Pilot Habits

There is a certain cultural component to the province of piloting that actually becomes self-defining. From habits in our non-flying lives, to what and how we think of ourselves; from routine actions or procedures all the way up to how we look at life — they’re all affected by the precepts, disciplines, behavior patterns, or even just plain motor activities of aviation. Have a look…

Flying teaches planning and the value of an organized approach to projects, trips, or any other enterprise, for that matter. When planning a cross-country, we preview fuel needs, make time and distance estimations, we project equipment needs, and generally develop a “have it ready beforehand/prepare for the unexpected” approach to things. We learn about equipment maintenance and the importance of regular service, periodic routine checks, and recurrent replacement of time worn items. Pilots learn to read the weather through weather charts, knowledge about prediction of weather changes, winds and cloud cover, and personal experience to the point where we might try to out-guess the weather person on TV! Aviation teaches us about the relationship between health and performance, whether in regard to medications, rest, altitude, or other considerations. To continue flying, we come to respect and cultivate continued good health. Most new arrivals in the sky smile when they realize their enhanced freedom and gain their new perspective on the earth, so the motivation is sure there! (For many of us, the required frequent physical examinations are an incentive to keep our bodies pure and in tune, as well.) We also expand the envelope of familiarization with our body’s reactions to changing climate and temperatures and, of course, altitude.

Then there is the analytical “consciousness” that becomes more accessible in situations where one may have previously been, shall we say … less poised. Instead of getting mad, going blank, or going wonky, we’re more likely to achieve a more detached, objective view of what were previously more stressful situations. So instead of “auto-flail mode,” you find yourself going into “checklist mode“, ticking down the list of things to do, or not to do. (Don’t get me wrong. I know we can still get flustered. It’s just that aviation’s procedural orientation has added a bit of “structure” to the list of how we react to things.) This isn’t just a behavioral curiosity, either. It might help someday when you wouldn’t expect it — like when you’re driving on an icy road and suddenly find you’re starting to slide. Instead of panicking, out comes the checklist:

  • steering — into the skid;
  • accelerator — neutral;
  • seat belt — check;
  • brakes — pump lightly.

Remember being introduced to steering an airplane with your feet? It seemed pretty strange at first, didn’t it? About as familiar as spooning cornflakes with your toes, I’d expect. Well, have you ever tried to undo your seat belt as you reached for your wallet while approaching a tollbooth, or tried juggling a fast food lunch in highway traffic? Maybe you’ve tried that old “knee steering” maneuver. (Do not try this at home.) Here’s another one that I’ve noticed in myself: If I’m entering a parking lot, I don’t like to cut through the empty rows of parking spaces any more, even though it’s shorter. Too many other folks might have the same idea! Now, I just “make a pattern” around the perimeter, the lanes of travel are wider there, anyway. Sure it’s longer, but it’s a lot easier to avoid running into someone. There are more examples, like having your head on a swivel while driving slowly in close quarters, or dashboard flow pattern double-checks before you exit a parked car in the rain at night, or even having a better weather eye for those family outings. But you get the picture. It’s like I’ve said before about that old Sinatra song: if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. It’s kind of the same story with the sky.

Happy Thoughts: Appreciate what flying has taught you — and don’t forget that learning is a two way street. What you learn in the cockpit can help you elsewhere … what you learn elsewhere can help you in the cockpit. In short: Stay safe. Have fun. Learn.