As I write this column I am just a bit uncomfortable. I have a strip of flexible blue tape wrapped around my left elbow, holding a small gauze pad in place, which in turn covers a hole in my skin where blood was drained out, about an hour ago. I go through this three times a year, because my general practitioner, whom I hold in very high regard, asks me to.
I’ve made a conscious decision to do my best to remain fit for flight. As I get older, that’s more of an effort than it was when I started in this business. Who knew?
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is this: Being fit for flight is not simply about keeping my blood pressure down, my cholesterol within established limits, and avoiding cardiac issues by watching my diet and getting some exercise.
Those are all important factors, but I’ve come to realize that a big part of my fitness for flight has to do with my attitude. My willingness to commit to learning new things, consider alternate points of view, and take instruction from others — sometimes from people who are considerably younger than I am.
Those conscious decisions make up a big part of my personal airworthiness.
While at lunch with a group of CFIs last week, this question came up. How can I work effectively with a client who won’t listen to me?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one.
Here’s the scenario. The CFI is in the right seat, the client is in the left. They’re working toward earning the client a commercial pilot certificate. While doing pattern work, the CFI tells the client to turn base. The client balks, insisting that he has 400 hours of flight time and doesn’t need anybody telling him when or where to make his turns.
Things go downhill from there.
In my humble opinion, this guy is not fit for flight. Certainly he’s not commercial pilot material.
He refuses to work as a crew with the other pilot in the cockpit. He’s chosen to argue rather than work collaboratively. He misunderstands the relationship he has with the CFI he’s chosen and paid to be in the cockpit with him.
He believes he knows all he needs to know and has hired a CFI to do nothing more than sign off on his 8710 Form so that he can take a practical test.
Wrong. Way, way wrong.
To his credit, the CFI is trying. He’s looking for ways to communicate with his client to help him make progress. Even when the customer is difficult, uncooperative, and disinterested in taking instruction, the CFI is still committed to finding a way to help his charge get where he’s going.
That’s a truly professional CFI. He recognizes that, left to his own devices, the customer will not become a commercial pilot. He’s showing classic signs of the anti-authority hazardous attitude all pilots are warned to beware of.
Yet he’s embraced that mindset and will suffer as a result…unless the CFI can get through to him.
Let’s face it, we are all susceptible to a certain amount of personal insecurity. That’s a basic human trait. It’s unavoidable.
Yet we can overcome that limitation if we are open to the possibility.
In this case, the customer is trying to protect his ego and bolster his self-esteem, yet he is, in reality, limiting his ability to learn and make real progress. At the very least he’s making his quest for a commercial pilot certificate much more expensive by wasting time in the cockpit pretending that he’s infallible.
Each of us has a challenge or two that we have to overcome to be truly fit to fly. For some of us that challenge is physical and may require us to take medication, lose weight, undergo a medical procedure, or visit a gym on a regular basis. For others, we may find our challenge is not so much physiological as it is psychological.
We have to remain open to input from others to be safe and competent to fly. That’s true when we’re dealing with ATC, another pilot in the cockpit, another pilot in the pattern with us, and even when our CFI tells us they’d like to see one more flight before they sign us off for our flight review, because we were a little shaky and unsure of ourselves on a maneuver or procedure. Cooperation and collaboration are critical to our safety in the long run.
I’ll tell you the truth, I’m not the best pilot in the world, but I’m working on it. I have been putting in my best effort since my first hour in the cockpit.
A few decades later I’m still trying to do my best to make each flight as safe, as enjoyable, and as predictable as possible. To achieve that goal, I do my best to stay healthy, stay alert, and commit myself to flight training on a fairly regular basis.
I do have one trick that’s worked well for me, which you might consider. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s effective. Whenever I fly with a CFI, in anything, for any reason, at the conclusion of the flight, after we’ve cleaned off the dead bugs and put the aircraft away, I ask the same question every single time. The question is this: “What could I do better?”
I’m going to do my best to remain fit for flight for as long as I possibly can. I hope you will too, and we’ll all get better in the process.