Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014


What drives your decision making?

On a spring morning several years ago, I was doing touch-and-goes in my Extra, flying the rust off after a long winter, an annual and an engine overhaul. Air show season was around the corner, and I was enjoying the smooth, crisp air. In the groove, I greased on one after another, the wheels kissing the runway on each touchdown. I started to feel a little smug, thinking,"Man, I'm good! I've really mastered this airplane," but of course, that's when it happened. Instead of a smooth touchdown, I bounced a wheel landing. This hurt my ego. I knew how good I was, so I pushed the stick forward to nail it, and the wheels stuck so hard it felt like I had sprung the gear. On the "go," I felt a subtle power loss, but thought I must be imagining it. I dialed the prop up a notch or two and decided it was time to land.

On the ground, as was my routine, I jumped out of the airplane, walked into the hangar and called for fuel. While they were on their way, I picked up my special fuel cap key and a screwdriver to open the oil door. I heard the truck coming, so I turned around, and that's when I saw it—each of the tips of my composite MT propeller blades was a mighty mess of splintered wood. I guess I really did stick that landing.

Frantically, I waved off the gas truck —I'll get fuel next time! I pushed the airplane into the hangar, closed the bifold door, sat down and put my head in my hands. I knew what my engine builder, Barrett Precision Aircraft, would say—"Send it in." Even if the crankshaft wasn't bent out of limits by the prop strike, we put such stresses on our aerobatic engines that we can't take any chances.

It was a bummer on so many levels. However, it was also an expensive learning experience that I probably needed. Prop strikes and other incidents are what keep us from making bigger mistakes, because they remind us how quickly things can go awry, and that we're never "that good." The incident forced me to ponder who was driving the bus that day, me or my ego?

The definition of ego is "self." We tend to think of ego as negative, like people with "big egos" or "egos that are out of control," but we all have an ego, it's our partner in life. We need to understand, control and nurture it in positive ways. Ego makes us passionate and ambitious, but if we let it go too far, we can become obnoxious, even dangerous.

A personality with a well-integrated ego is healthy, mature and "wholesome." But the ego is a sneaky little devil, delusional and inflated, and can give us the rationale to do almost anything for the illusion of reward. So, it's not always easy to know who's in control—"me or my ego." Anyone who has been around aviation knows how quickly, usually around the 500- to 1,000-hour total time mark, we start thinking, "Man, I'm good!," or, "I can nail that landing," or, "I can handle those crosswinds." To make things worse, we start comparing ourselves to others and think, "So and so flew through Tehachapi Pass in that wind; I should be able to do it." Sometimes, it can be tough to discern whether you're pushing yourself to get better and gain experience, which is absolutely necessary, or whether you're doing something to feed your ego.


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