Get the most from your lesson $’s

I realized on my second lesson that it’s nearly impossible to actually learn anything while you are flying, especially during the early phases. On my first lesson we covered the basics of the four fundamentals (straight & level, climbs, descents, and turns). I got the hang of the controls pretty quick, even though I was using the death grip. The second lesson continued with the fundamentals, plus some friendly reminders whenever the instructor noticed my tensed bloodless knuckles. So I’m starting to feel good about my progress but the instructor is talking non-stop. He’s not babbling, his words are actually a flood of very useful information. I’m really trying to pay attention and take it all in. Then it happens. We’re in the middle of a turn, the instructor asks me to raise the nose and add some power. He explains something about the reduction of vertical lift due to the fact that the horizontal component of lift is what’s making us turn. My somewhat relaxed hand has control of the yoke, my feet are even keeping us mostly coordinated. But when my brain tries to tell my right hand to manage the throttle it somehow takes priority over the listening brain cells and he now sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I manage to control the plane as requested, paying close attention to the pitch and attitude, but I have no idea what he’s trying to explain.

Somewhat frustrated that night I got inspired by all the MrAviation101 videos I’ve watched. I made the decision to start recording all future lessons so I can actually get a chance to catch all the valuable nuggets of information that never seem to make it through my headset.

Landing_RW20-3I thought that this would be a short-term solution until I got the basics down but even after 40 hours I’m still replaying every lesson at least once. I’m finding it to be valuable in a number of ways. For landings, I can review good and bad approaches to get the sight picture etched in my head. For maneuvers, I can pickup all the tips I might have missed while I was hyper-focused on my initial fear of stalls. It’s also been an enormous help in ATC communications, especially as I progressed from our local tower to uncontrolled airports, and eventually transitioning through a nearby Class C airspace.

Even when I’m just going out for landing practice I still record everything, I never know when a new scenario might come up that I could learn from.


I already had a GoPro Hero 2 and a suction mount. I just needed to add a way to record the radio. I bought a Sony ICD-AX412 Digital Voice Recorder (also recommended by MrAviation101) and a y-cable with adapter. The y-cable splits the headphone line from the plane to feed both the headset and the 1/4″ to 1/8″ plug adapter to connect to the recorder. This recorder allows for a line input which can handle the cockpit audio without too much distortion from the stronger signal, like most recorders or cameras that expect a mic input. I got my instructor’s permission to record the lesson and off we went.


The Jan/Feb 2014 FAA Safety Briefing magazine has a good article from Paul Cianciolo on the regulations and safety of mounting and using cameras for your flights. I always make sure all of the devices are fully configured and ready to go before I put them back in my flight bag so I’m not messing around with anything once I’m in the plane.

Post-flight checklist

As soon as I get home from a lesson I run through my normal routine.

  1. Copy the mp3 file from the recorder to my iMac, renaming with date and lesson objective. Check battery and free space. Just for reference, I just passed about 35 hours of voice recordings on the original batteries.
  2. Copy the video files from the GoPro to the iMac. Delete the source files after confirming the copies. Recharge batteries. I started using the add-on battery pack to make sure I could record the entire lesson if we went over 2 hours.
  3. Bring the files into Adobe Premiere Elements video editing software. This allows me to overlay the communications mp3 with the video file which only includes the engine sounds. I could just drop the engine soundtrack but I found that it helps remind me what I’m doing with power during the maneuvers.
  4. Once the video and audio are synchronized and I trim out the runup and taxiing time, I export the video to iTunes and then onto an iPad. Depending on the topic I either replay it within a day, or I save it to watch during my many hours of commercial flights for work trips. There’s nothing like the curious look of your neighbors wondering why you are staring at a movie of a distorted prop and boring landscape for hours.

To reduce the overhead of merging audio and video tracks you could purchase a cable to match your video camera that will split the radio output and reduce the level to prevent distortion. Then you get a video with radio communications in a single step.

It didn’t take me long to realize the value of a relatively simple setup. I’m sure it’s improved my progress and might even be saving me some money on flight time that I would have needed to repeat basic scenarios. I highly recommend it to all students and would even encourage flight schools to offer it as an option.

I recently switched over to a Garmin Virb Elite camera. Mostly because I like new gadgets, but I was also interested in the GPS track data that it records along with the video. Stay tuned for a future post on that. So I now have a second camera to do something with. The next hood time I have I might use the GoPro to capture the instrument panel and let the Garmin cover the outside view.

Are you recording your flights? Let’s hear your view.


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