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"It'll Come With Time"

How many times have you heard someone say, “It’ll come with time,” when referring to learning a particular skill or technique? I’ve heard it quite a lot. Often, it seems intended to end the conversation, or at least change the subject, when the speaker is tired of talking about it or has exhausted their knowledge of the subject. Still, the implication is that only time will bring the skills in question and there’s simply nothing more to say or do about it.

We put a lot of emphasis on flight time in aviation as a measure of experience, but how good a yardstick is it really? As the old adage says, “Do you have 500 hours of experience, or 1 hour 500 times?” The truth is that flight hours are only part of the story. A very experienced former airshow performer I know put it this way: “Recent experience counts for a lot more than total experience.” I’ve noticed that too. I know that my instrument flying skills were sharper right after my instrument checkride than they are now, even though I have more total experience.

Still, I think many student and low-time pilots get discouraged, despairing that it will take years and hundreds if not thousands of hours for them to acquire the skills they need to fly confidently and well. But there’s actually a lot we can do to gain experience quickly.

Take landings, for example. Landing is one of those skills that takes a lot of practice to do well. An instructor I know once said, “It takes at least a thousand hours to really learn how to land.” That might be true given the way most of us fly after earning our licenses: short- to medium-length cross-country flights of an hour or more, with a single landing at the destination and another landing at home after the flight. If we make a concentrated practice of landings, though, doing pattern work regularly and getting periodic dual instruction, we can hone our landing skills much more quickly.

But while it’s true that skills come with practice and persistence, that doesn't mean we should just keep doggedly bashing away. W. C. Fields once said a very wise thing: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then if you still don’t succeed, the hell with it. There’s no sense being a damn fool about it.” I might be reading too much into his little pearl of wisdom, but I take it to mean that if what you’re doing isn’t working, quit doing it and try something else. We don’t have to take a myopic, nose-to-the-grindstone approach to practice and bulldog our way through.

With awareness, we can bring some subtlety and nuance to the process, ultimately making it less onerous and more productive. Anyone who’s been following this blog will recognize this process. Yep, it’s the observe-act-observe cycle again, and it’s a great way to build confidence by gaining experience quickly.

So these days when someone tells me that a particular skill will come with time, I just smile, knowing I don’t have to just sit around waiting for it to happen.

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