Cessna Skycatcher and pilot

Five lessons learned as a student pilot


As student pilots, we enter flight training with eager minds and a thirst for knowledge, ready to soar through the clouds. However, the journey is not without its challenges and setbacks.

Every flight lesson, whether a seamless success or a humbling experience, offers invaluable opportunities for growth and self-improvement. It is in these moments of triumph and adversity that we learn the art of aviating. From mastering intricate procedures to developing a keen situational awareness, each lesson imparts wisdom that shapes us into better, safer pilots.

By embracing these learning opportunities with an open mind and a resilient spirit, we can turn every flight into a stepping stone towards excellence in the skies. 

Here are five lessons I’ve learned so far.

Your certified flight instructor (CFI) may not be a good fit with your learning style and it’s OKAY to change instructors (or flight schools) to find a better match! 

Like a good number of CFIs, my very first instructor was in hot pursuit of flight hours to segue into flying as a commercial pilot. However, the CFI always seemed distracted, with one foot out the door toward the next pursuit. This rush was evident in the instruction as well — ground school and inflight instruction always seemed hurried. 

It only took a couple of lessons and one conversation with a commercial pilot friend for me to realize I needed to make the leap to a smaller flight school with more thorough instruction. I’ve been with my current CFI since that switch and it’s one of the best decisions I made regarding my flight training.

IMSAFE checklist is a safety net; it is better to be safe on the ground than in the air wishing you were on the ground! 

Know your limits. If you are tired, sick, injured in a manner that would impede your safe operation of an airplane (or any of the other factors detailed in the IMSAFE checklist) — STAY ON THE GROUND.

For those who aren’t familiar with all the acronyms pilots use (such as IMSAFE or TOMATO FLAMES) IMSAFE stands for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue and Emotion.

It is always better to be safe than sorry. 

Memorize your checklists and chair fly to reinforce them and the skills you are learning! 

Very quickly into your flight training you will learn that checklists are a formidable, necessary way to memorize the functions and processes of operating an airplane. These lists help you ensure that all required actions are performed in a well-ordered manner and that you do not forget what you are supposed to do. It is in your best interest as a student to drill them. Read them in your textbooks and training guides, write them down on notecards, and when you are not actively practicing them in flight, practice them in a chair. That’s right, chair flying!  

Get a poster of the cockpit of the training airplane you fly in, put it on the wall, sit down in front of it, and drill your checklists. Go through the motions of flight. It feels ridiculous at first, but it really does help you learn! 


You WILL make mistakes, the key to success is to learn from and grow from the lessons learned!

Do I make mistakes as a student pilot? Yes! Do I debrief with my instructor and get his feedback and tips for how to improve? Yes! If I am still stuck on something that is not quite clicking I will read up in textbooks and training guides, forums and other online resources, along with consulting more experienced pilots (both friends and coworkers) for their insights. It never hurts to ask for help in your training process.

Mother Nature will foil your flight training plans repeatedly. It happens to all of us! 

Let’s face it, no amount of wishful thinking is going to spare your path from the effects of inclement weather.

Be it gusting winds that surpass your training airplane’s crosswind capacity or moody cumulonimbus clouds that roll in late on a hot, summer afternoon bringing with them thunder storms and instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), there is nothing a student pilot can do in these circumstances but reschedule the flight lesson and switch to ground school or possibly practice the aforementioned chair flying! 

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Featured image credited to Mary Kirby