Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mind Over Matter

Visualization on the ground is as important as flight in the air to the screen

We can't be flying all the time, though some would prefer it. I admit I'm a lousy spectator. I've always wanted to jump into the ring and be a part of the action, but even I realize that it's not all about doing. There's more to flying than just physical requirements of stick, rudder and throttle. Life gets complicated when you're on the ground, but the more cerebral aspects of aviation are part of its magic.

Enjoying the mental aspects of flying is just as rewarding as learning the physical skills. Becoming a better pilot is a process that constantly changes as we incorporate physical skills into muscle memory. Whatever stage we're in, as we become more experienced, much of the satisfaction comes from thinking about our lessons and incorporating them into our mental memory.

Aerobatic pilots practice a lot, but they also do a lot of thinking. You could say they use their heads! A tank of fuel doesn't last, but mentally processing the flight does. When you see an akro pilot doing a dance and walking through their routine on the ground, they're using creative visualization. And, while visualizing a perfect aerobatic flight doesn't always guarantee a gold medal, it helps us be more prepared when flying in the box.

Creative visualization is thinking about what you want to do, visualizing a positive outcome and using mental power to affect the results. Our minds can work against us when we're stressed out or not in the "flow"—the state, according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of "completely focused motivation." Visualizing success can help us overcome negative thinking, like fear of failure. Aerobatic pilots gain confidence by visualizing a perfect routine on the ground. By the time they get in the air, they've already flown it.

At air shows, you see performers of the high-performance sport airplanes walking forward, backward, turning and spinning through their routines with their hands. This isn't just for show. This helps the pilots visualize their flight.

When I competed and especially before a big contest, I fell asleep every night, not by counting sheep, but by closing my eyes and visualizing my aerobatic routines.


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