Six Steps to Becoming an AWESOME Pilot

by HPA · June 1, 2015

Six Steps to Becoming an AWESOME Pilot

We all strive to become better pilots. Here are some tips on improving your game.

1. Master the Rudder

The reality is that Sir Isaac Newton knew exactly what he was talking about when he penned the idea, “For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Your plane wants to yaw and roll to the left for multiple reasons:

  • S – Spiraling Slipstream
  • T – Torque
  • A – Asymmetric Thrust (P-factor)
  • G – Gyroscopic Precession

Proper rudder coordination is the absolute crux for any skilled aviator and gives the aircraft its maximum performance for the most critical phases of flight.

Left Turning Tendencies

2. Get a Tailwheel Endorsement

Some people argue that safer, modern-day tricycle gear aircraft have made lazier pilots. They might be right! Tailwheel training teaches amazing habits, including proper rudder control. Conventional-gear aircraft, like the J-3 Cub, have long been the staple of aviation training, forging some of the world’s best pilots. All the way from engine start to engine shutdown, precision rudder usage is required for taxi, takeoff, landing, and everything in between. An appropriate-rated instructor will be able to impart invaluable knowledge that will help you improve rudder habits.


3. Strive for Precision

From your checkride to your everyday flying, precision should be the goal. If your instruments tell you something is off, fix it. If your eyes tell you something is wrong, fix it. If your hands, ears, or nose tell you something isn’t quite right, fix it. The more you work to fly the airplane precisely, the better you will get at it. Guaranteed. After all, practice makes perfect. Remember that the Practical Test Standards provide the requirements for maneuvers per any pilot certificate. Know what standards you are expected to maintain, and then choose to fly better than those standards!

4. Aerobatics!

This is the type of flying you dreamed of when you decided to pursue a pilot’s license. Barrel rolls, snap rolls, loops, knife-edges, the whole world spinning around and around! Learning how to push an aircraft to the absolute limits of its envelope will help you hone your skills as an aviator. Aerobatics training touts the improvement of stick-and-rudder skills, situational awareness, the development of instincts, and the ability to take appropriate precautions against hazards, both inside and outside of the aircraft.


5. Get on a Training Plan

Working on a regular, consistent basis with a flight instructor is the best way to challenge your skills and continue to grow as a proficient pilot. Find an instructor who is knowledgeable, easy to schedule with, and whose personality meshes with yours. Then fly on a regular basis! The minimum FAA requirements only mandate a Flight Review every 24 calendar months. That is a very long time to forget items or for rules and regulations to change. Many pilots find it beneficial to fly with instructors on a quarterly basis.

Flight Instructor

6. Did I Mention Rudder?

For more reasons than the previously aforementioned, rudder control is the mark of an awesome pilot. The ultimate testament to a pilot’s ability is his capacity to keep his passengers comfortable and happy. Negligent or improper rudder use is the best way to create an airsick passenger. That is the last thing any pilot wants on their hands!

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

2022.06.09 11.19 Flyhpa 62a27fea7716a


The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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