Dan and I were sitting in the aeroplane once, watching the dance of the windsock. Headsets on, buckled in and warming the engine. “What do you think?” I asked him. “Dunno mate, it’s up to you. Your call. At the end of the day, you’re P1. You are the one who has to get us back here. If you don’t like it, don’t go.” I took another good hard look at the windsock. It was windy, to be sure, but gusty too. I had started the day feeling a bit out of sorts, and what I didn’t want right now was a thump to my confidence. I knew this was within my limits, but another day perhaps. I turned to Dan. “I’ll make you a cuppa then, shall I?” Later that same day, feeling more upbeat, I flew back from an outing on my own, and instead of scaring myself if I had flown earlier – and probably Dan too – I built another bit of confidence into my flying memory bank.
“Make the most of the weather,” Dan had said when I passed my GST. I had watched him grow into a confident pilot in the year since he had done his GST, constantly pushing himself to be better, but never losing sight of his guiding principle. “It’s a hobby. I do it for fun. When it stops being fun, I stop doing it.”
The days when I don’t feel like going up, those words keep ringing in my ears. If you don’t take the opportunities on offer, they may not be around for you when you are ready. We have become a little blasé about hot sunny days this summer, but generally, the weather and the wind are constant variables. “Go out and enjoy yourself when the weather is good,’ says Dan, ‘and you will build your confidence.”
We were both taught by an instructor who frequently reminded us not to drain the cup of good luck until we had filled the cup of experience, an adage most pilots have heard. It is all about building a skillset that means you have more mental capacity to cope with the unexpected, which is always to be expected in flying.
It is sometimes not easy to see much progression in your own flying, so try and log things that once were tricky and you now find easy. I have never forgotten the horror of hearing we were expected to call Downwind in a circuit I found exhausting to keep under control. Now when I feel I am not moving forward, I remember that I make that call without thinking, and I know I have come a long way.
When you are new to flying, there are endless ways to stretch yourself. It may be going up alone in the aeroplane – not my favourite! – or making the distance you fly a little longer than before, going up in weather that is less than perfect or doing a landing at another airfield. Even the times when you think you haven’t progressed at all, when you are doing what is comfortable and familiar, something will be different, and you will increase your exposure to handling an aircraft as a pilot in command. Perhaps you can play with speeds, or heights, or banking angles, or just sit and enjoy the achievement of being exactly where you are. Of course, you must push yourself, but only you know where your limits are right now.