Fly Like a Pro — Part 6: Better Decisions

After all the pilot volunteers had flown the flight simulator for the first time, I invited them back for a seminar. Up to this point all the volunteers had the same experience with the project. They all had scheduled a time to come and fly the first scenario. They all had the same electrical failure, weather, and glide slope problems. But what the volunteers did not know was that they had been randomly divided into two groups. The seminars were held at the university where I teach and there were plenty of classrooms that could have held the entire group, but I deliberately used a smaller classroom. This way when I divided the two groups, I could tell the volunteers that the reason there was going to be two groups and two seminars was because the room would not hold the entire group at once. This was my gimmick to assure that the volunteers believed both seminars were alike. But in fact they were not anything alike…

In the morning session, the volunteers arrived and I taught a seminar on basic instrument flight. I answered questions about flight instrument systems and IFR clearances and ATC procedures. It was informative … but generic. We did discuss the events from the first flight scenario — we talked about the electric system, how it worked and what that red light really meant. Overall, that seminar was a traditional lecture on instrument flight. The volunteers in that morning session became the “traditional group” and they left the seminar thinking that the afternoon session would be the same as the one they attended. The morning group had been given a placebo.

When the afternoon group of volunteers arrived for their seminar, I had reconfigured the classroom. The afternoon group would receive a completely different seminar, this one targeting pilot decision-making — not simply instrument flight. I wanted to give the second group an understanding of how better to make decisions in a “natural” setting — like the airplane cockpit. These pilots became known as the “Naturalistic” group.

I introduced to the second group a decision-making strategy. I call it the ASAP model. Most people understand the letters ASAP to mean “as soon as possible” and that metaphor of urgency applies to pilots who must make decisions under stress, but to the Naturalistic group of pilots the letters ASAP stood for Anticipate, Situation Awareness, Action, and Preparation. ASAP became just a memory jog. It was something to help them concentrate and zero in on the problem so they could solve the problem. We spent several hours talking about becoming better decision makers. Here is the outline I used….


    • Put Money in the Bank


    • Expect to make decisions


    • Make contingency Plans


The next important point will be…


Situation Awareness

    • Develop the Mental Autopilot


    • Imagine the RADAR Screen in your head


    • Play the Mental Game



    • Pattern Match


    • Use Associated Groups


    • Act on your decisions



    • Set Priorities


    • Look for more options


    • Expect to make more decisions


    • Use Single Pilot CRM


When “naturalistic” group’s (afternoon) seminar was over I gave each participant a card with the ASAP outline on it. The card was just a reminder. I hoped that some of what we talked about would stay with them and maybe even help them. I am sure some of those cards were thrown away or lost, but later several of the pilots told me that they had stuck the card into their airplane’s instrument panel.

Before the members of both groups left the seminars they were scheduled back into the simulator of another go “in the box.” Would the pilots do better the second time? Would the decision-making seminar make any difference? Next week we climb back into the simulator.

Note: The complete text of the ASAP decision model is published in Paul Craig’s book Pilot in Command by McGraw-Hill.