Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Cool, calm, and collected

Are you a professional?

This morning, I spent almost three solid hours in a dentist's chair. Everything went wrong. There were big problems. It wasn't fun.

One thing kept the experience from being worse than it could have been. The dentist and the dental assistant maintained a professional attitude during the entire mess. They did this in spite of the fact that the unexpected time spent on me wrecked their schedule. There is no doubt that they shared concern about the outcome of the process, but they behaved in an absolutely professional manner to each other and to me. It made a difference.

So, what in the world does that have to do with flight instruction? Well, two students recently have told me about flight lessons that involved problems. In both cases, the CFI handled the problem. The aircraft did not crash. There the similarity ends. In one case, the CFI handled the problem in a professional manner that impressed--and taught--the student. The CFI took control, spoke calmly, advised the student and ATC of the nature of the problem, and talked through each step as the problem was handled.

In the other case, the CFI actually scared the student. The immediate response to the problem was a hurried and loud shout of "I got it! I got it!" followed by perceived agitation on the CFI's part, no communication to the student, and loud declarations reflecting on the intelligence of the student. The student feared for her life, although it was actually a very minor problem.

"He had been teaching me that we have procedures for emergencies, and I believed him," that student told me. "Now I wonder."

Now, I realize that there are situations--a fire during cruise or engine failure on takeoff immediately come to mind--when the need for immediate action may negate the importance of a professional manner. The cases in question were not such.

Calm under fire is well established as a desired characteristic for professionals. The surgeon who proceeds calmly and skillfully when the bleeding won't stop, the ship captain who gives the correct orders after the iceberg is hit--and, yes, the pilot who maintains voice control when the engine quits--are all much admired. These professionals calm the amateurs and thus help to avoid panic. Surely the CFI's goal is to be among that respected group.

A friend once said that the perfect CFI could have an engine failure on takeoff and calmly tell the student that this is a good time to demonstrate emergency landing procedures. "But," my friend said, "that CFI [expletive] well better be doing those procedures as he says that!"

Among the most admired people in aviation today are Capt. Al Haynes and the wonderful crew who put United Flight 232 on the ground in Sioux City in 1989. Their behavior defines the meaning of professionalism. Captain Haynes gives much of the credit to training and preparation. Can anyone doubt that his training started decades ago with a flight instructor providing a good role model?

During my own training, I had the opportunity to see several of my role-model CFIs behave professionally under fire. It made an impression.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for more than 33 years and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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