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What I Learned from my 'Mean' Flight Instructor

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

I have incredibly fond memories of my flight training days.  I had some pretty amazing and intelligent flight instructors who taught me well but also allowed me to enjoy my training.  They were tough on me at times, but it was for my own good.

I was 18 when I started my training, so consequently I felt like I knew everything.  My first instructor was the meanest, toughest person I had met, I was sure of it.  He drove me crazy at times, but even though I was a know-it-all, I still remember trying to see him as a nice person.  When he was teaching me how to land he would always say the same thing on base "Look at the runway and ask yourself, where am I going to land?  If I keep this power setting and configuration, where will I land on that runway?"  He would say it every single time and sometimes multiple times on the same base leg.  It drove me crazy!

After a bit of time, I was ready for my first solo.  I wasn't nervous beforehand because I was young and invincible.  I knew I could do this because I was the bomb... I obviously still had my teenager mentality.  I hopped in that little 2-seater Katana and was on my way.  However, once I got in the air I realized that I didn't have anybody to help me anymore.  If I screwed something up, I was going to have to fix it.  If I bounced or flew a terrible approach, my instructor wasn't there to coach me through it.  By the time I made it to the downwind leg I was nervous!  Could I really do this?  What if I hit the prop or something equally terrible, would that be the end of my aviation career?

And then on downwind my instructor's words, the exact words that drove me absolutely crazy, began filling my mind.  "What should you be doing?  What checklist should you be running?  What airspeed and power setting should you have?"  It was amazing!  He wasn't trying to be mean or especially hard on me, he was trying to set me up for success.  He wasn't saying the same things all the time to annoy me.  He wasn't trying to be rude or treat my unfairly just because he could.  He was teaching me that way so that when I flew without him, I could live to tell.  He was hard on me to make me a better pilot.

On base I found myself asking "If I keep this configuration, where am I going to land?"  It was the coolest feeling ever- to know that he had taught me well enough that he didn't have to be there with me.  I successfully flew 3 full traffic patterns with 3 beautiful landings that day.  Up to that point, it was the greatest feeling I had ever felt.

My instructor and I got along quite well after that.  Sometimes he was a bit hard on me, but I knew it was for my benefit.  I knew he wanted me to succeed, and for him I will always be grateful.  I haven't seen my first flight instructor in years, but maybe someday I will finally be able tell him thank you.  To this day I still hear his words in my head when I am on base or on a really long final- "If I keep this configuration, where am I going to land?"  If your instructor is being hard on you, instead of being angry about it, realize the he is probably doing it for your own good.  Of course there are some instructors who really are terrible, in which case you should find a new one, but those ones are few and far between.

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