The plan for any flight may be routine, but much of the experience you acquire may be, shall we say, external to the plan. Accepting that piloting reality trains you to manage the unexpected.
After a lesson, use the debriefing process—you debrief, don’t you?—to analyze the outcome, including the not-so-routine parts.
Following dual flights, your instructor will assess how well you met the aviating, navigating, and communicating goals. Then it’s your turn to raise questions: Perhaps you’d like an explanation of unfamiliar instructions you heard being issued to another aircraft, or why air traffic control terminated radar service earlier than usual today.
Debriefing solo flights will help you become confident in your ability to make decisions, so keep notes for a ground discussion like that recommended on page 9-12 of the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook.
Suppose you had planned a (routine?) solo cross-country and requested that the trainer be topped off with fuel. You’re ready, but the fuel truck has not arrived, and it is getting late.
Instead, you played it safe and opted to fly a routine-but-abbreviated session in the traffic pattern of your nontowered airport. But when you taxied out, traffic was using Runway 15 despite a modest tailwind. Would it be reasonable (even though it feels disruptive) to get on the radio and suggest that traffic switch to Runway 33?
Let’s further hypothesize that despite your student-pilot trepidation, you did speak up about the winds favoring Runway 33 and were pleased that the other pilots were only too glad to change runways.
Tell you a secret: They were probably relieved that someone finally took a safety-minded action that will benefit everyone.
During your practice session the wind has been getting stronger. After a particularly tentative landing with peak gusts almost exceeding your approved maximum for solos, you decided enough was enough.
The unexpected wind condition also raises questions. Did you miss a clue in your preflight weather briefing about worsening weather? Is filing a pilot report (pirep) warranted?
None of these scenarios was part of your routine lesson plan, but they have made you a more experienced pilot.