From the minute the cockpit door slams and your instructor departs leaving you on your own for the first time, a whole new world opens for you. That of responsible aviator, the guy in charge of your destiny. As you trundle off to the holding point your head fills with a myriad of things, the routines you need to go through, the glance towards the empty seat next to you. The crawling doubt that you can actually do this thing. All fleeting thoughts perhaps, and banished to their rightful place in the order of things… but there nevertheless. Hours of practice, mini defeats crushed by exhilarating victories and hard learned lessons serve to forge the experienced aviator, confident in his or her ability and ready to take their seat at the table of the gods – in the sky.
Some of us fly for decades without really considering what sustains us through adversity. After all, we survive and get the job done don’t we? There are tough days and great ones where the bird is running like a well oiled sewing machine and the crew couldn’t be finer. Then the Odin strikes his anvil or the winds from Hades start to blow as they did for our friends in the Lufthansa A320.
Can you imagine what it feels like humming around the initial approach being beaten to death by the rock jarring turbulence that comes with winds of this ferocity. Running through the familiar litany of checks and procedures just like yesterday but knowing that a defining moment is waiting for you at the landing threshold, and that there is nowhere else to go. You simply don’t have the fuel to make it where the winds match that fine day in the sunshine we talked about a few sentences ago. It is character forming.
The final turn comes and with it the tension rises on the flight deck – you both know what’s at stake here. Nothing need be said. At this point, what do you have that equips you for this approach and the tricky bit, the landing?
You have your skills, that simulator recency where the Trainer said, “Ok guys, lets look at a crosswind at the limits and have a few goes at it.” That was probably last year – it went quite well didn’t it… “Oh Jesus! if you make this a safe arrival I will drop a fiver into the purse, say a Buddhist Mantra and lay alms at Shiva’s feet.” That (probably) won’t help.
Confidence, pure and simple. Confidence built by years of practice, hours of study, investigation of your inner self as you search your performance analyzing and critiquing the good days and the bad.
Without confidence we are like an engine without oil, a book without words or a bird without feathers and to see the shell of a pilot robbed of their confidence is a sad thing to behold.
I have talked (listened mostly) at length to colleagues unfortunate enough to have failed their initial command check; that landmark in a pilots career where he or she moves from the right seat to the left. Anyone who believes that this transition is merely a change of seat location is in for a rude shock, few if any who make it, treat it as such.
Falling at that gate has catastrophic consequences for some, those that get off the floor and charge again need a bucketload to make it across next time. Confidence and renewed courage as even the prospect of a second failure brings with it a deep dread. You can tell who is going to make it, it seems to be written across nearly everything they do and say. Sadly, the reverse is also true.
So, how do we charge up the confidence battery – prime ourselves for sucess and arm ourselves for that defining moment when the wind blows? I will put my thinking cap on and let you know but in the meantime…. beware false Gods.