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Pilot

Posts about pilot skills, knowledge, and judgment

"Skyhawk 80377, cleared into class Bravo airspace at 4,500," said the NorCal Approach controller as I was heading towards the Livermore Valley from my home base at San Jose International Airport.

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The lantern-jawed test pilot with icewater in his veins. The maverick hotshot pulling a 10g turn to get the drop on an enemy. The cool professional banging it onto a pitching carrier deck and catching the third wire. Through books like Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, its movie version, and films like Top Gun, these images have pervaded our culture. They've had a big effect on the public perception not just of military aviation, but of aviation in general.

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Last weekend at AOPA Summit in Long Beach, California I had a chance to talk briefly with instructor, author, speaker, and aviation funny man Rod Machado about a recent installment of his regular License to Learn feature in AOPA Pilot magazine. In the piece he raised the question of why flight training has such an appallingly low completion rate, with approximately 70% of student pilots quitting before they earn their certificates. Rod identifies one of the main causes as "an unfavorable comfort-to-discomfort ratio experienced during flight training." I asked Rod to what extent he thinks this problem is related to student confidence.

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In my welcome post, I told the story of a harrowing early solo flight in a glider that ended in a terrifying and humiliating porpoised landing in front of a crowd of onlookers. The resulting crisis of confidence nearly made me quit flying altogether. I agonized over that experience, fearing it was proof that I'd never succeed in learning to fly. And yet the following weekend I came back to the gliderport to continue my lessons. Why? What force could be strong enough to overbalance my fear and embarrassment and allow me to keep flying? Quite simply, it was desire. I wanted to fly more than I wanted to hide.

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As I described in a recent post, during my early flight training I was often plagued by bouts of anxiety and doubt in the wee hours of the morning. "How could I have made such a horrible landing? My instructor must think I'm hopeless. Will I ever get the hang of crosswinds?" Ultimately, the question I was asking was, "Do I have what it takes to fly?"

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