1. Common sense is the most important trait for a pilot. Don't let the distractions affect your concentration. I think that goes for any sort of flying, any operating of machinery. You can't break the laws of physics, you've got to respect the laws of nature and aerodynamics.
2. You need to be very self critical and open to criticism from others: be it a ground observer, your instructor or your analyst. You always need to focus on how you could improve and develop good self-discipline.
3. Concentrate on what's necessary at the time. 99 per cent of what's going on doesn't need to be dealt with immediately, one per cent does. The ability to prioritise is vital.... Make sure you fly the airplane first and foremost.
4. I feel nervous all the time [before a flight] but I think that's quite good. If I didn't feel nervous I wouldn't be concentrating properly.
5. I feel nerves but I'm pretty able to control them. One of the things I have to work on is being too relaxed - that can cause mistakes. If you're too relaxed you might focus on something two or three seconds ahead, rather than in the moment.
6. I'm not an adrenaline junky, if I feel my heart rate rising then I've done something wrong. To me that's bad news. I want to fly... in a really disciplined fashion, I want everything to go as I planned.
7. What is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery.... It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.
Answers: #7 was Wilbur Wright. The other six were by neither of them, and were said in 2015 by two world-class pilots. Nonetheless, the advice they contain actually sounds so similar to what the Wrights (mostly Wilbur) wrote elsewhere that they are almost paraphrases of what the earliest aviators themselves said. The advice is as true now as it was over a century ago.
Normally, GQ Magazine isn't the place you'd go to for aviation news. However, the British edition of GQ recently had an excellent and interesting interview with two of the best competition pilots in the world: three-time Red Bull Air Race champion Paul Bonhomme and 2014's champion, Nigel Lamb.
The first six quotations above were from that interview. Paul Bonhomme is responsible for #1, 3, 4, 6. Nigel Lamb said #2 and 5. To see how timeless they are, go back and read them again, this time knowing their source and time, and you'll see that they are just as meaningful as when you read them while thinking of the Wright Brothers.
They also contain outstanding advice you can incorporate into your everyday flying or your flight lessons. Many of these I have already devoted one or more blog posts to, and most of them echo points I've made in the working draft of my upcoming book.
I use this advice every day in my day job as an airline pilot. Having several thousand hours and an ATP doesn't mean this doesn't apply to me anymore: "You need to be very self critical and open to criticism from others.... You always need to focus on how you could improve and develop good self-discipline."
After every flight, I still take some time to mentally debrief what I did well and what I could have done better. Even though the flight was successful and a planeload of passengers got to their destination uneventfully, there's always something I could have done better. The walk from the plane back to the crew room takes several minutes. During this time, I silently run down the list of the good and the not-perfect, trying to make the first column larger and the second column smaller.
It is telling that both of them mentioned nerves before a flight. Bonhomme said, "I feel nervous all the time [before a flight] but I think that's quite good. If I didn't feel nervous I wouldn't be concentrating properly," and Lamb said, "I feel nerves but I'm pretty able to control them. One of the things I have to work on is being too relaxed - that can cause mistakes. If you're too relaxed you might focus on something two or three seconds ahead, rather than in the moment."
These are two world champion racing pilots saying they get nervous. While my flying (and yours) doesn't involve pulling high-Gs a dozen feet off the ground, that doesn't mean we should get complacent. I still feel some nerves before every flight, whether it be a flight for pay or one for pleasure. However, these "nerves" are not what people generally think of when people talk about being nervous.
This is not a knee-knocking or teeth-chattering or babbling incoherently type of nervousness. Instead, it is a focusing kind of nerves. You run through your head what it is you're going to do, how you're going to do it, and what possible things might interfere with the first two. Think of the "nervousness" shown by the sprinter as she kneels into the chocks, already running the race in her head, or the fighter in his corner a minute before the bell rings to open the first round, running down the fight strategy in his head while he keeps in mind his opponent's weapons and weaknesses.
When this nervousness isn't there, complacency opens the door to mistakes. Once you stop worrying about the successful outcome of the flight, the flight is less likely to have a successful outcome. Some New Age self-help books say you can make your life better by challenging you to letting go of worry. The laws of physics turn that challenge into a dare.
The last one, "I'm not an adrenaline junky, if I feel my heart rate rising then I've done something wrong," describes me well, and many other pilots, too. It is also similar to what I say about my job. When people find out that I'm an airline pilot, sometimes they say, "Oh, that must be exciting!" My reply is, "Not if I'm doing it right."
Next week, I'll have a post full of clouds to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.
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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.
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