Although you may find this hard to believe, I am wrong from time to time. Don’t be alarmed. It was a shock to me too when I first realized that I was indeed fallible.
Of course, this just puts puts me in the same category as you, and everyone else you or I know. We’re all wrong from time to time.
Thankfully, my personal superpower is this: I know I’m occasionally wrong and so I remain on guard for that possibility. That simple act of consideration makes all the difference.
This realization is somewhat comical in that it affects all of us. There really isn’t a reason to point out that I’m wrong now and then, or that you’re wrong now and then, except that much of the world’s population conducts itself as they couldn’t possibly be wrong. Maybe not ever. But certainly not about the particular point at hand, whatever that may be, whether the individuals involved have any real understanding of the issue or not.
When we stumble into the delusion that what we believe to be true is actually true, and that we know it is true because we fervently believe it be true…well, I think you can see where this is going. Nowhere.
If your primary reference is your own vision, you’re going to be a victim of hubris far more often than you wish might be possible.
History gives us a multitude of examples of this human tendency to insist on our rightness, no matter how evident our wrongness. Christopher Columbus comes to mind. He believed he’d found India, when he had in fact found the Bahamas. A careful review of the situation verifies that Nassau and Mumbai are in fact, 8,784 miles apart.
In the late 19th Century the brass at Western Union looked into their crystal ball and made the unfortunate decision not to invest in Alexander Graham Bell’s somewhat odd invention on the grounds that the telephone had too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. Oops.
Then there was that time Jason Schappert of MzeroA and I were doing pattern work in a Piper Cub off Runway 5, only to find a much bigger, heavier, higher-performance airplane going head-to-head with us to land on Runway 23. The same piece of pavement we were using, pointed in the opposite direction.
Yeah, pilots are as prone to being as wrong as anyone else. The regulations clearly say that we’re responsible to be familiar with all the information pertinent to the flight we’re making. But are we? Real life experience and oodles of video recordings tell a different story.
The first step in this particular chain of error is the mistaken belief that airports shown on VFR charts in magenta are uncontrolled. That’s not true. They are non-towered airports. Non-towered airports are absolutely, incontrovertibly, 100% without a doubt, NOT uncontrolled airports. They are very much controlled by FAA regulation, FAA recommendation, and the understanding of pilots in control of aircraft.
In the case Jason and I encountered, the airport we were at operates with a left hand traffic pattern. The first error on the part of the other pilot may well have been the assumption that non-towered equates to uncontrolled. Ergo, a pilot can fly any old pattern they want, any time they want. Left hand pattern, right hand pattern, straight in approach. Whatever, whenever, it’s all good.
No, it’s not all good. It’s actually shockingly dangerous.
Knowing that mid-air collisions are most likely to occur in good VFR conditions in the traffic pattern should wake up those who choose to disregard the standard practices designed to keep us safe. But they do not.
No traffic pattern can be managed safely if everyone who is using it decides on a whim that they’re going to depart from the standard pattern to enter from where ever they want, fly in any direction they want, and disregard the actions of other aircraft entering, leaving, or remaining in the pattern.
That erosion of safety is just as serious if only some of those operating in the pattern choose to go all wonky on us and fly their own personal dipsy-doodle pattern. In fact, if even one pilot decides to go their own way, regardless of all the documentation and training provided to prevent that exact action, we all bear a greater risk. That’s true on the ground as much as it is in the air.
Part of the reason flight reviews are required every 24 calendar months is that pilots, like all humans, develop bad habits over time. We forget things. We become lax in our methods. The flight review is a great gift in that sense. It gives us the opportunity to fly with someone who can help us identify and correct our weaknesses. Yes, we all have weak areas that need attention now and then.
As humans and as pilots, the biggest misconception of all may well be the steadfast belief that the other guy is doing it wrong. Of course we’re doing it right, because we know we’re right, because this is the way we do it, and we do it the right way…more or less.
Doing things the right way, the expected way, the responsible way, may take a bit more time now and then. It might even be downright inconvenient at times. But there is a reason for the standard operating procedures we’re encouraged to adopt.
Perhaps not all of us see that clearly in advance of the bad thing happening. Unfortunately, the lesson only becomes all too obvious right after we swap paint with another aircraft at altitude. And at that point, it’s really too late to change our ways.