The Private Pilot Student’s Guide to Chair Flying

The Private Pilot Student’s Guide to Chair Flying

by Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

Chair flying is a great, low-cost way to increase the effectiveness of your flight training. But what is chair flying exactly? Chair flying is a technique to practice your flying skills by either sitting in the airplane on the ground, using a simulator, or sitting in front of a poster of your flight deck. The purpose is to practice, study and maximize your time between lessons at home. The end result is mastering your skills quicker, which will save you time and money.

What do I need for chair flying?

For this article, we will focus on using a flight deck, or cockpit, poster for chair flying at home. The setup is as simple as it sounds: Tape a poster of your flight deck to your wall and set a chair in front of it. When you sit in the chair, the view of the panel should be around the same height as it is in your training aircraft. You can purchase premade posters from online pilot shops, such as Sporty’s. If your aircraft type or instrumentation isn’t available, you can take a photo of your cockpit and have it enlarged to poster size at a local drugstore for less than $20. 


The purpose of this mock setup is to simulate and treat it like your aircraft. You’ll need your kneeboard, pen, checklist, iPad, and anything else you use as a resource when you fly. It may feel silly at first but be assured that this will reap huge dividends if you practice consistently. Even airline pilots make this a regular practice when seeking a new type rating or preparing for recurrent training.

Finally, all you need is a little imagination!

What are the benefits of chair flying?

Visualization is a huge tool in flight training. Treating your home flight deck as a real aircraft with intention will help you in execution and retention of your skills. Picturing yourself executing an emergency procedure, holding altitude, saying a readback correctly to ATC, and passing your checkride will create confidence when you’re actually flying in the air. 

The more you practice, the more proficient you’ll become. Muscle memory is an important aspect of flight training. By moving your arms and feet, picking up the checklist, and talking through maneuvers as if you were in the airplane will help you nail down the procedures quickly.  If you’re repeating the checklists and motions in front of your home cockpit between lessons, the movements and flows will become second nature. You also won’t have the distractions that accompany real-world flying. 

A tangible benefit of chair flying is that it will save you money in flight training. As a flight school owner and CFI, I have personally seen the difference between a student who utilizes consistent chair flying vs. those who do not. The students who practice chair flying generally finish in less hours and spend less money. Your setup at home can cost as little as $20, and when you’re practicing for free, the savings add up.

One caveat to keep in mind is only practice procedures or maneuvers that you have reviewed with your CFI. You don’t want to develop bad habits while you’re chair flying. Your instructor will be teaching you skill, safety and passing the checkride, so only practice what you have already been taught. Again, the purpose of chair flying is to reinforce the knowledge and skills you’ve learned during your flight lessons. 

What should I practice while chair flying?

There are benefits to practicing chair flying during every stage of private pilot training. Here are a few specific ways that student pilots can implement chair flying into their home study routine:


Private pilot students are generally nervous about doing stalls until they have performed them multiple times with their CFI. After learning the steps to set up, execute and recover from a stall, utilize chair flying to repeatedly “fly” through the procedure at home. The same can be done to fine-tune your steep turns, soft-field takeoffs, or pattern work. Practicing the procedures repeatedly creates mastery and confidence in the airplane. 

Break down the procedure a few steps at a time as you work through the maneuver. Say each step out loud, calling out your heading, altitude, and power settings. Eventually put all the steps together and practice the entire maneuver repeatedly.


Practice your flows and checklists in front of your panel. From preflight to shut down, follow each checklist as if you were on a real flight. This is also a great way to practice checklist handling and single-pilot resource management. Find the best way to hold up, secure and use your checklists. It’s much cheaper to figure these out on the ground than in the airplane with the Hobbs meter running.


Emergency procedures training is another great way to chair fly. Like checklist and maneuver practice, you can simulate various emergency scenarios until you have the processes down. Once you feel comfortable with the procedures, add in the task of making your emergency radio calls as your hands go through the motions. This is especially helpful when preparing for your checkride or if you’re resuming flight training after a long break.


Role-playing is a great way to practice your radio communications while chair flying. Chair fly with a partner or CFI to role play communications with ATC. If you have a practice script available for your airport, you can even enlist the help of a friend or family member to play the part of ATC. Simulate common instructions for your local airport, read back clearances, or traffic pattern calls at a non-towered airport.

Chair flying is a valuable, money-saving tool for private pilot students to become more skilled outside of the aircraft. There are so many benefits to scheduling consistent chair flying sessions at home such as muscle memory, checklist familiarization and refining radio communication skills. Incorporating chair flying into your training plan will help you become a confident, safe, and more proficient pilot.

by Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

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