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Training Tip: A word about plateausTraining Tip: A word about plateaus

A plateau may be a nice place to take a photograph, or a convenient checkpoint for a VFR cross-country. In an aviation-training context, however, plateau is a polite, scientific-sounding word meaning stalled progress toward a student pilot’s goals.

Photo by Christopher Rose.

Even there, a plateau has redeeming characteristics. A plateau still suggests an upwardly mobile place to be; one dictionary definition of a plateau is “an area of relatively level high ground.”

The reality, as numerous student pilots experience, is that the bad patch often referred to as a plateau may have a discouragingly downward, regressive component. That kind of plateau doesn’t simply stagnate along a “relatively level” plane.

Now we’re talking about a rut.

And a rut, in the starkest of several definitions, is “any deep mark, hole, or groove.”

Sound familiar?

Symptoms of a training rut can go well beyond the plateau’s frustrating “state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.” They also include making a hash out of maneuvers you once flew with grace and confidence, indecision where assertiveness once flourished, and a lost sense of the joy you used to feel at, or near, or even just thinking about, the airport.

Given those across-the-board debilitating effects, a rut can’t be cured simply by sitting through one more demonstration of a steep turn, a stall recovery, or a soft-field landing by your instructor.  And hammering away may simply aggravate matters in the short term.

Time for a fresh perspective to help you break out, and even accelerate your post-plateau pursuit of your pilot certificate. Here are a few rut-reversal remedies to review.

Switch seats. Whether from left seat to right or front to back, try a dual flight with the script flipped. Even a short stint sampling your favorite maneuvers from that foreign country known as the other seat will suffice as an entirely new, refreshing experience.

Take a back seat. Fly along as a passenger on another student’s dual-instruction flight, and discover what a fine critic you are of someone else’s struggles. Don’t let them see you grinning ear-to-ear back there, and keep your commentary to a minimum.

Take a seat at the sim. You can’t hit the pause button in flight, or scoot down to the coffee machine for fortification, but on the simulator you can. Indulge yourself.

Then get back to business.

Just don’t sit still for a plateau or a rut.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Student
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