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THE PURSUIT OF THE POSSIBLE

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    Crickets

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A couple of weeks ago, I presented a safety seminar on two topics: One segment on Single Pilot Resource Management, SRM, and another on Loss of Control, two topics in which we seem to be needing more than a little refresher, if we look at accident stats. For example, in 2015, 384 people died in GA accidents. Loss of Control was the number one cause, and there is often a strong indication of poor single pilot resource management, SRM, in these accidents. 

    According to the Feds, there’s one fatal Loss of Control accident every four days

    For this event, the FAA sent out 5591 emails to local pilots of all kinds: balloon pilots, glider pilots, helicopter pilots, airline pilots, flight instructors, sport and recreational pilots. Only 35 registered. Of those, just 24 showed up. Twenty four pilots. That’s less than half of one percent of those invited. 

    Why don’t more pilots attend safety seminars? I’m not the only presenter wondering what’s (not) going on here. What should we as (volunteer) content creators, presenters, or flight instructors make of that kind of abysmal showing? Is there that little interest in learning something new? Are pilots content with their training, knowledge and flying proficiency that they don’t feel they need safety seminars? 

    This event cost the pilot nothing to attend other than their time. We even gave away the customary cookies and Starbucks coffee. (For the record, there were no cookies left when we cleaned up after the event.)

    Perhaps it’s time to offer something different than the live safety seminar. What if…we created a different model? What would that look like? 

    Would pilots rather watch a video online or listen to a podcast to feel like they are paying adequate attention to their personal safety and continued learning? Has the content offered in past events not been applicable, or of interest to pilots? Have the presentations been poorly done? 

    Or has the sit-down safety seminar held on a Saturday morning or afternoon, or some evening after dinner, become another relic of an earlier time? Are people just “too busy” to spend a couple of hours learning something that might make a difference in their cockpits — or their lives? 

    What if we offered (free) pie and ice cream instead of cookies?

    Does the fact that it’s free cause pilots to think that they’ll get exactly what they pay for the experience? Do they not perceive value in a “free” seminar? 

    I’d like to believe that aviators prize new ways of thinking, embrace new perspectives, devour potentially life-saving information. Or are we satisfied that our miserable accident rate is acceptable, or as good as it can get, so hey, why bother?

    What do you think?

     

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    What do you do with your discomfort?

     

     

     

     

     

     


    When something is wrong: a safety concern, a poor procedure, you are asked to do something that just isn’t right, and your gut screams, “NO!”, do you speak up?

    The truth is, not often enough. Or soon enough. No one wants to be “that guy” who stops the show, keeping the people or freight from being delivered on time. A big part of the reason for this is no one wants to be uncomfortable. No one wants to be the one who makes others uncomfortable.

    Yet we must. When something’s just not right, the weather is too bad, the airplane or helicopter is over gross, out of CG, or has a maintenance issue that hasn’t been resolved, we must — must — speak up. Our very lives, and those who entrust theirs to us, depend on it. 

    Over the years, I’ve witnessed this behavior several times when experienced pilots didn’t speak up when their training was obviously sub-standard; when questions were raised about whether it was even compliant with FAA regulations. Ever been there? Most of us have. Did you speak up? No, me neither. “Cooperate = Graduate” is the phrase often heard around training organizations.

    What do pilots do? Mostly, we press on. We make it work. Pilots are team players, after all. We believe we can “get ‘er dun” in spite of the limitations or the imperfect set of cards we are asked to play. We’re duty-bound, goal-oriented — and blinded by “the mission.” That’s having what I call, a “killer instinct” — only we’re the ones at risk of getting killed. We might grumble to ourselves, to each other, or to our spouses, “Those freakin’ idiot managers chief pilot/bosses (fill in the blank) don’t want to hear what any pilot has to say when things aren’t right and it’s going to cost time or money.” And by accepting the challenge — and flying — we change an administrative problem into a pilot problem. Into our problem. 

    That should never happen. 

    One doesn’t have to look very deeply in the NTSB accident files to find examples of pilots who didn’t speak up, or didn’t pay attention to the message coming from that most underrated sense, the gut. But we can be uncomfortable. At times, even risk our job, our career, or mortgage payment — all of it — to do what’s right, and to live. Those things are all fixable. But by not speaking up, we risk that which is most precious to us, life itself. And once the lights go out, the lights go out. 

    I once spoke up because it was the right thing to do. It was uncomfortable. I made the other pilots uncomfortable. Management didn’t fully understand the problem, and was even more uncomfortable that I called them out for their lack of listening skills — and didn’t back down when they threatened me with my job. 

    So they did the only thing that they knew in their old-world, patriarchal, military management style that is still — still — so prevalent in the business world — and especially in aviation: These managers cut off the source of their discomfort. I was fired. The saddest part: they missed a huge opportunity to learn, to grow, to become better. 

    I couldn’t be happier with my decision. 

    What do you do with your discomfort when it’s inconvenient, your job is on the line, and the stakes are high?

     

     

     

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    Thank you, Bob Hoover!

    Last week, I attended a wonderful memorial for a recently departed friend, a national treasure, the one and only, Robert A. “Bob” Hoover. 

    There were a couple thousand people gathered in the hangar at Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys, California on a perfect, 80 degree, clear, sunny afternoon. All were there to celebrate Bob’s amazing life, all with a “Bob Story” to tell: The first time they saw Bob perform at an airshow; meeting him as a little boy, and deciding that flying was their life goal — some of whom are now retired from military or airline flying; or the Reno air racers who felt safe as Bob circled overhead the race course in his Mustang. Many talked about being completely transformed by watching the way he flew. Just the way he flew. Bob was certainly one of the best stick and rudder pilots the world will ever see; some talked about Bob as a life-long friend, and others talked about learning what it meant to be classy, a gentlemen, just by observing Bob. And for many of us, we considered Bob as our treasured mentor.

    We've all learned so much, and our lives made so much richer by his example. What a legacy.

    While fans and friends of Bob were gathered outside Lacy's huge hangar, waiting for the fly-bys and missing man formation, a constant stream of corporate Gulfstreams, Citations and Lears came and went on runway 34L, while three parallel contrails cut a diagonal across the western sky, both quiet reminders of Bob’s hand in the testing and development of the machine that we now take so for granted in our lives, the modern jet airplane. I was again reminded of Bob's contribution as I rode back to Colorado with a friend in his Beechjet, delivering me back home just a few hours after the memorial. 

    Even after years of talking with people about Artful Flying, I sometimes struggle to come up with a 20-sec elevator speech on what the book is about. But then I think of Bob Hoover and how he showed us the way to fly artfully, and I feel what it means to be Artful. I suspect you do too, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to verbalize. 

    "All my life, I've simply challenged myself to fly more precisely each time I step into the cockpit." 

    Simple, powerful words. It was such an honor when Bob agreed to write this cover blurb for my book 11 years ago. He understood that this thing I call Artful Flying is not a gift bestowed on an elite few, but something that is accessible and available to anyone; all you have to do -- all you have to do --  is work for it, as Bob did, and to continually seek to improve and challenge yourself every time you fly. 

     

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    Make Mistakes Your Friend

     

    Recently, I delivered myself to a local simulator company to get an Instrument Proficiency Check. The simulator was a Beech 1900, a type I’d never flown before, though I had some distant memory of flying it’s little brother, the King Air 200, decades ago.

    My reason for subjecting myself to this simulator training was twofold: One, I wanted to fly something better than the ubiquitious Redbird simulators available in the area. I’m just not that impressed with their fidelity or capabilities. And two, I wanted something more complex than my Cessna 185 Skywagon, in which I’ve been flying single pilot, no-autopilot IFR for many years. I'm often challenged finding enough real-world IFR weather to shoot low instrument approaches, or play in the system with weather. 

    When the instructor and I met before the session, I briefed him on what I wanted; surely the required six instrument approaches, holding pattern, intercepting and tracking, etc. as required by FAR. But I told him that I also wanted to make a lot of mistakes. From his expression, I don’t think he had heard that before. 

    But I wasn’t being facetious. I really wanted to make mistakes while flying the sim. That was one of my main goals

    Flying the Beech 1900 sim turned out to be a wonderful experience, though its fidelity was wasn’t great in several areas, especially with a V1 cut. I succeeded in making a lot of mistakes, and I learned a lot. After three hours over the course of a couple of days, I felt renewed and refreshed. Capable. And we still managed to get all the required boxes checked for the 61.57 sign-off. Win.   

    Too often, we avoid our mistakes, hide from them, and the opportunity that they provide. Mistakes are our friends. That’s where the learning lives. 

    Want to do something brave and heroic? Unusual and hugely instructive? Tell your evaluator, instructor or mentor that your goal is to make mistakes. Then, make those mistakes with impunity. And prepare to learn more than you ever have, trying to protect the ego or look good. 

     

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    NEW & IMPROVED!!

    If I told you that nothing I say is “new,” would you be inclined to read a magazine, check your emails or simply tune me out? Would you mutter to yourself, “Nothing here for me, moving on…”?

    That attraction to “new” is often what causes us to miss the message. 

    In our drive to seek the novel, the unexperienced, the "new," we jump from one thing to the next, uninterested in what we perceive as the mundane, the old hat, the same ‘ol-same ‘ol.

    But when we do that, we’re missing the very point. We need to hear things again and again. Even the things we’ve heard before. Maybe especially those things we heard before. We need to have someone connect the dots for us (often again and again). We need to see old things with new eyes, to look at our ordinary, everyday, repetitive lives from a new, extraordinary perspective. 

     That’s the job of any good teacher, facilitator, or guide. 

    So if you’re attached to learning something “new,” something that you've never heard before, you are going to miss. A lot.

     

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    Why Are We Here?

    Lately, I've had a few flying clients, all north of 50, and a couple much more "mature" than that, who have set out to learn something very difficult in an aircraft. I greatly admire these “late-in-life learners." Whether the new thing they want to learn is helicopter flying, getting an instrument rating, checking out in a fire-breathing single, or taming the latest digitalalia, the challenge is very real -- and very big — for them. 

    As an instructor though, it's important to help the client figure out the real reason why they've presented themselves for the instruction — which isn’t always the obvious one.

    Puzzling this out isn't easy. But in fact, it might be the most important thing. Figuring out the “why” is critical if you want to help them reach their true goal. For some, that goal might be proving to themselves — or someone else — that they are (still) capable of “conquering” the difficult aircraft or the confounding electronics. For others, the real reason for their quest might be to learn something new, to stay stimulated and challenged in a life that offers fewer opportunities for this as they age. And for a fairly large percentage, it might be all about learning how to act under pressure, to learn how to conquer their fears, or their anxiety when flying. That’s actually pretty common. 

    If we ignore the “real” reason and focus solely on the apparent one, i.e., the new aircraft type or the new rating, then the opportunity for growth is missed. Often, the client struggles, seemingly with the “new thing,” when the real struggle is with the self. A good instructor’s job is look deeply for this, to look beyond the purported reason for the instruction; and to become intimate with the deeper motivation of the client, so that he or she can help in reaching both the “real” goal, and ultimately, the alleged one, as well. 

    It’s always tough work. But I really love the process. 

    So, why are YOU (really) taking on that next challenge?

     

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    We Never Landed on the Moon

    Nearly 50 years ago, my mother was convinced that our amazing landing on the moon was entirely fabricated. It was, she surmised, performed on some soundstage in a TV studio, or perhaps acted out in the desert Southwest somewhere. At night.

    Before you dismiss Mom as a complete lunatic (rest her soul), there were a lot of people at the time who thought these very same things. Many perfectly bright, rational people in 1969 were absolutely convinced the whole moon landing thing was fake; and if you step back a few feet and look at what actually happened, how could they think otherwise? They had no way of comprehending something as completely bizarre as landing on another planet — it was the stuff of science fiction and lunatics when they were growing up. 

    If you look at Mom’s (and others’) conclusions, you’ll see these are the very things that create a lot of trouble in our own lives when we encounter something that doesn't fit into our knowledge and experience buckets. We just don’t know what we don't know. But that doesn't prevent us from believing anyway. And being convinced that "our" belief is fact. 

    But remember: A. Belief. Is. Just. A. Belief. 

    It sometimes takes a leap at least as bold as Neil Armstrong's last step off the lunar lander's ladder to the surface of the moon to open our minds to something that just might not fit into the mosaic of what we know.

    So, what do you know? What do you believe?

     

    (By the way: why didn’t they put at least one more rung on that ladder so a guy wearing a clumsy, bulky spacesuit -- and whose vision was severely restricted -- didn’t have to make that wild-assed “leap” (more like fall) down to the moon’s surface?)

     

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    When The Student is Ready...

    A while back, I spent the day in a voice workshop with five other people, one of whom was a yoga instructor. 

    Ms. Yogananda was 15 minutes late, apologized only patronizingly to the group when she entered the room, sat down, and began telling her life story; this included a back injury, her long history as a yoga teacher, and all of the things that she knew and taught as a yoga teacher. Did I mention that she told us she was a yoga teacher? 

    And it wasn’t even her turn in the circle.

    Throughout the day, when our voice teacher would make a point, Yogagirl was quick to say, “I know! And…” then proceed to tell us how she teaches that very thing in her classes! It’s called, “Something-er-other” in Sanskrit…and on and on. She often sang or talked when the teacher was demonstrating or explaining something, and would interject her “knowing” opinion at every opportunity.

    I felt sorry for the slim woman in the yoga tights emblazoned with Japanese kanji and other secret symbols — possibly more Sanskrit? She was so ensconced in the warm, safe cocoon of her own ego, by what she “knew” — and what she wanted you to know that she “knew” — that she missed an entire day of new learning. 

    Don’t we all do this at times? 

    To learn something new, we first must be open, receptive, even vulnerable. We have to begin with an open space of “not knowing” in order to hear, feel, see, taste, and experience the new. We have to be uncomfortable. In fact, I believe that if you’re not uncomfortable, you are not learning. 

    Let me say that again: If you are NOT uncomfortable, you are NOT learning. 

     

    At the end of the long, but satisfying day, we all said our goodbyes, hugged, and walked out the door. Ms. Yogatights was right behind me as we returned to our cars, and I debated whether to turn to her and ask for her permission to share my observations of her behavior. Maybe I could share that one of our biggest challenges in learning anything is learning how to allow ourselves to fail, to fall…and to trust. But that comes only after first cracking open that tightly-protected ego-self to the possibilities of embarrassment and pain, confusion and frustration, ambiguity and anger that are all parts of new learning. Those are simply the doorways to new possibilities.

    I couldn’t help but compare my experience of the day's workshop: my “ahas,” struggles, embarrassment, and yes, my tears, with what I imagined her experience to be.

    Perhaps I could just share my feeling that she missed the wonderful, passionate, engaged voice coach that had worked tirelessly with us all day, say nothing of all the things that voice coach had to teach. 

    But I didn’t. I had no invitation into her cocoon. I was not at the workshop as a teacher, but as a student myself. Yogagirl would have to learn how to deal with that unreconciled part of herself on her own terms, in her own perfect time. 

    “Goodnight Reese,” I said, then got into my car, and drove into the rich and mysterious night.

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    The Price of Pickles in Peoria

    We’re not asking the right questions in our flight training.
    We’re not asking the right questions in our written tests. 

    So why are we (feigning) surprise when we get the results that we do? 

    Sure, we could all be better stick and rudder pilots. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is we are avoiding the problem, while throwing “assets” and money and more technology at the problem.

    The reason for our poor accident record (which doesn't seem to improve much over time), is not (just) a technical problem. It’s not (just) a mechanical problem. It’s a HUMAN problem. The problem is: US!

    The sooner we get off our collective asses, and attempt to get our collective arms around that problem, the sooner we will start down the path that will produce superior results — and fewer accidents.