From the Flight Deck - August 2013
Roy Evans II
For a few moments, let’s take a ride back in time to our flight training days. Let’s say this is our first solo cross-country, and here we are a few days prior to takeoff. Kitchen table cleared off, sectional chart laid flat, we begin the time-honored tradition of penciling in our true course, measuring distances between checkpoints, and transposing all these numbers to our flight logs. As we interpolate winds, power settings, and fuel burns, we spin our E6Bs to complete the minutiae of calculations as if we’re engineering this flight plan to NASA specifications.
Barring the technological advances of the last ten years in aviation, the process of preparing for our first solo cross-country was once a painstaking process that took quite the mental and physical preparation to accomplish. As we carefully selected our route around forecasted weather, terrain, and airspace, we hoped all this planning would calm our nerves, and allow us to enjoy this great adventure without our instructor, for the first time ever.
For many of us, we were anxious, nervous, and overly prepared. We yearned for adventure, yet cautiously approached it with the most thorough of preflight inspections and run-ups. We nervously called Flight Service for our outlook and standard briefings, deducting how the flight would fare from the tone of the briefer’s voice alone. We wrote down every frequency we might encounter, phone numbers just in case, and, for me, an airport diagram of the wrong airport.
Now, as we go out on these adventures today, many of us with hundreds or thousands of hours under our belts, our nights of preparation, careful planning, and nervousness subside, being replaced by our growing confidence in our abilities, and our familiarity with the route, weather, aircraft, etc. However, as our time in preparation declines exponentially, being replaced by competency in an equal and inverse manner, we lose that nervousness that kept us staring at the oil pressure gauge flying over the mountains as well as that sense of exactness that kept us keeping track of exactly where we were and how much fuel we have left. Inevitably, we also lose the edge that preparedness gives us when we need it most.
See, as a pilot, we tend to look at all these preparations, checklists, and briefings as hindrances more than assistances. We longed for the days of walking up to the airplane, shouting “CLEAR PROP” and heading up into the great blue skies. Fill out a nav log and figure out what our winds aloft are? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Why delay taking off? It’s just like we did it today. How many gallons is it gonna take? I have a 500 mile range, I’ll be okay.
This is where I remember a quote someone said to me a while back in flight training. Not having it memorized, I believe it went something like “...the day I go for a flight and don’t learn something, I quit. I go home and call it quits.” Shocking as it was to hear as a bright-eyed Private Pilot preparing for my future career, he had a great point that has left a lasting impression on me. Sure, we might not be taking hours the night before to plan out our flights (that’s what dispatchers are for, right?). Sure, we’re not heading out to work with the same nerves we had heading out to the practice area on spin training day. But there’s still time to learn, time to increase our proficiency, and continue to challenge ourselves to do better.
Preparation is our greatest tool in keeping our complacency in check, as well as a great way to gain something out of a flight. And, while we can’t prepare for everything, we can at least give it a good try. For some of us, that might be learning more about the art of weather forecasting. For others, it might be developing flows for emergency procedures in our aircraft. For me? It means actually reading the NOTAMs that are attached to our flight releases. There’s nothing like the feeling of planning to exit the runway on one taxiway to later learn in the flare that said taxiway (as well as all those around it) are out of service. That’s what I learned today. What did you learn?