I've been thinking
about your letter for the past week, and hadn't quite decided what
approach to take in answering. A lot of substance...
was writing this note, I discovered that it was more about life
than about flying, and about what's involved in my head as I do
these approaches. It is an important process, and relates to many
things outside of flying.
you into a completely different hemisphere of the brain. Most of
your work, perhaps, is likely to be very linear, logical; flying,
on the other hand, is sythesized: you must put together a great
deal of information in a right-brain mode -- while following all
the left-brain rules (FARs; Aircraft procedures, etc). In Bull Durham,
Annie's garter was right-brain orientation for a left-brained pitcher.
out two weeks ago to do some more of that, and then to ride backseat
as an observer with someone who is slightly ahead of me in the
Riding as observer
is an education -- particularly when you watch someone who is better
than you, and someone who is worse. It's a way for you to see how
things go right; how people plan; how other pilots set themselves
up for success -- and failure. But you need an instructor's "eye"
to make the most of the experience (observing as a method of constant
critique, versus going along for the ride and occasionally noticing
something which was glaringly in error).
test preparation, I am occasionally stymied -- complete stunned
loop -- by simple arithmetic questions like the ones you asked
me months ago... ...I panic, however, when I don't know what that
is. And all the more so because doing the wrong thing -- particuarly
guessing wrong -- gets you killed.
My First Officer,
and I were talking about this very thing earlier this week. Like
him, I shared the initial frustration just after getting all my
tickets and ratings of wondering why no one was willing, really,
to hire me. After all, I'm as proficient and sharp as I'll ever
be, right? My flying is likely to be at its best, my skills sharply
honed. And to a degree, that's correct. But what the companies really
want is experience -- and for a good reason.
helps a pilot -- and this point is pertinent to many of the points
you made in your letter which, in part, follows -- make the correct
and appropriate decisions which prevent them from making the mental
errors which get people killed. In part, experience helps you develop
the tough mental discipline that flying demands. Experience helps
you to maintain that tough mental discipline while being relaxed
-- what I often refer to as that "relaxed state of heightened
awareness" -- and to "oversee" your own decisions
much as an observer would. Experience is what gets you out into
the airplane to master your latest challenge on a day when there
are at least three good excuses not to (barring mental, physical
or meteorological reasons contrary to safe operation). Thus, companies
want someone who has developed that tough mental discipline, a product
of experience, who can avoid situations which might bring out panic
in the best of us.
however, when I don't know... ...and all the more so because doing
the wrong thing -- particularly guessing wrong -- gets you killed.
Well, if getting
killed is really that much of an overriding concern, perhaps you
shouldn't fly. But I think you'd be miserable if you didn't. Judy,
we all make mistakes. We all, at times, have to guess. Sometimes
we guess wrong.
I guessed that we wouldn't have much of a delay going into SFO,
based on the wx forecasts, trends, etc. I stuck a little extra fuel
on anyway, and we launched. We had to hold 45 minutes and then got
vectored around -- seemingly, endlessly -- and had to declare minimum
fuel in order to get into SFO. A mistake on my part? Perhaps, but
I don't think so.
thing for you to realize is that the training and experience all
comes into play when we realize our situation and make the correct
decisions in the face of our circumstances -- including communicating
to ATC our predicament -- and taking timely, corrective actions.
Two legs later, coming into SFO from Redding, we wound up in identical
circumstances, having carried 1000# of extra fuel (more than a standard
IFR flight required) -- with holding 45 minutes in moderate icing
conditions which increased fuel consumption badly. This time, I
had a few more options and a lot more fuel with which to deal with
isn't so much of a sin in flying, as long as you have the experience,
training, knowledge, and foresight to help you guess on the conservative
side and to know -- in advance -- what areas that guessing wrong
will result in fatalities. What you do once you find you're in error
is equally important, too.
(including icing), weight and balance, and performance are areas
which are most likely the areas that will get you into the most
serious problems at your level of experience. There's a great many
of these types of problems which you can avoid by thorough and considered
pre-flight planning -- so you can avoid the subsequent panic situation.
Always leave yourself an "out" -- including having an
intermediate airport you can put into if you have enroute problems.
planning, and maintaining sight of the "big picture" (situational
awareness) while in flight will help you avoid having to deal with
panic later. Experience is the key -- though there's much to say
for good training and equipment.
the panic, thereafter to to plunge in and clear my mind and do
the job, is often hard. I find this at work sometimes. Also, this
is the same kind of agonizing stall or stumbling point that I
reach and cannot get past in the Awful Dream.
too much about the Awful Dream. That's your lack of experience speaking
to you. This will be cured. Just get off your duff to do it.
but how to minimize or overcome the Panic Point?
Like the scouts
say, "Be prepared." Avoid the panic through doing a thorough
job of pre-flight planning. We all make mistakes, and some things
happen no matter how well you have prepared: we do, after all, operate
complex machines in an equally complex control environment. If,
after all the training, planning, etc, etc, you find yourself in
difficulty, have the discipline and courage to confess your problems
to ATC before allowing them to minimize or eliminate your other
options (such as landing at an intermediate airport). Don't be afraid
to land at an intermediate airport to get fuel. Don't forget the
180 degree turn (strategic advance to the rear.) Always ask yourself,
in flight, "What if I guessed wrong?" Assume that you
have, and keep planning for other logical options. In other words,
keep your options open.
options open gives you a great deal of confidence, something which
will prove itself time and time again once you get the experience
you lack. Keep in mind that although you're probably at your sharpest
immediately after (or before) getting your instrument ticket, until
you're flying a large turbojet aircraft capable of flying above
the weather and/or in heavy icing, you are going to be limited to
flying when there's no icing, and when the weather isn't quite unstable.
As a flight
instructor and former Chief Pilot, I wasn't as much concerned by
a pilot's mistakes (unless they were very big ones) as I was with
what did he/she do after making the mistake. A mistake corrected
quickly was less important to me than a pilot making a mistake and
never noticing it. Understand? Obviously, you can expect a certain
level of competence at this level of the industry -- so the mistakes
shouldn't be major ones. No one that I'm aware of expects perfection.
I made some errors on my ATP checkride, but passed because I caught
the mistake and corrected it or, in the case of an approach, missed.
not yet figured out how to be more selective about what to concentrate
on and what to push aside mentally in order to get the most important
is obviously important. In flying, what was once important can quickly
change; the reverse is true as well. Mental discipline is the key.
Confidence is useful. Experience is essential.
learning to be a bit more patient with myself. As I get better
at that, my concentration will also improve. I did a couple of
fast, flat landings, though -- I have not quite gotten the mental
sequence of what to watch and manage in order to slow down on
final so that I'm basically just above landing speed at the MDA
or DH. Twice, I knew that I was not rationally processing the
mental inputs I had from the instruments and using that information
to decide whether I needed to alter pitch, power or both; I was
just ditzing around without any clear method in mind to achieve
the desired performance. I need to think through that a little
more carefully. I find it takes a lot of mental preparation as
well as planning to fly well.
Well, to some
degree, I understand what you mean about not rationally processing
inputs and using that information to make changes in pitch, power
or both. This, again, is a matter of experience. You should be able
to fly the aircraft well enough to make the changes required without
really spending much time in thought about what you're doing. After
all, you can walk down stairs without thinking left-right-left-right-left,
I don't know
what you're flying right now, but whatever it is, it shouldn't come
as a surprise to you that you need to slow down in order to land.
In fact, at your current level of experience, I'd strongly recommend
that you have the airplane stabilized for the approach before crossing
the final approach fix! A stabilized approach means that you can
go visual and land with a minimum of airspeed and/or configuration