Learning to fly is expensive.
I say that a lot, and so do a lot of other people who are associated with flying because it really is. In the never-ending effort to reduce the cost of becoming a pilot there is something that anyone can do that I promise will save you time and in turn money.
Chair flying is a learning tool that is utilized by pilots in all stages of flying that has an incredible impact on your abilities as a pilot. It is an amazing way to learn flows, checklists, improve your radio communications, and everything else it takes to be a pilot. Something that can be that beneficial must be some complicated system that you have to pay a bunch of money for, right? Wrong.
Let me take you through the simplest form of chair flying.
You sit in a chair and go through every single step of a flight in your mind. The end.
At its heart, it really is that simple, but it can be more effective with a few basic tweaks. Find somewhere quiet where you aren’t going to be distracted by a TV or other conversations. Have your checklist, kneeboard, or whatever other things you fly with close at hand. You may even put on your headset to block out the noise and make it feel more real. Another asset that can really improve the experience is a printout of the cockpit in which you will be flying. Even pulling an image up on your computer screen can be beneficial.
Then simply go through every step of your flight from beginning to end. That means start from the moment you walk up to the airplane and go through how you will untie it, or get it out of the hangar, and do your external inspection. Think about opening the door and where you will put everything (commonly referred to as building your nest) and how you will set everything up to get ready to fly. Think through each step of the pre-flight including any radio calls or systems checks you would do if you were actually flying.
Go through engine start actually touching each of the switches and dials on your printout or computer screen that you will be manipulating or monitoring including in your mind what you expect to see from all of the gauges. Make the radio call to ground when ready to taxi and lift your feet to release the brakes moving your hand forward to increase the throttle. Look left and right to clear for traffic and adjust the throttle as necessary.building that muscle memory, and maybe more importantly, a mental memory of repeating those tasks over and over again until it just becomes second nature. That way when you get in the plane you will have an even better understanding of what you will be doing and you should feel less stressed.
This is exactly why we have crew briefings in the military. We go through every step of each mission thoroughly to make sure that we are all on the same page. Some things are covered multiple times in separate briefings to reinforce their importance. For more complex missions we often spend days going over the mission to ensure that every crew member fully understands their role.
Now flying a 172 into a small airport after an hour is not as complex as a multi-ship formation flight that can cover many hours, but the principle is equally effective no matter what you are flying. One of the best parts about it, is that it is 100% free. If you know you are struggling with a certain task, say stalls, then while you are eating your breakfast walk through each of the steps in your mind considering how your hands and feet will move, what you will hear, and what you will see. After doing it right in your mind, do it again and again until it just becomes second nature.
Becoming a good pilot is a never-ending process of learning and growth that requires dedication to that improvement. It is not always feasible to get out and fly everyday for 3-4 hours, unfortunately, but it is possible to spend time every day going through the motions in your mind so that you will be ready when you do finally get to slip the surly bonds of the earth and take flight.