Teaching a spouse to fly

How many of you  have been asked or felt the urge to pass on the knowledge, skill and experience you possess as a balloon pilot to a loved one. What a great idea! It is something that is unique to you and offers great fun and adventure. Maybe it’s just time to promote the  spouse/crew chief to the next level for all the years of great crewing. This idea emerges quite often but for some reason usually terminates suddenly in the first lesson. Whose fault is it? Are you really the overbearing instructor your student makes you out to be?

I tried to investigate the reasons behind the phenomena of ultra high stress that accompanies instruction of a close relative or spouse. There’s not much written about it because I think the writers of experience are instructors and they fear for their (social) lives. It’s amazing what lasting memories can come from only 1 fight (I meant flight).

Teaching children, wives , husbands or close partners starts from a bad place. These relations ships are all based on emotion (except for one plutonic relationship I had years ago). When a relationship basis is emotional, all objectivity is lost. Without objectivity, the instructor loses control of the teaching situation. This control is essential to the learning process and maintaining the sacred student/teacher relationship

The best source material I found relating to this question was an article on how to teach you wife to fly fish. It advises never to do it in the first place and that all men should remember the fine print in the marriage contract that spells out only 2 responsibilities:

  1. Give her the check on Payday
  2. Be wrong

Given these handicaps, it’s no wonder why we sometimes hear loud noises coming from the direction of a basket with a student/instructor who happen to be married. While the above marriage contract comments are mentioned with tongue in cheek, it does insinuate  that there are some unstated boundaries when it comes to spousal relationships relative to peer to peer associations . While no one I interviewed claimed to be an expert at this subject, they all did say they preferred to “trade” spouses when it came to balloon training. Enough said.

The article did point out some things to consider if you choose to go ahead and train a family member.

  1. Be patient. This is a great idea even if you don’t know the student. The trainee is under a lot of pressure to perform something new while under the scrutiny of an instructor/family member. It is hard enough to assimilate an instructor’s description of a maneuver and execute it without feeling the additional pressure to succeed the first time. Extending extra patience and encouragement during  mistakes will go a long way to building the trust necessary to allow the student/spouse to maintain focus on the task a hand rather than lash back in frustration when things don’t go as planned.
  2. Be Humble. Maybe this is the only thing you do better than your student/spouse. However, any show of superiority or cockiness  will almost certainly send the sacred student/teacher relationship down the toilet. You have to remember that the playing field is not even in this scenario and any advantage taken during this time will likely be met with significant resistance  (or  sometimes violence).
  3. Start with the basics. This follows the humble attitude. Start with simple tasks that are easily learned so as to build confidence. Let them make mistakes without immediate comment. As an instructor this is one of the most difficult things to do with anyone. Keep the running commentary down to a minimum and let them “work it out” themselves (unless contouring suddenly turns into a lesson on obstacle avoidance). For instance, after 3 silent tries at contouring at 1 foot, you might say “that last one  was good or very close. On the first try, you weren’t looking far enough ahead. On the second one you were just a little behind on the burn. You’re getting very close, Good job.” This uninterrupted time for trial and error is critical for the student’s development. It is also helps to keep a marriage together in the case of spouse training.
  4. One lesson at a time. Let the student savor the little successes. When I am training a student we are at an intense level much of the time because we are trying to get as much done as possible in the time I have with them. When you are training a family member, certainly there are times that intensity is necessary but it can also be detrimental to the sacred student/teacher relationship if the intensity level is carried a little too far even on one occasion. It’s just as important that the student’s learning is accompanied by a pleasant feeling (Law of  Effect) as it is to cram more information in. This is especially true when training a spouse.
  5. Make sure it’s fun. The whole point of bringing your “loved one” up to the pilot level is to add another dimension to the sport you already enjoy. If the fun quotient is consistently low during the training phase, interest will wane and  the blame will likely be placed on you know who.

Despite all of horror stories of spouse instruction, I still think it’s possible to get through it successfully and derive the benefits of like thinking (at least once in a while). However, it’s very important that both know the risks going in. One of the most difficult transitions might be a dedicated wife/crewchief of many years who is going towards her certificate. As she takes on the duties and responsibilities of a pilot, she may not appreciate her significant other barking orders as if she were still a crew chief. It is not just egos that change these perspectives, but being a pilot requires a different way of thinking.  For those  who succeed in training a “loved one” to a pilot certificate, Congratulations! You’ve just dug yourself into the hole called “Two Pilots and 1 Balloon in the Family”
Good Luck and Soft Landings.