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In last week's Pilot Safety Minute video we discussed “Why We Do
What We Do.” One of our primary motivators is inspiring pilots to learn how to
fly and to overcome the 85% drop-out rate. As the old Asian philosophical
saying goes, we are challenging ourselves to look at flying “through beginner's
eyes” in an effort to help student pilots realize their dream of flight. In
this week's article we discuss the topic of how to handle stress in the cockpit
that will help inexperienced and experienced pilots alike. Hope to see you at
one of the upcoming fly-ins!
SAFETY MINUTE VIDEO #60 ~
We Do What We Do: Keeping the Passion
WHILE FLYING? WE CAN HELP.
By TC FREEMAN
After a great flight several of us in our small flying group were standing around the aircraft talking to a new invitee that recently caught the “flying bug.”
This new invitee, let us call him Paul, asked the owner of the aircraft, “Why do you enjoy flying?” The aircraft owner said, “Because it’s relaxing.”
Paul’s jaw about hit the ground because he just had his first experience actually flying an aircraft and you might say he was still reeling from “sensory overload.” In Paul’s defense, the aircraft owner was not only a pilot but a neuro-surgeon. I can imagine that anything is relaxing compared to brain-surgery, take alligator wrangling for instance. Anyway, Paul was overwhelmed with all of the new information being presented to him at one time, and rightfully so. Experienced and inexperienced, we all have suffered from “sensory overload” or stress as pilots. My quest is to find out how other high-performing individuals; be it sports, entertainment or business people; cope with stress during demanding mental and physical activities.
The book The Art of Learning is a fascinating look into the life of Josh Waitzkin, world class child (and adult) chess prodigy in which the movie, “Finding Bobby Fisher” was derived. His fascinating account of the intensely competitive world of chess sent him on a life-long journey of self-discovery on the topic of maximum human performance.
Surprisingly, the parallel of chess to flying is uncanny, minus the aspect of the potential loss of life in a chess tournament. However, if you have the chance to read this book you will find out that losing in high-level chess is a close second to dying. In an effort to find out how to perform more consistently and for a longer period of time under great stress lead Waitzkin to a human performance center that worked primarily with professional sports athletes. After months of work on Waitzkin's physical and mental conditioning he experienced a breakthrough that allowed him to have the endurance to compete at a high level during longer chess tournaments. The secret was to allow himself mini-breaks throughout an event that could last for hours on end. While his mind wanted to stay engaged a maximum level for the entire time he eventually failed under stress and began making mistakes. By examining past games he came to realize that there were times perfect for small breaks such as, waiting for the competitors move, bathroom breaks and during play that didn't require high levels of output. How does this apply to piloting an aircraft?
While pilots don’t necessarily have the luxury of “hitting” the pause button to take a break, there are times during flight that don't require maximum output. Most pilots are familiar with the popular graphic that shows the effort level during each phase of flight (start & taxi, take-off, cruise, approach & landing) in which it is pointed out that approach and landing require the most effort due to the complex workload. Many experienced pilots will comment that there is an intentional effort to “psych themselves up” after a long cruise flight, especially when an actual instrument approach is required. In this small example, cruise flight is the perfect opportunity to reduce workload in an effort to restore peak performance during approach. While some may say that flying requires peak performance at all times, the outlined scenario shows there are indeed opportunities for restoration (among others).
If you remember Paul from early in the
article, it is apparent that he is having to perform at maximum levels 100% of
the time due to his inexperience, a primary reason early flight lessons are
short. We, as fellow pilots, have to encourage him to stick with it because we
know that with time the stress will change over to fun and enjoyment even under
high output scenarios.
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