Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014


What drives your decision making?

Air show pilots are no more egotistical than the average Joe, they just happen to be performers. I fly in front of millions of people every year, but I think it's interesting to note that when I'm out practicing and see just one person on the ground watching me, I fly a little better and a little harder. I think it's the performer in me and not ego, but I do think about it.

Performers are under a lot of pressure. Sometimes, it comes from the air show organizers and producers. When the weather goes sour, they still need to get something in the air. We put pressure on ourselves, too, because we want to fly. The crowd has expectations—it might be raining, but there they are, sitting under their umbrellas, wrapped in plastic ponchos. Do I want to fly for them? You bet! If I can only take off, blow some smoke and do a couple of rolls, I will. I know the FARs and my own limitations, and as much as I want to perform, I'll only push things so far. But, I need to be aware of how much my ego plays a part in my decision making.

We're not all performers, but we're all influenced by others—peer pressure. A few years ago, a new "act" was introduced at air shows called CASPA. It was an attempt to bring competition into air shows and increase spectator excitement and participation. I'm generally against competition events at air shows because I feel air shows are a variety show, vaudeville, and high-light the differences rather than the similarities of the pilots and airplanes. However, I participated, and since it was a competition, I found myself pushing harder, flying lower and doing things I wouldn't ordinarily do in my solo routine.

While nothing catastrophic happened at CASPA, flying against—rather than with—other performers made me realize how thin the line is between staying true to your own standards or pushing things too far when ego is involved. I have to remind myself that the same ego that drives me to win awards is also telling me to push harder even if I violate my own standards while doing it. Watching a great performer makes me want to show them up. There's danger and risk in almost anything we do, and peer pressure might be the most seductive trap of all because it can make us do things we wouldn't ordinarily do. You know what's really ironic about peer pressure? Our peers aren't necessarily people we admire the most or even want to emulate, but we're influenced by them, anyway. Is this a function of ego?

My personal experience makes me wonder how much ego plays a part in pilot error that accounts for an overwhelming and indubitable percentage of general aviation accidents. What part does ego play when we fly into known icing in a non-ice-certified airplane (or is that just stupidity)? What about not getting training for currency and to improve our skills? I've heard people say they didn't want an instructor to fly with them because they didn't want them to see how rusty they are. That just doesn't make sense.

Does ego cloud our judgment and make us do stupid things? I think it probably does. Flying isn't inherently about competing against yourself or against anyone else, even though we sometimes have to push our comfort zone in order to gain experience. The key to success, whether performing or flying a cross-country, is to understand what part ego plays in our decision making, and to never forget the golden rule: always leave yourself an out.


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