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How to Chair Fly

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In this article I’m going to teach you how to chair fly.

As a CFI, I’ve walked many students through the process of chair flying. I’ve put together my exact advice in this article.

Good study habits are the key to success in pilot training.

Students who know how to maximize their time outside of the plane will always get the most out of their limited time in the cockpit. That means knowing what, when, and how to study. 

For the bookwork, check out our article for tips to help flight students study. But for learning new skills, like the actual flying and in-cockpit procedures, nothing beats chair flying. 

What is Chair Flying?

Chair flying is a generic term for any sort of studying you do with a training aid. It’s a way to study for flight training when you don’t have access to a real plane.

You might do it during ground lessons with your CFI, or you might do it on your own to prepare for a future flight lesson.

Classic chair flying is done in front of a cockpit mockup.

These are posters or cutouts that are identical to your plane. Some are photographs, while others are printed specifically for the task, with each panel made to scale. Some cockpit mockups are mounted on plywood frames, with each panel mounted in the correct position from where you’re sitting. 

But once you understand what chair flying is, you can make your own ways of doing it with or without a mockup. Most pilots just use their imaginations and envision the cockpit around them.

Indeed, you could sit in a chair with nothing but your kneeboard, checklists, and some imagination and still study very effectively.  

Chair flying is a great way for pilots to practice maneuvers, especially complex ones with multiple steps. Even with a checklist, many things in flying become easier the more you do them. The checklist tells you what to do, but it should just jog your memory.

You should already know how to do it and where the switch or button is that gets it done. You can’t spend time searching for those things in flight. 

How to Chair Fly

Why is Chair Flying Beneficial for Flight Students?

There are two primary uses for chair flying. One is simple cockpit familiarization. As a pilot flying new equipment, you must learn where things are. A cockpit mockup helps you with this because you can sit and study the controls’ layout and positioning. 

As you might imagine, this is invaluable for a pilot learning to fly something really complicated, like a Boeing 787 or A350. These aircraft have so many controls that the pilots must be well-versed in their layouts before they even get in the simulator–much less in the real plane.

But cockpit familiarization is important no matter what type of plane you fly. Even a basic Cessna 172 or Piper Archer has a confusing number of switches and controls for a new pilot.

So a few minutes of studying a cockpit poster will get you ahead of the game before you get into the real thing.

Learning where things are is only step one. The real power of chair flying comes from procedures training. Every task in the cockpit is a procedure–a set of actions done in a specific order at a specific time. By chair flying, you can walk through those procedures anytime and anywhere.

By moving your arms to the correct place, moving imaginary controls, and talking through maneuvers just like you were in the plane, you can make amazing progress towards mastering those complex skills.

During flight training, chair flying is a great tool to help you practice a maneuver you have already practiced with an instructor.

You want to have the basic idea down so that while you envision doing it from your sporty office chair or low-wing Lazy Boy recliner, you are practicing the right things at the right times.

How Should Flight Students “Chair Fly?”

Ok, so chair flying is helpful–but how do you do it during flight training? Here’s a step-by-step guide to achieving Vr from your favorite sofa.

Step 1 – Strap In

Ok, the fasten seatbelt sign isn’t actually lit. But you want to set yourself up as closely as possible to how you are in the cockpit. If you use a kneeboard, put it on. If you have a checklist that you use during flight, get yourself a copy so you can practice from it.

Do everything exactly like you would in the real plane.

Having a cockpit poster is optional, but it is a big help. Proper cockpit trainers are printed to scale and can be mounted in the correct orientation. That’s overkill for a Piper, of course. For us, one of the most helpful tools is a simple cockpit poster.

Hang it on your wall, and your friends will think it’s art. But you’ll actually be studying every time you walk past it. 

Step 2 – Make It Real

When you’re learning how to chair fly, you need to make it as real as possible.

Sitting on your sofa isn’t going to feel much like an airplane. It’s probably much more comfortable. But besides that, there’s no instructor with you and no ATC comms chirping in your ears. 

With these differences, it’s important that you focus and make it as realistic as you can. Follow the checklist, and move your hand to the switches.

Hold an imaginary control yoke, and move your feet on imaginary rudder pedals. As you do procedures, talk through them out loud. Saying the procedure aloud is important because it helps commit it to memory.

It will also sound “off” if you mess something up, making it more likely that you’ll repeat the procedure correctly each time.

Step 3 – Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Focus on the things you will be doing during the next lesson. If you don’t understand the maneuver or task yet, wait until you discuss it with your instructor or see a demonstration before you start repeating it from your favorite chair. 

Early on in training, use chair flying for cockpit familiarization. Learn where things are, and follow the order on the printed checklists.

Later on, when you start doing complex maneuvers like slow flight, stall recoveries, emergency procedures, and traffic pattern entries, procedure training will dominate your chair flying sessions.

Use your checklists in combination with notes from your instructor, school procedures handbooks, and the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook.

Once you’ve got the maneuver down, chair flying is your best study method. You can take a moment, no matter where you are, and walk through any maneuver you need to brush up on.

It’s great for refreshing your memory when you haven’t flown in a while, and it’s good to help you be sharp-as-a-tack for a stage check or checkride. 

Is Chair Flying Worth It?

The real answer to why chair flying is important is even more basic–it saves you money. Students who chair fly will learn maneuvers and procedures faster than those who do not.

It is a time-tested flight training technique that pays dividends. You will progress through your lessons faster and master skills quicker.

All of these things could save you thousands of dollars in the long run–all while making you a better pilot. For the price of free, what have you got to lose? 

What advice do you have on how to chair fly?

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