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Summer 2011 Issue

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'Commodore' on Advice for Newbie Pilots

from Bob Wilson

            Practice, practice, practice. How many times has the newbie student pilot heard that advice which eventually grates on their nerves. But, the fact is that if you want to become a proficient pilot, you must practice.

            Some newbies feel lucky if they get one good flight in and immediately want to quit for the day but that's the last thing you should do. Flying RC is not a question of luck and lucky charms offer no help. That old saw about getting back on a horse that you got thrown off of still holds sway. Keep on flying if there is enough wreckage left to fly.

            I have been teaching off and on since around 1970 and the ones that really never got good at flying RC were the ones who simply would not put the effort in practicing. It does involve work and can get boring after a while but it accomplishes a number of things. Allow me to explain.

            During WW-2 in England, there were aircraft spotters who did nothing but identify whether an incoming airplane was an enemy airplane or a friendly airplane. When they were asked to teach their methods to others, they simply could not explain how they identified airplanes almost instantly. In the world of science, James Maxwell suddenly had an understanding of the connection between electricity and magnetism. It simply came to him and he had great difficulty in explaining it. Some might call it intuition but in fact his subconscious mind had been working full time on it.

            Baseball batters cannot explain how they can hit a ball coming at them close to 100 mph and only have 6/10th of a second to decide what to do. The batters cannot explain how their brain managed to get through millions of neurons in only 6/10th of a second.

            When you practice, however, your brain develops a part of itself that lies within the subconscious mind and while we are using perhaps 10% of our brain in conscious thought, the other 90% is functioning on a subconscious level and this is where practice comes in. Practice develops that unconscious part of the brain you aren't even aware of. That's how identifying enemy airplanes, hitting a baseball or making a scientific discovery works. I sometimes tell people to fly by their instincts and what I'm telling them is to let their subconscious mind take control but this requires practice, repetition, in order to trust your instincts.

            Without a doubt, I think everyone will agree that our very own Stan Penland is an outstanding pilot but in saying that, one must keep in mind that he often gets off work and spends his evenings during the week practicing and as you can tell, it has paid off. (47 years ago, I had the kind of reflexes he possesses. I'm jealous)

            Many of you aren't even aware of just how much he practices. Just ask his wife Jennifer, she'll tell you. And when he flies on weekends, he doesn't just get in one flight and quit for the day. To him, it's a matter of hard work and has nothing to do with being lucky. Over a two day period, Stan may get in as many as 15 or more flights.

            Yes, to make those perfect landings, you must concentrate and put a lot of mental effort into it but eventually it sinks into your subconscious mind and then your instincts take over. But, you don't get there until you have passed GO and that requires practice. Lots of it.

            When a full scale pilot is landing an airplane, they don't sit there and calculate just when they have to flare for a landing and in fact they don't even think about it. It just comes from inside their brain and many pilots can fly just about any airplane no matter the size. They trust their instincts to take over.

            Probably the most impressive example of this sort of thinking was some research results I read some years ago and it involved teaching people to shoot baskets in basketball. There were three groups. One group did no practice whatever, one group did actual practice on the court and the third group did what you might call virtual practice and simply laid in bed at night and imagined they were shooting baskets. (Wives must have wondered what they were doing under the sheets) Surprisingly, the group that shot mentally did almost as well as those who did the actual practice. Something here tells you that not only did the latter group have a good mental image of how to shoot a basket but it sank into their subconscious minds just as the players who actually practiced on the court. Virtual or otherwise, it took practice and after that, it became automatic. Instinctive if you will.

            By now, you have probably figured out that I'm trying to tell you to practice. And yes, but more than that, don't get into the pattern of telling yourself that you had one good flight today so you don't want to break that lucky streak and decide to go home. Luck is not part of what we do. Most of what we do is making sure our equipment is operating correctly, bringing our airplane to the field ready to fly, and with all the nuts and bolts attached and that applies to both electrics and gassers. The airport is no place to make repairs and adjustments, or whatever, and should have been done at home. Do your homework and come prepared to fly. Accept that nasty word practice, it really works. It's been my pleasure to see a number of our pilots make great progress this year, 2011, and it was all due to practicing."


           Bob 'Commodore' Wilson


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