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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bob Hoover reveals THE secret to learning ANYTHING

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bob Hoover, he is a legend in aviation. His name is one that almost every pilot knows as well as Chuck Yeager, Maverick, or the Wright Brothers. He earned his fame doing aerobatics in planes that weren't "supposed" to be able to do them. Probably the best short introduction to what made him most famous is him pouring tea while doing a roll:

At Oshkosh 2011, Aero-TV had a multi-part video covering a talk he gave there. In one part, he casually (and without really trying) lays out what made him into the legend he is today:

In less than two minutes, he lets The Real Secret out of the bag: he practiced exactly those things that made him most uncomfortable. It may be surprising that one of the best pilots of all time initially struggled with airsickness, but he didn't let that stop him--instead, he actively sought out those maneuvers that made him uncomfortable and practiced them until they didn't!

The advice he gives isn't some New Age touchy-feely Oprah "The Secret" gobbledygook about how if you just keep wishing really hard, everything will magically fall into place and you'll get everything your heart desires. It isn't some Tim Ferriss "Four-Hour" nonsense about how if you learn a sliver of what you want to know about, you can just go ahead an call yourself an expert in no time. Hoover points out that he didn't overcome his problem quickly; it took a lot of focus, dedication, and work. It might not be the stuff to make a New York Times bestselling self-help book out of (and that's a reflection on the sorry state of what does make good "self-help"), but his message boils down to this:

If you're not good at something, work your tail off at it until you are. Then go find the next thing you're not good at and repeat.

When I give flight reviews, I always ask two questions: "What kind of flying do you usually do?" and "What is the one thing you're least good at or wish you were better at?" This allows me to tailor the ground portion of the flight review to refreshing and polishing the kind of flying that pilot does most and then use the flight portion to get them better at what they're not already good at.

This is also why I practically never cancel flights with students (unless the conditions are obviously unsafe or something that is so far out of their skill level that they'd just be overwhelmed to the point of beyond saturation). A monkey can learn to fly in blue skies and calm winds, but becoming a pilot requires pushing up against the comfort zone. The only way to expand your comfortable territory is to take a few steps past its borders into your own personal uncharted territory. I remember one time observing my student doing a preflight inspection on the light sport aircraft we were about to do a lesson in and watching in the background a Lear 45 come in with a serious crab and getting bumped around all the way down because of a gusty crosswind. Instead of canceling or trying to hint that today isn't a particularly good day to fly in such a small aircraft, I simply thought to myself, "Well, this is going to be an interesting lesson." How did I get to that point? By going up time after time on less-than-perfect days.

One of the things many pilots struggle with is crosswind landings. However, I think I land a little better with a crosswind than one straight down the runway. Is this because I'm SuperPilot? No. It has to do with how I approached my training. I was ready to solo by around 10-12 hours, but the prevailing winds in Spring here tend to be rather strong and southerly, so for a month, we had crosswinds that were too strong to safely do a first solo in. Instead of canceling my lesson time after time, I just kept coming in and practicing crosswind landings. I practiced them because they were hard and because they were a useful skill. It wouldn't be until 19 hours when I'd get a day where the winds were light enough to solo.

So go pick something you're not good at or you're afraid of and do it until you wonder why you ever thought it was hard. Afraid of talking to controllers? Plan cross-country flights to towered fields and get flight following along the way every time. Do your landings seem like they're good and bad totally at random? Get in the pattern and focus on holding each variable (airspeed, altitude, distance, power, etc.) constant one by one until you're able to pick exactly which runway stripe you want to put the plane down on. Afraid of stalls? Grab an instructor and do them until they're fun. (Yes, with enough dedicated practice, even stalls can be fun. I, like 90+% of pilots, hated doing stalls as a student. Now stall day is probably the basic lesson I look most forward to giving.)

I'll close by leaving you with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Six Rules":

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