Steve Hansell on Flight Training Challenges

“When a student comes for lessons, the most important thing is they’re motivated because it takes a lot of work, takes a lot of time and money. It’s not easy to get a pilot’s license. It’s a hard skill to learn. If they stick with it most people can do it.

The other thing is, they’re willing to hit the books. There’s a little bit of book learning involved. They have to be willing to read some books outside of the time that they’re here at the airport. Then, and this is where the instructors play a big role, we try to make it fun.

If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. Somewhere in the lesson it has to be enjoyable to them. It can’t be all work or all torture or all whatever. Flying is a lot of work. It’s a hard skill. Very few people learn how to fly because it’s very challenging.

What are some of the fears people worry about? Turbulence, that’s where the plane is bumping around and most of the turbulence that we experience … We’re very careful. The instructors are very careful to check the weather before we go up in the plane. We have a good idea, or we talk to other pilots who’ve already been flying, we have a good idea what the turbulence is. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy, a little windy and gusty. The plane is going like this, bouncing around a little bit.

People, when they first encounter it are sometimes uncomfortable. What they discover if they stick with it, it’s not a safety issue. It’s not harmful. The planes are built like bricks. They’re very sturdy. They’re not going to fall apart. The plane isn’t going to dive for the ground or turn upside down with a little turbulence. It’s just a little bit of bouncing around so we’re uncomfortable and people get used to that.

Myself, I’ve gotten so used to it. I own an airplane. I go up in my own plane. I put on the XM Sirius music, put on the autopilot, I have to be careful, the turbulence puts me to sleep because it’s like being in a vibrator chair. I have to be careful I don’t fall asleep with turbulence. You get used to it.

Landing is the hardest thing to master. It takes the most practice. Mainly because you’re doing several, or many things at once. You’re watching air speed, you’re watching altitude, you’re watching your glide path, you’re watching your flaps, you’re watching are you too low, too high. All that stuff all at once.

Things change fairly quickly and you’re low to the ground so it matters. You have to do everything right. Not perfectly but everything has to come together into a fairly small range of good values, good parameters. That’s why it takes most people awhile to learn how to land. Once they learn how to land, psst, piece of cake and they’ve got it.

It’s like driving. Driving is now automatic. You don’t get in the car and say, “I have to turn the wheel 20 degrees to make a right turn.” You just say, you think in your mind, “I’m going to turn right.” You just do it. Well, flying becomes almost that automatic for most of it. That frees up our mind to think about other things like what’s the weather doing, what’s the mechanical status of the airplane, are my passengers enjoying the ride, are we going to make it to lunch on time?” ~ Steve Hansell, Princeton Flying School Instructor