Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mind Over Matter

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

Sometimes, I would add a crosswind or a strong headwind that would want to blow me out of the box. I never practiced mistakes, only what I was trying to create—a perfect flight. I had many more perfect flights in my head than I ever did in the air, but I'm certain that this practice improved my performance.

The harder you train, the luckier you get. The more I visualized the routines, the easier it became to get into that meditative state where I could picture my airplane tracing perfect lines through the sky. The cool thing is that each of us has the ability to create the energy to affect a positive outcome.

It's exciting to think about how you can use the power of the mind. One of my favorite books is Eugene Herigel's Zen in The Art of Archery, where the sport of archery is the vehicle that brings the practitioner to greater understanding of archery and potential for enlightenment. Swimming, archery and golf all apply to sport aerobatics and perhaps to aviation in general because they're solo endeavors supported by a team and depend on one successful move at a time.

Every pilot faces challenges along the way. A new taildragger pilot can visualize landing with a crosswind; an instrument pilot can plan an approach beforehand. In an article on Flight Log called "Visualization in Aviation," the author says: "Whether we know it or not, we visualize all the time in aviation. Our briefings, for example, are designed to reinforce a particular departure/arrival procedure to be flown. When we brief a complicated approach chart, we're visualizing the procedure to be flown—effectively increasing our performance while flying it. The same procedure applies to briefing emergencies. By visualizing the net result of an abnormality, we are more prepared to handle it, should it occur."

The more laid-back cousin of visualization is simply watching. Don't we all love watching airplanes? When I was a little girl, my mother would take me to San Francisco International to watch DC-8s take off and land. Aerobatic pilots watch airplanes for hours drawing lines in the sky. We have enough fences around airports to fence ourselves to China, but I still see people parked outside the fence looking skyward while eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

The art of watching is seeing. If you're learning to land or improve your landings, you can learn a lot about flying from watching airplanes land. This is how I learned the three-step Beechcraft Baron landing technique. Some Baron pilots, I noticed, landed a little too fast and seemed to "clunk" on to the runway, but then others land just above the stall speed and greased the landings. The pilots who greased their landings descending to the runway leveled the airplane just a few feet off in ground effect, and then let the wheels kiss the pavement just above the stall speed. I tried it out and learned that's the way to land a Baron!

Mindful watching or watching with a purpose is called "critiquing." Critiquing requires an observer—a coach or judge —on the ground to point out errors and techniques that help us tune-up the finer points of precision flying. This is the main way we perfect lines and angles. My coach, Sergei Boriak, is Russian and grew up in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Boriak was on the Soviet Aerobatic Team when I first met him in 1986. He didn't speak a word of English, and ditto for my Russian, and the KGB didn't encourage any friendly socializing. He emigrated to the U.S. and has been coaching aerobatic pilots ever since. I love listening to him on the radio saying, "Wait, wait, wait…now!" or, "Welcome back!" when I've flown a particularly good maneuver.


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