Visualization for Pilots


If you want one thing that will significantly improve your flying ability, help you spend considerably less time and money on training, increase your confidence in the sky, and make your life as a pilot all around easier…  VISUALIZATION!!

It’s a no brainer right?  From nearly day one, as pilots, most of us have heard people recommend the following:

  • “Chair Flying” – Sit in your lazy-boy at home with your aircraft checklist in hand and visualize yourself going through various maneuvers and emergencies.
  • Sit in the airplane, doing the same thing, but actually reach out and touch the proper switches and controls to enhance muscle memory.
  • Visualize the whole flight ahead of time, fuel requirements, weight & balance, wind direction, runways to be used, instrument procedures to be used, communications with ATC, etc. More and more details will appear the more advanced you become as a pilot.

These things might just seem to be nice suggestions for student pilots; however, it’s much deeper than that. Sports psychologists over the last several decades have discovered how much visualization can really increase performance in any activity.

Olympic & Pro Athletes

In the 1980s the Soviet Union conducted studies on their Olympic team which showed that the best results were obtained when the athletes spent 75% of their training time doing “Visual Rehearsal” and only 25% actual physical training. These approximate ratios have since been adopted by many other countries and teams.

In the world of golf, Tiger Woods says he has been using visualization exercises since his pre-teen years.  Also, Jack Nicklaus has said: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without first having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head.”

Chess Masters

Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist, spent an enormous amount of time using mental practices while stuck in a USSR prison for nine years after being accused of spying for the US. During this period, while in solitary confinement, he played against himself repeatedly in “mental chess” — Just visualizing the chess board and pieces.  “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!” He remembered joking to himself. Amazingly after his release, in 1996, Sharansky went on to beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov! – He gives credit to the visualization.

As pilots, we are not Olympic athletes or chess players, but we do have a responsibility to function calmly and efficiently when in emergency situations and when under pressure. What better way to practice for those moments than using visual rehearsal.

Air Race Pilots

Every single Red Bull Air Race pilot also uses visualization before hitting the course. “What I do is I visualize the flight on the track, I do it both eyes closed, just imagining what I’m expecting to see out of the front and then I walk around with my hands out in front, trying to visualize exactly what the airplane is going to be doing” says Matt Hall – Air Race Pilot. Every other pilot on the circuit can also be seen doing similar visualizations before the race.


So, if it’s good enough for the air race pilots, Olympic athletes, and chess champions, why not start integrating it into our flying routine?



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