Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Don't act--react

Words to fly by

Don't act--react.

That was the title of a presentation by a good public speaker whom I heard recently. He was talking about performing on stage, but I couldn't stop thinking that the phrase also described aviation.

Don't act--react? How can that possibly fit flying, an activity in which the goal is to know what to do in any given situation? Well, that's exactly the point.

He was talking about becoming skilled at reacting quickly to any new situation. In aviation, our goal is to be so rehearsed that we will know what to do in any situation. We will not have to make decisions because we will know exactly what to do. Thus we can react correctly.

I have had engine failures in single-engine airplanes three times. I got all of them restarted not by figuring out what to do, but by already knowing what to do and doing it automatically. These weren't complex situations. Each of the airplanes died because of fuel starvation--once because the low-time pilot in the left seat mishandled fuel and I didn't catch it in time; once because of water in the fuel; once because of a faulty tank in a brand-new airplane. In each case I instantly pushed in the mixture control, hit the boost pump, and switched tanks.

The point is not that I was smart enough to solve the problem, but that my training was so ingrained that it leaped to the forefront and I did the right things.

In 1989, Capt. Al Haynes did have a complex problem. You remember that story. His United jetliner lost all hydraulic control and the crew put it into Sioux City with 84 survivors. In the book, Speaking of Flying, Captain Haynes outlines the factors that helped them to get that airplane on the ground. The second factor on his list is preparation (his first factor is luck--Captain Haynes is a modest man).

To a great extent, Captain Haynes credits that flight to the preparation, or training, that he and the crew had received over the years.

Preparation. Training. That's what you, as a CFI, provide to aviation. That's what enables us to react properly to problems, and what keeps us alive.

When the oil pressure drops in a piston what do you do? You look to see if the temperature has gone up.

What do you do when you put the gear down and one of the three lights remains unlit? You check the light by changing bulbs.

These are things we don't figure out. We already know them, because a CFI taught us.

From a Piper J-3 Cub to the Space Shuttle, the goal is to be so well trained--so well prepared--that we react correctly and quickly, using the knowledge that a CFI gave us long, long before we could have figured it out for ourselves.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 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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