Safety Publications/Articles

Sometimes It's Not Your Fault

On many occasions over the years, I've seen a student's performance deteriorate suddenly and dramatically. The finger of blame often points first at the instructor (and it's often the instructor's finger doing the pointing). But a bit of detective work frequently turns up a hidden culprit in the cockpit.

I recall an excellent young fellow who learned rapidly. At 14 hours, he was getting close to solo. Then something happened. His flying ceased to improve, and his skills actually deteriorated. Of course, I blamed myself for his poor performance. After three additional hours of unproductive flight training, I finally discovered the source of his problem--his girlfriend, the love of his life, had dumped him, and he simply fell to pieces.

On another occasion, I had a student whose husband forced her to take flying lessons so he could have a copilot in case he had a heart attack aloft. After five lessons of getting nowhere (she wasn't motivated), I discovered the problem and chatted with the cardiac captain. We came to an arrangement that pleased all. I taught her enough to land the airplane, which was all she was really interested in learning.

In recent years, I've made it a point to tell my students to inform me when personal issues make flight training difficult for them. Sometimes a short hiatus will solve the problem; sometimes a longer delay is in order. As a flight instructor, one of your most important jobs is telling people when they're simply not ready to learn.

By Rod Machado

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