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I was sitting in the airplane with my instructor working on various commercial maneuvers in preparation for my Commerical ASEL checkride. We had just completed a chandelle and the instructor says to me, “I smell smoke”. I didn’t respond right away and he says, “Yep, there is an engine fire”. Clearly, this was a training scenario, but I really struggled. I wasn’t really sure what the correct technique was, nor was I at all familiar with the checklist for an engine fire (having not practiced one since my PPL training in the early 2000s). My performance was as terrible as you’d expect and in the debrief he suggested I “chair fly” in order to become more familiar with emergency procedures. I had never heard of “chair flying” and so he explained it to me. It has become one of my most favorite techniques to use for both myself and my students.

What is “Chair Flying”?

Chair flying is a process where you sit in the airplane (or a chair at home, or anywhere really) and practice going through the procedures of whatever it is that you are working on. The key to being successful with chair flying is to really picture yourself in the airplane and to make sure that you have any available resources (such as a cockpit photo, or checklists) to make it as “realistic as possible” 

How can “Chair Flying” be helpful?

There are two primary benefits to chair flying: the development of muscle memory and deliberate practice. Think about what is required to take the airplane around the traffic pattern. There are the radio communications, the pre-takeoff briefings, the “action points” (abeam the numbers, 700AGL on upwind, etc), and their associated checklists and the actual flying and controlling the aircraft itself. All but the last item can be practiced at home or in the airplane on the ground all without the added cost of the airplane. Not only does this help develop that muscle memory, but it also helps alleviate the workload as you are more able to focus on flying the airplane and not being overwhelmed by the other tasks that are required to be performed.

One caveat to chair flying is to make sure that you actually talk with your instructor about the particular maneuver or thing that you wish to practice to make sure that you are performing the correct sequence of steps correctly prior to committing that into your muscle memory. That will prevent you from needing to unlearn a bad habit.

What do I need to “Chair Fly” successfully?

All you need to chair fly is your imagination and anything that you would need to do whatever it is that you are practicing in the actual airplane. 

There are some people that like to go all out with their setup for chair flying (the below image is a bit of an extreme, but funny, example), but to me, the minimum would be a cockpit poster or image (for learning the locations of buttons/switches) and the checklists (to help develop a good flow). 

Beyond that, anything else that you need to help you better visualize yourself in the airplane is fair game (so go and grab your headset, I won’t judge). 

I hope that you implement chair flying into a normal part of your routine. It’s been so helpful to me since discovering it and I’ve seen the benefits (and cost savings) it gives to my students as well.

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