…And Bold Pilots

The EA6B that slashed through a ski lift cable in central Italy, killing dozens of people, was not an example of ineptitude. This event, though tragic, was actually another example of an on-going problem that those of us who fly must consider. I’m not thinking about situational awareness or even sudden lapses of judgment … I’m talking about rogue behavior. Most of us (pilots especially) are good, law-abiding citizens. Still, we’re not all that far removed from our brachiating forebears and the lessons in every clichéd parable of good and evil. The many “Never Again” and “There I Was” stories suggest that there is a scoundrel in each of us…

The courage and audacity of many pilots during the first decade of powered flight as aircraft were developed as instruments of war, or the pioneering of early airmail routes both attest to the fact that rogues once had a place in aviation … but not any more. Still, the images are hard to leave behind. Most who have “wheeled and soared and swung” can probably understand how easy it is to … well, get a little carried away once in a while. The rest of the time, whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re flying within a box of compliance — and we must always watch out for ‘the other guy.’

Aviation isn’t like most other endeavors — when we make big mistakes, people die.

When someone whom I know very well was a student pilot, he experienced one rather disappointingly short flight with his instructor in a 152. Convective weather was brewing and it became obvious that their cross-country would have to wait yet another day. Perhaps because he sensed his student’s frustration, the CFI took the controls and reversed the direction of flight through something that resembled a cross between a wingover and a hammerhead stall. Nothing bad happened, but my friend knew that he had witnessed a moment of indiscretion.

If you suspect any of the following traits in yourself or sense the potential for any of them in someone you know, be on guard. Here are the signs of the rogue:

  • Socially adept, charismatic and effective communicator. A politically savvy personality.
  • Possesses the ability to use, modify, or withhold information for personal gain.
  • Believes that he or she is superior. Although rules apply to the kind of people who need them, they are not part of that set. This is the “talent does what it can; genius does what it must” syndrome.
  • Has far greater skill than discipline.
  • Driven by something (money, fame, their own ego) to the point where behavioral inhibitions are overcome.
  • Boredom with the mundane.
  • Popularity — especially within their organization. Knowing what rules can be broken, when and with whom.
  • Progressively larger deviations.

How does temptation foster a bad decision? When does innovation or heroism become recklessness, or even villainy? When does profit and personal gain eclipse safety? When does expanding the envelope become an exercise in expanding ego instead of skill sets? Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it?