The BEST way to reduce the cost of your flight training is to buckle-down and do some chair flying. There are multiple reasons why chair flying is not only extremely valuable but also very effective. Whether a pilot is training for their private pilot certificate, instrument rating or for a transition to a new type of aircraft, chair flying is the number one way to reduce the cost of training.
Why is chair flying important? Knowing the procedures a pilot must complete is one thing, but how are these steps carried out? That is the key. For example, I teach my students that if we are at 1,000 feet AGL and 100 knots (IAS) in the downwind leg of the traffic pattern in a Cessna 172S, abeam our aiming point (not landing), we reduce the power to 1,600 RPM, add the first notch of flaps (10 degrees). By making the power reduction we change the thrust and the nose will seek lower, with our help the aircraft will begin to dissipate airspeed and begin a descent as we begin to reduce our energy for a precise approach and landing.
This procedure works very well, yet the procedure for transition from cruising down the downwind to beginning our approach can quickly get away from even the most skilled pilot in a new aircraft. Spending “heads-down” time searching for the throttle, flaps lever, etc… is all time where a pilot, with their hands on the controls, is flying the plane (making control inputs) without seeing what they are doing. The longer it takes to find the flap lever, as an example, and ensure the flaps are set correctly, the farther an aircraft can get away from where it should be.
New pilots that are learning what “things should look like,” can certainly reduce the cost of their training by employing the chair flying technique. Instead of figuring out where switches are and what things should look like, literally “on the fly” during a lesson, while paying for a substantial amount for the airplane and instructor, it can be done for FREE!
Chair flying can be done sitting in an office chair with a cockpit poster, spending time practicing where to look for various pieces of information. This will reduce time spent searching for things while in flight as a result of your practice. Another alternative is to visit your flight school on a bad weather day and ask to sit in one of the aircraft. In this case you would actually get to touch and feel the controls and switches as well as seeing the actual instruments and gauges. Either version of chair flying can be very effective if done correctly.
Visualization is a concept that has been employed by various successful individuals. Professional athletes, for example, use visualization to see themselves hitting the big shot, whether it is a three-pointer in basketball or the one-putt in golf. Similarly visualizing the execution a procedure perfectly in the cockpit can go a long way towards making your aircraft control exceptional. After chair flying you can employ visualization by knowing what you need to do and seeing yourself doing it (mentally). Then in the future you are better prepared to carry out the procedure with confidence and less “heads-down” time.
As I stated before, chair flying can be effective for even the most seasoned pilot getting used to new aircraft. An experienced pilot in a new airplane spends time searching for switches and indications in much the same way a new student does in their initial flight training. As a result, chair flying can go a long way in reducing the cost of your aircraft transition. If you take a minute to think about it, an aircraft checkout is about learning the aircraft and getting used to how it performs and “acts”. Therefore, if you can practice getting used to the airplane, for free, what is the downside to that?
Personally, I use chair flying as a way to re-acclimate myself to aircraft that I have not flown recently. As an instructor I want to provide superior instruction and deliver great value, thus I want to know my classroom as best I can. I truly believe in chair flying, give it a shot, I think you will be impressed at how effective it can be in reducing the cost and duration of your flight training.
-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9