going to fly by yourself! 

On takeoff  you will find that the airplane climbs really well with that right seat empty.  Your trip around the patter will go quickly and you’ll be setting up for your first solo landing.  Most students notice that much of their training will begin kicking in automatically.  Your power settings, pitch attitudes, flap settings, and airspeeds will flow and soon you’ll be crossing the threshold, rounding out and entering the flare.  The plane will seem to hang suspended over that runway for eternity, but soon the wheels will make contact and you’ll slow to a stop.  You may find that you’ve been gripping the yoke a little more tighter or that you’re sweating a little more than normal.  But the exhilaration you feel will be indescribable. 

You’ll start your taxi back, perhaps give a quick wave to your instructor, and do it all over again. 

You have just done what many people never have the experience of doing.  Lots of people fly in airplanes.  Only a relative few can say they actually have flown an airplane.  Congratulations!


A Twist on the Sunday Drive: Fly!

What if we adapted the "Sunday Drive" concept to our flying?

by Chris Findley, CFI

The “Sunday Drive” holds an iconic place in American life.  Like front porch swings, sidewalks, and town squares, a family drive in the country on Sunday was a mini-getaway for the family.  There was no rush, no elaborate plans, no particular agenda.  It was using the car for more than the normal weekday commute.   It was about using the car for leisure, for recreation.

The notion of the Sunday Drive has all but disappeared from the American consciousness.  As the pace and pressure of modern society has increased, our intentional use of leisure has diminished.  It is pretty rare to see people simply taking a walk in a park, or chatting with neighbors across their back fences, or just getting away together for a little while.  But today’s Private Pilot can renew this age-old and forgotten tradition of the Sunday drive, but with a twist–the Sunday flight.

As a licensed pilot, we know the immense sense of accomplishment in nailing a crosswind landing, in navigating our way around weather, or shooting a near perfect instrument approach.  But if we are not careful we will forget that the airplane is more than a training platform, a handy way to commute, or a way to earn some additional income.  One of the greatest gifts of flying is flying for the sheer joy of it.  Why not block out some time to simply enjoy time aloft- a Sunday Drive of sorts?

Not long ago my family and I made our own Sunday drive/flight.

Base-to-final @ 1A7. Runway is just to the L of the river in the photo

The idea was simple.  I had spotted this out-of-the-way airport while on a training flight with one of my students.  A quick scroll through the GPS showed that it was  Jackson County Tennessee (1A7).  I saw that this 3500′ strip  was nestled between some lovely Tennessee hills with a river running parallel to the runway, only yards from the pavement.  The field was unattended, dotted only by a single large hangar on its western side.  The approach has you flying between and around the hills, and then upriver on final.  It is really picturesque.  It is also convenient as it is only about :20mins from my home airport.

The following Saturday rolled around and was a perfect VFR day.  My wife Sheryl packed a picnic lunch and brought our boys to meet me at the airport after I finished up with a student.  I re-checked the weather for the afternoon, loaded up the Cessna 172 and took off for our destination.  The flight didn’t take long and everyone was all smiles as we winged over the Cumberland plateau.  It was a cool and crisp early fall day -one of those days when you and it even seems, the plane, love to fly.

1A7- Jackson County, photo courtesy of

After landing, I taxied us to the ramp and shut down the engine.  We climbed out to a wonderfully calm and relaxing scene.  There was no one there.  The only sounds were the sound of nature and the popping of the cooling engine.  We found a spot in the grass, laid out a blanket and had our picnic.  After we ate, the kids played tag on the empty ramp while their mom and I just took it all in.  Now if this all sounds sort of Norman Rockwell-ish,  let me assure you this was a rare moment in the Findley house.  Our home is just as stressed and chaotic and tired as any other.  In fact, most of the time, I think we tend less toward Norman Rockwell and more toward Jerry Springer!

But this day stands out precisely because it was a break -a mini-getaway.  There was no pressure, no agenda, no real plan other than to go flying and have a picnic.  Stress was low, relaxation was high.  My logbook shows that it  took about a total of 1.3 hours on the hobbs which included a little sightseeing on the way back.

With every change in season various flying magazines and blogs suggest a host of destinations to their readership.  From Maine to the Bahamas to back-country strips in the northwest there is always an adventure for those with the time and resources to take them on.  I’d love to take a week and fly to the Bahamas.  But I don’t have the time or money to make that happen.  The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

Here are a few ways you can make the most of these little outings with friends or family:

1.) Grab a sectional and draw circle with a 50NM radius around your home airport.  These are airports that are within 30 mins of your home airport in any modest trainer.

2.)  Research the field and what’s around it. Check with the AOPA’s Airport Directory for information potential sites.  Also check out which is a great site for just these kinds of excursions.

3.)  Be willing to go low-key.  Pack a lunch and have a picnic.  Enjoy the flying and the company even if the meal is ham sandwiches and sweet-tea.

4.)  Be patient and do your planning in advance.  That way when the next great clear day of weather comes, you’re ready.

The Sunday Drive mentality can be a needed break from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.  While not many people take these drives anymore, pilots can give this time-honored tradition new life.  So do a little exploring in your own backyard, find a field, make your plan and make it happen.

I’d love to hear your stories.  Email me your Sunday Drive experiences and what airports make great getaways! You can reach me at

What is Flight Coaching?

by Chris Findley, CFI

A few months ago I began working on an idea of integrating webinar-styled teaching and ground school for pilots.   For those of you who have been gracious enough to follow me on Twitter or who read this blog I wanted to explain a little about the vision of   The idea had its genesis in receiving professional coaching myself.  I have been very blessed by the work of Kent Julian, a life &  career coach, nationally-known speaker & author, and all around great guy.  My work with him has brought more clarity to my life and career goals than anything I have done before now.   While working through his process I became intrigued with his method, and the method of “coaching” that has been in use in many training and counseling scenarios.   I began to wonder if there might be a way to integrate this type of training to aviation.  So I began working on

I use the term “Flight Coaching” very deliberately because that is part of my philosophy of training– I want to do more than “teach” or “instruct”.  I want to “coach”.   My goal is to be an encourager, partner, facilitator and trainer…all the things that make up a great coach.  I aim to do this whether I’m doing a webinar or am sitting in the cockpit with a student.  It is vital to me to add value to your flight training that will make you a more knowledgeable, competent, and safe pilot.

The idea is simple: to provide intensive ground-school training to anyone, anywhere.  I want to be a resource that can be utilized by anyone with a PC and a phone line and a willingness to learn.  Students and pilots that would otherwise be trying to absorb material in a self-study situation now have an instructor on the phone with them to answer questions, explain concepts and clarify teaching.  This is the next step beyond simple book work or watching a video.  Those things are great, but how much better to have an instructor on the line with you?

Currently I have set it up to work with Yugma conferencing software.  This is a free download, and allows me and the client to see the same screens on our computers as I present material.  I also provide an outline of each course and books for the student are shipped directly to them and included with the cost of the sessions.

This is not meant to circumvent the CFI working with the student, but to enhance the student’s absorption of the material.  Just as a CFI might ask a student to watch a video or suggest a conference to a student, I’d love to be a resource that partners with the CFI/Student to help them progress to the next level of their training.

Currently I offer 3 different coaching options (but also offer hourly options as well):

Flight101 is geared toward the pilot just getting into training and covers the basics of regulations, requirements, flight instruments and controls.  I also seek to answer common questions about cost, process, and even anxiety.  Flight101 forms the basis of their knowledge and can be a great jump-start to their training.  They can climb in the cockpit of their first lesson thoroughly versed in the fundamentals- they’ll know what the altimeter is and does.  They’ll know an aileron from a flap and what they do, etc.  If they do not currently have an instructor I offer to do the legwork in helping them find a professional school or instructor that will meet their needs.

Pass that Written is designed to help the student master the material for the Private Pilot Written Exam.  I work through the Gleim/ASA software (included in the cost of the sessions) with the student.  They email me their practice results and I develop a plan of instruction based on their test results.  Again my purpose is to clarify and explain the material in such a way that facilities a faster mastery of the material so they can move forward in their training.

Return to Flight is for those who have been out of flying for a while and are looking for a refresher course.  After an initial (and free) short session where I assess the pilot’s background, experience and length of time out of aviation, I develop a personalized plan.  This plan will cover material that will help them with any changes in procedures or regulations that may have occurred since they last flew.  I also cover the basics to insure they are well prepared to begin flying again.

Other courses are in the works.  You can read more detail about these at course section of

My charges for the course are at my normal freelance rate of $50/hour plus expenses and shipping for materials.  This is roughly in line with the going rate in most places for flight instruction, which is usually between $40 and $60/hour.

If you are interested in or know someone who is, please contact me at to learn more. You can also visit for more information.

Getting the “Right Stuff” for Training

by Chris Findley, CFI

Now that you have made the great leap into flight training, you are faced with a dizzying array of stuff:  manuals, sunglasses, kneeboards, headsets, plotters, computers, bags, boots, and software.  But frankly, you don’t need most of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff.  I don’t mean that in a greedy, hoarding kind of way, but I love gadgets and have a weakness particularly for watches and sunglasses and time management ‘solutions’ (Franklin Planner, Day-Timer etc).  I love new pilot supplies and I really enjoy reading the catalogs that come my way.   Heck, I’m waiting to renew my AOPA membership so I can get the free headset bag (which I don’t really need).

But when you are a new student, the amount of pilot “stuff” is overwhelming.  So here’s my take on A FEW of the best and most helpful products for the new pilot trainee.   This list isn’t exhaustive, but it covers the basics.  I’ll break the list down into what I think are “essentials” and what I think are “good ideas”.  Just know that my list is just that: my list.  Your instructor will probably have their list.  But I’ve seen too many students simply go crazy buying stuff they didn’t need or they later discovered wasn’t useful.  Better to get what you need now, and then learn what you might like and use.  Save your money for now for actual in-the-air training!  If you’re a pilot…email me and help me make this list even better!

(ESSENTIAL) A primary flight training textbook. I suggest one of the following:
The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual – This is the book I used to begin my flying back in the 1980’s.  It’s been updated over the years and is a great and economical book.  Provides step-by-step ground and flight information for student pilots working toward Private or Sport Pilot certification.

Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual – My favorite Private text.  It’s a bit pricey, usually in the $70-$80 range.  But well worth it.    The Private Pilot Manual is your primary source for initial study and review on your journey to becoming a private pilot.

(ESSENTIAL) FARs/PTS You’ll need a copy of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and Practical Test Standards (PTS) 2010 FAR/AIM Book – ASA – The most pertinent 14 CFR Parts combined with the Aeronautical Information Manual. In a convenient, handbook-sized 6″ x 9″ format.  Practical Test Standards: Private Pilot Airplane (Single-Engine Land) – The fundamentals to a successful checkride.

(ESSENTIAL) Headset: Headsets come in a variety of prices and styles.  Some go up to $1000 range.  If you’re just starting out and money is no problem, the go with the Bose X or Lightspeed series.  If you’re like me and have a more modest budget, try one of the ones listed below.  The major price difference comes between ANR (Active Noise Reduction) and PNR (Passive Noise Reduction) models–PNR is less expensive.   Here are my suggestions in the PNR price range, that will get you in the air without breaking the bank:

Sigtronics S-20 Headset – A great entry level headset and the value leader of the Sigtronics headset line.

Flightcom 4DLX Headset – This is the headset that I currently use.   Great value in quality and performance

AV COMM AC200 Headset – Low cost, dependable headset that is easy to operate and comfortable to wear.

(ESSENTIAL) Flight Computers: I like my students to learn both the long-hand (manual E6-B) and the hand-held calculator versions.  So I usually point them to a really low cost manual E6-B for training.

E6-B Paper Flight Computer – Economical, but sturdy, E6-B flight computer.

ASA CX-2 Pathfinder Flight Computer – Comprehensive pocket-sized flight computer.  Sporty’s Pilot Shop also has a great electronic calculator here >>>

Fixed Plotter – Easy to read numbers and scales

(GOOD IDEA, MAYBE) Private Pilot Kits: These are not a bad deal if you want to go with a bulk order approach.  Just look at everything and make sure that the kit has what you need and not a bunch of stuff your instructor doesn’t use.

Jeppesen GFD Private Pilot Kit – Part 61 – A comprehensive kit for private pilots in Part 61 training.

The Complete Private Kit Plus – The Plus Pack also includes the Pilot Test Prep and a FAR/AIM

(GOOD IDEA) Accessories

ASA VFR Kneeboard – Attractive, brushed aluminum VFR kneeboard

The Flyboy’s Kneeboard is my favorite.  Paul Volle at Atlanta Sport Flight turned me on to this beauty.  It’s a bit more ($33) but it’s compact size and versatility is well worth it.

(GOOD IDEA) Flight bags are popular but I’ve seen a lot of my students by a $90 duffel bag to haul all their study material to and from the airport.  My recommendation is not to buy a flight bag based on lugging your books around…you won’t do that once you get your license!  Buy something that can hold maps, approach plates, a flight computer, a plotter, a headset, a couple of powerbars and a bottle of water.  I have 2 bags, a small headset bag that also holds a kneeboard, a small flashlight and a couple of maps.  This is for instructing and moving in and out of the planes quickly.  Then I have my IFR/Cross Country bag.  This is a bit larger to hold more maps, approach plates, and other stuff I use more on cross-country trips.  My suggestion is to go to Target and get a cheap backpack to lug your books to the airport.  Then buy a small flight bag that you’ll actually keep and use.  Here are a couple of good ones:

Noral Student Flight Bag – Plenty of room for all that student pilot needs to carry and more.

Noral MACH 1 Flight Bag – Outstanding value in a new bag from Noral.

When you just starting out in flying, it’s like entering a whole new world.  There’s a new experience, a new vocabulary, and lots of new stuff.  Some of it is expensive and most of it is indeed great stuff to have.  But my hope is to try to balance performance with budget and steer you toward some good products that you can use now and in the future.

I’ll review a few more products soon and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please email me:

New T.V. Show “The Aviators”

Very excited to see this initiative!  Excellent possibilities for positive coverage of Aviation.   Help get the word out!


Finding the Right Flight Instructor

by Chris Findley, CFI

**Listen to this article as a podcast:  MyFlightCoach #1.3 >>>

So you’re interested in taking flying lessons, now what?  In my last podcast at, I talked about the resources at your local airport and how most people’s first stop will be the Fixed Base Operator (FBO).  The FBO is often the hub of activity of the smaller General Aviation airport.  The FBO often houses a flight department, fuel and supply sales, and perhaps a flight school.  For most people this is their first, most obvious stop at the local airport because it often the most visible.  Hopefully the FBO gives you some information about flight training or introduces you to a CFI (Certificated Flight Instructor).  The question is now that you’ve done this, what do you look for in CFI and or Flight School?

Too often new pilot trainees simply go with the first instructor they come across.  Very little attention is paid to the fact that you are entering into  special relationship with this person.  You will be investing a lot of time and money with your CFI, usually between $40 and $60.  You will also be entrusting your safety to them and that of your future passengers.  You will pick up habits, for good or for ill, from your instructor.  So it is important, even crucial, to make this decision carefully.  Here are a few suggestions for finding the right CFI for you.

Will they be a good mentor? The best CFIs I know understand their role as teacher, mentor, and coach.  They do more than show principles, they serve as a guide and encourager.  So look for someone you have some sense of camaraderie.   I know some instructors will wince as I say that, but it’s true.  You don’t want to be cooped up in the cockpit with someone whose guts you can’t stand.  You won’t be able to learn or progress very efficiently if you’re preoccupied with the student-instructor relationship. So try to sit down with your potential CFI over a cup of coffee and just chat about the training process and his or her methods and practices.  Remember, you’re looking for a mentor.

Do they operate professionally? Not long ago I was trying to find a CFI at a different airport than I normally use.  I didn’t really have any contacts there, so I called up the FBO and asked for a flight instructor.  There wasn’t one around (we often aren’t unless we have a student) but the gentleman gave me a couple of phone numbers.  I called them both.   Neither one returned my call.  After 2 days, I called a second time. I left voicemail.  I waited 2 more days.  Nada.  I gave up and drove an extra :15mins each way to another airport and worked with a CFI who knew how to return phone calls.

Flight Instructors have a dubious reputation when it comes to professionalism.  Many are great and understand their responsibility and operate professionally.  I know others who regularly miss appointments, are unprepared, and/or fly in poor conditions.  I know one whose practice was to spin the airplane with students on the 2nd lesson!  Intentionally scaring the snot out of a new student certainly fails the professionalism test!  So look for professionalism which starts with reasonable communication (I try to return every inquiry within 2 hours), appearance, organization, and safety.

Can they articulate a plan for your training? Every CFI should be able to give you a two-minute overview of the training process.  This shows organization and forethought.  An organized and clear plan will: 1.) insure that you cover all the necessary training requirements thoroughly and in a timely manner and 2.) save you time and money in the long run. I have a spreadsheet that I use that where I can track my student’s progress through the various phases of training.  I can also share this with the student to show him/her exactly where they are at any given point.  The training plan doesn’t have to be terribly formal, but there needs to be a plan.

Three things to look for in your Flight Instructor:  one who can be a good mentor, one who is professional and one who has an organized plan.  Whether you will be flying at a large flight school or your small, local FBO, choosing a CFI is a very important part of getting your flight training off to a great start.  Don’t be too shy to ask questions or to spend a little time making a wise decision.  You’ll be glad you did.  It will make for a more fun and effective flight training experience.

Learn to Fly Day! 5-15-10

There’s a great new initiative to share the love of flying with others!  On May 15, 2010 at over 300 locations in over 140 cities, pilots and fight schools will offer a free seminar on learning to fly.  They are equipping and requiting volunteers to host more seminars, so visit the site if you’d like to help.  You can also sign up to attend the seminar and receive a free ticket.

If you’re in the North Nashville area (Hendersonville, Goodlettsville, Gallatin) I’ll be hosting one of these seminars at Pope John Paul II High School (directions here).  Sign up for the Hendersonville session at LearntoFlyDay >>>

Sign up for other sessions at: